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.)  


How to stop our religion from being exploited

It is becoming increasingly easy for extremist outfits to ferment communal trouble.   (Image: Wikipedia)

It is becoming increasingly easy for extremist outfits to ferment communal trouble. (Image: Wikipedia)

We live in an age of riot engineering. Unrest is manufactured by certain mischievous elements in our country on the suspicion of beef consumption and desecration of holy scripture. What has unfolded in Dadri and Faridkot is a case in point. In both the cases, “religious sentiments” were exploited to create trouble.

The former saw a Muslim man losing his life after an announcement was made from a local temple accusing Mohammad Akhlaq of consuming and storing beef. Similarly, desecration of the Sikh holy scripture of Guru Granth Sahib at a number of places including Faridkot and Bathinda has led to a string of protests and threatens to derail the prevailing calm atmosphere in the Sikh majority state of Punjab.

It goes without saying that the perpetrators of these vicious acts should be brought to book. No individual or group can ever be allowed to endanger peace and stability. However, at the same time, we need to address the core issue of “religious sensitivity”. It is becoming increasingly easy for extremist outfits to ferment communal trouble. The modus operandi is multi-fold. Desecrate holy books, plant carcass of a cow or pig inside a temple or mosque, accuse a neighbouring place of worship of encroaching upon your territory or play loud music while some ritual is being performed somewhere.

Unfortunately, any one of these acts is capable of bringing out the monster residing inside men with extreme religious sensitivities. One can surely expect them to lynch and pelt stones at the slightest of provocation. How does the society overcome this problem? This issue can only be addressed if religious communities open themselves up to constructive criticism.

All religious communities and their so-called representatives can be accused of over sensitivity. Several Indian movies including PK, Vishwaroopam, OMG – Oh My God! and Singh is Kinng have faced opposition from religious groups simply because of the “touchy” nature of various religious communities. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are constitutionally guaranteed liberties. But none of these liberties are absolute in nature. Neither can an artistic piece of work cross the limits of reasonableness nor can an unconstitutional activity be justified in the name of religion.

Having said that religious communities should indeed develop a culture of constructive criticism wherein a person is given the liberty to speak out against a practise or tradition which he/she deems as unreasonable during community meetings or religious gatherings. There should be intense debate on scripture, dietary habits, age-old traditions, rights of women etc. Every criticism which will pour in will certainly not be constructive in nature but it will surely broaden the intellectual horizon of the community involved. They will learn to view the other side of the coin. This way a vegetarian Hindu might become aware of the views of a beef-eating Hindu. A scriptural fundamentalist will see the world through the eyes of the one who has rejected the infallible nature of religious scriptures.

The religious maturity which will be cultivated among the people through such discussions will enable them to react sensibly. They will not react violently to incidents of beef, pork or alcohol consumption. They will refrain from stalling film screenings and clashing with the police following an alleged act of sacrilege and blasphemy. That’s the kind of society which we should work towards creating. A society which ignores acts of provocation and resorts to constitutional means of protests like petitioning in courts instead of extra-judicial killings, violent agitations, vandalism of public property and forced censorship, all of which are reflective of mob justice.

It would be appropriate if this piece of writing calling for constructive criticism of religious practises is concluded with a piece of advice on some important religious matters. The past few days have been a witness to the Hindu fasting period of Navratra and Muslim mourning period of Moharram. Durga Puja celebrations will soon end with devotees of Ma Durga immersing her idols in water bodies across India. Considering the level of water pollution, it would be wise on the part of worshippers if they refrained from immersing idols in water bodies with high levels of pollution. From the coming years Durga Puja committees should strictly make use of only environment-friendly idols so that their immersion does not cause much damage to the environment.

Meanwhile, Muslims should also do away with the act of self-flagellation during Moharram. It doesn’t make sense to inflict wounds upon oneself with sharp and pointed objects. Instead, Muslims should donate blood in large numbers to mark the day of Ashura. Extravagance during religious festivals should also be avoided. Burning crackers worth crores of rupees during Diwali and causing enormous air pollution is not in the interest of the common man. Nor is it wise to sacrifice goats worth several lakhs during Eid-Al-Adha. India is predominantly a poor country wherein such acts of religious extravagance should be voluntarily shunned.

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)

We don’t need a Modi bhakt like Tarun Vijay

An article penned by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Tarun Vijay in the aftermath of the lynching incident in Dadri has stirred a controversy attracting furious rebuttals from Prem Shankar Jha and Ajaz Ashraf. (Image: AFP)

An article penned by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Tarun Vijay in the aftermath of the murder of Muhammad Akhlaq on the suspicion of beef consumption in Dadri has stirred a controversy attracting furious rebuttals from Prem Shankar Jha and Ajaz Ashraf. (Image: AFP)

“Why have you not written anything about the Dadri killing? Why are you silent on the murder of Muhammad Akhlaq?” That’s the question which I’ve been encountering from my colleagues since the past few days. So far I had replied to it by stating, “The world has written about it. Writers who are far superior to me have expressed their disgust at what happened in Dadri. I don’t think that I have anything more to add.”

Just when you start feeling that way, one comes across an opinion piece in The Indian Express written by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Tarun Vijay in which he says, “The violent reactions of the Dadri kind must remain an aberration. They raise a question for so-called liberal Muslims: Have you done anything to show Hindus that you stand with them when they are assaulted by the Andrabis? Muslim silence on Hindu woes is often taken as support for intolerant Islamists.”

It’s hard to decipher whether the statement quoted above was written by a Twitter troll or a Rajya Sabha MP. When will we learn to not politicise communal riots and hate crimes? We cannot justify violence by citing another incident of violence. What happened in Gujarat in 2002 under the BJP government in the state was a national disgrace. Equally shameful were the 1984 anti-Sikh riots when the Congress was in command at the Centre. The BJP and Congress can score political brownie points over one another by pitching one riot against the other, but the fact of the matter is that there can be no justification for either of them.

What does Mr Vijay exactly mean when he talks about “Hindu woes”? Does he mean to say that Muslims have never stood up for their Hindu brothers? We don’t need religion to stand up against the injustices in our society. As someone who feels deeply ashamed of the everyday violence which our society unleashes, as an Indian, and as a Muslim, I have tried to write against every atrocity which I’ve come across.

Mr Vijay, I have written about the ethnic cleansing which forced the Kashmiri Pandits out of their homes in the Valley. I hold the Islamist terrorists responsible for killing the Pandits and burning their homes. I realise the need for bringing the Pandits back to the Valley and providing them a sense of justice by prosecuting all those who were responsible for forcing them into exile.

Not only Hindus, I have tried to speak up for everyone who, I feel, has been wronged and discriminated against, be it Coptic Christians in Egypt or minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. I have criticised the anti-Semitic Arab discourse and the ludicrous conspiracy theories associated with 9/11. I won’t even hesitate for a second before condemning terrorist outfits like the Al Qaeda, Islamic State (ISIS), Taliban and Boko Haram because no sane person can ever justify the killing of innocent men, women and children.

I recognise the fact that many Muslim emperors destroyed Hindu temples and forcefully converted many non-Muslims to Islam. But I also know what is being done to Muslims in Myanmar and I won’t remain quiet about it just like I didn’t about the Hashimpura massacre, Babri Masjid demolition or misogynist personal laws. Injustice is injustice no matter it’s done when, where or to whom.

Mr Vijay, kindly do not behave like a Twitter troll who absconds from the core of the debate whenever one writes about right-wing Hindu extremism and challenges one to instead write about despotic Muslim emperors, ISIS or Kashmiri Pandits. I don’t need Modi bhakts to tell me what objectivity is. I try to live by it. But then so many bhakts write to me telling me they know exactly what I am going to write after reading my byline.

But that doesn’t dishearten me. It only gives me an insight into their sickening mindset. My name doesn’t make me different. Your mindset does. Your communal attitude towards every human tragedy is the problem. Not me, nor my religion! Mr Vijay, I daresay, beef eating shouldn’t be a crime. Mr Vijay, I won’t force you to have beef but I don’t expect you to tacitly justify the killing of someone, allegedly because he consumed beef or because the community he belonged to wasn’t responding to “Hindu woes”.

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)