By Saira Shah Halim
It has been a few weeks since the release of my father Lt Gen. Zameer Uddin Shah’s book The SarkariMussalman. Even before the release, the book had managed to create ripples with one particular chapter ‘Operation Aman’ that dealt with the army quelling the Gujarat riots of 2002, with my father at the helm of affairs.
But before haters could get their hands on the book, faceless trolls on Twitter were enjoying a field day, batting on with a volley of abuses, one of which read like this:
This entire storm in a teacup for nothing. None of them even read the book, but they drew their own conclusions because of the ‘M’ factor. So the big question: Why the title The SarkariMussalman?
Also read: New Indian Muslim middle class is privately religious, barely political
The term ‘SarkariMussalman’ is used as an oxymoron. The title itself is satirical. Trolls need to seriously understand the nuances of literature and humour.
‘SarkariMussalman’ is an epithet given to a government stooge who has sold his soul to the establishment, one who has no empathy with the community, his/her loyalties lie with Sarkari bosses. The book’s prologue succinctly defines this meaning.
The pro-establishment ‘SarkariMussalman’ chooses not to challenge the stereotypes of their community, but positions themselves as a courtier and the voice of reason among the majority elite. They define their religion in a way that is acceptable to the establishment and project themselves as a modern rationalist by being submissive or worse, by actively pandering to bigotry against co-religionists. The term also means that they have sold their soul to the government for 40 pieces of silver and cannot, in any way, be relied upon by their community.
The media uses them to reinforce stereotypes about Muslims and in return, they earn ‘brownie points’, and sometimes, lucre on the lecture circuit and through publishing contracts.
Hamid Ansari – former Vice-President of India had quipped in his usual affable self, “Refrain from using adjectives as they qualify the noun.”
Not just Twitter, the book title SarkariMussalman was debated on TV channels. Not to mention, one channel even got the name of the book wrong and called it SachchaMussalman.
Some have questioned the book’s timing, even though it is quite obvious because the author retired from government service last year (as the vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University).
In my life, I have encountered several ‘SarkariMussalmans’ who appear on TV debates with me and maintaining a straight face, toeing the government line, not deviating from the rulebook, and appearing holier than the Pope, and sometimes, crossing all Rubicons of decency.
It could be a deep-rooted inferiority complex, a kind of Stockholm syndrome where the hostage ‘SarkariMussalman’ starts feeling pangs of empathy or even feels a sense of gratitude towards the captor just because one has been offered a token post or some other breadcrumb.
Then there are some who are simply agent provocateurs of the Islamophobia lobby who find ample reasons to denigrate Islam.
Even the atheists do not disrespect other’s beliefs and choices as much as these people do – like when author TaslimaNasreen puts up pictures of herself eating a meal during Ramzan and mocks believers.
Evelyn Beatrice Hall in The Friends of Voltaire penned the phrase “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it”. This holds truer today for freedom of expression than ever before.
However, propagating bigotry and spreading falsified versions of history to suit one’s political agendas should not come under the purview of freedom of speech.
So where does the Muslim community go from here? In a political atmosphere that is charged with venom, there is no place for even a ‘good Muslim’, even if one has served the country for 40 years with distinction in army olives, fought wars and was involved in counter-insurgency operations. As it is, the Muslim community is shorn of leaders. A serious reorientation is needed. The community seriously needs to introspect whether smearing a person with muck just to seek vendetta helps the cause or does it shame the community as a whole? There is no looking back now. More than 71 years have passed since Partition, and we have witnessed too much gore and bloodshed already. Disenfranchising the community further by othering them emotionally will only alienate citizens who live and die for India.
And here’s my humble request to the trolls and the actual ‘SarkariMussalmans’: Please stop sending us to Pakistan. If the Indian Muslims had any affinity for the neighbouring country, they would have left lock, stock and barrel a long time ago. They would not be serving the country with honour for decades and tread a path you would not like to put your children on, i.e., sending them to war to safeguard national interest. Indian Muslims have no love lost for Pakistan.
In the current circumstance, the Muslims of the country have only one way forward – not to retreat into a shell of self-pity and wallow in victimhood; to look at role models who did their job in government service or otherwise without selling their souls.
(The writer is an educator, a civil and human rights activist and also the daughter of Lt General Zameer Uddin Shah, author of the book).
Political chemistry has changed
By Manini Chatterjee
The contest for 2019 is no longer a one-horse race; it has been thrown wide open.
Less than six months before the general election, the BJP received its biggest setback since it came to power in 2014 just as the Congress got a major boost after being in steady decline in India’s heartland states.
If Tuesday’s results dimmed the halo of “invincibility” that Narendra Modi has worn for so long, it equally helped Rahul Gandhi shed the “Pappu” tag for good and emerge as a leader in his own right, ready to play a pivotal role as part of an Opposition phalanx in the battle ahead.
The significance of the results must be seen in the context of the BJP’s record over the last four-and-a-half years.
Since 2014, the BJP juggernaut — steered by the Modi-Amit Shah duo —had seemed nearly unstoppable as it rampaged through the length and breadth of the country and won state after state.
It stuttered to a halt in some of the ruling party’s bastions on Tuesday with the BJP facing a rout in Chhattisgarh, a decisive defeat in Rajasthan, and a steep decline in Madhya Pradesh.
The outcome is particularly galling for the Modi-Shah duopoly since the BJP was in direct contest with the Congress in all three states. It is thus not just an electoral setback but also an ideological defeat of their avowed goal of establishing a “Congress-mukt” Bharat.
For Rahul, the results are the best first anniversary gift he could have asked for. It was exactly a year ago that he took over as Congress president.
Long dismissed as a reluctant politician with little appetite or acumen for the cut and thrust of a difficult vocation, Rahul has surprised friend and foe alike by displaying a new seriousness and — more important — doggedness in taking on the Prime Minister and the BJP.
As Congress president, he has shown a clarity of purpose that few would have credited him with earlier. In his mission to take on Modi and puncture his larger-than-life image, Rahul single-handedly raised the issue of Rafale wherever he went.
Even while he focused on “bread-and-butter” issues facing the people (unemployment, farmers’ distress, the demonetisation, corruption), he made the Congress much more open to forming alliances with anyone who was willing to come on board to challenge the BJP’s hegemonic politics.
But his biggest achievement, perhaps, was ensuring that the perennially warring factions in the Congress state units came together to fight a united battle this time.
Since 2014, the Congress had won just two Assembly elections on its own, in Punjab and Puducherry. In Punjab, the victory was attributed to Captain Amarinder Singh and the main adversary was the Akali Dal and not the BJP.
Frankly, Mr Narendra Modi has taught me that lesson… because I see what not to do. …The sad thing… is that he refused to listen to the heartbeat of this country
Puducherry is much too small a state to count as a sign of resurgence. In Karnataka, the Congress showed unexpected shrewdness couched in magnanimity by offering the chief minister’s post to the Janata Dal Secular and forming a coalition government even as the BJP was prematurely celebrating its emergence as the biggest party in the state.
But in no state had the Congress frontally taken on the BJP and won. That is why Tuesday’s victory seems more spectacular than the actual numbers warrant.
Barring Chhattisgarh, where the Congress trounced the BJP despite the attempts of the Ajit Jogi-Mayawati alliance to turn it into a three-cornered contest, it barely managed to win Rajasthan and was caught in a see-saw battle with the BJP in Madhya Pradesh till late in the night.
Moreover, the Congress fared very poorly in Telangana and its gamble of joining hands with new ally Telugu Desam Party came a cropper. In Mizoram, it was routed by the regional Mizo National Front.
But more than the actual numbers of seats lost and won, Tuesday’s results present a change in India’s political chemistry at a crucial juncture.
Till very recently, Shah’s boast about establishing single-party rule in the country from “panchayat to Parliament” seemed entirely possible. The BJP had become a successful election-winning machine, and Modi was head and shoulders above any other leader and appeared certain to win a second term with ease.
That sense of certainty has taken a knock. Even before Tuesday’s results, the ground had started to shift. The mess in the Reserve Bank of India and the CBI, the exit of the chief economic adviser, the massive marches mounted by farmers who brought their woes to the country’s financial and political capitals, the growing unrest among Dalits, and the ferment on university campuses despite crackdowns may be unconnected. But taken together, they began giving the impression of a government losing its grip.
Earlier in the year, two major allies — first the TDP and then the PDP — quit the ruling coalition. Two days ago, Bihar ally UpendraKushwaha also left the NDA.
Confident of Modi’s overwhelming popularity and ability to control the narrative, the BJP has dismissed these exits as of little consequence.
In his election rallies, Modi — once adept at suiting his speeches to his audiences’ needs — failed to address the disquiet felt by farmers, small traders and unemployed youths. Sounding more like an Opposition leader than the Prime Minister, he focused his attacks on the Congress’s past sins and the misrule of the “dynasty”.
On the ground, the BJP-RSS workers felt that the strong Hindutva sentiments they had injected into these heartland states over the years would see them through, apart from the development and social welfare measures of the state and central governments.
That the BJP managed to nearly hold on to Madhya Pradesh even after 15 years of incumbency and did not get routed in Rajasthan should temper the Congress’s jubilation.
The results in both states confirm the need for a broad alliance (pre-poll and post-poll) against the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections rather than any attempts to make it a Congress-versus-BJP or Rahul-versus-Modi battle.
Addressing the media after the results, Rahul appeared aware of this imperative. He underlined that even though the Congress had failed to reach an understanding with the BSP or the SP in the Assembly elections, they were “ideologically” on the same side.
He also made it clear that bread-and-butter issues would be the mainstay of the Lok Sabha campaign. The Congress will steer clear of communally polarising issues that the BJP will seek to trap it in.
The BJP is still the most formidable political organisation in the country today, and Modi remains popular, particularly among the entrenched and the aspiring middle classes. And he still has the power to change the narrative. But when a juggernaut gets dented so close to the finishing line, it can find it difficult to regain its earlier speed.
Lotus pond is shrinking
By Shikha Mukerjee
Voters across five states — in the northeast, south, northwest and the saffron heart of India — have shoved the Bharatiya Janata Party into the slough of despond, but the unkindest cut has been reserved for the Congress, which has lost its only northeastern beachhead in Mizoram after 10 years in power.
In all the states, the contests were shaped by voters deciding between bhoomiputras; albeit from the two principal political camps, giving the larger-than-life-sized presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi the grand brush-off. The wins by the Congress, indeed the sweeping change in the contiguous states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, were not crafted by the charisma of Rahul Gandhi; these were won by the hard grind of building party bases and setting up the organisation by local leaders like Sachin Pilot, JyotiradityaScindia, Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath, no matter how high profile they are in the entirely different universe of national politics. In Mizoram, the Mizo National Front and an entirely local set of parties, has swung away from the Congress, grudgingly voted in one representative from the BJP and signalled that wisdom lies in choosing leaders with local tap roots.
Miscalculating the power of parochial sentiments, couched in the idiom of Telangana nationalism, has cost the Congress. In selecting the TeleguDesam Party as its running mate, the Congress revealed its complete insensitivity to local feelings, since N. Chandrababu Naidu was vehemently opposed to the creation of Telangana. There is a lesson in this for the Congress, which has changed from being a dark horse to a party on a winning streak, oversetting Narendra Modi-Amit Shah’s designs to reign unopposed and establish an era in Indian politics that would bear their imprimatur. The Congress now needs to discover friends from within the entity that describes itself as the Federal Front to strengthen its challenge against the BJP.
In other words, the known devil on the doorstep is better than the flaming torch-bearing messiah with visions of grandeur that cause hardships to the poor and relatively poor. Parties that represent the region best are winners and make for viable allies in the only way it matters — by winning; against the BJP if that is the challenge or just simply winning the state.
Regional parties that sponsored the idea of the Federal Front will need to rework the strategy for 2019. In Karnataka, the Federal Front emerged as the underwriters for the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) partnership. The optics of the grandstand of regional leaders along with the Congress was signalled by the power of the periphery united to promote a desired outcome.
After these December election results, the regional parties will need to think hard as much about partnering with the Congress, as among themselves and over cornering the BJP. A resurgent Congress raises the spectre of competition and bargains and balancing. In some states, the Congress has poor organisation, weak leadership and low prospects; in others, it could fish for allies that could upset the current political equations. For the Congress, the numbers are crucial to how it will lead the potential coalition against the BJP. The better it is at bargaining, the greater its chances of adding to the numbers, which in turn creates pressure on the dominant anti-BJP party.
The concept of the Federal Front is posited on the idea that it would be anti-BJP and non-Congress. But it would work with the Congress to defeat the BJP. The parties would negotiate with allies and if this meant contesting against the Congress at the state level, then that would be how it worked. Complicated as this may seem, leaders like Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal were emphatic that the potential Federal Front coalition would be an entity in itself. It would negotiate with the Congress on possible government formation after the seats were counted in 2019.
The Congress on the comeback trail, with three significant wins in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, is a more complicated foe and friend for regional parties. The BJP defeated on its home turf is a windfall for parties like the Trinamul Congress and the Biju Janata Dal, as the Sangh posed the noisiest challenge to leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik. It is expected that the losses of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, where the appeals of Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath failed to keep the voters from pushing out the Raman Singh-Shivraj Singh Chouhan governments will send the SanghParivar scuttling off to Uttar Pradesh to try and salvage as many of the 71 seats out of a total of 80 that it won in 2014.
Even so, the BJP will be a troublesome competitor in a state like West Bengal. Given the social dynamics of the state, the BJP can ratchet up its divisive messaging on the dangers to the Hindu majority from the near 30 per cent Muslim majority. The messaging has resonance in the state because it revives unresolved painful family memories of communal tensions before Partition and the loss of Partition itself. In Assam or even in Tripura, where the BJP has governments in power, the defeat of the party on home ground is likely to weaken its appeal, which is based on the notion that when the same parties are in power at the Centre and in the state, development, meaning the flow of funds, increases, enriching the political elites and injecting some energy into the local economies.
Across the Northeast, where regional parties or alliances prefer to partner with the winner at the Centre, the shrinking lotus pond will initiate a new set of calculations. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee will need to solve her dilemma over the Congress — can she continue to fight the party in the state and join up with it at the Centre on her own terms, which is what the idea of the Federal Front tantalisingly posed, or will she need to be more circumspect in her crude Hindu symbolism of cleansing roads with cow urine and dung?
Congress back into 2019 game
By Ajaz Ashraf
Congress president Rahul Gandhi must feel like an Indian Administrative Service aspirant who clears the preliminary stage of the civil services examination on his last chance. Like the aspirant, Rahul must feel relieved even though there are still two hurdles to cross: The 2019 Lok Sabha election and government formation thereafter. But a poor performance in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan could have just about sealed his fate.
The BJP’s spin doctors will portray the Congress victory as an outcome of anti-incumbency operating in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Since the polity in these three states is bipolar, the Congress, it will be argued, became the recipient of votes of those who were angry and alienated from the Bharatiya Janata Party. In other words, the story of these elections was more about the BJP losing the elections rather than the Congress winning it.
This is as good as saying that the IAS aspirant cleared the preliminary stage of the civil services examinations because the question papers he or she answered were relatively easier than in previous years. It may have been fortuitous for Rahul to have been tested in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, but it cannot be denied that he had been working hard for the past two years without showing good results.
He was humiliated in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, missed upsetting the BJP in Gujarat in December last year, and then, in 2018, went on to lose Karnataka, where he regained a modicum of prestige as the Congress managed to deny power to the BJP. Call it his destiny, but the Congress’ comeback certainly bolsters its hopes in Rahul’s leadership.
The Assembly results of 11 December will dramatically alter the popular perception of Rahul — he will not seem a liability for parties looking to forge an alliance against the BJP. It will enable him and the Congress to bargain better for seats in the emerging Opposition alliance against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.
At least until the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Rahul will seem a natural choice to lead the anti-BJP formation countrywide.
Give credit to Rahul for exploiting the anti-incumbency sentiment, which often influences electoral outcomes in India. He gave a relatively free hand to regional satraps, united them to a great extent, and exploited the agrarian discontent sweeping large parts of India. He was aggressive in his attacks on Modi. He did not seem diffident as he once was. Rahul has indeed come a long way from the days he appeared disinterested in politics.
Yet the exuberance of his triumphs should not persuade him into believing he can take on Modi alone. He needs regional leaders and their parties to checkmate Modi and the BJP. In fact, the fairly good showing of Independents and outfits with footprints over a few districts shows that people alienated from the BJP tend to vote them wherever they appear stronger than the Congress.
Indeed, the Congress is keen to cobble alliances with regional parties, but its victories on Tuesday could have the party, in its hubris, punch well above its weight.
It will have to restrain itself from making demands in states where it barely counts — for instance, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It will have to accept a role not in consonance with its own perception of being a national party. It will also have to be accommodative of local parties, as for instance in Madhya Pradesh.
The challenges before Rahul Gandhi, therefore, remain double-fold: Not only will he have to increase his party’s tally in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, he has to ensure that regional outfits reduce the number of seats that the BJP had won in 2014. It means the Congress must focus on states whose polity is bipolar — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat — or where it is a senior player in a state-based alliance. In this category are states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala.
Then there are unresolved questions such as: After the debacle in Telangana, will it align with the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh?
The Congress will have to take a hard decision on states like West Bengal, Odisha, and Delhi: Should it accept the supremacy of Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik and Arvind Kejriwal, postpone its own revival in their states, and hope they will vanquish the BJP? Gandhi seems to have taken a step in that direction by convening the meeting of Opposition leaders in Delhi a day before the Assembly results came pouring in.
Gandhi should also expect the BJP to fling a slew of corruption charges against him and other stalwarts. For one, one of the middleman in the AgustaWestland deal is in the government’s custody. He is expected to sing against the Congress. There are investigations afoot against Rahul’s brother-in-law, Robert Vadra. Even he and his sister, Priyanka, have been accused of conflict in interest through their decision to rent out their farmhouse to a company that was under investigation.
Nobody expects Modi not to recalibrate his strategy following the reversals the BJP has suffered in the three north Indian states. He will seek to address the agrarian distress through populist measures. He will try to win over the alienated youth. A party in power always enjoys the advantage of defining the agenda for an election.
Rahul will have to devise an alternative narrative to that of the BJP. It just might not work for him and the Opposition to harp on Modi and the BJP being a threat to democracy, the Constitution and communitarian living. He should have the BJP imitate him rather than the other way around.