Sunday, April 26, 2009

India Muslims See Hope in Regional Parties

An old Muslim lady going to cast her vote in Malegaon on April 23

MUMBAI — Fed up of the alienating politics of the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the ruling Congress, Muslims are seeing a glimmer of hope in the more reconciliatory regional parties, seen by experts as a potential threat to the traditional powers.

"Congress and BJP are two sides of the same coin. We need a new coin," Ravish Zaidi, a political activist from the financial hub Mumbai, told
"For a change anything different would do."
Coalitions of small regional parties have emerged on the political landscape lately, with the aim of ending the monopoly of the BJP and Congress.
The Third Front, a coalition of ten regional parties from various ideological backgrounds united under the banner of offering a new political alternative, was launched in March at a massive rally in the southern state of Karnataka.
The Fourth Front, another coalition of three regional parties, also came to surface earlier.
For many Muslims, the rise of regional parties offers a chance to challenge the reign of the Congress and the ultra-Hindu BJP, whose politics have long alienated India's some 140 million Muslims.
"I am fed of Congress and BJP," says Zaidi.
Muslims also credit the pro-poor, pro-women and pro-minorities regional parties for reaching out to them, something they complain the main political parties never did.
In Mumbai alone, the Third Front is fielding two Muslim candidates in the ongoing, month-long general elections, while the ruling Congress has none.
"For sixty years, the Congress has exploited Muslim sentiments," Maulana Hameed Azhari, a Muslim scholar who campaigns for the Fourth Front, told IOL.
"In this election, a major chunk of Muslim vote will move away from Congress and vote for smaller regional parties."
A five-stage polling to elect a new Lok Sabha, the lower house of the parliament, began on April 16 and ends in mid-May.
Analysts believe the new regional alliances are the result of the national parties’ arrogant policies.
"Third Front and Fourth Front are a phenomenon because of the Congress arrogance," M.J. Akbar, a veteran journalist and former lawmaker, told IOL.
He explained that a few months ago the Congress, the main faction of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), refused to make any pre-poll fronts.
"[This] paved the way for the formation of Third and Fourth Front."
Analysts believe the new regional alliances pose a serious threat to both the Congress and the BJP in the parliamentary election.
"Regional and potential Third Front partners are increasingly going independent," notes Ghulam Muhammed, a political analyst.
"[They] are loath to give space for the two national parties to attain their high count of seats, to be able to lead any coalition."
Akbar, once a spokesman for late premier Rajiv Gandhi, agrees.
"The Third Front and the Fourth Front may not agree on much," he noted.
"But… if they get together to patch a post-poll alliance, they will not accept a Congress Prime Minister." April 26 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Master, Queen and Slave

When Queen met the 'Slave': Sonia Gandhi with L.K. Advani

Is the Congress only party which works on the basis of master-servant relationship? Sonia Maino Gandhi has challenged that assumption by breaking the sound of silence. All these years, her long and stoic silence was being considered as a sign of acquiescence. Sonia has proved that she is indeed the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, who dealt her opponents with an iron fist.

So, is Lal Krishna Advani, a slave of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), as Sonia Gandhi has termed at a poll rally in Margao? Anybody who is aware of India’s political history will bear witness that L.K. Advani has indeed been a ‘slave’ of the RSS. There is nothing new in this utterance but yet it will find a unique place in the political history. Sonia’s lips have given it Congress affiliation. The vacuum left behind by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has finally found an echo in the voice of his grand daughter-in-law!

If Congress is a budiya (old lady) then RSS is by no means a gudiya (doll). Congress was born in 1885, an old political party indeed. RSS breathed life in 1925. If one applies Narendra Modi logic, RSS too will fall under the category of budiya! What more, this ‘budiya’ has given birth to ‘gudiyas’ legitimate as well as illegitimate. BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal can claim to be legitimate while Abhinav Bharat, Ram Sene will be ‘branded’ as illegitimate although both have been begotten by RSS, the gudiya-in-chief of Sangh Parivar!

RSS was founded in September 1925 at Nagpur on Dussehra day by Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a medical doctor. Hedgewar was a disciple of Balkrishna Moonje who had sent him to Calcutta in 1910 to pursue medical studies. His unofficial mission was to learn terrorist techniques from the Bengal secret societies. He joined Congress after returning to Nagpur, following in his mentor’s footsteps. Both the master and servant were “disenchanted” with the Congress soon.

In their book The Brotherhood in Saffron, Walter K. Anderson and Shridhar D. Damle record how Hedgewar began to lay intellectual foundations of RSS at a time of escalating Hind-Muslim animosity in Nagpur. They write,

“Hedgewar began to develop the intellectual foundations of the RSS. A major influence on his thinking was a handwritten manuscript Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s Hindutva, which advanced the thesis that the Hindus were a nation. The central propositions of Savarkar’s manuscript are that Hindus are the indigenous people of the continent and that they form a single national group.”

RSS was succeeded by Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar after the death of Hedgewar on June 21, 1940. RSS did grow under his leadership but yet remained on the margins of Indian politics. It was known as a militant Hindu group notorious for its role in communal riots.

An understanding was reached between Golwalkar and the Hindu Mahasabha leader S.P. Mookerjee which led to the formation of the political arm of RSS, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh on October 21, 1951. Jana Sangh merged into Janata Party in 1977. After the fall of the government in 1979, Jana Sangh broke away with Janata Party and renamed it as The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on April 5, 1980.

After the shameful defeat of BJP in 1984 general election, BJP was given a new lease of life by Rajiv Gandhi government when it opened the locks at the gates of Babri Masjid in February 1986. BJP adopted a resolution on Ayodhya on June 11, 1989 at Palampur which demanded that “the sentiments of the overwhelming majority in this country – the Hindus be respected and the site in dispute must be handed over to the Hindus and a mosque built at some other place.” The resolution did not specify what will happen to the Babri Masjid; it was demonstrated only on December 6, 1992.

Construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya is one of the first demands of a ‘cultural’ and ‘fascist’ RSS ‘budiya’. BJP is the 29-year old ‘gudiya’ of the same ‘budiya’!

RSS, as it claims, is apolitical cultural organisation but it has floated its political arm in the form of BJP! The BJP policy has always been dominated and influenced by RSS agenda. Immediately after Palampur resolution, L.K. Advani said, “I am sure it will translate into votes.” After the November 1989 election, he expressed satisfaction that the issue had contributed to the success of BJP. In 1991 election, Advani was confident that Ram Temple movement will influence voters. On June 18, 1991 he proudly said,

“Had I not played the Ram factor effectively, I would have definitely lost from the New Delhi constituency.”

And immediately after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and subsequent riots that followed, he wrote that if the Muslims were to identify themselves with the concept of Hindutva there would not be any reasons for riots to take place. In July 1992, he argued in Lok Sabha speaker’s chamber:

“You must recognise the fact that from two seats in Parliament in 1985 we have come to 117 seats in 1991. This has happened primarily because we took up this issue (Ayodhya).”

From 1999 to 2004, BJP had convened many meetings just to convince the RSS top brass their helplessness over Ram temple because numbers in parliament didn’t add up to pass legislation for the same. Anderson and Damle put it thus,

“It is questionable if the BJP could survive politically without the RSS cadre, and the cadre will not stay unless the leadership of the party stays firmly in the hands of the ‘brotherhood’.”

The Italian scholar Marzia Casolari has documented, on the basis of archival evidence, the RSS’s links with and admiration for Mussolini’s fascist regime.

Doesn’t this brief Advani pattern resemble that of a slave of the master? The sole job of a slave is to serve the interests of his master no matter how despicable and abominable the assigned job is. All through his life Advani has tried his best to please the RSS top brass.

Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who once proudly said – the Sangh is my soul – had worked hard to woo Sanghis. On his visit to Nagpur on August 27, 2000, he had literally surrendered the post of prime minister to a swayamsevak. He had said,

“The post of (prime minister) may go tomorrow, but I will always remain a humble swayamsevak.”

Sonia Gandhi, the queen of Congress, has highlighted the BJP-RSS relationship though there are RSS-sympathisers within the Congress as revealed by RSS general secretary Ram Madhav recently.

Slavery was officially abolished in Britain in 1833 but it is still prevalent in Indian politics.

Sunday Inquilab, April 19, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

India Muslim Vote Between Rock, Hard Place

MUMBAI — As India marathon general polls begin, many Indian Muslims find themselves caught between voting for the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an "open enemy" to their community, or the ruling Congress party, an "unfaithful friend".
"It's certainly a tough choice," Zohra Javed, a political activist, told on Thursday, April 16.
India's voters started casting ballots on Thursday in the first part of a five-stage election that will end in mid-May.
But for Muslims who live among India's 1.1 billion population, the vote is an impasse as the two main front-runners are seen as least-tempting.
"If BJP is guilty of sins of commission, then Congress is guilty of sins of omission," says Nihal Ahmed, a Muslim leader of the center-left Janata Dal party.
"One party, BJP, accuses us of being appeased while the other, Congress, does very little in the name of appeasement."
Javed agrees that the Congress’s so called "appeasement" of Muslims is an eyewash.
"Muslims have to choose between the Congress that betrayed our trust and the regional parties that promise to keep up their promises of delivering justice," she said.
"The BJP is certainly not in the running as far as Muslim votes are concerned.
"The BJP and its likes use it for Muslim bashing and projecting Congress as being soft on Muslims while Muslims really don’t gain anything in essence and nothing changes for the better for the community on the ground."
There are some 140 million Muslims in Hindu-majority India and they have long complained of being discriminated against in all walks of life.
Third Party
Many Muslims believe that both Congress and BJP have more or less the same policies and have used Muslims for political purposes.
"Both the Congress and the BJP have similar economic and foreign policies and represent for the most the same caste and elite class," says Feroze Mithiborwala, of Muslims Intellectuals Forum.
Mithiborwala believes the solution for Muslims is in finding a third party.
"Muslims especially in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madya Pradesh, Chattisgargh and Rajasthan will have to take the initiative or join the initiatives challenging the Congress /BJP polarity."
Maulana Abdul Hameed Azhari, a Muslim scholar, also sees that abandoning both parties will be the answer.
"In this election, Muslims will prove that they will not be used as a vote-bank anymore,”" he told IOL.
"Now there are new avenues in the form of regional parties."
But M.J. Akbar, a veteran journalist and former lawmaker, believes the solution is in Muslims own hands.
"For sixty years they have voted out of fear, so that is what they have got from those they elected: the politics of fear."
He also says the problem is that Muslims never tried to think of their own leadership.
"Indian Muslims don’t have leaders, they have pleaders. They plead with their mentors for crumbs; and they plead with their electorate once every five years for survival.
"Indian Muslims will get development the day they vote for development." April 16, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Diagnosing Dr. Manmohan Singh

Manmohan Singh: India's mutest prime minister

How will history judge Dr. Manmohan Singh, India’s non-political prime minister? Will he be remembered as an opportunist who agreed to become prime minister when Sonia Gandhi’s ‘inner voice’ prevailed over her outer voice? Will he be remembered as a ‘night watchman’ performing his nocturnal duty and waiting for the daybreak? Will he be remembered as Madam’s appointee and yes-man-prime minister? Or will he be remembered as a credible man who lost his credibility in political dealings of July 2008 trust vote? Will he be remembered for his do-or-die threat to Leftists over Indo-US nuclear deal? Will he be remembered for reciprocating a measured and sensible response to Pakistan over 26/11? Will he be remembered for not uttering a word over Sikh protests against Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Singh? Or will he be remembered as India’s only minority prime minister who gave Indian Muslims Sachar Committee report? Or will he be remembered for buckling under political pressure and happily allotting time to L.K. Advani to explain his government’s stand on Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thankur?

Dr. Manmohan Singh’s five years of power cannot be diagnosed with the help of above questions alone. Doctor’s dissection must be supplemented by his connivance and silence.

Manmohan Singh, no doubt, is a wearer of many hats. He is not only a sharp bureaucrat but also an astute economist who performed an economic ‘bypass’ to a dying Indian economy and dared to do the unthinkable: open gates of India to foreign direct investment (FDI) and ending an era of license raj. In a stirring speech he had predicted the days of a rising India. Manmohan Singh’s historic budget of 1991 changed the course of India’s economic history. Singh’s radical economic shift was not like Harry Potter’s magic wand but it gradually saved India from extending a begging bowl to IMF (International Monetary Fund). PC Chidambaram’s 1997 “dream budget” was nothing but a legacy of Manmohan Singh. NDA capitalised and strengthened the basic policies of Manmohan Singh. It was only in 2006-07 Time and New Statesman portrayed India on their cover pages and recognised the potential of India’s economic march. Manmohan Singh had said the same 15 years ago: an idea whose time had come.

Political sincerity and commitment cannot be gauged from speeches but it reflects in the legislature. The two most prominent decision of Manmohan Singh government are passing of RTI (Right to Information Act) and NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme). UPA’s common minimum programme is indeed praise-worthy but Manmohan Singh government has failed to fulfill aspirations of the common man. As activist Aruna Roy has rightly remarked, “In a strange schizophrenia, the Manmohan Singh government remembered to bring the non-shining India to the table, but forgot to serve it.”

Manmohan Singh has spent his early days in a village (now in Pakistan) but his heart only beats for the rich and the corporate India. NREGS was passed after much deliberation and discussion while SEZ (Special economic zone) bill was passed without any debate.

It has been rightly said that Manmohan Singh was in office but never in power. His tenure as a PM has been dominated by his ministers. PC Chidambaram never listened to Mannohan Singh. Just one example of the union budget would suffice. In a letter dated November 24, 2006 just after the submission of Sachar committee report, the Prime Minister’s Office directed to the finance ministry that “wherever possible, 15 per cent of targets and funds be earmarked for the minorities in the schemes included in the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme.” Finance Ministry completely ignored this directive. The post-Sachar Union budget was a major disappointment for minorities. After acknowledging that only a ‘modest’ contribution of Rs 16.47 crore was made to the equity of the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC), Finance Minister (FM) said, “following the Sachar Committee report, NMDFC would be required to expand its reach and intensify its efforts”. So a paltry sum of Rs 63 crore was added to its share capital. And Rs 108 crore was allotted to the districts with a concentration of minorities. FM did not mention the actual number of those districts to avoid the embarrassment. There are a total of 155 such districts. You need not be a mathematician to figure out that only bureaucratic leftovers will be bestowed to the minorities. Out of the Union government's total expenditure of Rs 680,521 crore, the total allocation for minorities (it includes Sikhs and Christians too) was less than Rs 320 crore. The total number of minorities in India is 200 million (Muslims 150m, Sikhs and Christians 50m).

Rs 320 crore for 200 million people? Manmohan Singh, who himself belongs to Sikh minority, didn’t utter a single word over this. He must have felt guilty but he didn’t have political will power to raise this issue. Swapan Dasgupta has rightly said,

“His total inexperience with electoral politics and his awareness that he was just a proxy made him adaptable.”

This is what happens when a fine economist is turned into a politician.

Manmohan Singh government’s foreign policy has been dominated by America and Israel. If Indo-US nuclear deal took place in full public view then the recently concluded arms deal with Israel worth 10000 crore was a closed door affair. Manmohan Singh was the face of the Indo-US nuclear deal. Why didn’t he publically acknowledge the arms deal with Israel? That would have certainly increased his ‘credibility’ ratings because PM is known for his honesty!

Honesty is a commendable trait but it is not enough to run a country of more than a billion aspirations. To quote Tarun Tejpal would be apt,

“Decency and efficiency are laudable traits, but they are also routinely found in army officers and swayamsewaks. In the leader of a billion people you may want to look for more.”
Dr. Singh will go down in history as the mutest prime minister of India. He has asserted his authority only once when he had threatened to resign if Indo-US deal doesn’t sail through. That was only time he reminded the politicians that he is the prime minster of India.

Manmohan Singh is not even taken seriously in his own cabinet perhaps because he has never won a parliamentary election. According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta he is “not an actor in his own cabinet.”

Apart from running a coalition government, Manmohan Singh doesn’t have leadership skills. Tarun Tejpal is right when he wrote,

“Without the PM’s tag he would lead a procession that would scarcely fill a corridor of South Block leave alone Ramlila Maidan.”
Sunday Inquilab, April 12, 2009

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Old Men of Indian Politics

Old Namaskar! When will we retire from politics?

Old age may be equated with wisdom but in politics wisdom evaporates with old age. “The older I grow”, wrote American journalist and writer H.L. Mencken, “the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.” So is there any similarity between Manmohan Singh and L.K. Advani apart from their prime ministerial ambition? Yes, both the politicians have tuned grey. Manmohan Singh is 77; Advani is 82. That brings us to an interesting question: Why do we Indians – whose half population is under 25 – have prime ministers and political leaders on the wrong side of the age?

Consider this: Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first and longest serving prime minister, was 58 when he took charge of the country in 1947. Lal Bahadur Shastri was 60 when he became prime minister in June 1964 after the death of Nehru. Indira Gandhi was only 49 when she became the first and the only woman prime minister of India in 1966. Rajiv Gandhi was barely 40 when he became the prime minister following Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Vishwanath Pratap Singh was 58 when he succeeded in becoming prime minister in 1989. Chandra Shekhar was 63 when he took over prime ministership in 1990. H.D. Deve Gowda was 63 when he became prime minister in 1996.

So what were Manmohan Singh and L.K. Advani thinking when they exchanged verbal volleys? Was this an attempt to distract public attention? Nobody disputes the fact that Manmohan Singh is a meek prime minister. But is L.K. Advani a strong candidate for prime ministership as advertisements portray him to be? (A point worth-noting: L.K. Advani is the only Indian prime minister aspirant who is perhaps spending millons of rupees on advertisements) L.K. Advani may not have undergone heart surgery like Manmohan Singh but in essence he is weaker than the prime minister. In a press conference recently, he flexed his muscles by lifting a pair of dumbbells! This strategy was to diffuse the public perception that Advani is an old man. But wrinkles on his forehead cannot be straightened with a shot of botox injection! Advani is essentially a week man although he has been billed as India’s “iron man”. Why is Advani silent on Varun Gandhi’s communal outburst? It is not the first time that he has adopted the conspiracy of silence. Is that a sign of an iron man? Or has he become a man of irony?

If Manmohan Singh underwent a heart surgery then Atal Bihari Vajpayee had a knee replacement in the year 2000 as a prime minister. It was a replacement of the knee of nation! Can we imagine that the “heart” and “knee” of nation are so weak that it requires an operation to fix them?

Then there are politicians who can’t even walk: Arjun Singh (79), our HRD minister, walks on a wheelchair. A.K. Antony (69), defence minister, recently fainted while attending a parade in Pune. Pranab Mukherjee (74), who still dreams to become prime minister, can be seen catching forty winks at campaign rallies. BJP stalwarts Jawant Singh and Yashwant Sinha are above the age of 70.

Jyoti Basu, the longest serving chief minister of Bengal, was part of the CPI (M) Polit bureau till April 2008, at the age of 94! Karnanidhi is 85 but still heads DMK! M.K. Naraynan, our National Security Advisor, is 75! What kind of security can we expect from him?

Why can’t we have a legislation to put restriction on the age of politicians? We already have a legislation by which bureaucrats retire at the age of 58. Although both politicians and bureaucrats are public servants but we treat them with a different yardstick. Alas, no such legislation is going to come forward from any political party because all parties are united on this: they intend to rule India till the last breath! India will not witness the dawn of professional politics as long as this “democratic freedom” is curtailed. Perhaps this tradition of rewarding old men of politics is borrowed from Joint Hindu Family Firm (JHFF) where ‘Karta’ remains the head of the family as long as he is alive!

One cursory look at other democracies reveals that the politicians are far younger. Barack Hussein Obama, president of United States, is only 48; Gordon Brown, prime minister of United Kingdom, is 58. Nicholas Sarkozy, French president, is 54.

The Indian politicians will rebuke the idea of political retirement because politicians never ‘retire’; they are only ‘tired’! There must be an age for political retirement, say, 65. Politicians will have 7 grace years as compared to bureaucrats! Isn’t this a good hypothesis for politicians? For those who don’t agree on 65 as the age of retirement, consider this:

After 65, Alzheimer’s disease is very common in developed countries like America. Indian politicians have been victims of Alzheimer’s disease as well. From Ranganath Misra to Sri Krishna to Sachar Commission, Indian politicians have literally “forgotten” the real issues of Indian Muslims.

Isn’t this a result of Alzheimer’s disease?

Sunday Inquilab, April 5, 2009