Lessons from the UP Electoral Battle for the Impending War in 2014

Posted on March 12, 2012 in Politics

By Karmanye Thadani:

This is a turbulent phase in Indian politics. While there are still two years left for the next Lok Sabha elections, people have started wondering which government will be the next to come to power. Proverbially, the passage to Delhi passes through Lucknow. The politics of UP reflects to some extent the politics nationally. At a time when it was being largely felt that the role of religion in Indian politics has diminished, we saw it emerging as a major reactionary force. The culprit this time was not the BJP, which has seemed to learn the hard way from the damage it suffered from Varun Gandhi’s anti-Muslim hate speech, using the alleged mass murderer Narendra Modi as its poster boy, (it’s noteworthy that despite there being talk of getting him to campaign in these UP elections, the idea was given up) and the violence against innocent Christians in Orissa and Karnataka, that a very large number of Hindus are not only not impressed by such things but look down upon their party precisely for such reasons. The culprit for introducing religion-based politics this time was the Congress, which was historically a secular party that opposed the Muslim League, (and even the Hindu Mahasabha) but now acts as a Muslim-appeasing party.


Talk to The Hand... Or Lotus

Want recent examples of Muslim appeasement by the Congress, overlooking old ones like the practical overturning of the Shah Bano verdict? Here they are — The first is the way Salman Rushdie was not allowed to visit India in spite of his lawfully obtained visa. The second can be Digvijay respectfully referring to the world’s most wanted terrorist as ‘Osama ji. The third and a more serious one can be the proposed law against communal violence which turns a blind eye to the violence by religious minorities. A fourth example that can be cited is Pranab Mukherjee’s obsession with giving a large share of bank loans to Muslims. If all this amounts to secularism, then I am impressed!

However, much more significant than all these is the Congress proposing reservations for Muslims, institutionalizing the communal divide, knowing fully well that the creamy layer will lap up the advantages of any such quota. Wasn’t the OBC quota introduced by the late Arjun Singh enough of a disgrace? How much more can we compromise on merit? None other than Jawaharlal Nehru, a man whose name the Congress swears by, had expressed his displeasure over reservations on caste or communal basis in a letter to the Chief Ministers of all the states during his Prime Ministerial tenure.

This policy of reservations is in line with the divisive ideas of men like Ambedkar and Syed Ahmed Khan, who were committed to their respective communities separating their interests from the nation at large and therefore became historical opponents of the Congress, rather than those who defined the Congress ideology like Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad and Babu Jagjivan Ram (the last two mentioned being a Muslim and a dalit respectively) who wanted an independent India with justice to all, and appeasement to none. Even a compromise with Ambedkar by the Congress by appointing him as the Law Minister in the first government of free India could not rein in his fancy for seeking more and more doles for his community, preventing their integration in mainstream society, which would prove fatal for the political careers of leaders of his ilk. Of course, in today’s political vocabulary, uttering a word against Ambedkar would qualify you as an upper-caste chauvinist, and going by that logic, the Congress should even proclaim their great leaders Gandhi and Nehru to be in that category, just as Gandhi and Maulana Azad should be declared communal for opposing the conversion tactics used by many Christian missionaries and our constitution should be declared as not being truly secular for issuing a directive to have a uniform civil code!

The pitiable progressive Muslim is averse to the BJP because of its Hindutva politics, and averse to regional parties like the SP and BSP because of his progressive outlook. He doesn’t have a choice but to turn to the Congress, in spite of its absurd appeasement tactics. The regressive Muslim, who considers parties like the SP and BSP as feasible options, often gets impressed by the way the Congress supposedly cares for his community.

Now, with the Congress seen as trying to consolidate the Muslim vote, the BJP sees no better alternative than returning to what it does best – resorting to its political ideology of Hindutva. Hence, while campaigning in UP, it opposes the proposed Muslim quota, which is fine, but also rather strangely, brings up the issue of the Ram temple in Ayodhya when the matter is sub judice with the Supreme Court. To even talk on these lines should, in my opinion, be regarded as contempt of court (and contempt of court is not something that necessarily takes place within the courtroom, while proceedings are on). However, the election results have demonstrated that Hindus are too divided on caste lines for there to be any consolidated Hindu vote. Sadly, politics free from caste or religion is looming in the horizon.

To take this further, we are recently witnessing, as a late reaction to the BJP’s Hindutva politics, the emergence of parties claiming to speak for the Muslims, like the Peace Party and the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). The very reason for the backwardness of Muslims is their self-‘otherization’, and these parties promote that spirit. With Muslim leaders like Mr. Owaisi showing up on television defending the treatment meted out to Rushdie and saying that India should take into consideration Muslim sentiments while forging its ties with Israel, now it won’t only be a battle between Hindutva and minority-appeasement, but the new force of Islamism (the Muslim version of Hindutva) will have to be reckoned with, which till recently, was only a force to be appeased, but not one that had a standing of its own. The emergence of Islamism will only boost Hindutva, which has been lying low, but there hardly seems to be any space for real secularism.

However, the discourse about religion and caste in contemporary Indian politics would be incomplete without acknowledging certain positive trends.  Dalit votes not getting concentrated in favour of the BSP in these UP elections was an important development and something political commentators would have to take cognizance of. Also, the BJP, while playing the Hindutva card in UP, did manage to win the elections in Goa, a state with a sizable Christian population, where it fielded several Christian candidates, all of whom won. Hence, the pessimism about divisive politics in our country should not be stretched too far.

Next, let’s deal with Charisma and the Politics of Arrest. Rahul, India’s crown prince from the Congress, could not achieve much for his party in UP even by getting arrested, portraying himself as a crusader for the farmers, nor could Gadkari. Interestingly, neither the Congress nor the BJP managed to win in Bhatta Parsaul! The common man doesn’t fall for charisma or token sacrifices anymore, something the UP elections have demonstrated. And he does want local leaders or leaders from his state, with whom he can identify more easily, showing that regional parties have a bright future. However, when regional parties field candidates with criminal backgrounds, their promises to end hooliganism should not be taken seriously, as we are seeing in UP.

One would also have to take cognizance of the fact that the trend of Dynasty Politics, which was primarily associated with the Congress and Shiv Sena, has now been acquired by the Samajwadi Party and we may see more of this in the future with other parties. The UP elections prove that the family as a sociological unit in India will continue to cast a shadow on the polity of our country.

Also, with the struggle against corruption led by Anna Hazare having been a major development, the attitude of political parties towards a Lokpal and Lokayuktas is also of some consequence. Both the Congress and the BJP have a history of scams at the centre and in the states. With the Congress in power and at the receiving end of the protests of Anna Hazare and his supporters, the BJP has put up the pretense of being holier than the Congress and threw in its lot with Hazare. However, it exposed its true face when it differed with Team Anna while opposing the office of the Lokayukta becoming a constitutional one by deliberately misinterpreting Article 253 of the Constitution. Modi’s Gujarat still doesn’t have a Lokayukta and in Karnataka, the Lokayukta sent their Chief Minister to jail. Then, the induction of Kushwaha in the BJP for the UP elections showed how its politics was more driven by divisive factors like caste than any genuine attempt to weed out corruption; so the anti-incumbency against the Congress purely on the grounds of corruption has reflected the immaturity of our electorate, which may persist in 2014.

When it comes to the economy,  the GDP growth rate has declined,  but the Congress has introduced legislative measures for the aam aadmi, like guaranteeing 100 days of employment to every rural household, making education a Fundamental Right, recognizing tribals’ and forest-dwellers’ rights and most recently, an effort is being made to recognize the Right to Food for every citizen. A high GDP growth rate with farmers committing suicide did not get the BJP back in power. But then, farmers are again committing suicide, something the Congress needs to address swiftly and effectively. The Congress has also been proactive in addressing the issue of the backlog of judicial cases, a very serious problem concerning our nation, something the BJP neglected while in power. The BJP’s ‘India Shining’ campaign based on the mere statistics of a rise in GDP and some confidence-building measures in foreign policy that made no real difference to the issues at hand had exposed its hollowness and had proved to be its undoing.

Coming to foreign policy and dealing with secessionist movements, of late, the BJP has only been able to come up with the idea of hoisting the Tricolour at Lal Chowk in Srinagar. While this may be bold and assertive, it only alienates the Kashmiri Muslims. And BJP spokesman Tarun Vijay’s speeches reminding Kashmiri Muslims of how some of their ancestors supported Shyama Prasad Mookerjee in his fast unto death for abrogating Article 370 of the Indian constitution will not help either. A sincere, open-minded dialogue with the youth of Kashmir is needed without feeding them on jingoistic Indian nationalism. As for the border dispute with China, India and China swapping claims over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh respectively is the best way forward, but the BJP seems in no mood to give up its chauvinistic nationalism, making it impossible for the Congress to adopt a pragmatic approach.

The BJP can bring up issues like India’s overall backwardness in scientific research in spite of Sibal’s token gestures like accompanying some of our scientists to Antarctica, the need of the hour to revise the education system by teaching more economics than chemistry to our young students (since the former impacts everyone’s lives a lot more directly) rather than using reducing burden on students as a holy cow to dilute the education system by scrapping the Class X Board exams, proposing a Right to Housing in line with Article 11 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) just like the Right to Food, demanding proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act (which was introduced by the Congress) to check Naxalism and the likes, than still sticking to a Ram temple or only opposing the Congress for its minority appeasement (rather hypocritically, for it can hardly be realistic when it claims to be secular itself).

As the political commentator Ashok Malik had described the BJP as a “woolly-headed cousin of the Congress” in policy issues and had further stated — “If the BJP has to be a 120-seat entity in New Delhi, it may as well be one with rigorous, defining policy opinions. The alternative is to just hang around and hope for something to happen. We know where that approach got it in Lucknow.” The BJP can indeed take Indian politics to a higher level by educating the masses about real issues. Will it do so? I wonder!