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Challenges for Congress in UP

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By Ajaz Ashraf

The decision of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) to exclude the Congress from their alliance in Uttar Pradesh has had political pundits spin a what-if narrative. In the main, this narrative says the BSP-SP could be deprived of its punch if the Congress were to repeat its astonishing performance of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2019.

In 2009, the Congress won 21 seats, SP 23, BSP 20, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 10 and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) five. But India’s grand old party is unlikely to repeat this performance as Uttar Pradesh’s extant social reality is very different today from what it was in 2009, which the what-if narrative does not take into account.

 

In 2009, the political parties destabilised the social plates of Uttar Pradesh through certain decisions they took before the nation voted. Among them was the admission of BJP leader Kalyan Singh into the SP. At the same time, the state’s then foremost Kurmi leader, Beni Prasad Verma, left the SP to join the Congress. The third was in 2007 when BSP leader Mayawati took to social engineering, pulled in a significant number of upper caste, particularly Brahmin, votes and went on to win the Uttar Pradesh elections that year.

It was assumed that Mayawati’s social engineering would yield her rich dividends in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections as well. The Left, after withdrawing support from the Manmohan Singh government, had floated a Third Front. It was thought Mayawati would take half of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 seats to become the Front’s prime ministerial nominee.

In anticipation of the announcement, Mayawati hosted a dinner for Third Front leaders in March 2009. Yet, contrary to expectations, the Front leaders desisted from going public with her nomination, fearing the media would malign her as corrupt. It had social scientist Kancha Ilaiah to write acerbically, “The question is not how the middle-class, upper-caste moralists see Mayawati. The question is how the Dalits of the whole nation see her. The Dalits of the whole nation see her as their political representative… who inherits the historical legacy of Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram.”

Even though Mayawati never explicitly expressed her desire to become prime minister, she also, quite justifiably, did not dispel the speculations regarding her ambition. It provoked the upper castes into throwing the social engineering project she had crafted in disarray, thereby triggering a social churn that the factors of Kalyan Singh and Beni Prasad Verma further intensified.

The Congress gained from it because the UPA government had notched a few successes — for instance, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, the nuclear deal and a robust economy. Ultimately, the popular satisfaction with the UPA determined how Uttar Pradesh’s churn was to settle.

To begin with, Muslims were angry at SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s decision to induct Kalyan Singh into the party. This was because he was the chief minister when the Babri Masjid was pulled down on 6 December, 1992. Mulayam presumed Muslims would not desert him as he had staked his political future to protect the Babri Masjid during his chief ministerial tenure between 1989 and 1991.

Mulayam’s calculation was that Singh would compensate for the anticipated loss of Kurmi votes, because of Verma ditching the SP to join the Congress, by pulling in the votes of Lodh Rajputs, an Other Backward Class (OBC) community. But Muslims interpreted the induction of Singh as an indicator of Mulayam changing colours.

Mulayam felt confident of taking the risk because of a peculiar voting pattern of Muslims — they vote for a non-BJP party that has the support of a dominant caste group in a region. This is because they need the dominant caste to provide them protection. In 2009, the SP possessed, on paper at least, a powerful phalanx of OBC communities, particularly the Yadavs.

Unfortunately for Mulayam, Muslims suddenly had another option because Brahmins, accustomed to their hegemony, were stung by Mayawati’s Delhi ambitions. They had voted for her in 2007 because they felt she was their best bet to neutralise the challenge to the upper caste hegemony in Uttar Pradesh from the OBCs.

Mayawati, in turn, promoted the interests of upper castes during her chief ministership. An instance of it was pointed out by political scientist AK Verma in a paper, Why did Mayawati Lose (in the 2012 Assembly elections)? “The Balmiki community – many of whom are engaged in jobs such as scavenging and sanitation – felt betrayed by the government’s policies, such as those related to government recruitment policies for such jobs, of which 25 percent were provided to Brahmins and other upper castes.” The irony, as Verma noted, was that the upper castes outsourced their work to Balmikis, paying them miserly sums.

For Brahmins, it was one thing to vote for Mayawati in the state, quite another to support her prime ministerial dreams. In 2009, Brahmins cited her caste background to express their shock at what they thought was her audacity to angle for the country’s top post. It amounted to turning the caste hierarchy on its head, so to speak. They were eager to checkmate her.

Brahmins, educated and politically aware than most social groups, also sensed that the BJP, their first party of choice, was nowhere in the 2009 race to win the Lok Sabha elections. Not inclined to voting for an OBC party, their challenger, a large number of Brahmins switched to supporting the Congress wherever it fielded strong candidates. Along with Brahmins, other upper caste groups tagged along too.

Strong Congress candidates there were a plenty, a good number of them dynasts, former royalties and stars. Look at the list — Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Sanjay Singh, Mohd Azharuddin, Zafar Ali Naqvi, Kunwar Jitin Prasad, Rajkumari Ratna Singh, Salman Khursheed, RPN Singh, Beni Prasad Yadav, Jagdambika Pal, PL Punia and Nirmal Khatri, the grandson of Acharya Narendra Dev.

In the worst of times, the Congress always gets a slice of upper caste votes. But what gave the Congress the decisive edge was that its share in the upper caste votes increased substantially because of the Mayawati factor. It encouraged Muslims to also support the Congress, which was further bolstered because of the Kurmis flocking to it.

This is borne out by the National Election Study of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. In 2009, the Congress won 31 percent of all votes of Brahmins (+12 percentage points over what it got from the community in the 2007 Assembly elections), 16 percent of Rajputs (+7 percentage), 25 percent of other upper castes (+14 percentage), Kurmis 28 percent (+20 percentage), non-Jatav Dalits 26 percent (+11 percentage) and Muslims 25 percent (+11 percentage).

The picture in 2019 is very different from what it was in 2009. On the one hand, the growing restlessness among Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh at the growing clout of Rajputs under chief minister Yogi Adityanath has subsided because of the 10 percent reservations for the upper castes.

On the other hand, since the SP-BSP-RLD alliance will lead to an OBC-Dalit consolidation, the upper castes can hope to preserve their tenuous hegemony only through the BJP, more capable than the Congress today to bag a greater percentage of cross-community votes. Such a scenario means the Congress will net a small percentage of Muslim votes, because the community does not back a party without a dominant Hindu caste also backing it. They will therefore swing behind the SP-BSP-RLD.

This is why the Congress, as of now, is unlikely to repeat its 2009 performance in 2019, regardless of what political pundits say.


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Opinion

Theology of Presence

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Amir Suhail Wani

“O you who believe! Remember Allah With much remembrance”: Al Quran

To believe is to be in a state of presence. Presence, though not the climax, but is, one of the most cherished states and authentic manifestations of belief. To let God stay far away in the realm of abstraction and beyond-ness not only dilutes the spirit of worship, but it brings under scrutiny the very notion of belief. Religion, in its finest form, aims at invoking in man the spirit of presence, so that the believer may feel and experience the himself in presence of divine and may thus be able to envision a living and existential relationship with his creator and his object of devotion. Religion, even in its basic etymological connotation invokes the sense of “connectedness and attachment” with the object of devotion. It is in the very essence of man that he wants to be greater than what he is and when submitting before the divine, the individual, finite and subjective ego undergoes an existential, psychological and spiritual transformation of unique nature which expands its contours beyond those of physical perimeters. In any act of worship, the subject envisages the object of devotion as infinite and it not only pays homage to that infinite by bowing to it, but it very much desires to expand its own finitude under the radiance of that eternal infinite. This is what is meant by the philosophical benediction that “make me Thou, not an it”.

 

This human urge of finding means of self expansion by submitting before the divine is the greatest expression of human will and self sacrifice. But this spirit is rendered meaningless and antithetical when religion, in its state of decline, reduces to mere theology. In this reductionism, God remains no longer a living reality in the life of believer. He is rather replaced by a set of axioms and statements which fail to stimulate and satisfy the deepest spiritual yearnings of man and this deepest spiritual yearning is nothing but an aspiration to come in living contact with the divine and transcendental. Islam and for that matter most of the religions strongly condemn the deistic notions about God for it leaves absolutely no scope for religious indoctrination and creates an unimaginable void in the realm of Transcendence. It is in response to nuances like these that the notion of presence assumes multifold importance. It is not only prayer but our entire life that demands, by virtue of its spiritual dimension, that we live perpetually under the spell of divine. Thus religions teach us not merely to pray and thus make prayer a part of our life, but they come to turn our entire life into a sort of prayer. This transformation of life itself into prayer is what has best been embodied by Islamic teachings which reiterate time and again that all acts shall be done according to the law/s prescribed by God and at the beginning and end of each of our activity, the name of God shall be invoked. Not only this, the orations we recite at various instances from entering a washroom to starting our prayer are nothing but a beautiful way of making God a perpetual and living presence in our lives. None of our activities shall be divorced from Transcendent and while we are bodily constantly engaged in acts of world and matter, our heads, hearts and souls shall be perpetually turned to the divine. This act of remembering God in world of forgetting paves the way for “discovering God through material representations”. The highest form of this discovery is prayer and within prayer itself it is dua that marks the height of living relationship between God and believer. The purpose of prayer, as has been narrowly appropriated lately is not merely to make God change his mind and to bring our naive desires to fruition. Prayer is in fact the testimony of our living and real time relationship of servitude and dependency on God. Thus when God asserts “If My servants ask you regarding Me, I am indeed Near. I answer the call of those who call upon Me when they call. So let them answer My call and let them believe in believe in Me–in order that they be truly guided.”, he makes us understand in most emphatic and explicit way that he is very much existentially related to us and responds to our prayers. This response to prayer shall not be seen as the fulfilment of our prayers in material realm (which is true on its own), but it shall invoke in us the existential quest and inspire us to awaken our slumbering spiritual sensibility so that we may truly feel that God is indeed responding to us as our creator and as an object truly worthy of our devotion and worship.

This notion of presence has been subjected to double irony. The religious centric people lost sight of this appeal and dedicated their energies in confining and codifying God in their formulae of logical atomism. They rigidly tried to fix God in their self made definitions made out of untenable language as if trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. While as the role of this intellectual cum theological process can’t be belittled, but their overemphasis on making God comply to their abstractions and creating an unsurpassable chasm between the creator and creation surely set them on too rigid a path. The aftermath of this theorization of God not only created uncompromising hostility among different religions, but within the same religion it gave birth to unending clashes, unforseen intolerance and created such shameful examples that served the purpose of latter day anti religious forces. The second threat, and that is more dangerous, to this “theology of presence” has come from movements like new age spirituality, occult practices and pseudo spiritual shopping malls. Whereas traditional religion and traditional metaphysics taught us to see this world as a reflection and reverberation of transcendental realm, the new age spirituality has tragically represented the divine realm as an “extended expression” of human realm and this immanent universe. This has been sort of shifting the frame of reference and with this shifting of frames, the meaning of spirituality and metaphysics is inverted on its head. This misplaced mysticism and consumerist spirituality is far dangerous than no spirituality at all. In absence of spirituality, one may set out to discover the genuine and true spiritual traditions, but the presence of fake and pseudo spirituality creates a halo effect around man and his genuine thirst and quest is buried under the garb of this “materialistic spirituality”.

There are no palatable solutions to this malice that has invaded our religious obligation of perpetual presence and taught us to be satisfied with rituals without knowing their meaning. What one can do is to read, if one can, the religious scriptures and try to get to the roots of these scriptures. Look out for commonalities among scriptures and try to make a sense out of these commonalities. Another suggestion is to read the authors like Rene Guneon, Frithjof Schoun, Martin Lings, William Chittick and others of their class. What is special about these authors is that they speak about traditional metaphysics in contemporary idiom with an insight that is both inspiring as well as awakening. Finally we must note and note it seriously that life is not a profane activity sprinkled with events of sacred prayers, rather life is sacred as a whole and the existential realisation of this axiom is fundamental postulate on which all religions stand.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: amirkas2016@gmail.com)

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Kathua verdict: fact, fable and fiction

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Shabbir Aariz                                   

Finally some relief has been accorded to the family of the victim, Asifa by the trial judge Mr Tejwinder Singh by convicting and punishing the guilty. But it is too little if not too late. The investigating agency has undoubtedly done a commendable job in piecing together the evidence against the odds and succeeded in obtaining conviction for criminal conspiracy, gang rape, poisoning and murder of 8year old Asifa on 17th of January 2018 in Rasana village near Kathua in Jammu. Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. The National Crime Records Bureau of India suggests a reported rape rate of 2 per 100,000 people, much lower than reported rape incidence rate in the local Indian media. However, Times of India reported the data by National Crime Records Bureau unveiling that 93 women are being raped in India every day. Every year 7,200 minors are raped as the statistics suggest without unreported ones. Rape is, surprisingly a weapon of punishment in India. In 2014, in Jharkhand village elders ordered the rape of a 14year old. The husband of the woman who was assaulted sexually was told to carry out the rape. As the woman’s husband dragged the girl to a nearby forest, villagers only looked on. Earlier West Bengal village reportedly ordered the gang rape of a 20 year old woman for falling in love with a man from another community. Even in case of Kathua, two BJP ministers stood in favor of the accused. Sexual crimes being committed with impunity not even sparing foreign tourists led to issuance of rape advisories like women travelling should exercise caution when travelling in India even if they are travelling in a group, avoid hailing taxis from streets or using public transport at night. India feels like it is going through an upsurge of sexual violence against children and after several incidents including Asifa’s, received widespread media attention and triggered public protest. The Prime Minister condemned it and UN Secretary General, Antonio Guiterres said “guilty must be held responsible” describing the incident “horrific”. This led the Government of India to reform its penal code for crimes of rape and sexual assault. As such India’s cabinet approved the introduction of death penalty for those who rape children. The executive order was cleared at a special cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Modi. It allowed capital punishment for anyone convicted of raping children under the age of 12. India’s poor record of dealing with sexual violence came to fore after 2012 gang rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus. The four men involved were sentenced to death. The Supreme Court maintained the death sentence of the convicts; Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh. Rejecting their appeal Justice R Banumathi said the men committed “a barbaric crime” that had “shaken society’s conscience”. It is worthwhile to mention that the death penalty to the said persons was given in the year 2013 while as the executive ordinance came in April 2018 after Asifa’s incident and of a 16year old girl in northern Uttar Pradesh by a member of BJP, Kuldeep Sengar (ironically, victim’s father was arrested and thereafter killed by the Kuldeep’s supporters.) Prior to 2012, there was no single law specifically dealing with children as victims of sexual offences. Then came Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in 2012, India’s first comprehensive law to deal specifically with child sex abuse and surprisingly the number of reported cases of child abuse rose by nearly 45% the next year.

The new amendments enable a court to hand out a death penalty to someone convicted of raping a child under 12, even if it does not result in death. In countries like China, Egypt, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, rape is punishable with nothing short of death by hanging, beheading or firing squad. Despite the changes to the law and arming Indian courts, there is reluctance to carry out the death penalty. Is there anything wrong with the collective Indian psyche that deters even courts from putting curbs on sexual crimes against even minors? One feels disgusted for the punishment not being exemplary in Asifa’s case when on trial crimes like gang rape and murder were proved. The court was saddled with the law and verdicts of Supreme Court where death penalty awarded was not interfered with and also its observations emphasizing the gravity of such crime with its impact on the society. Do the laws also have a fiction value? When do we really implement them? Is something more needed to shake society’s conscience? It is more likely that the convicts in this case will go in appeal to the higher court against the judgement. The verdict of the lower court also calls for a counter appeal by the prosecution seeking enhancement of punishment to death of the convicts.

 

(A leading lawyer and eminent poet, author contributes a weekly column. He can be reached at:  vaklishabir@gmail.com)     

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Let’s Become Environmental Protectionists!

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Dr. Shahid Amin Trali

It’s very alarming to find the unending disturbances to our environment. Man’s foul play with the nature is not going well with the present as well as our future. The environmental problems are mounting towards a bigger trouble in future but we are yet to recover from deep hibernation/sleep mode. This menace of pollution has existed for centuries but increased at an alarming rate after industrial revolution in the 19th century. Pollution is one of the biggest global killers, affecting over 100 million people. The world’s population is ever increasing and the treasures of the resources are getting overexploited.

 

There is greater need that we must promote better and efficient use of resources. Mass production of plastics, which began just six decades ago, has accelerated very rapidly—most of it in disposable products that end up as trash. If business goes on as usual, plastic pollution will double over the next thirty years. That would mean there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastics have several health hazards, both for humans and animals. Not just that, it is detrimental for the environment too. We must encourage the reduction, recycling and re-use of wastes as raw material for new products. Our younger generation is highly creative and all they must be given is ample support and opportunities. We must promote ‘Jugaad’ creation, the idea of using the waste to make something novel and save resources. We need to set examples from our home places and re-use what we would easily throw away and conserve for a future.  What we cannot recycle let us try not use them. Let’s promote paper products as they break down better in the environment and don’t affect our nature as much.

Learning to be more environmentally friendly is not that difficult task than we think. We must start by living with a greater awareness of the resources that we use in our daily life.  For example we must turn off the lights as soon as we leave a room in our homes and offices or even schools and colleges.  We must be environmental friendly when it comes to building our homes and buildings. Trees are necessary for us to survive. We must plant small trees around our home, don’t cut them unless it’s necessary, work with local environmental groups to plant more trees and educate others about the beauty and benefits of trees.

Water needs to be conserved. Few ways to conserve water are – take short showers, keep the running tap close while we brush our teeth, recycle water in our home, use water saving appliances etc. More good ways to contribute will be consume less energy, buy recycled products, and create less waste and many more. We must refrain from open burning as backyard trash and leaf burning releases high levels of toxic compounds. We must use public transit as much as possible. Let us walk more and drive less to conserve fuel and prevent auto-emission. Let’s use bicycles and scooters for shorter distances to save resources.

Cleanliness leads to cleanliness. We can easily find that a dirty place adds to its dirtiness. When we come across a fresh place, we think twice before turning it bad and dirty. It is sad when we think for our clean homes and hardly care for the roads, hospitals, educational institutions, offices, markets etc. Our mindset has to undergo a big overhaul that our public property is our own property.

India is one of the three worst offending countries when it comes to environmental performance. Corporate leaders have started joining the race to save the planet. Being environment-friendly, eco-friendly, going green are huge claims referring to goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies that inflict reduced, minimal, or no harm at all, upon ecosystems or the environment. But the attempts need to be strong and concrete. Small and medium sized companies in particular generate a lot of pollution and need awareness and support policies to safeguard the environment.

Individuals, organizations and governments need to join hands to protect our environment.  Let’s educate others about the significance of living an environmentally friendly life. The more we will share an awareness of the richness of the environment, the more we can do together to protect it. Environmental love and care must receive an all time attention and priority. Let’s go beyond the model building exercises for safer environment and turn them into reality. Organizations must appreciate and reward the employees for their environmental care.

The Philippines recently has taken a unique and wonderful initiative. The island country passed a law under which every student there has to mandatorily plant ten trees in order to get their graduation degree. The law if it is implemented properly will ensure that over 175 million trees will be planted every year. The law will be applicable for college, elementary, and high school students as well. Our education system must owe greater responsibility towards environment and find some unique strategies to safeguard it. Let’s go green and pledge to protect our environment. (The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior, Youth Ambassador, International Youth Society. He can be mailed on: dr.shahidamin15@gmail.com)

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