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LK Advani uses statesmanship as mere political tool

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By Ajaz Ashraf

The desire to play the role of elderly statesman surfaces in Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani every time he feels slighted or thinks he has been denied his due. The most recent example of it is Advani’s blog, Nation First, Party Next, Self Last, which he wrote on 4 April. In it, Advani observed, “In our conception of Indian nationalism, we have never regarded those who disagree with us politically as ‘anti-national.'”

His blog was seen as a swipe against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has dubbed the Congress manifesto as anti-national, largely because of India’s grand old party promising to remove the Indian Penal Code provision on sedition and revisiting the Armed Forces Special Act. An elderly voice from inside the BJP pointing out that Modi had transgressed the line of political propriety would have seemed statesman-like.

 


Yet it is difficult to accept Advani’s persona of leader-statesman.
The traits that a person needs to become a leader were lucidly articulated by former American President Jimmy Carter to Harvard Business Review: “High moral and ethical standards are essential, and they don’t change… from one level of authority to another…” He underscored the need for the leader to have a vision: “The capacity to expand one’s mind and one’s heart as years go by, and to see the broader dimensions of the future.”


Advani’s tendency to deliver preachy lectures on political morality emerged with his political marginalisation. He sulked at the time the BJP announced Modi as the prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections – and waited for his moment to strike. After Modi became prime minister and dwarfed senior BJP leaders, Advani utilised the 40th anniversary of the Emergency, in 2015, to say, “At the present point of time, the forces that can crush democracy…are stronger…”


When his former aide, Sudheendra Kulkarni, had his face smeared with ink, Advani spoke out, “In the last few days, there are these signs… where any person or any point of view is not acceptable, then you resort to violence or turn intolerant towards them… Democracy must ensure tolerance for a different point of view.” His statement had a special resonance because the targeting of cattle traders by gau rakshaks had already begun by then.


In 2019, Advani’s pronouncements do not fail Carter’s test of leader-statesman.


His prolonged political career, however, shows that his adherence to high moral and ethical standard lacks consistency. He speaks of democratic norms today, although intolerance and violence have been the leitmotif of his politics, partly because it is inherent to the Hindutva ideology that he so furiously propagated, so successfully.


This is tellingly brought out in The Public Intellectual in India, a book which historian Romila Thapar and five others have co-authored. One of them, Javed Naqvi, a journalist, narrates the story of the film, Swayamsiddh, which Doordarshan telecast when Advani was the Information and Broadcasting Minister under the Janata Party government.
Made in the 1950s, Swayamsiddh tells the story of a woman whose husband is deaf and dumb. The local priest tells the woman that her husband can be cured if she can organise the expulsion of Christian missionaries from the village. The woman instigates the villagers to attack and expel the missionaries – and the husband is miraculously healed.


Swayamsiddh’s prescription of using violence to combat religious conversion was neither democratic nor humane. It also proved to be chillingly prescient, evident from the many incidents in which Christian priests have been set upon by violent mobs over the last five years.


Long before he spearheaded the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, Advani sought to carve out a Hindu vote-bank and undermine India’s composite culture. In August 1980, he told the BBC, “It would not be wrong to call it [BJP] a Hindu party.” As his popularity soared, Advani increasingly turned strident. In Oct 1990, he cribbed about the “secular policy” putting “unreasonable restrictions on Hindu aspirations.” A month later, he declared, “Henceforth, only those who fight for Hindu interests would rule India.”


Advani can be said to have inspired the BJP’s growing army of rabble-rousers.


By 1990, Advani had coined, and popularised, the term pseudo-secularism, which accused its votaries of hurting Hindu interests. His profiling of secularists was the 20th century equivalent of BJP leaders today describing the opponents of draconian laws as members of “tukde tukde gang.”


Author AG Noorani provides a list of contentious demands that Advani raised in a piece that he wrote for the BJP Today, a party organ, in August 1997. Noorani sums up what Advani wrote, “They [Muslims] have a ‘special obligation’ to recall the tragedy of Partition, purge from their minds the two-nation theory, ‘bury vote-bank politics’, ‘understand’ that ‘Hindutva or cultural nationalism’ is not a communal concept, accept Ram, Krishna and others as symbols of ‘national culture’ and support the Ram temple [in Ayodhya] because Ram is a ‘symbol of India’s culture and civilization.'”


Advani’s article did not shock because he had already taken the nation to the brink twice – in 1990 and 1992. On 25 September, 1990, Advani stepped into a makeshift rath to undertake the 10,000-kilometre journey from Somnath to Ayodhya. It was a veritable crusade against the Central government, to frighten it into handing over the Babri Masjid to Hindus.

Then Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav arrested him on 23 October.
By then, his rath yatra had turned social relations so fraught that even a minor incident would lead to bloodletting. The Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, which the Paris Institute of Political Studies, popularly known as SciencePo, maintains, lists the rash of riots that broke out all over the country. As you read through it, the 2002 riots of Gujarat pale away in comparison to the mayhem that was witnessed between September 1990 and March 1993.


In Hyderabad, the Encyclopedia said “official reports established that 134 people [were] killed… But the actual toll possibly amounts to 200 or 300 deaths.” In Aligarh, 92 people died in rioting in December, though the People’s Union for Civil Liberties claimed the toll was anywhere between 150 and 200. In Uttar Pradesh’s Khurja city, 72 died, in Kanpur another 20. The Encyclopedia says, “Anti-Muslim violence occurred in several places (Baroda, Ahmedabad, and Indore)… claiming dozens of lives.”


Advani crisscrossed the country, particularly Uttar Pradesh, delivering fiery speeches to gather support for the kar seva scheduled in Ayodhya on 6 December, 1992. On that day, the Babri Masjid was demolished, right before Advani, who has not been documented to having tried to save the structure. The demolition caught the country, yet again, in a spiral of communal violence.

There were two rounds of rioting in Bombay, which was scarred by serial bombings in March 1993. A thousand perished in the two riots and another 257 in the bombings. The Encyclopedia furnishes the horror list – 175 died in Madhya Pradesh, 60 in Rajasthan, 73 in Karnataka, 35 in Calcutta, 16 in Delhi, 75 in just one district (Nagaon) of Assam, 200 in Surat in Gujarat… the list goes on and on. Add these deaths to those who were killed in 1990, and you can’t but conclude that Advani is a fine one to speak of democracy and tolerance.


This bloody backdrop to Advani’s politics is why his potshots against Modi seem both ridiculous and hypocritical. His moral position on violence and intolerance has shifted in tandem with the rise and decline in his political graph.


Advani was a defender of Modi until 2008, the year in which he published his autobiography, My Country, My Life. Advani writes in it, “Communal violence broke out in Gujarat after the mass killing of kar sevaks in Godhra in February. The Gujarat government and, in particular, Chief Minister Narendra Modi attracted severe condemnation on account of the barbaric incident… Modi was being unfairly targeted. He was, in my opinion, more sinned against than sinning.”


Advani’s reference to Godhra pertains to the burning alive of 59 kar sevaks in the four coaches of the Sabaramati Express that were set on fire by Muslim mobs. In the retaliatory communal rioting that erupted in large parts of Gujarat, nearly 2000 Muslims died. For days, Hindu mobs ruled the streets as the state police looked on. It needs a special kind of imagination to describe Godhra as mass killing and a state pogrom as communal violence.
Advani does indeed fail Jimmy Carter’s test of leadership. Worse, statesman-like qualities are for Advani mere tools to invent new personas. For instance, to soften his hardline image, he declared Muhammad Ali Jinnah as secular. The instrumental use of what are considered statesman-like qualities shows that Advani can distinguish between right and wrong.

The only way he can convince people of his conviction is to apologise or atone for his politics. Until then, he is doomed to remain a one-day headline, neither winning the nation’s gratitude nor bothering Modi.


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Opinion

India’s perilous obsession with Pakistan

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By Nissim Mannathukkaren

Come Indian elections, the bogey of Pakistan has overwhelmed the nationalist discourse in the shrillest manner, with the Prime Minister and other Ministers’ relentless branding of the Congress/Opposition as ‘anti-national’ and as ‘agents of Pakistan’. Further, the Prime Minister even made an unprecedented threat of using nuclear weapons against Pakistan.
As a country born of the two-nation theory based on religion, and then having to suffer dismemberment and the consequent damage to the very same religious identity, it is obvious why Islamic Pakistan must have a hostile Other in the form of a ‘Hindu India’. But what is not obvious is why India, a (much larger) secular nation, must have a hostile antagonist in the form of Pakistan.
It is widely recognised that the fulcrum of the Pakistani state and establishment is an anti-India ideology and an obsession with India. But what has scarcely received notice is that India’s post-Independence nationalism has been equally driven by an obsession with Pakistan. Of course, this obsession acquires a pathological dimension under regimes, like the present one, which thrive on hyper-nationalism and a ‘Hindu India’ identity.
But, this hyper-nationalistic urge to ‘defeat’ Pakistan and to gloat over every victory, both real and claimed, is ultimately self-defeating, and comes with huge human and material costs. Much of these costs are hidden by jingoism masquerading as nationalism.
Words often used regarding the Pakistani state’s actions, even by critical Pakistani voices, are ‘delusional’ and ‘suicidal’, and rightly so. For, no level-headed state would seek to attain military parity with a country that is six and half times larger in population, and eight and a half times bigger economically. HussainHaqqani, the Pakistani diplomat and scholar, compared it to “Belgium rivalling France or Germany”. Pakistan’s vastly disproportionate spending on the military has been self-destructive for a poor nation.
In 1990, Pakistan was ahead of India by three places in the Human Development Index. In 2017, Pakistan was behind India by 20 ranks, a sad reflection of its ruinous policies.
More critically, the Pakistani state’s sponsorship of Islamist terror groups has been nothing less than catastrophic. What the world, including India, does not recognise is that Pakistan, ironically, is also one of the worst victims of Islamist terrorism. In the period 2000-2019, 22,577 civilians and 7,080 security personnel were killed in terrorism-related violence in Pakistan (the number of civilian/security personnel deaths from Islamist terrorism in India, excluding Jammu and Kashmir, was 926 in during 2000-2018).
The fact that Pakistan has suffered much more than India in their mutual obsession cannot hide the equally serious losses that India has undergone and is willing to undergo in its supposedly muscular pursuit of a ‘no dialogue’ policy with Pakistan.
Wars and military competition produce madness. Nothing exemplifies this more than India-Pakistan attempts to secure the Siachen Glacier, the inhospitable and highest battle terrain in the world. India alone lost nearly 800 soldiers (until 2016) to weather-related causes only. Besides, it spends around ?6 crore every day in Siachen. Operation Parakram (2001-02), in which India mobilised for war with Pakistan, saw 798 soldier deaths and a cost of $3 billion. This is without fighting a war. Add to this the human and economic costs of fighting four wars.
Granted, the proponents of India’s muscular nationalism who want only a military solution in Kashmir might close their eyes to the killings of some 50,000 Kashmiri civilians and the unending suffering of Kashmiris, but can they, as nationalists, ignore, the deaths of around 6,500 security personnel in Kashmir and the gargantuan and un-estimated costs of stationing nearly 5 lakh military/para-military/police personnel in Kashmir for 30 years?
Ten years ago, Stephen P. Cohen, the prominent American scholar of South Asia, called the India-Pakistan relationship “toxic” and notably termed both, and not just Pakistan, as suffering from a “minority” or “small power” complex in which one is feeling constantly “threatened” and “encircled”. Tellingly, he argues that it is the disastrous conflict with Pakistan that has been one of the main reasons why India has been confined to South Asia, and prevented from becoming a global power.
Here, one should ask the most pertinent question: why does India compete with Pakistan in every sphere, from military to sport, rather than with, say, China, which is comparable in size and population, and which in 1980 had the same GDP as India? (China’s GDP is almost five times that of India’s now.)
Of course, emulating China need not mean emulating its internal authoritarianism or its almost colonial, external economic expansionism. On the contrary, it is to learn from China’s early success in universalising health care and education, providing basic income, and advancing human development, which as AmartyaSen has argued, is the basis of its economic miracle. It is precisely here that India has failed, and is continuing to fail.
Therefore, despite India being one of the fastest growing major economies in the world since 1991 (yet, only ranked 147 in per capita income in 2017), its social indicators in many areas, including health, education, child and women welfare, are abysmal in comparison with China’s. Worryingly, in the focus on one-upmanship with Pakistan, India’s pace in social indicator improvement has been less than some poorer economies too. The phenomenal strides made by Bangladesh in the social sector are an example.
Here, a look at the military expenditures is revealing: while India spent $63.9 billion (2017) and Pakistan $9.6 billion (2018-19), Bangladesh spent only $3.45 billion (2018-19). Only a muscular and masculine nationalism can take pride in things such as becoming the fifth largest military spender in the world, or being the world’s second largest arms importer. The bitter truth hidden in these details is that India, ranked 130 in the HDI (and Pakistan, 150), simply cannot afford to spend scarce resources on nuclear arsenals, maintaining huge armies or developing space weapons. Besides, in an increasingly globalised world, military resolution between a nuclear India and Pakistan is almost impossible.
The more India, the largest democracy in the world, defines itself as the Other of Pakistan, a nation practically governed by the military, the more it will become its mirror. Any nation that thrives by constructing a mythical external enemy must also construct mythical internal enemies. That is why the number of people labelled ‘anti-national’ is increasing in India. India has to rise to take its place in the world. That place is not being a global superpower, but being the greatest and most diverse democracy in the world. That can only happen if it can get rid of its obsession with Pakistan.
(The Hindu)

 
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Symbol of New (Hindu) India?

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By Sanjeev Ahluwalia

BJP president Amit Shah is technically correct to say that SadhviPragya Thakur, one of the accused in the September 2008 Malegaon (Maharashtra) bomb blast case, who is on bail, has a right, under our liberal electoral laws, to contest the elections. It hardly matters that she voluntarily claimed being part of the Hindutava forces which had pulverised the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 and that an FIR has been registered against her by the Madhya Pradesh police on the orders of the Election Commission.
A galaxy of BJP leaders headed by Lal Krishna Advani, who went on to become deputy prime minister, and Hindutava firebrands Version 1 from the 1990s era — SadhviRithambra, VinayKatiar, Hari Vishnu Dalmia, et al — were criminally indicted for conspiracy but let off by a CBI special court in 2001. The Allahabad high court upheld the order of acquittal in 2010. But curiously, the Supreme Court directed that the case be revived in April 2017, under the NarendraModi government.
To be honest, there was little reason, back then, not to indict both Kalyan Singh, the BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and P.V. Narasimha Rao, the Congress Prime Minister. Culpability for dereliction of duty runs deep and inefficiencies in the judicial system help gaming transgressors.
Our laws consequently acknowledge this judicial gap and do not bar a candidate from political office, even though serious criminal charges have been drawn up in court against the person and a trial is under way.
But that does not fully explain why the BJP chose her. After all, Bhopal is not just any other seat. It is the capital of Madhya Pradesh and she has been pitted against Digvijay Singh, a former chief minister of the state and a senior Congress leader.
More to the point, isn’t she out of sync with the BJP government’s soothing signature tune of “Sabkasaath, sabkavikas” (with everyone, for everyone)? Does this signal a major change in stance and hitherto is revisionist social policy likely to overshadow the imperative for economic growth?
Pragya Thakur has no qualms about evoking her mystical powers to “damn” (curse) her opponents, demonstrating a conflation between her private well-being and that of all Hindus — a distinction which is necessary in those holding public office. But ascetics and mystics live by the code of “bhakti” — a submersive ecosystem, in which the followers are one with the guru. This leaves no space for the rule of earthly, common law.
Bhakts believe the spiritual power of an ascetic’s curse causes irreparable harm. Such pervasive, blind faith begs the question — should India have lawmakers who exult in evoking their spiritual powrs to shield themselves from the law?
Given these rough edges, what compelled the Modi-Shah team to field SadhviPragya from Bhopal? Two motivations suggest themselves.
First, electoral strength breeds hubris. Nominating Pragya Thakur sends the message that a new, assertively Hindu India is on its way and those with different views should make way.
Hinduism is resilient because it absorbs and subsumes other beliefs. Think Tamil Nadu 70 years ago. Anti-Brahmanism, rationalism and primacy for Tamil culture and language — versus Hindi — drove the atheist Dravida movement to its peak. Today, with political power firmly with the Tamil middle castes, ritualistic Hinduism is resurgent in Tamil Nadu.
Hinduism facilitates Sanskritisation — a religious version of the Stockholm syndrome, where the marginalised empathise with and seek to emulate their oppressors, thereby perpetuating the status quo.
Even the Congress Party has succumbed. The symbols of ritualistic Hinduism — special prayers at temples and endorsements from Hindu religious leaders — are the norm. This is canny, since Muslims and Christians have nowhere else to go, at the national level — though the BahujanSamaj Party and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh; Trinamul Congress in West Bengal; TelanganaRashtraSamiti in Hyderabad, the Communists in Kerala and the AamAdmi Party in Delhi offer classically secular, regional alternatives.
An alternative driver behind Pragya Thakur’s nomination could be sheer desperation, in the absence of a NarendraModi wave, unlike 2014. After all, the party lost Madhya Pradesh along with two other cow belt states to the Congress only a few months ago during the state Assembly elections. Fielding the Sadhvi is sure to rake up Hindu resentment against the Congress for subscribing to a counter narrative of “Hindu terror” around the 2008 bomb blasts. The credibility of our police agencies has sunk so low that in the public’s perception, the “caged parrot” syndrome of ruling party capture, overrides the merits of any police action.
But multiple poll surveys, thus far, do not validate significant electoral loss for the BJP. The most recent endorsement comes from SurjitBhalla’s new book Citizen Raj: Indian Elections 1952-2019. He forecasts a simple majority of 274 for the BJP on its own. Lord Meghnad Desai, a British peer of Indian origin, also endorses a clear win.
NarendraModi is no one’s tool. Were he to succeed, his game would be to tame the tiger that he is riding. This is risky. But a more grounded strategy could well emerge, which seeks to rid Hinduism of its caste-based fractures; infuse the religion with modern concepts of universal human rights and worry more about generating income and wealth for all, rather than protecting India from without whilst dividing it from within.
The Modi-Shah duo’s dodgy electoral tactics are not new. Encouraging social divisiveness; kitchen cabinets to bypass government structures; centralisation of authority; a quasi-presidential form of campaigning and the systematic decimation of potential opponents — all these have all been used by other parties in the past. Banyan tree leadership is hardly unique to today’s BJP.
What is new is the blinding speed with which the Modi-Shah team has executed their strategy of building a “New India” — a narrative which promises to change social endowments and norms in ways that have never visualised previously. Status quoists will resist this seismic makeover. Beneficiaries will support it. Make up your mind, dear reader, where you belong.

 
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‘The TINA trick’

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By Anil Dharker

This state of despondency arises from many factors, the major one being the disappointment with the performance of NarendraModi’s government (bhakts always excepted).
Two abbreviations crop up in any conversation about the elections. Both give a dispiriting picture of the mood of the nation. The acronyms are NOTA and TINA, which as we all know, expand to None Of The Above and There Is No Alternative.
This state of despondency arises from many factors, the major one being the disappointment with the performance of NarendraModi’s government (bhakts always excepted). In 2014, there was a genuine Modi Wave caused by disillusionment with UPA’s drift and its alleged corruption; in direct contrast were Modi’s enticing promises of “development” and rooting out corruption and black money. The disasters of demonetisation and GST, rising unemployment and the unaddressed tragedy of agrarian distress has taken the sheen off Modi’s many promises.
NarendraModi knows; everyone in the BJP knows; thinking party supporters (bhakts always excepted) also know, that repeating the same promises again and again doesn’t fulfil them — action does — but implementation has either been negligible, or poor. This is why not one single speech of Modi talks of his government’s performance. It’s a strange thing to hear a prime minister going to the people for re-election without a word about five years of his government. Instead, he talks about his “muscular response” to Pakistan and he talks about Hindutva in a demagogic way reminiscent of Bal Thackeray, using words which a chief election commissioner like T N Seshan would have acted more strongly against.
Sadly, the EC is not the only institution the Modi government has eviscerated. If you really wanted to know what the BJP government has achieved in its five-year term, it’s this: Every institution, the Enforcement Directorate, CBI, the police in BJP-ruled states, the Income Tax department… name them, and they do the government’s bidding, even if many of their actions on the eve of elections are clearly political in nature and meant to influence the electorate.
This is where the TINA factor comes in. Even BJP supporters disillusioned with NarendraModi ask: If not Modi, who will be PM? Rahul Gandhi? Mamata Banerjee? Mayawati? They find all these options unacceptable. Unfortunately, people have short memories. Political turmoil brought in prime ministers as diverse as Morarji Desai, V P Singh, I K Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, DeveGowda and Charan Singh. Not all of them were a disaster. In any case, all of them were in the chair for just around a year each (except Desai, who had two years), far too short a time to judge a prime minister’s performance. More than that, it’s important to note the classic definition of a prime minister in a functioning democracy: He is the first among equals in the council of ministers. Would anyone in the present cabinet dare say that of NarendraModi? No wonder the BJP’s slogan for 2019 is “phirekbaar, Modisarkar”. And its manifesto is replete with photographs of Modi, significantly even on the cover. Apart from re-emphasising that Modi’s council of ministers consists of lightweights; the slogan underlines the fact that the BJP government is Modi, Modi and Modi. That’s how the TINA factor gets reinforced as part of the BJP’s planned campaign strategy.
Contrast that with the Congress’s slogan, “abhoga NYAY’, a play on the Hindi word to mean justice as well as highlight the party’s ambitious social welfare programme, with which it hopes to make an impact on the elections. It also removes any hint of a personality cult in the party, although clearly, Rahul Gandhi is the prime force in the election campaign. Perhaps, it’s also a tacit admission that the public perception of Rahul Gandhi as an unsuitable candidate for prime ministership hasn’t changed, although the man himself has grown impressively into a leadership role. But you need an open mind to notice that, and an open mind doesn’t seem to be a common attribute of our electorate, especially its urban component. The more educated you are, the more you are likely to hold on to your prejudices.
An interesting point to note is that even Indira Gandhi, a towering personality if ever there was one, used the slogan “garibihatao”, and not a personality-centric one. But that concealed the fact that she ruled her government and her party with an iron fist. Another interesting point to note is that in his constant attacks on “The Family” and “Dynasty”, Modi hasn’t said a word against Indira Gandhi. For all his visceral hatred of the Nehru-Gandhis, Modi is strangely silent about Indira: There’s obviously an unspoken and sneaking admiration there. When you think about it, it’s really not surprising. Indira Gandhi was the government, and no one else mattered. NarendraModi is the government, and he has made sure no one else matters. For all those enamoured of strong leadership, it might be salutary to remember its perils: Mrs Gandhi imposed the Emergency, she nationalised banks (a disaster in the long run), she abolished privy purses (a constitutional guarantee), she subverted most of our institutions, including even the judiciary, and she used departments like Income Tax to get even with political opponents. Aren’t the parallels uncanny? On the other hand, low-key, self-effacing personalities like LalBahadurShastri and Narasimha Rao made excellent prime ministers; in fact, the former had he not died so tragically early, may have lived to be our best PM ever.
NOTA, of course, is an expression of dissatisfaction with the whole political process, and who can blame people when we see the way our electioneering has been conducted, with its abuse and personal invective? But NOTA is not an option; the option really is this: Better not the devil we know than the devil we don’t, because the latter may turn out to be not a devil at all.

 
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