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.)  

Scrap religion-based Scheduled Caste reservations, Mr Modi

Will Modi do justice to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians by acting on the recommendations of Sachar Committee Report concerning Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order), 1950? (Image: Flickr)

Will Modi do justice to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians by acting on the recommendations of Sachar Committee Report concerning Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order), 1950? (Image: Flickr)

While addressing an election rally in Bihar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a dig at the grand alliance of Congress, JD(U) and RJD by raking up the issue of religion-based reservations. Modi said, “The leaders of this ‘Mahaswarth’ alliance are trying to mislead the people on the issue of reservation. It is clear through the discussion of our Constitution makers that reservation cannot be given on the basis of religion.” He added that “these leaders are making a devious plan. They are conspiring to take away 5 per cent reservation of Dalits, Maha Dalits, backwards and extremely backwards and give it to a particular community”.

Though Modi did not particularly name any community, it was apparent that he was referring to Muslims. What Modi was attempting to do was consolidation of Hindu votes by tacitly asking them to rise above caste and vote in unison to outdo “Muslims” who were portrayed as a group which was out to swallow the “Hindu” pie of reservation benefits. Such remarks are a reflection of the BJP’s nervousness in Bihar where they might suffer a setback due to the polarising remarks of their ministers and legislators both at the central and state level following the Dadri lynching episode which occurred last month.

Interestingly, Prime Minister Modi added, “I come from an extremely backward class and understand the pain of having been born to a poor woman. I will not allow this to happen. I pledge to protect the rights of Dalits, Maha Dalits and backwards.” If Modi truly believes in what he says then he should immediately initiate steps to outlaw religion-based reservations which have been in existence in our country since 1950.

Yes, you heard it right. The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 pertaining to Article 341 has been providing religion-based reservations for more than 60 years now. The controversial 1950 order whose legality has been repeatedly questioned states, “No person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, the Sikh or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.”

Initially, the order only recognised Scheduled Castes from the Hindu religion. Thereafter, it was amended twice in 1956 and 1990 to include Sikhs and Buddhists, respectively. The question to be asked is: Can’t a Muslim, Christian, Jain or Parsi be a Scheduled Caste? Do Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists have a monopoly over being Scheduled Castes?

The Sachar Committee Report, whose findings suggested that the Muslims of Gujarat are among the most prosperous in the country (and was effectively utilised by BJP spokespersons to build on Mr Modi’s vikaas purush image), had the following to say about Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950: “Dalit (SC) Muslims are not allowed the benefits of Scheduled Caste quota, while their counterparts in Sikh community (Mazhabi Sikhs) and Buddhist community (Neo Buddhist) are allowed the benefits of reservation quota for SC.”

It further added, “It is recommended that Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order), 1950 – which originally restricted the Scheduled Caste net to the Hindus and later opened it to the Sikhs and Buddhists, thus still excluding from its purview the Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis, etc – should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely delink the Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the Scheduled Caste net religiously-neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes.”

Will Modi do justice to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians by acting on the recommendations of Sachar Committee Report concerning Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order), 1950? He won’t because the talk of protecting the rights of Dalits and Mahadalits is hollow rhetoric and electorally motivated. Moreover, Modi’s party is ideologically opposed to granting of SC quota benefits to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.

In a speech delivered on August 14, 2004 in Mumbai, BJP patriarch LK Advani said, “For a long time, there have been demands for extending reservations to so-called ‘Dalit’ Christians and ‘Dalit’ Muslims. However, successive governments have not paid heed to these demands. Why? This is because the framers of the Indian Constitution were very clear in their minds that caste is a feature of the Hindu society. If some lower caste Hindus converted to Islam or Christianity in the past, it was because of the claim and the promise of these religions that they were casteless and hence offered an equal station to the converts vis-a-vis original Muslims or Christians.”

There can’t be a more preposterous assertion. Sikhism and Buddhism are also casteless religions in the sense that they do not advocate the division of society on caste lines. Yet Dalit converts to Buddhism and Sikhism are provided with reservation under SC quota. Then why the same privilege can’t be extended to Dalits who converted to other religions including Islam and Christianity? Caste, unfortunately is no longer a problem of the Hindu society as LK Advani opines. It is a problem of the Indian society. Though caste doesn’t exist in Islam or Christianity per se but caste system exists among Muslims and Christians living in India. Therefore, it is wrong to state that Dalits can’t be Muslims or Christians.

The communal Constitution order of 1950 won’t go away anytime soon because no one has the courage to do what justice demands. The Indian National Congress was the party responsible for enacting this provision. It was in power during the last ten years from 2004-2014. Despite repeated pleas from civil society it never bothered to amend the 1950 order. Instead it introduced a minority sub quota of 4.5 per cent in the lead up to the 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections. It was touted as “Muslim quota” and floated by the then minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid.

Though it was for all minorities yet the tag “Muslim” became synonymous with it simply because the Congress was desperate to encash on the votes of Muslims in the Uttar Pradesh elections. Competitive politics demanded that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party dismissed 4.5 per cent quota for minorities as too less and promised even more. In its blind pursuit of the Muslim vote, the Congress forgot to follow the correct procedure leading the Andhra Pradesh High Court to strike down the 4.5 per cent sub quota for religious minorities in May 2012.

The court said, “No evidence has been shown to us by the learned assistant solicitor general to justify the classification of these religious minorities as a homogenous group or as more backward classes deserving some special treatment.” It went on to state, “We must, therefore, hold that Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians do not form a homogenous group but a heterogeneous group.”

Have you ever wondered why do politicians reignite the debate on reservations only before elections? Congress and SP remembered Muslims before Uttar Pradesh elections, Modi remembered Dalits before Bihar elections and the inimitable Lalu Prasad recently described the upcoming elections as a “fight between backward and forward castes”.

Reservations have become a political tool in the hands of our corrupt leaders. In the midst of political mudslinging, the core issue concerning an objective analysis of the prevailing reservation policy is being overlooked. Should 21st century India adopt a reservation policy? If yes, then what should be the criteria for granting reservation in educational institutes and jobs? How should it be implemented? These are the questions which our leaders should have addressed clearly but they never did so.

Millions of Indians still find themselves trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty. Several others are educationally backward and belong to communities that are actively discriminated against and grossly under-represented in government sector jobs. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the State to help such individuals by means of affirmative action. One cannot shrug off the need for reservation by citing simplistic arguments of merit. The bigger picture needs to be taken into consideration. Hence, it is essential to have reservations in place for disadvantaged sections of society.

The second point is in relation to the basis on which reservation is to be granted. This is a subject on which the Central and state governments must necessarily revisit their policies. BJP’s Subramanian Swamy maintains that reservations should apply to those who have historically been discriminated against (Dalits, Mahadalits and the likes) and not the erstwhile ruling class like Brahmins, Muslims and Christians. This is a flawed proposition.

I’ve studied along with reserved category students who belonged to a historically disadvantaged group but made use of Apple iPhones. Such individuals are not disadvantaged and shouldn’t be reaping the benefits of reservation. We have a lot of people from the so-called forward castes who are struggling financially and need state support.

The only way out is to make the economic status of an individual the foremost criterion while granting reservation. Secondly, a sub quota needs to be drawn out of the entire reservation pool to exclusively cater to those people who are economically backward and also belong to communities that are educationally backward, under-represented in government jobs and services and victims of social discrimination. We need to adopt an evidence-based approach instead of an electoral or agitation-based approach while identifying such communities.

Backwardness would have to be proven on the basis of data and not perception. No community should be declared as being backward by the government because the party in power intends to reap their votes in the coming elections. Neither should governments give in to pressure from groups who organise bandhs and paralyse state machinery including railways to acquire reservation status. This sounds good on paper but the governments are obviously incapable of doing so because of their overt political agenda. We can only hope that good sense prevails and political parties start thinking along these lines else law courts might have to step in.

Lastly, we need to be absolutely mindful of certain rules while implementing the reservation policy. Reservations have to be time bound. They need to be reviewed and reformed from time and time. As per Supreme Court, reservation cannot extend to more than 50 per cent of the total seats. All institutions should abide by the said rules. While implementing reservation policy, additional seats or vacancies need to be created. For instance, if there are 20 seats in an educational institution for a particular course or 20 vacancies in a government office, reservation of  50 per cent should mean 20 general seats + 50 per cent reserved seats, instead of 20 – 50 per cent reserved seats.

Most importantly, it has to be ensured that reservations don’t compromise on quality and are provided only to those who truly deserve it. The maximum relaxation lent to applicants from reserved category shouldn’t go below 10 per cent of the general category cut-off in any case. If it happens then even people from the unreserved category will learn to appreciate the utility of reservations. This is because they will be sharing their classrooms and offices with people from the reserved category who are deserving and have achieved a certain level in the merit list despite the economic and social handicap that they have suffered from. This will eventually lead to the fading away of resentment regarding reservation among the unreserved people which currently exists in gigantic proportions.

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)

How Manjhi – The Mountain Man gave Congress the hand it doesn’t deserve

Manjhi executes the improbable task of tearing apart a mountain over a period of 22 years, while braving several hardships including constant taunts from his father, extreme weather conditions, political corruption, police abuse and most importantly, physical torment and pain. (Image: Viacom 18)

Manjhi executes the improbable task of tearing apart a mountain over a period of 22 years, while braving several hardships including constant taunts from his father, extreme weather conditions, political corruption, police abuse and most importantly, physical torment and pain. (Image: Viacom 18)

A near fourteen-month long hiatus came to an end on August 27, 2015! I last visited a movie theatre in March 2014 to watch Kangana Ranaut starrer Queen. This time around I accompanied two colleagues to see Manjhi – The Mountain Man. The film is inspired by the life of Dashrath Manjhi, a labourer belonging to Gehlor village in Bihar. Manjhi’s role has been enacted by none other than Nawazuddin Siddiqui who is fast climbing the ladder of recognition in Bollywood, an industry which is constantly under the lens of hard-to-please film critics.

After a long absence from the cinema hall, an entry into one provided a grandiose feeling. The film’s plot revolves around Manjhi’s obsession to avenge his wife’s accidental death, which occurred after falling off a mountain in his native village. Manjhi executes the improbable task of tearing apart a mountain over a period of 22 years, while braving several hardships including constant taunts from his father, extreme weather conditions, political corruption, police abuse and most importantly, physical torment and pain.

The film has an accompanying theme of caste violence, which manifests itself in the form of murder, sexual assault and exploitation of backward caste villagers by the dominant upper caste. Eventually, a villager turned rebel initiates a Naxal attack to seek retribution. Even amid all this deviation, Manjhi keeps his eyes firmly set at destroying the mountain that took his love away from him.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s performance is praiseworthy as he has effortlessly depicted an ageing but raging man’s desire to fulfil his only ambition. His body language and dialogue delivery kept changing through various portions of the film as time progressed and turned Manjhi older. However, a silly factual error left me a little miffed!

There is a sequence in Manjhi where then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visits village Gehlor and delivers a speech. What needs to be criticised is not the apparent comic picturisation of the said sequence, but the content of Indira Gandhi’s purported speech in which she is shown referring to the Congress party’s hand symbol. The election symbol depicting a hand was brought in by the Congress in the post-Emergency era as my acquaintance correctly pointed out during the course of the movie. The sequence showing Indira Gandhi was shown as having occurred prior to the Emergency, which is also a part of the movie.

This leaves the viewer with a very important question: Why do Indian filmmakers leave research and facts bhagwaan bharose? Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s much acclaimed Bhaag Milkha Bhaag also had several significant errors, which included a thrilling race during the climax inside Lahore’s Gaddafi stadium at a time when the stadium was not even named after the Libyan dictator! Research cannot be compromised when one is dealing with a film that has been inspired by real life figures like Milkha Singh or Dashrath Manjhi.

A filmmaker cannot afford to get the spelling of a city wrong on screen as had allegedly happened in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Nor can he make Indira Gandhi speak about an election symbol which did not exist at that point in the movie. These mistakes don’t alter the course of the film as they are negligible in stature, but they definitely make the filmmaker appear a bit foolish in front of his viewer, who expects solid background research.

Nevertheless, such mistakes are common and ingrained in Indian filmmakers. It’s about time that they took their research more seriously. There should also be a debate when it comes to the length of Bollywood films, in particular, the biographical ventures. My two colleagues were of the opinion that Manjhi – The Mountain Man should have received a more documentary-like treatment. The run time could have surely been shortened as the second half becomes a bit harsh to bear for the viewer, who is subjected to two back-to-back sequences of political corruption and police arrest, which almost prevent Manjhi from completing his task. But the film is a memorable one-time watch.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is the obvious reason why one should pay the nearest movie theatre a visit so that they can become acquainted with the “shaandar, zabardast, zindabad” spirit of the man called Dashrath Manjhi.

(This article was originally published in DailyO.) 

One year old Narendra Modi ‘Sarkaar’

- Narendra Modi addresses a rally in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. (Image Courtesy - Reuters)

– Narendra Modi addresses a rally in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. (Image Courtesy: Reuters)

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party government at the centre will soon complete twelve months in office. Under the magnetic leadership of the former Chief Minister of Gujarat, the saffron party set an electoral record of sorts by bagging a total of 282 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament. This was the first time in the history of independent India that a party except for the Indian National Congress had bagged a majority of its own in the central legislature. The mandate which the electorate handed out to the Modi Sarkaar was the biggest electoral victory at the union level since the time Rajiv Gandhi stormed to power in Delhi riding on a massive sympathy wave generated following the tragic assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi.

However, the critical question at this moment concerns the major talking points which have emerged during the past eleven months of Narendra Modi’s rule. Prime Minister Modi’s first year in office coincided with a string of electoral victories at the state level for the BJP. Courtesy the popularity of the Prime Minister, the BJP formed government in several states including Maharashtra, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir. In the process, Narendra Modi was able to perform a number of political manoeuvres which the old guard of BJP under Vajpayee and Advani failed to achieve. For instance in Maharashtra, the BJP overpowered the might of the Shiv Sena by emerging as the single largest party. This altered the relationship between the two saffron outfits as now BJP was playing the role of the elder brother and Sena was forced to assume the role of a sidekick.

Manohar Lal Khatter became not only the first BJP Chief Minister of Haryana but also the first non-Jat CM of the state. In the insurgency hit state of Jammu and Kashmir, BJP swept through the region of Jammu and formed a coalition government with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). But all streaks come to an end as the law of averages kicks in. The challenge posed by Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party was too humongous for the BJP to overcome. From being the single largest party in Delhi Assembly, the BJP was reduced to a tally of just three seats. Thus, the AAP ended the electoral dominance of Modi-Shah combine.

The second most visible feature of the Modi government has been a stark increase in communal rhetoric and hate mongering against minorities. While Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat repeatedly stated that India was a Hindu Rashtra, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj wanted the Gita to be declared as the country’s national scripture as her cabinet colleague described the government as one of “Ram Bhakts.” The more insensitive remarks were credited to the likes of Yogi Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti. From Sadhvi’s Ramzaade remark to Adityanath’s crusade against love jihad, BJP MP’s left no opportunity to embarrass the government. Unfortunately, the communal atmosphere wasn’t limited to speeches and press statements. The disease had spread to the ground and manifested in the form of vandalism of several churches. Even the national capital of Delhi wasn’t spared as it witnessed communal clashes in Trilokpuri area which led to the imposition of a curfew.

Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar had once referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an “event manager” owing to his ability to host glitzy programs. If there was one thing which Modi did relatively better during his first year in office then it has to be in the realm of foreign policy. It all began with the invitation forwarded to leaders of SAARC nations prior to the swearing-in ceremony of the new government. What followed next were a series of diplomatic visits to countries like USA, Australia, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The Prime Minister’s public address at Madison Square Garden in New York was one event which caught the eye of the global media even though the same event saw his supporters getting into a fistfight with noted journalist Rajdeep Sardesai. One has to credit Modi for bringing Obama to India on the occasion of the country’s Republic Day and paying a visit to war-torn region of Jaffna during his visit to Sri Lanka. However, Modi’s foreign policy initiatives had their own set of gaffes. The first one was probably when Modi referred to Bhutan as Nepal during his address to the joint session of Bhutan’s Parliament. During Obama’s visit, the BJP government earned criticism from the Delhi High Court for putting up over 15,000 CCTV cameras for the security of a foreign individual during a short span of time but not doing the same for the citizens of the country.

A noteworthy trend which has become very frequent during this government’s stay in office is the “ban culture.” From the BBC documentary India’s Daughter to AIB’s Youtube roast video to Tamil author Perumal Murgan, governments in different states as also the centre found themselves in the midst of heated free speech debates. Thereafter, came the Maharashtra government’s beef ban thus elongating the ambit of restrictions from literature and cinema to food. All of this was conveniently happening at a time when certain academic quacks made bogus claims of India having invented the world’s first flying machine and Prime Minister himself claiming that ancient Indians had knowledge of genetic sciences and plastic surgery as evident from the birth of Karna and the elephant head of Ganesha in Hindu mythology. But many free speech supporters were delighted on seeing the landmark Supreme Court judgement which declared Section 66A as unconstitutional on a plea filed by Shreya Singhal. Similarly, Delhi High Court’s judgement in the case of Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace activist, who was offloaded a flight while going to give testimony in relation to the violation of the forest rights of Tribal people in Madhya Pradesh before a British parliamentary group, was a vindication of the right to freely dissent.

Another major goof up which this government might be remembered for during its first year in office was concerning the BJP’s position on black money. Supreme Court advocate Ram Jethmalani was not at all happy with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley refusing to name black money account holders. This earned the BJP the dubious accolade of being a “U-turn Sarkaar” but the brickbats got more severe with Amit Shah’s description of Narendra Modi’s poll promise of depositing Rs 15 lakh in the bank account of every Indian family after bringing back black money stashed abroad as a “chunavi juml”a or poll gimmick.

Considering the massive mandate which this government possesses, it would be foolish to believe that the BJP would not complete its tenure in office. If the hapless UPA government under Dr Manmohan Singh can remain in power for ten years then the BJP can be expected to easily survive five years in office with a Prime Minister who is a naturally gifted orator and communicator. However, the challenge for the BJP lies not in occupying office as it was in the case of the politically fragile Congress led UPA. The BJP with a majority of its own should try and utilize these five years to prove why it’s a party with a difference which can only be done by providing world class governance facilities to the people of this country. Simultaneously the central government has to nurture an environment of pluralism and harmony where minorities are not threatened and intimidated. Very importantly, the government also has to protect the right to free speech of the citizens of this country as long as they do not transgress the reasonable restrictions in regards to the same.

(This article was originally published in The Kashmir Walla.)

No easy cure for the Congress

Featured image

Loyalists like Mani Shankar Aiyar argue that the Gandhi family is the adhesive force that keeps the party together. (Image: Reuters)

The 2014 general elections saw the Congress party reduced to its worst ever tally of seats in the Lok Sabha (‘Is there any hope for Congress in India?,’ Gulf News, November 12). Thereafter, the Congress continued to fair poorly and was voted out of power in the assembly elections held in Maharashtra and Haryana. The electoral debacles haven’t managed to dampen the enthusiasm of Congress’s Mani Shankar Aiyar.

He said: “In 1999, we were in power in only five states. Today, we have eight states. This shows that there is enough scope for the Congress to bounce back.” He cites the example of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rise in national polity from a meagre count of two seats to suggest that the highs and lows are a part of politics.

But, another worrying factor for the Congress is the rapid manner in which it has lost the Muslim vote. The assembly elections in Maharashtra saw Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (MIM) win two seats and emerge as a challenger for the Muslim vote for the Congress. Rejecting Congress’s politics of minority appeasement, Rasheed Kidwai simultaneously labels MIM’s debut in Maharashtra as a “failure of Nehruvian ideas of secularism”. But Aiyar stresses that there is electoral space for parties like MIM.

Though these demands only reflect the dynastic nature of the party and the inability of the Congress to look for a leader beyond the Gandhis, loyalists like Aiyar argue that the Gandhi family is the adhesive force, keeping the party together and that they are the biggest crowd puller.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been acknowledged as India’s newest rock star by Forbes Magazine, the Congress party is facing its toughest challenge since independence. What remains to be seen is whether the Congress manages to put its own house in order and challenge the overwhelmingly right wing atmosphere in the country, which has led to recurrent sectarian skirmishes ever since the new government took charge.

(This article was originally published in Gulf News.)