By Farah Naqvi
Rahul Gandhi’s meeting with a group of ‘Muslim intellectuals’ this week has sent the Bharatiya Janata Party into apoplexy. Muslim Appeasement! Election strategy! Secret meeting! Dividing India! Communal disharmony! A new partition! O my lord. Most of us did not make a big deal of the meeting. Politicians, party leaders and MPs routinely have meetings on many issues. A wide range of activists, academics, public policy specialists and experts across India participate in such meetings. We go and have conversations, and at the end of the day hope our arguments are persuasive, our concerns are heard. A democratic conversation with policy makers. End of story.
Well, the BJP clearly thought otherwise, putting on display what I must assume is its 2019 election game, to be crafted around virulent animosity to anything or anyone ‘Muslim’. So much so, that a mere meeting warranted a special ‘code-red’ press conference bursting with urgency and alarm. And the tone and tenor in which the defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the words – “Mussslim intellectuals” – with venomous, contemptuous emphasis, left no one in any doubt about her feelings for this group of Indian citizens.
India’s defence minister is free to attack her political opponents, including the Congress party all she likes, in whatever language she deems acceptable. But to so casually hold a press conference and impugn divisive motives to all those present at the meeting is a new low, even by the terrible standards of political discourse in this country. To suggest that all of us – academics, activists, writers, historians, economists, concerned citizens with a reasonable track record in civil society in a range of non-political fields – must be part of some sinister conspiracy to divide India merely because, in addition to all the other layers of our multiple identities, we also have Muslim names, is deeply offensive.
For the record, let’s bury the cynical fake news about Rahul Gandhi or anyone else present having said at that meeting that the Congress is a ‘Muslim party’, even though it would be interesting to speculate if Sitharaman seriously believes that such a party would have any democratic future at all in a country where 86% of the population are non-Muslims. Instead, what I want to figure out is why a politician – any politician, including the leader of any party – cannot meet Muslims as rights-bearing citizens with legitimate apprehensions? Unless the BJP is making the case that the only Muslims parties should meet are Muslim women victims of instant triple talaq. What precisely is the BJP’s argument? Are minority rights entirely off the agenda in democratic India today? Does the mere presence of people with Muslim names portend communal polarisation? Is one Muslim person ok? Perhaps eleven are too many? What on earth is going on?
Why cannot and should not all politicians have meetings with every marginal group in this country – whether Muslims, Christians, Dalits or tribals? Meet women’s rights activists. Meet LGBTQI people. Meet farmers. Or disability rights activists. Hear the voices of different groups of citizens, especially those who are being wilfully targeted and suffer in particular ways. It should worry us all if the party in power, seeking re-election in less than a year, does not believe in such conversations.
But of course the fact is that the BJP would not have tried to get away with such a baseless attack if any other group of people were being met. There would have been no angry press conference if an opposition leader met with a group of Dalits, or OBCs or tribals or women’s rights activists. Is it such open season on anyone with a Muslim name in India today that a Union minister no less, without the courtesy of seeking clarification from anyone of us, feels free to hold a press conference brandishing falsehoods, and tarnishing our reputations in this cavalier manner?
If the minister had done even a bit of fact checking, she would have found that the meeting was about an inclusive vision of India, with a shared goal of justice and development for all. An India of equality and equal citizenship. An India in which murderers and lynchers are not garlanded by Harvard-educated ministers. We spoke of the guarantees of the constitution. We spoke of a whole range of secular issues that Muslims confront and share with many other marginal groups in India – education, employment, poverty, and the terrible effect of a poorly implemented GST and demonetisation on those in the unorganised sector. No promises were sought, and none were given.
Many of us spoke of how increasingly fearful some of India’s weakest citizens feel today. Of the enormous damage the government has done to freedom and democracy in India. It has silenced speech, attacked academic institutions, slapped sedition charges on free-thinking students, failed to stop violence against women, curbed the movement of humble cattle traders, and promoted and encouraged the most unspeakable kind of violence against it’s own citizens – mostly Muslims, and Dalits, and now people from nomadic and denotified tribes (recently in Dhule, Maharashtra). This regime has unleashed the drug-filled high of mobocracy on all Indians. And I for one will accept the invitation of any politician or policy maker, to talk about these concerns, even if the fact of my having a Mussslim name puts the honourable defence minister in such a foul mood.
Lok Sabha 2019: An election that is not about one
By Gopalkrishna Gandhi
In the extremes of our tropical climate, every summer seems the worst ever. But the Tamil ‘kathiri’ — literally ‘scissors’, and metaphorically the merciless sun of May-June — is truly upon us in the peninsula this year. And it is only March.
Likewise, in the multi-polarities of our democracy every election seems to be about the most crucial we have ever had. And though the candidates for the April-May elections are yet to be formally announced, the election’s ‘kathiri’ is already in motion — sharp, cutting. And it is only March.
The elections this time are unusual, even unprecedentedly so, for they are not about how India chooses but about what India is about. For those many who want the present government back, the coming elections are a national referendum for an India that is rearing to be a Super Power under a leader who wants India to be exactly that with himself at the helm. One might say, and why not? True, why ever not, except that when that happens, everyone else becomes inferior, minimal, subordinate to the Supremo. Including the Constitution and the laws. And that is not what India has become a democratic republic for.
Those many — and it must be acknowledged they are many — regard the coming elections as presidential with but one candidate, Narendra Modi. And an occasion to re-affirm belief in his helming a strong Centre for nothing less than 15 more years, a golden era, when we will have Sanskrit proclaimed our Rashtra Bhasha, Veer Savarkar a Rashtra Guru, Saffron a Rashtra Ranga, we will have the Constitution amended to provide for national emergencies under new circumstances, an executive presidentship, with the Rajya Sabha abolished, appointments to the higher judiciary tempered by considerations of ‘loyalty to national security’, compulsory military service for one year with the liberal option of ‘drill Yoga’, the media self-disciplined into self-censorship, the bureaucratic and diplomatic echelons made colourless and comfortable rather than fearless and uncomfortable, the citizenry one merry choir well-practised in patriotic tunes and collective chants.
None of this is or will be in any Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or National Democratic Alliance (NDA) manifesto. And Mr. Modi will never ever, I think, subscribe to any of these ‘goals’. In fact, he may be expected to deny that these reflect his views by a long shot. But these cameos do represent, broadly, the thinking of a kind of Modi-supporter, Modi-devotee who is to be encountered among many Indians, mostly from the educated urban and suburban middle-classes.
For the many others who want the present government dislodged, the coming elections are about the exact opposite. They are a non-presidential election where the many are against One Supremacy, and are in favour of an order in which every region, language and faith tradition is the equal of every other, where political opposition is valued for its own sake, dissent cherished as long as it remains non-violent, where the judiciary is respected for its stubborn independence, bureaucratic and diplomatic cadres for their professional integrity, technocrats for their rigorous professionalism, where the nation’s natural resources, particularly those that lie within and beneath forests, mines and on the seafloor, are not looted, where prisoners do not live in sub-human conditions and where, above all else, the Constitution is seen as the dynamic, living guardian of the citizens’ human rights pertaining to life, liberty, privacy and judicial remedy.
That being the reality or hard truth about the elections ahead, they are indeed the most important ever held in free India.
And that being the case, when one hears Aradhana Mishra, a Congress MLA in Uttar Pradesh say, “Priyanka-ji has reiterated that the INC (Indian National Congress) will contest all 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh,” or the Congress’s doughty veteran and chief of the Delhi Congress, Sheila Dikshit say about the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi, “It has been unanimously decided that the Congress will not go for an alliance with AAP (Aam Aadmi Party)”, the election’s results seem foregone.
The Congress, five years ago, contested not “all 80” seats but 67 seats in U.P. in those elections, winning only two, United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s seat in Rae Bareli and Rahul Gandhi’s in Amethi. And in Delhi, it was number three, after the AAP at number two, in terms of vote share.
“All 80 seats” in U.P. and “no alliance with AAP” in Delhi are great news for the BJP, whose vote-share in U.P. for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was lower than that of the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) combined (the combined vote share of the other three being 49.30%, a clear 7 percentage points above the BJP’s 42.30%). In Delhi, too, the BJP was ahead of the AAP and INC when those two stood divided but was clearly behind them, in all but one (New Delhi) of the seven seats, if the vote-share percentages of those two were to be seen together.
The jury is out on whether the nation’s outrage over the killing of 40 Indian brave-hearts in Pulwama and its pride in the gutsy riposte by the Indian Air Force has changed the electoral math. Perhaps it has and the nation will leave livelihood, drought, dismay over the Goods and Services Tax, Rafale to rest and vote solidly for another term for Narendra Modi. Perhaps it has not, and given that Winston Churchill lost the elections after winning the war in 1945 and, nearer home, the NDA government lost the elections after Kargil, it will vote for change. But the Opposition has to accept the fact that an unmeasured percentage of vote-share has slipped from its anticipated scores into the BJP’s.
The Congress showed statesmanship in Bengaluru last year. If reports are to be believed, not just Rahul Gandhi but Priyanka Gandhi had something to do with the Congress’s decision to propose and then actively put in place a coalition government led by H.D. Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular). That was highly realistic, prudent, sagacious. As is the Congress-DMK-Left alliance in Tamil Nadu.
That spirit needs to be shown now in U.P., Delhi and elsewhere if those who believe in India being meant to be democratic and a republic are not to be betrayed.
Is it too late? Late, yes, but not too late yet. Pride bolts the door to accommodation, prudence opens it.
This is the time to enlarge democracy’s, not one party’s base. Getting even with the AAP in Delhi, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in U.P. and the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha can be a temptation for the Congress in ordinary times, not for this election summer when the ‘kathiri’ is out. Every party which believes in democracy is a natural ally of every other party believing in the same. Smaller confrontations must step aside in the face of the biggest contradiction that there can be, namely, of two contesting Indias — that of Gandhi-Nehru-Ghaffar Khan-Bhagat Singh-Ambedkar on the one hand and of a Hindu Rashtra on the other.
And this should be done in grim awareness of the fact that the 21st century autocrat is now to be seen not just in India but in countries as different and distant from one another as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Venezuela, Egypt, the Philippines, Hungary, using traditional ‘resources’ as well as new, softer and deadlier technologies, to spot and immobilise dissent, create a sense of a perpetual ‘other’, an eternal ‘enemy’, all in the name of a hyper nationalism.
But if there is gloom, there is also hope, as in the instance of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who, from the white heat of trauma spoke of the Christchurch victims of terror as “us” and of New Zealand being “ home” to them.
Jayaprakash Narayan brought the democratic coalition together in 1977. There is no Jayaprakash today. But his spirit beckons the conflicted soul of India’s democracy.
Partition, freedom and democracy
By Krishna Kumar
Had Krishna Sobti, the eminent Hindi novelist, not died this January, she would have renovated our appreciation of the truth about freedom and Partition occurring together. We habitually forget this truth each time we learn it. An interview she gave to Partition scholar Alok Bhalla is one among many repositories of the insight she brought to this subject. Through her fiction too, Sobti tested the strength of the social fabric that Partition shook and tried to tear apart. Why it didn’t tear completely is a question she helps us to answer.
Six weeks after her death, a violent conflict broke out between India and Pakistan. The immediate, ostensible causes of the outbreak are terrorism and Kashmir. Real sources lie deeper. Reading Sobti’s works reminds you that the deeper roots of the India-Pakistan conflict can be found in a shared attitude of derision towards the past. Public mood shifts between indifference and disdain for the past. There is little genuine interest in the past or curiosity to figure it out. Politicians feel free and tempted to use the past to manipulate the collective mind.
As the single most important event of our modern history, Partition illustrates the general attitude I am talking about. Across the three nations produced by Partition, there is little consensus over what it means to live with Partition. But there is a shared feeling that Partition is at the heart of many problems and behavioural reflexes. Each country looks at Partition from the perspective that the state apparatus has assiduously developed over time. The term commonly used these days is ‘narrative’. It comes in handy. It is a post-modern invention signalling the decline of interest in objectivity. The relatively better educated politicians often use it tactfully to debunk serious commentary, calling it just another narrative. So, why the different nations that constitute the South Asian region bring sharply divergent perspectives to matters of shared interest is explained in terms of diversity of narratives. Are these narratives incompatible? No one seems curious to find out. Nor is anyone actively conscious that the acceptance of incompatibility means granting permanence to intra-regional conflicts. One clear reason why no one is worried is because a feeling of permanent conflict seems to offer unlimited political capital.
When SAARC was established in 1985, it created the hope that mutual understanding would be pursued as a regional political goal. For all seven members, but especially India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, mutual understanding would have meant recognising the importance of acceptable portraits of the past. Such portraits exist in literature, but historical awareness requires more than a literary portrait. It means providing reliable resources to validate a view about what happened so that we feel more comfortable with where we are in the present. This awareness is crucial to avoid a feeling among the young that they live in a dark, noisy tunnel with no known exits. An ominous uncertainty hangs over the subcontinent, best expressed by the availability of nuclear weapons to end potential conflicts.
Sobti had hoped that people could now recognise the complications arising out of history. In her interview with Professor Bhalla, she expressed the view that the emotional content of Partition had run out. This is not true. Though seven decades have passed, there is no sign that Partition is devoid of emotional content in India or in Pakistan. In a study of history textbooks used in the two countries, I found that in Pakistan, Partition is presented as unfinished business, while in India it is still viewed as a wound inflicted by Muslims and the British. In both nations, Partition continues to serve as an inflammable memory account. The toll it took on the two nations has not sufficed to cool the coals buried under the ashes of time. Apart from the destruction and violence suffered by common men, women and children on both sides of the border, the post-Partition suspension of reason cost India the life of its greatest leader. That injury has not healed, and the ideological divide it signified continues to grow. Sobti had assumed that the Constitution would unite Indian society around its core values. That did happen to an extent, but words and statements alone don’t safeguard values. Freedom and a sense of fraternity are among the values sculpted into the structure of the Constitution. Truth is not mentioned as such, but one assumes that it has an assured place in the edifice of law.
In this context, it may be useful to recall Mahatma Gandhi’s dual commitments: truth and non-violence. The pairing of truth with non-violence suggests that truth and war are not compatible. This is why the threat of war at election time is not good news for the practice of constitutional democracy. For now, the threat of war seems to have passed, but it could easily be made to linger as a memory relevant for voting day. In this sense, the brief outbreak of armed attacks is an ominous reminder of the fragility of the equilibrium that permits us to practice democracy. In Pakistan, democracy is even more fragile. There, it barely survives under the direct shadow of modern weaponry.
The India-Pakistan hostility is richly intersected by bad memories. It has perennial potential for shaping politics. Moreover, an activated conflict invites everyone to play politics. This kind of politics is necessarily manipulative. It helps to bypass more earthy questions which ought to be central to any election. These are questions like why economic growth offers little relief from unemployment, why the village languishes when the city prospers. One can add many more issues to this list. To call them peace-time issues or to designate them as being secondary in comparison to security will be to surrender to history, that too a history soaked in emotions. It is true that politics is a game played in the shadow of history. However, if it is dominated by history, then democracy can hardly serve the cause of progress, howsoever defined. It will always remain stuck in history.
A NEW IDEOLOGY WITH A NEW SLOGAN
By Tawfeeq Irshad Mir
“I know the value of word; when there was nothing, it was word. To play with words is to strike the strings of violin, to exude the honey of melody.”
The ideology and narrative of Shah Faesal till the controversial tweet” labelling India as” rapistan” in 2018,
“In 2016, Shah Faesal Strongly suggested that Kashmir should ‘stay with India’, Dr Shah Faesal further said that it (India) is the “only country” in the world with which a culturally diverse and “politically disparate entity” like Jammu and Kashmir can find “anchor”.
In his article titled “Kashmiris trapped in deadly politics of grief, must abandon macabre heroism” published on The Indian Express, Dr Faesal has built his argument around the post-1990s phase of of the Kashmir-conflict to censure the five-month-long unrest the valley witnessed in 2016.
“Every new agitation in Kashmir has had this familiar tetrad of eruption, hope, bereavement, despair. By the time the first stone was pelted in the July uprising of 2016, the outcome was already known to everyone. It is this predictability which has begun to worry Kashmiris now,” reads his article.
Referring to 2016 unrest, Dr Faesal said that “revolution cannot be an annual summer carnival” while claiming that Kashmir was the “most unlikely new nation to enter the world map” due to the “flaw(ed) fundamental design” of the Kashmir project.
He goes on saying that the “indiscipline” valley witnessed during the recent unrest has the “potential to criminalise society forever”.
“It was not the state as much as people to people violence, the humiliation of bystanders, vandalism against schools, damage to public property by “misguided teenagers” that exhausted Kashmiris, reducing a mass movement to a movement of mass from one corner of the street to the other corner,” he said.
Dr Faesal also claimed that it was “hard to frame the Kashmir question properly” and thus the region cannot be compared with Palestine, East Timor of Kosovo.
“Is it separation from India, annexation with Pakistan, the search for an Islamic caliphate or a secular democracy? Has it factored in sub-regional and diverse ethnic aspirations? If it is self-determination, then who are these people queued up outside polling stations? If the slogan is “azadi”, why is the Pakistani flag raised? Is it class-neutral or only a proletariat dream? Is it territory or ideology, economics or politics? Today, in Kashmir, it is hard to ask these questions because there are no answers. And because there are no answers, every such question is seen as a provocation or obfuscation of the truth about Kashmir,” the article reads.
The then MD JKPDC Shah Faesal, in the conclusion, suggested Kashmiris to ‘stay with India’ since the country is an “emerging superpower”. Looking at the crisis in the Muslim world, it will serve us well if we help ourselves out of the time warp we are stuck in, abandon false hope and macabre heroism and work towards a dignified exit from the conflict. One possibility is to accept that in spite of all its infirmities, India is the only country in the world with which a culturally diverse and politically disparate entity like Jammu and Kashmir can find anchor,” he concluded.
On Sunday Sha Faesal launched his party in Srinagar, with a new slogan “ab hawa badle gi”, in a slightly different avatar wearing white shilwar and black coat, along with former JNU leader, Shehla Rashid unfurled his vision and ideology.
His vision and sagacity are unprecedented. Just now I have gone through the manifesto which reflects your depth. Let not any reaction deviate from the ultimate goal. Possibilities are numerous, once try to act, not react. Some scratches in reactions keep on running.one thing, he should bear in mind the couplet of Iqbal “Khudi se iss tilishm-e- rang-o-boo ko tod sakte hai,. Yahi tawheed thee jisko nah tu samjha, nah main samjha.
I want to know how his party would help in reviving old silk route or the kind of strategic center for Central Asia which his vision document talks about. Does he think an inch moves without the centers authority, would they allow such initiatives?
I just want to ask one question to Shah Faesal and his supporters…. tell me how it is possible to solve Kashmir issue according to the aspirations of people… when you accept the constitution of India,, which says J&K is an integral part of Kashmir. It is confusing me.
It is Dr Shah Faesal himself to clear all the doubts once he will go through the political discourse. It will be his policies and decisions which will tells us the real reason behind his political mileage. But the course of action which he has chosen is full of hurdles and he has a long way to cross before finding a space for himself and his followers.
(A student of Nursing at GMC, writer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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