Bihar shows India’s intolerance against Hindutva forces

The elections in Bihar once again signalled at the electoral rejection of emotive Hindutva issues as RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine emerged victorious despite intense campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Image: PTI)

The elections in Bihar once again signalled at the electoral rejection of emotive Hindutva issues as RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine emerged victorious despite intense campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Image: PTI)

The electoral victory of the mahagathbandhan in Bihar has come as a big boost for Lalu Prasad Yadav who was on the verge of political extinction. By emerging as the single largest party, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has successfully exhibited its popularity among Biharis. What is astonishing is that Lalu’s popularity has risen despite his conviction by a CBI court in the fodder scam.

On the other hand, Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal United or JD (U) has won for himself a third term as Chief Minister of Bihar. Along with the likes of Arvind Kejriwal, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalitha and Naveen Patnaik, Nitish Kumar is sure to be touted as the one of ablest men to lead a third front assault on the two national parties, particularly the BJP, in the times to come.

However, the most interesting take away from the landslide victory of RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine is the continuing trend of decisive mandates. Post 2012, states like Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, and now Bihar, have overwhelmingly voted in favour of a particular party or coalition. The general elections in 2014 too exhibited a similar pattern. The notable exceptions to this phenomenon were Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir.

In 2013, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fought elections for the first time turning battlefield Delhi into a triangular contest between BJP, Congress and AAP. This led to AAP and BJP narrowly missing out on the magic number and what followed next was a short lived Congress supported AAP government. Thereafter, when elections were held again in early 2015, the verdict of Delhi-walas was entirely one sided and brought AAP absolute majority.

As far as Jammu and Kashmir elections of 2014 are concerned, though the verdict was split, it was clear that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was the chosen one in the valley while the BJP comfortably led in the region of Jammu. That way the election result was again decisive in nature and led to the formation of a coalition government comprising of PDP and BJP. Despite the confusion in the minds of pollsters and psephologists, the voter is acting very cleverly. The exit polls might predict a khichdi verdict or neck to neck competition but the voters are throwing up a clear mandate.

Secondly, the elections in Bihar once again signalled at the electoral rejection of emotive Hindutva issues. The voters in Uttar Pradesh rejected the false bogey of live jihad during the by-elections held in the state last year. The national capital voted against ghar wapsi and attacks on churches in February this year. Finally Bihar has voted against beef politics and fear mongering in the name of carving a religion based minority sub quota out of the reservation pie of Other Backward Castes or OBCs.

The writing on the wall is becoming increasingly clear for the BJP. It is time to perform or perish. The Prime Minister can manage any number of events, undertake as many foreign trips as he wishes to and campaign as vigorously as possible but if his government doesn’t deliver in terms of poverty alleviation, job creation and income equality, the electorate is going to show his party the door. The voter cannot be fooled simply on the basis of Hindutva and rhetoric.

When BJP lost in Delhi, the blame was shifted towards Kiran Bedi as she happened to be the party’s chief ministerial candidate. The same cannot be done in the case of Bihar as the BJP fielded no chief ministerial candidate with Modi being the outright leader. Even in Delhi, it was Modi who led the campaign all through but his failure was conveniently set aside. Modi is based out of Delhi. He along with his entire cabinet campaigned in Delhi yet they lost.

Prime Minister Modi left African leaders in Delhi to campaign in Bihar yet BJP lost. The lesson which is to be learnt is that Modi can be overcome electorally with the help of strong local leaders like Kejriwal, Nitish and Lalu. BJP must realize that it cannot always piggybank on Modi’s supposed PAN-India popularity. There is a dire need for cultivation of popular local leaders like Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh, Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh and Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan.

Another observation is that no matter what is proclaimed from 24 Akbar Road, Congress is on the decline. They drew a blank in Delhi but have performed reasonably well in Bihar. However, their vote share remains in single digit and the party is far from being the nationwide force it once used to be. If INC has chosen to eternally play second fiddle to the likes of JD(U), RJD and AAP then its altogether an entirely different story.

Politics in the country is becoming all the more BJP-centric. The vote in Bihar was against the BJP government at the centre as also against Hindutva. Those who are rushing and labelling the verdict as a victory of development oriented politics need to do a rethink. Lalu’s campaign rhetoric was less about development and more about a “battle between forward and backward castes.” Nitish’s masterstroke was in aligning with his bête noire Lalu to oust the BJP instead of holding a referendum on his ten year rule by going solo.

If Kejriwal won Delhi on the basis of populist politics, Lalu and Nitish have won Bihar by carving an alliance which none saw coming. It’s a triumph of complex caste arithmetic over Hindutva superimposition. The much talked about development politics had little relevance with both sides banking heavily on identity politics. The blunders committed in Bihar by the BJP should be carefully scrutinized but Lalu’s comeback in Bihar exemplifies that caste still lords over Bihar’s election castle. Modi sarkaar has indeed failed in fulfilling its tall promises but where was the vision of “maha gathbandhan” during Bihar elections? The people seem to have chosen the one whom they viewed as the “lesser evil”.

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)  

Hafiz Saeed should shut up, best not talk about SRK

Hafiz Saeed stands accused of orchestrating one of the bloodiest terror attacks in India. (Image: AP)

Hafiz Saeed stands accused of orchestrating one of the bloodiest terror attacks in India. (Image: AP)

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the chief of Jama’at-ud-Da’wah and the alleged mastermind of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, has invited Shah Rukh Khan and other Muslims facing discrimination in India on account of their religious identity to cross over the border and stay in Pakistan. Saeed claimed that “discrimination against minorities in India” was a proof that “Modi’s India” is no longer secular but rather a fascist Hindu state.

“We welcome Indian intellectuals raising voices against intolerance inflicted by Hindu extremists if and whenever they come to Pakistan. We would be pleased to demonstrate to them JuD’s ongoing relief and rehabilitation efforts for minorities living in Pakistan,” Saeed said.

It’s interesting to note that Hafiz Saeed has claimed on Twitter that his organisation is involved in activities to safeguard the lives of minorities in Pakistan. Transparency demands that Saeed furnishes evidence to effectively establish the work JuD has done to protect the persecuted lot of Ahmadiyyas, Shias, Hindus and Christians.

Ordinance XX, promulgated during the reign of General Zia-ul-Haq, prevents Ahmadiyyas from posing or claiming to be Muslims. If they do so then they will attract imprisonment for as many as three years. Has Hafiz Saeed or his men ever taken out a rally to pressurise the Pakistani government to repeal Ordinance XX? Even Abdus Salam, the first Pakistani to win the Nobel Prize (Physics) in 1979, cannot be called a Muslim without attracting legal penalty simply because he belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect.

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan have been constantly utilised to settle scores with minorities. “Since the 1990s, scores of Christians have been convicted for desecrating the Koran (Quran) or for blasphemy,” says aBBC news report (July 22, 2015). Asia Bibi, a Christian woman has been on death row since five years on allegations of insulting Prophet Muhammad, a charge which she vehemently denies. She has been publicly threatened by people from her own village who have vowed to kill her. When Punjab governor Salman Taseer spoke in her favour opposing the blasphemy laws, he was assassinated by his security guard Mumtaz Qadri who was hailed as a hero by many in Pakistan.

Thousands of Pakistani Hindus have fled their country fearing persecution. Several hundred of Hindu families left Pakistan way back in the 1970s and have settled in the Pakistani Mohalla camp in New Delhi’s Sanjay Colony. In spite of such atrocities, Hafiz Saeed and the JuD have remained silent. Instead there have been hate speeches against India, calling for the country’s annihilation. What is worse, Hafiz Saeed stands accused of orchestrating one of the bloodiest terror attacks in India. He has no moral standing to comment on the recent events which have unfolded in India.

The murder of Muhammad Akhlaq on the suspicion of beef-consumption and the recent tirade against Shah Rukh Khan by the likes of Yogi Adityanath and Sadhvi Prachi ought to be condemned. But condemnation holds no value if it’s coming from a discredited individual like Hafiz Saeed. There are credible voices in Pakistan like journalist Hassan Nisar whose take on the tolerance debate in India would be much respected. But we refuse to listen to Hafiz Saeed and the only thing that we, as Indians, demand is that he should be investigated and prosecuted for 26/11 in which more than 150 people lost their lives.

As far as Shah Rukh Khan is concerned, the actor is wise enough to deal with these kinds of politically motivated attacks. In 2010, SRK had said that Pakistani players were most welcome to represent Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the Indian Premier League (IPL). This led to the Shiv Sena attacking Shah Rukh and accusing him of a Pakistan bias. It also threatened preventing the release of Shah Rukh’s film My name is Khan, but SRK didn’t give in to the bullying and the film released to packed theatres with Indians across the country rejecting Bal Thackeray’s low level politics.

While the storylines of Shah Rukh Khan’s films have tried to address the stigmas associated with being a Muslim, the actions of men like Hafiz Saeed have earned Muslims a bad name. In My name is Khan,SRK portrayed the role of Rizwan Khan who is suffering from Asperger’s syndrome. The film depicts his journey across the US post-September 11 terror attacks to eventually meet the American president and say “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.”

Enacting the role of a Muslim hockey player in Chak De! India, Shah Rukh’s character Kabir Khan leads the Indian women’s hockey team to World Cup victory after he was himself accused of selling out to Pakistan in a match several years ago.

Shah Rukh’s characters defy the political roadmap of Hafiz Saeed who is mostly busy in anti-India activities and instigating Indian Muslims to rise in revolt against their own country. Had SRK been living in Pakistan with his wife Gauri Khan and bowing his head in front of an idol of Ganesha, the same Hafiz Saeed would have refused to recognise him as a Muslim and perhaps even forced him into exile.

A debate on tolerance in Indian society is much needed and while it is open to participation from all corners, Hafiz Saeed and his ilk better stay quiet and stop preaching since they are merely interested in wrecking havoc in India by encashing on the politically volatile atmosphere.

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)  

Did Express go overboard with SC verdict on quota story?

The Express cannot afford to shoot from the shoulders of the Supreme Court on a matter as polarising as affirmative action and mislead its readers. (Image: Wikipedia)

The Express cannot afford to shoot from the shoulders of the Supreme Court on a matter as polarising as affirmative action and mislead its readers. (Image: Wikipedia)

Many of the front page stories which featured last month in The Indian Express generated a nationwide response. Following the ink attack by Shiv Sena on former AB Vajpayee and LK Advani aide, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Express published a photograph of Kulkarni on the first page with the headline “Photo courtesy Shiv Sena” (October 13). The paper, edited by IITian Raj Kamal Jha, evoked a lot of buzz on social media owing to the creativeness and brevity which Express exhibited by aptly summarising Sena’s insane ink attack with the help of a subtle headline.

In another lead story, (dated October 16) titled “Muslims can live in this country but they will have to give up eating beef, says Haryana CM”, The Indian Express exposed the conservative mindset of Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in an exclusive conversation. The 61-year-old leader’s remarks attracted intense criticism from political and social media circles.But the cover story run by the newspaper on the recent Supreme Court judgment concerning reservation in super specialised medical courses was an unlikely deviation from the high standards of reportage maintained by the publication.

The news report authored by IE‘s Utkarsh Anand was published with the provocative headline: “In national interest, scrap quota in higher education institutions: SC”. The lead paragraph of the report said, “Regretting that some ‘privileges remain unchanged’ even after 68 years of independence, the Supreme Court held Tuesday that national interest requires doing away with all forms of reservation in institutions of higher education and urged the Centre to take effective steps ‘objectively'”.

However, the news report then went on to contextualise the comments made by the Supreme Court, which were obviously in relation to a particular form of reservation vis-a-vis super speciality medical courses. If one peruses through the 58-page Supreme Court judgement delivered by Justices Dipak Mishra and PC Pant, one would find little evidence to claim that the Supreme Court directed the central and state governments to abrogate all forms of existing reservation in the realm of higher education.

On page 57 of the judgement, the Supreme Court referred to the case of one Fazal Ghafoor and quoted a previous judicial ruling which said: “In Dr Pradeep Jain case, this court has observed that in super specialities, there should really be no reservation. This is so in the general interest of the country and for improving the standard of higher education and thereby improving the quality of available medical services to the people of India. We hope and trust that the government of India and the state governments shall seriously consider this aspect of the matter without delay and appropriate guidelines shall be evolved by the Indian Medical Council so as to keep the super specialities in medical education unreserved, open and free.”

In this context, the court went on to add in succeeding point number 38 on pages 57 and 58: “The fond hope has remained in the sphere of hope though there has been a progressive change. The said privilege remains unchanged, as if to compete with eternity. Therefore, we echo the same feeling and reiterate the aspirations of others so that the authorities can objectively assess and approach the situation so that the national interest becomes paramount. We do not intend to add anything in this regard.”

Editorially, the Indian Express has a right to have a particular view on the reservation policy in higher education but that view has to be exhibited in the edit and opinion pages, instead of infiltrating into news reports on the front page. Nowhere, did the Supreme Court blatantly call for scrapping of reservations in higher education as theExpress headline claimed. All it disapproved of was reservations in super specialised medical courses and called upon the authorities to “objectively assess and approach the situation”.

The Press Trust of India copy on the Supreme Court judgement titled “SC reinforces no quota in super speciality courses” was far more responsible in its reportage of the ruling. Refraining from attributing any over the top comments to the Supreme Court, PTI’s lead said that “the Supreme Court has reinforced its earlier view that “there should really be no reservation” in super speciality courses in medicine in the general interest of the country.” PTI added, “It (SC) said at a time when the ‘privilege’ of reservation is ‘competing with eternity’ an objective assessment of the situation is required keeping national interest in mind”.

During a lecture held at my university, an editor of a long-form magazine described the Express as “a journalist’s newspaper”, a view echoed by many of my classmates since most of them happen to be its loyal readers. But, as it’s famously said, “with great power comes great responsibility”. The Express cannot afford to shoot from the shoulders of the Supreme Court on a matter as polarising as affirmative action and mislead its readers. Accuracy has to be maintained and a newspaper ought to refrain from reading too much into a judgement which simply talks about reservations in super specialised courses.

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)