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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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.

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/bihar-polls-narendra-modi-reservation-muslims-christians-parsis-jains-scheduled-castes/story/1/7032.html

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)

How Modi can change India-Africa ties

The Indian society will have to cleanse itself of racism. The fact that many Africans living in India face racial discrimination on a day to day basis cannot be denied. (Image: Wikipedia)

The Indian society will have to cleanse itself of racism. The fact that many Africans living in India face racial discrimination on a day to day basis cannot be denied. (Image: Wikipedia)

New Delhi will be a host to the third edition of the India-Africa Forum Summit from October 26-29. Africa is the second largest continent in the world but it is home to more countries than both Asia and Europe. With an estimated population of 1.1 billion, Africa also happens to be the second most populous continent in the world. Ironically, the population of the entire African continent is less than the population of India. In fact it is less than even 50 per cent of the combined population of Asian giants China and India.

Despite that one cannot overlook the importance of Africa as a continent simply because of its size and the population it supports. Fortunately, the upcoming summit in New Delhi will witness participation from 54 recognised African states. News reports have suggested that nearly 40 heads of state will be in attendance at the summit. This is indeed a big achievement because the previous summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, saw participation from only 14 African states. “India is proud to host @indiaafrica2015. The Summit reflects India & Africa’s desire to engage more intensively for a better future,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the lead up to the summit.

Considering India’s growing keenness for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, which became evident during PM Modi’s trip to the United States last month, it is incumbent upon India to foster good relations with African nations. The support of the African countries as a whole would be vital for bringing in reform at the UNSC. The developing countries have to come together and pressurize the P-5 into expanding the Security Council thereby making it more geographically representative and reflective of the new economic world order.

Developing together

If India-Africa ties improve exponentially then the larger international picture is bound to transform. Besides acting together on the global stage, India and Africa should also develop deep bilateral relations. As far as India’s role in the African continent is concerned, Prime Minister Modi must realise that India has to be a friend of the African people and not the African leaders. Though Modi believes in building strong personal relations with international leaders like President Obama, it is important for him to realise that many of the African leaders are undemocratic despots who’ve ruled their respective nations for decades without doing much for the welfare of their people.Take the case of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who has been in power since 1987 and is the incumbent chairperson of the African Union. As per World Bank estimates, when Mugabe assumed power the average life expectancy in Zimbabwe was 61.11 years. In 2012, it was down to 58.05 years. The Zimbabwean economy is in a mess after having witnessed years of hyperinflation. Zimbabwe’s neighbour in southern Africa, the oil rich nation of Angola, is led by Jose Eduardo Dos Santos. President Santos has served in office since 1979. While his own daughter Isabel Dos Santos happens to be a billionaire, Angola happens to be the deadliest country in the world for children. Ground reportage from Angola by the New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof showed that Angolan hospitals do not have medicines for dying children. In his column titled “Deadliest country for kids”, Kristof wrote that “one child in six in this country will die by the age of six” and “150,000 Angolan children die annually”. All of this conveniently occurs at a time when the president’s own daughter earns billions while the children of the commoners are left to die.

There are several African leaders like Cameroon’s Paul Biya and Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, all of whom find place in the list of “World’s Worst Dictators” by David Wallechinsky, who have ruled since more than three decades now. Indian foreign policy should not seek to extend the undemocratic rule of such men. Neither should it take an interventionist shape. Change has to come from within and all our country can do is be a friend of the African people as stated earlier instead of being a friend of the African leaders who lack credibility.

Shared history and challenges

The African Union is a successor body to the Organisation for African Unity whose primary objectives were to fight colonialism and apartheid in the African continent. The AU which was launched on July 9, 2002, focuses more on democracy, peace, prosperity, security and human rights. The rise of terror groups like Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and Lord’s Resistance Army poses a serious threat to the peace and stability in the African continent. The Indian security forces have an experience of dealing with terrorism in several places including regions of Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and the northeast. The Indian forces should help train and better equip the African troops to fight the terror groups operating in Africa.

Many of the victims of the mayhem unleashed by African terrorist groups are young women and children. LRA, led by Joseph Kony, is notorious for pushing children into sex slavery and turning them into child soldiers. LRA does so in the name of religion with Kony pretending to be a prophet of God. Boko Haram has also been utilising religion to ferment unrest in Nigeria. They are ideologically opposed to western education and have abducted young schoolgirls in the past and forcefully converted them to Islam. Al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab is another threat which cannot be overlooked and so is the Islamic State as it plans to spread its tentacles across Africa.We cannot breathe easy here in India as long as terror groups continue creating havoc in Africa. India should proactively lend its military expertise in terms of intelligence sharing and sophisticated weapons to African nations in their quest to wipe out monstrous groups like Boko Haram and LRA. African nations also have a lot to learn from India’s secular model of democracy. Countries like Nigeria and Central African Republic are embroiled in bloody religious conflicts. Though India has its own share of religious conflicts to resolve yet the Indian model of pluralism and secular democracy can serve as a lesson for those in Africa who truly believe in coexistence and multiculturalism.

Tackling racism

India must throw open the doors of its universities to African students. Such an arrangement would be beneficial both ways. Young Africans will get an opportunity to transform their lives by gaining access to affordable education and at the same time India’s university campuses will get foreign students which they seriously lack. More hostels would have to be created to accommodate African students and the government will have to arrange for credit and scholarship facilities for them.

Our country will also have to cleanse itself of racism. The fact that many Africans living in India face racial discrimination on a day to day basis cannot be denied. A visit to Khirki village in New Delhi will make one realize how Indians refer to African migrants as hapshis or cannibals. They are stereotyped and accused of being involved in drug trafficking and prostitution. Such vices have no place in a pluralistic society. Racism against Africans living in India has to be tackled with utmost seriousness. We cannot allow autowalas and real estate brokers to overcharge Africans for their services simply because they can’t understand the local language or are unaware of the fundamentals of the local economy. But what we have to be wary about is regarding the involvement of some Africans in drug trade. The proliferation of drugs on Indian soil capable of endangering the lives of our young minds will not be tolerated.

These issues will surely come up for discussion in the upcoming India-Africa Forum Summit. But the most vital talking point would be of trade, investment and business.

In the past few days a number of statistics have been thrown around to give a sense of the size of Indo-Africa trade relations. As per a Press Trust of India report, India’s trade with Africa is worth USD 75 billion. The figure is expected to rise as a number of memorandums of understanding would surely be signed during the summit between the Indian and African leadership. But India needs to be sure of one thing i.e. that we shouldn’t go inside African territory with the intention of looting Africa.

No scramble for power

Africa’s tragedy rests in the fact that its resources and people were looted by the European colonial powers. In the 21st century, we are witnessing the evils of neo-liberalism and multinational corporations. Some of our own companies are exploiting our wealth and resources in states like Chhattisgarh and Odisha. We cannot allow them to do in Africa what they have been trying to do at home. Any trade relationship between India and Africa has to be premised on the notion of egalitarianism. Strict rules and regulations would have to be devised to prevent the loot and theft of Africa’s oil, emeralds, pearls, gas and mineral wealth.

Economic justice and fair distribution of wealth are often ignored in the blind pursuit of prosperity. India-Africa trade relations should negate any trade activity which impinges upon economic justice. Progress should be mutual and its benefits must necessarily flow down to the citizens of both India and Africa instead of being limited to the ruling elite in both the regions. The task ahead for India and Africa’s political and business leadership is overwhelmingly difficult but with the resilience and spirit of our people it is a feat which can certainly be achieved.

Martin Luther King Jr once dreamt of an America free from racial bias, an America which practised racial integration instead of racial segregation. The people of India and Africa too have a dream. They dream of well-built roads and residential complexes instead of broken pathways and slum houses. They dream of affordable schools, colleges and hospitals which would lead to education becoming a right instead of a privilege. They dream of becoming self sufficient in terms of food production and safeguarding themselves from epidemics like AIDS and Ebola. They dream of a nation where life expectancy would be high and salaries paid to workers would be in the spirit of optimum remuneration and mindful of the prevailing price rise. They dream of a time when people of all religions, sects, tribes and castes would live together in peace.

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/india-africa-ties-india-africa-forum-summit-2015-foreign-policy-racism-boko-haram-west-asia-unsc-martin-luther-king-jr/story/1/6954.html

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)

What Modi can learn from Bernie’s response to Hillary

Bernie Sanders’ comments on the email controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton were seen by many as an act of political maturity. Back home in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi missed out on an opportunity to exhibit similar political sanity while addressing the Dadri lynching episode. (Image: Wikipedia)

Bernie Sanders’ comments on the email controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton were seen by many as an act of political maturity. Back home in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi missed out on an opportunity to exhibit similar political sanity while addressing the Dadri lynching episode. (Image: Wikipedia)

“The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails… enough of the emails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America,” said Senator Bernie Sanders as Hillary Rodham Clinton responded with the words, “Thank you, Bernie” during CNN’s first democratic presidential debate. The moment was one of rare political maturity.

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s usage of private email while in office is quite a controversial issue. But senator Bernie Sanders, who is competing for democratic presidential nomination against Hillary Clinton, made it clear that the real issues were concerning income inequality and employment as opposed to emails. Though Republicans would be far from satisfied on seeing Sanders’ exoneration of Hillary, the fact of the matter is that at least one American politician had the courage to talk about the bigger picture instead of falling prey to an easy political whip against a fellow competitor.

Back home in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi missed out on an opportunity to exhibit similar political sanity. We need to credit Modi for having directly addressed the Dadri lynching episode during a newspaper interview and terming the tragedy as “unfortunate and unwarranted”. It was encouraging to learn that PM Modi did not approve of the opposition to Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai. Unfortunately, that’s where the Prime Minister stopped!

Instead of going forward and sacking retrograde Hindutva hatemongers like Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma and BJP MLA Sangeet Som, both of whom passed insensitive remarks following Dadri lynching, the Prime Minister attempted self exoneration by stating that the buck did not stop at the central government. He further went on to score political brownie points by accusing rival parties of “pseudo-secularism” and practising “politics of polarisation”.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a shame that such a timid response is coming from the prime minister of India. Firstly, his response to Dadri is much delayed and incidentally two days after the first phase of elections in Bihar. The timing in itself is worth suspecting. Was the statement a damage control exercise? Or did the BJP think that it had milked the post-Dadri polarisation just as much as it had wanted to and decided to drag the issue out of headlines to prevent any further disrepute to the central government?

Secondly, while law and order in the state of Uttar Pradesh certainly doesn’t come within the purview of the central government, Modi does happen to be the boss of both Mahesh Sharma and Sangeet Som. What’s stopping Modi from the sacking the two? While Sharma tried to downplay the lynching episode by stating that since Danish had not incurred any fracture, it proves that the mob did not intend to lynch him, Som held a meeting in Bishahra in defiance of prohibitory orders and spoke of “Hindu retaliation”.

The phraseology which both the men had employed clearly hinted at their overt sympathy towards the mob responsible for killing Akhlaq and injuring Danish. If Modi felt strongly about Dadri then he should have made sure that these men ceased to be a part of the government and party, respectively.

Thirdly, BJP is the single largest party in Maharashtra. The Sena-BJP government is led by BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis and yet the past few days were a witness to unfortunate incidents involving Sudheendra Kulkarni and Ghulam Ali. What’s preventing Modi from communicating his reservations to Uddhav Thackeray? If the Shiv Sena is not in a mood to listen then Modi should call off the alliance. But he won’t since he has chosen the simple way out. Blame the opposition parties and raise hollow rhetoric.

In such testing times of rising intolerance, the leader of a country is expected to reassure citizens of the rule of law. But Modi chose to paint a helpless picture of his and left the blame at the door of the state governments. Ironically, he overlooked the fact that one of them was led by his own party.

Bipartisanship should be an essential element of politics. When an incident like Dadri happens, political leaders should come together and uphold the composite culture of our nation. It goes without saying that Modi is an excellent communicator. He should have chosen his words carefully and refrained from politicising Dadri and other incidents. If he had done so, he may have become another Bernie Sanders. However, he didn’t and instead resorted to centre-state jurisdiction and partisan politics! But then we must not forget that rising above politics is not in the DNA of our political parties. After all, the Congress also sacked Shashi Tharoor as its spokesperson for lending support to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/dadri-murder-narendra-modi-hillary-clinton-bernie-sanders-sudheendra-kulkarni-mahesh-sharma-shiv-sena/story/1/6799.html

(This article was originally published in DailyO.) 

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.)