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”.

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/bihar-polls-narendra-modi-nitish-kumar-lalu-prasad-hindutva-rss-jdu/story/1/7240.html

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)  

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Mr Modi, you say it best when you say nothing at all

Prime Minister Modi has not made any attempt to come out strongly and be among the first ones to condemn or castigate communalism. (Image: Flickr)

Prime Minister Modi has not made any attempt to come out strongly and be among the first ones to condemn or castigate communalism. (Image: Flickr)

Post the Dadri lynching episode, which saw the brutal killing of Muhammad Akhlaq on the suspicion of beef consumption, the entire media discourse was concentrated on the appalling silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Being the elected leader of the world’s largest democracy, Modi should have led from the front in condemning the barbaric incident that led to an international uproar. It was incumbent upon the prime minister to visit Dadri and meet the family members of the deceased. It would have been a highly reassuring sight had Modi personally saluted Sartaj’s message of “Saare jahan se acha Hindustan humara” in his moment of agony.

Instead Modi chose battlefield Bihar to make a statement which made media headlines. The Prime Minister said that Hindus and Muslims can either fight each other or they can fight poverty together. It’s not the first time that Modi has uttered these words. He has made this statement during innumerable public speeches. It’s nothing but mere rhetoric! Does the statement in anyway condemn the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq? Does it suggest that people should have the freedom to consume beef, pork or whatever they wish to eat or does it even call for the swift prosecution of Akhlaq’s killers? Those who suggested that Modi had indeed condemned Dadri are wrong. He never did!

That’s the typical Modi style of dealing with fanaticism and fringe elements. As the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi made it a point to not talk about the 2002 Gujarat riots. If someone from the media asked him to apologise, he would plainly say that hang me if I am guilty or would simply stage a walk out. What would have happened had he humbly admitted that his administration failed to control the mayhem in 2002? He never retracted ridiculous statements like “Hum paanch, humare pachees” in which he mocked the victims of the riots by terming refugee camps as “baby producing factories”. Instead, he spoke of Gujarat’s pride during the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra wherein he constantly he talked about a canard being spread to defame Gujarat and its people.

When it comes to reining in right-wing Hindutva extremism, Modi’s strategy is clear. Give a superficial statement to appease what he terms as Lutyen’s Delhi’s “pseudo-secular media” but never touch upon the specifics. He has very carefully built upon a strategy of “semi-condemnation” during his stay at 7 Race Course Road. Prior to the Delhi Assembly Elections in February 2015, a number of churches in the national capital reported incidents of arson and vandalism. In December 2014, the biggest talking point was the “ghar wapsi” or reconversion of 250 Muslims to Hinduism in Agra by a group affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). News reports had suggested that the reconversion had taken place on the premise of providing Muslims with ration cards and other basic amenities following their conversion to Hinduism.

These incidents had painted a poor picture of India internationally. During his visit to India in January 2015, US President Barack Obama also said that India will progress as long as it is not “splintered” on religious lines. Eventually, prime minister Modi was also forced to react. At an event organised by the Christian community in the national capital, Modi said, “Government will not allow any religious group belonging to majority or minority to incite hatred against others overtly or covertly.” He added that every citizen had an “undeniable right to retain or adopt religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.”

If one looks at the two statements carefully, he would be able to realise that Modi successfully played a con on the entire nation. In no manner did he condemn the burning down of St Sebastian Church or other churches which were attacked, nor did he say a word against the Agra conversions in particular. The point to be noted is that in both the cases the community at the receiving end belonged to a minority group, yet Modi said that “neither majority or minority” would be allowed to “incite hatred”.

This is not to suggest that communal violence is only when the minority is attacked by the majority. In many cases, it’s the other way round. We should always condemn the wrongdoers irrespective of whether they form part of the majority or minority. But when the minorities are under attack, the prime minister should gather the guts to reassure them of their safety by addressing the crux of the issue and distancing himself from brute majoritarianism.

Modi’s statements hint at a clever strategy. Whether its ghar wapsi, church attacks or Dadri, Modi speaks only when the storm has subsided. He has not made any attempt to come out strongly and be among the first ones to condemn or castigate communalism. Secondly, even when he does speak, he gives a generic statement and refrains from responding to the incident at hand be it Dadri, ghar wapsi or church attacks. This is where the danger lies. The ambiguity which Modi’s statements leave behind gives many extremists the courage to carry out more Dadri-like incidents because they think that Modi is on their side.

Ironically, YouTube clips of Modi’s speeches clearly show him calling for protection of cows and the valour which Maharana Pratap exhibited by protecting temples. If Modi can talk about these things then he can surely say that extra-judicial killing on the suspicion of beef consumption is wrong and so are attacks on churches. Why is the prime minister keeping silent? He has to avoid generalities and get to the specifics. “You say it best when you say nothing at all” is a beautiful line from a song by Irish musician Ronan Keating, but it doesn’t work that way in politics, lest one risks becoming another Manmohan Singh.

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/dadri-lynching-mohammad-akhlaq-indian-muslims-bihar-polls/story/1/6738.html

(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”.

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/tarun-vijay-modi-bhakt-beef-dadri-muhammad-akhlaq-secularism-muslims/story/1/6596.html

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)