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24 November, 2015

Regrouping to face Modi

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Early intimations of a grand alliance at the national level to check the advancing Hindutva forces, which pose a threat to secularism and democracy, were visible when leaders of political parties of varying hues gathered in Bihar’s capital, Patna, last week for the swearing-in of Nitish Kumar as the Chief Minister.

Nitish Kumar had taken oath as the Chief Minister four times previously – twice as leader of the Samata Party and twice as leader of the Janata Dal (United). But this was the first time that leaders of many national and regional parties and chief ministers of many states were at hand to greet him.

In the recent Assembly elections, Nitish Kumar had led a grand alliance, comprising his JD(U) and his long-time rival Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal as equal partners and the Congress party as an add-on, to a sensational victory, dashing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to bring the state under the Bharatiya Janata Party.

That gave Nitish Kumar a national stature high enough to make him a possible future Prime Minister. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, who was in Patna, said, “Nitishji should now get ready to move to Delhi as the next Prime Minister.”

The Congress was represented at the swearing-in ceremony by President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-President Rahul Gandhi. The party also ensured the presence of all its Chief Ministers to underscore the importance it attaches to the coalition experiment in Bihar.

Other Chief Ministers present included Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi Party had inflicted a crushing defeat on the BJP in this year’s Assembly elections, and West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress brought to an end more than three decades of Left rule in her state.

Other present included former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda (Janata Dal-Secular), former Union Minister Sharad Pawar (National Congress Party), former Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister MK Stalin (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury.

To avoid the impression that the swearing-in had been turned into an anti-BJP jamboree, Nitish Kumar extended an invitation to Narendra Modi too. Since he was leaving on a scheduled foreign tour, Modi deputed two of his Cabinet colleagues to attend the ceremony.

The way Modi stormed into Delhi last year, pulverising the Congress party and the corruption-hit United Progressive Alliance government it headed, the popular impression was that he and the BJP were well set for a long innings. That impression was strengthened when, in state after state, Modi personally led the BJP’s campaign and led it to victory.

Arvind Kejriwal, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav having blown up the myth of Modi’s invincibility, the opposition, as a whole, has regained self-confidence and is getting ready to offer a stiff challenge to the BJP at both national and state levels.

But there are many hurdles to cross before a grand alliance at the national level can emerge. The two tallest leaders of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state, Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose Samajwadi Party is in power in the state, and former Chief Minister Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, were conspicuously absent at the Patna event.

Assembly elections in West Bengal and Assam in the east and Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the south are due next year. The BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), are already busy evolving suitable strategies to enlarge the party’s presence in these states where Hindutva elements are weak.

In Assam, the BJP did well in the Lok Sabha election, campaigning on the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh. It can be expected to milk the issue again in the Assembly elections.

In West Bengal and Kerala, the BJP is pinning its hopes on sections disillusioned with the Left parties. There are indications that some of their “upper caste” supporters may be willing to switch allegiance to the BJP. The political traditions of the two states rule out the possibility of a secular front to stop the BJP’s advance.

In the recent local body elections in Kerala, the BJP made big advances, especially in the urban areas, raising hopes in its ranks that it may be able to establish its presence in the Assembly in the next elections. RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat was in the state recently to energise cadres.

Politics in Tamil Nadu revolves round two Dravidian parties. The BJP may not find it easy to work out a respectable deal with either of them but smaller regional parties will be happy to do business with it.

To get a fair idea of the line-up ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections we have to await the outcome of the UP Assembly elections of 2017 which will witness a confrontation between the BJP and the non-BJP parties. - Gulf Today, November 24, 2015

17 November, 2015

Wrong way to fight communalism

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Karnataka’s Congress Chief Minister S Siddaramaiah has just shown how not to fight communalism. His decision to celebrate the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of Mysore, holding him up as a secular hero, provided Hindutva elements in the state, whom his party had defeated in the Assembly elections two years ago, an opportunity to whip up communal sentiments.

Tipu was the theme of the Karnataka government’s float at this year’s Republic Day parade in New Delhi. It provoked some protests in the state but was well received in the national capital. This encouraged Siddaramaiah to organise state-level celebrations to mark his 265th birthday.

Tipu, who came to be known as the Tiger of Mysore, inherited the kingdom from his father Hydar Ali, an army commander who seized power as the Wodayar dynasty’s hold weakened. The father and the son enlarged the kingdom, and posed a challenge to expanding British colonialism. The British fought four wars against them. They killed Tipu in 1799 and reinstalled the Wodayars, who ruled thereafter under British protection.

While launching the Indian National Army’s campaign against the British and allied forces during World War II, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose identified Tipu as an early freedom fighter who had taken up arms against the British, like Tantia Tope and Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi.

Tipu was the only Indian ruler of the time who never sought British protection. Impressed with his prowess as a military leader, Napoleon had sought an alliance with him in the fight against the British.

The British hated Tipu intensely. They took delight in naming their dogs after him. Many Indians named their dogs Tiger.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, while campaigning for the creation of Pakistan, once said that Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent had a common history but their heroes were different. The Hindutva school has proved him right. From the history books they have fashioned Hindu heroes like Maratha ruler Shivaji and Muslim villains like Moghul emperor Aurangazeb and Tipu Sultan.

Siddaramaiah invited leaders of all political parties and leading intellectuals to the Tipu birthday celebrations. The Bharatiya Janaa Party boycotted them. Its Hindutva associates organised violent protests, leading to three deaths. They said Tipu was a tyrant who committed atrocities against the Hindus.

Led by eminent litterateur Girish Karnad, writers and academics participated in the celebrations. Karnad described Tipu as the greatest Kannadiga of the last 500 years. If Tipu were a Hindu he would have enjoyed the same status as Shivaji, he said.

Shivaji, who carved out an empire by snatching areas from the declining Moghul power, is today revered as a Hindu icon and a Maratha hero. However, in his time, he had difficulty finding Brahmin priests to anoint him as emperor because he was born in a supposedly low caste.

Interestingly, Hindutva ideologues, who accuse British historians of manufacturing events like Aryan invasion to divide the people of India, have no qualms about accepting their accounts of Tipu’s atrocities.

Hindu or Muslim, no medieval ruler was a respecter of human values and virtues, particularly in times of war. However, guided by sectarian considerations, Hindutva propagandists pick and choose from historical accounts and glorify one and demonise the other.

In the public dominion there is plenty of material to establish that Tipu was not the bigot Hindutva campaigners make him out to be. According to one document, he had granted tax exemption to the Sringeri Mutt, one of four religious establishments set up in the ninth century in different parts of India by Sankaracharya, who is given credit for the Hindu advance after the decline of Buddhism.

When the Maratha army ransacked the mutt, its head appealed to Tipu for help and he responded by releasing gold and paddy to meet the cost of its restoration. He also made a personal gift of ornate costumes for Sarada, the goddess of learning.

Facts will not deter the Hindutva elements from pursuing their project of falsifying history with a view to promoting their communal interests. Their efforts need to be countered but the task is best left to unofficial agencies, particularly academic bodies – unless there are law and order issues.

Karnataka is the only southern state where the BJP has been in power. During the five years it was in power, it tried out three Chief Ministers, all of whom were failures. This helped the Congress to regain power in 2013.

Studies have shown that the BJP benefits from communal polarisation. Secular parties and governments under their control must, therefore, take care not to give Hindutva forces the opportunity to stir the communal cauldron. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 17, 2015

10 November, 2015

Bihar rolls back Hindutva

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

By registering a convincing victory in the Assembly elections in the Hindi heartland state of Bihar, a “mahagatbandhan” (grand alliance) led by Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar has shown that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindutva bandwagon is not unstoppable.

In the hard-fought elections, the alliance, which includes former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress party, bagged a total of 178 seats in the 243-member Assembly. The Bharatiya Janata Party ended up with only 53 seats, which was less than its pre-Modi tally.

As is his wont, Modi had personally led the BJP’s election campaigns, with his lieutenant and party president Amit Shah by his side. He made several trips to the state and addressed more than 30 rallies. Divisive and communally sensitive issues like cow slaughter and reservations, which Hindutva elements raked up, resonated in the state. Shah added grist to the communal mill by declaring crackers would go up in Pakistan if the BJP lost. 

The grand alliance was the result of the decision of the JD (U) and the RJD, traditional rivals in the state’s politics, to form a secular front to check the advancing Hindutva forces. The Congress joined it as a junior partner. 

The alliance partners readily accepted Nitish Kumar, who acquired a good image as an administrator over the past 10 years, as their chief ministerial candidate.

Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is a man of ambition, was in no position to offer himself as a candidate as he is currently disqualified from contesting elections, following his conviction in a corruption case.

The voting figures reveal there was a consolidation of secular forces behind the grand alliance. The Communist Party of India, the CPI (Marxist) and the Samajwadi Party, which formed a separate secular front, failed to make an impact.

The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen of Asaduddin Owaisi, a three-time Member of Parliament from Hyderabad, set up a few candidates in the Muslim strongholds in pursuance of its plan to extend its activities across the country. It came a cropper as the bulk of the Muslim voters rallied behind the secular parties.

Modi had come to power at the Centre last year in circumstances which created an impression that his Hindutva bandwagon was unstoppable. That feeling strengthened as he led his party to success in one state after another until Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party stopped the victorious march in the Delhi state elections. No firm conclusions could be drawn from the Delhi experience since it is a small, almost entirely urban state, unlike any other. 

The rolling back of Hindutva forces in one of the backward Hindi states is significant for more than one reason. It shows that Modi is not the invincible hero that his admirers imagine him to be. It shows that secular forces have the inherent strength to roll back the Hindutva forces he is riding.

The Hindutva forces had been kept at bay by the administration and the Congress party which led it during the communal riots of the Partition period. They made headway in the recent past primarily due to a weakening of the secular forces’ resolve to check them on account of mistaken electoral considerations.

A question that naturally now is whether Bihar can be repeated elsewhere. Ground conditions differ from state to state. Conditions in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where Assembly elections are due next year, offer a variegated scenario. It may, therefore, be necessary to evolve suitable alternative strategies.

The BJP had no significant presence in these states at the time of the last Assembly elections. However, it was able to bag seven of Assam’s 12 Lok Sabha seats, capitalising on the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh.

The political traditions of West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu had blocked the BJP’s efforts to build a Hindu vote bank until now. However, in the recent elections to local bodies, the party was able to make inroads at the cost of the Congress in several parts of Kerala, including the state capital.

The BJP secured a parliamentary majority on its own last year with its impressive victories in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which together account for 120 Lok Sabha seats. Assembly elections are due in UP in 2017. Ground conditions there are comparable to those of Bihar. However, the Bihar experience can be repeated only if Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, leaders of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party respectively, sink their differences and work together as Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav did. --Gulf Todayy, Sharjah, November 10, 2015.

03 November, 2015

Befriending Africa again

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

In what has been described as India’s biggest diplomatic outreach to Africa, Prime Minister Narendra Modi played host to governmental leaders from more than 50 countries, 41 of them heads of state or governments, in the last week of October.

The occasion was the third Africa-India Forum Summit. The two previous summits were small affairs as the African Union had limited the number of participants to a maximum of 15. With the ceiling off, India went all out to ensure the widest participation in the five-day meet.

Libya was the only African country which was unrepresented. It was not invited as it was in turmoil when the preparations began and there was no effective government to deal with.

In the one and a half years he has been in office, Modi has visited many countries, big and small. One of the objectives of his foreign travels has been to enlist the support of UN members for reform of the world body, giving India a place in an expanded Security Council. In his address to the summit, he pointed out that India and Africa, which together account for a third of the world’s population, do not have adequate say in the powerful Security Council.

Animated by a clear vision of world history, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had placed great emphasis on development of close relations with all Asian and African countries. Most of them were still under colonial rule at the time, and he vigorously championed the cause of their freedom.

Even before Independence, as head of the interim government set up by the departing colonial regime, Nehru convened an Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi. He was also the prime mover behind the Afro-Asian Conference held at Bandung, Indonesia, in 1956. As they became free, almost all the countries of the two continents joined India, Egypt and Yugoslavia in the Non-Aligned Movement.

Nehru instituted a scholarship scheme for African students. By the 1960s, the beneficiaries of the scheme were in influential positions in several newly independent countries of the continent. The scheme is still in place, and it brings about 22,000 African students to India each year.

The ties with Africa weakened in the 1990s as the Indian government embarked upon economic liberalisation and rearranged its priorities. By 2000, China, which had prospered after it switched to market economy, stepped in to fill the breach.

Modi, who has a pathological aversion to the memory of Nehru, who had held Hindutva forces at bay during the communally charged days of Partition, avoided mention of his name in his prepared address, which listed six African winners of the Nobel Prize. Much to his discomfiture, several African leaders, in their speeches, made warm references to Nehru and Indira Gandhi and their contributions to Africa’s cause. “The Prime Minister listened, then swivelled back and forth on his chair and finally left for bilateral meetings,” wrote one correspondent.

To express their displeasure at Modi’s insult to Nehru’s memory, Congressmen stayed away from the dinner he hosted for the African leaders. South African President Jacob Zuma set aside protocol and drove to Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s residence to meet her.

Such irritants notwithstanding, the summit carried forward the effort to put India’s relations with Africa on a firm footing once again, initiated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the 2008 summit. On that occasion he offered a line of credit of $5.4 billion. At the next summit in 2011, he added $5 billion more to it. Also, India wrote off the debts of Mozambique, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Modi followed it up with an offer of $10 billion in concessional credit over the next five years and $600 million by way of fresh grants. While this is a step forward, much more needs to be done to improve economic relations and to regain the high standing India once had in Africa.

China had replaced the United States as Africa’s largest partner in 2009 and its trade with the continent now stands at $222 billion. India’s trade with Africa, which was only $1 billion in 1995, has grown to $71.5 billion. There is clearly vast scope for further improvement.

The summit showed that the enormous goodwill generated by India’s support to the liberation struggles is still intact. This offers a firm basis for expanding cooperation in varied fields as envisaged in the India Africa Framework for Strategic Cooperation which was drawn up during the summit and the Delhi Declaration which was adopted at the end of it. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 3, 2015.