Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Muzaffarnagar:Ground Zero- A political chawpal and story of 'Hindu Jat uncle' and his Muslim Jat nephew

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. Perhaps, it is this feeling and added to it - the element of fear that had driven out Jat Muslims from Khard village in Budhana Assembly segment out of their homes in September 2013.      But the Jat Muslims are back in the village now and trying to reconcile with the fate. 
      For 56-year-old Haji Ayub Ali, the world had changed in September 2013 when he heard that Hindu bhai-log (brethern) had decided to attack his village targeting Muslims.
       "I am here and my family is back. But the pain remains," he told UNI taking his turn with the traditional Hookah. Alongside his younger brother Qayum Ali, members of both the families had left the village to a "safer destination".
Ayub Ali and his Hindu friend Ravindra Mallick

But Ayub had stayed back in his house thinking he should at least think of the future and that his parental house should not be left unguarded.
        Didn't he fear for his life?
        ''Of course I did....Dar sabko lagta hae (Everyone would fear)," he says shyly but hastens to add in the same breath, "I had the protection of my Hindu uncle Rajpal Singh Mallick. He came and stayed in my house for a week when my entire family was away".

The story sounds too good to be true. "Wait for a while," says Ayub and dials a number using his black Motorala mobile of late 1990s model and within 15 minutes - his childhood friend Ravindra Mallick arrives into the courtyard riding his motor cycle.
The message seems to be clear. This Hindu friend is just a phone call away and he rushed to his Muslim friend in a short notice. "Me and Ayub grew up together. My father loves Ayub a lot. So when he heard that Ayub is alone in this house, he came to give him protection," says Ravindra Mallick proudly.
But why then Muzaffarnagar riots happened? And why Ayub's family had to flee?     
The informal chawpal-type meeting in Ayub's spacious neatly maintained courtyard had just begun. Shahnawaz Ahmed, a member of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind also present in the meeting tries to sum up the paradox: "Tragedy is no one is pious. All are thugs. If BJP tries to play with fear psychosis of Hindus, Samajwadi Party has been doing so with Muslims. The result is Muzaffarnagar type conflicts".
Shahnawaz of Jamaat sharing his views
Ayub agrees and nods his head in agreement. His brother Qayum is more vocal and says,"The riots could not have happened without politicians' complicity. Both BJP and Samajwadi Party are responsible". Ravindra Mallick also joins the debate and says, "Many Muslims who were victims of the riots did not get their compensation because they did not have money to bribe concerned people. I don't think all the Muslims will vote for SP". 
"Things could have been controlled if Samajwadi regime was more sincere about it," says Ayub.
The Muzaffarnagr riots have left many Muslims homeless and according to UP government's assessment, nine villages were "identified as worst affected". Several Muslims seem to agree to what Ayub says. In the meantime, one gets a message that the Jats - either Hindus or Muslims - in Budhana Assembly segment are likely to vote for RLD candidate Yograj Singh. Many Hindu Jats in the locality say, the community has decided to "defeat" BJP -- as the party betrayed Jats on the issue of reservation.
       So will RLD nominee win the seat?
"You cannot say so easily. Muslims always play influential role in elections in this constituency and thus Samajwadi Party candidate Pramod Tyagi has a fair chance," says Saddam Hussain, 26, a riot victim who had to leave his village Phugana and is now residing in a rehabilitation colony Falah-E-Aam set up by Jamaat-I-Islami Hind.
However, many in the colony are not happy with Samajwadi regime of Akhilesh Yadav either.
Naushad (35) says, "It is a myth to believe Samajwadi Party is pro-Muslim. They did nothing during riots. Our tragedy is even BSP did not do anything.Thanks to Jamaat that we survived and now staying here in the rehabilitation colony".
  It is also a fact that BSP's Sayeda Begum may attract substantial Muslim votes and ultimately influence the poll outcome.
        Hence, probably things stay unclear.

Like many constituencies in western UP witnessing four-cornered contest, Budhana Assembly segment is probably heading for a photo finish.
       Jats - either Muslims or Hindus - want to vote for a genuine Jat, but if Ravindra Mallik's contention is to be understood in right perspective, "BJP has good support base in Budhana town and the Nagar panchayat chairman is a BJP man Jitendra Tyagi".
       All Muslims in the area are not against BJP per se. "BJP's Nagar palika victory was like Narendra Modi's wave in Lok Sabha polls. There was a sort of wave," says Imtiaz Haq, a small time trader, also identifying himself as a BJP supporter.

In the 2012 Assembly elections, Samajwadi Party nominee Nawazish Alam Khan won this constituency by 10,588 votes. While has polled 68,210 votes, the nearest contender was Rajpal Singh Baliya of RLD who got 57,622 votes.
(UNI Election campaign/on Field story)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Republic Day Musings: Face to Face with Reality – 'Desh Agey Barh Raha Hae....'

Thinking of a fresh blog as part of my offerings as the Republic Day musings, I am reminded of a famous quote from Shakespaeare’s ‘Hamlet’: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

India is marching ahead ! The Indian Independence, transformation into a ‘republic’ and subsequently a matured democracy is certainly one such phenomenon – wherein more things “do happen” beyond comprehensions. Let us examine how are we perceived from across the border – in Pakistan.  India is always presumed as an adversary and a strong one. Hence Pakistanis, since the partition have always nurtured the idea of a need for a ‘strong’ Pakistan – that can take on India. The thrust on centralization of the establishment in Islamabad led to over dependence on the military. In its part this contributed towards “democratic deficit” for Pakistan, as argued by author Christophe Jafferlot in his book ‘The Pakistan Paradox-Instability and Resilience’. 

But how has India emerged as nation over last 70 years? In the persective of new US President Donald Trump, India is certainly an important player and will be his key ally in a possible long run war to contain China. But if China continues to expand its global outreach and the American administration confines more in domestic policy, India could be looking towards friends like Israel and Japan, another Asian power which is not comfortable with China’s rise.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi without naming China has lately spoken about “rising ambitions and rivalries” in Asia. All these combine to underline the global importance of India.
The global interest of India is definitely not linked to the rise of ‘Moditva’ phenomenon in Indian politics although the present regime has tried to give some definite directions – however. The interest about India has expanded manifold in last two decades because of the way harsh economic realities today dominate the world. India’s human resources is a vital reality, so is the inherent economic resilience power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi without naming China has lately spoken about “rising ambitions and rivalries” in Asia. All these combine to underline the global importance of India.
The global interest of India is definitely not linked to the rise of ‘Moditva’ phenomenon in Indian politics although the present regime has tried to give some definite directions – however. The interest about India has expanded manifold in last two decades because of the way harsh economic realities today dominate the world. India’s human resources is a vital reality, so is the inherent economic resilience power.

Reality can have metaphorical content; that does not make it less real, says Salman Rushdie’s booker prize winning book ‘Midnight’s Children’.
Mark Tully, former BBC man and longtime India watcher I had interviewed in 1998-99, had caustically said, people of India and also in many parts of the world assume that India will march ahead braving its numerous problems – provided it learnt well to do with its under-performing bureaucracy.

India has changed and changed in more ways than one during the last two-and-half years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is not very popular with Indian intellectuals and the media. “Desh agey barh raha hae…” is more than a symbolic slogan even as Modi detractors would bring in demonetization and other issues to suggest that the country has declined. Mamata Banerjee and Rahul Gandhi think alike these days.
But the Modi administration has brought in some changes and even made armies of work-shirkers in bank employees – work beyond their normal duty hours for weeks. “The entire work load of Modi’s domentisation drive was shouldered dutifully by the bank employees,” says a family friend of mine – whose charming wife and a respected Boudi of mine is a banker. Left to her, it is another debate – my favourite sister-in-law often would say she works “more” than her husband. Now, that’s personal! 
Burj Khafila turns Tri-Colour: A new chapter in Indo-UAE ties

Moving on, India’s march as envisioned by the policy framers today is not about only winning – but about winning it convincingly. In the process, often, my fear is the Modi admirers, the ministers and Modi’s close confidants are today also captives of 
their own propaganda. 
But talking about the 68th Republic Day, one must refer to the Presidential address – the last one from Pranab Mukherjee.
An articulate politician with all virtues of a snobbish Bengali, Pranabda left a parting shot for Prime Minister Modi. And as a known Modi-bhakt, I don’t grudge – the President rightly did his job. The Governance is not about 'glory' of ruler, propounded President Mukherjee. He cautioned against glorification of individual leader(s) or even race and pointed out in no unambiguous term that 'happiness' and well being of the common people should involve a right synthesis of outcome of
economic and non-economic parameters.
One of my predecessors left on my table a framed quotation which reads (and I quote): “The object of government in peace and in war is not the glory of rulers or races but the happiness of the common man," he said in his customary address to the nation on the eve of the Republic Day.
        Happiness is fundamental to the human experience of life, said 81-year-old Mukherjee, whose tenure would end in July and added: "Happiness is equally the outcome of economic and non-economic parameters. The quest for happiness is closely tied to sustainable development, which combines human well-being, social inclusion and environmental sustainability”.

The personal glorification is edifice of Indian politics. It was also during so called ‘democratic’ Nehru era – when even Bollywood patriotic songs and picturisation on patriotism was linked to Chacha Nehru. There would be comparisons of Jhansi Rani and Bhagat Singh with country’s first Prime Minister. 
Nevertheless, the moot point is Modi should himself stay away from ‘personal glorification’ even as – one does not grudge the essential part of it because otherwise he will not win votes.
But the focus should be on work. Some lapses he could have avoided must have been avoided. The Land Bill was an unnecessary confrontation his regime indulged in even as the role of opposition Congress and other parties on this was not appreciable either. To me, making it a sheer prestige issue was a mistake from either side. Prime Minister Modi must deliver and his detractors would like him exactly do the opposite.

Nevertheless, on social front, it goes without saying – religious pluralism is part of India’s genes. It must be cherished but the emphasis on ‘appeasement’ as being undertaken by Mamata Banerjee too is unwarranted. Actually it only adds to insult the greater wisdom of Muslims in her state. There’s no justification in giving Ram-Dhenu ‘rainbow’ a new ‘sickular’ name. That’s also one kind of fundamentalism.
The polity of ‘sickular establishment’ is also thus rooted in contradictions. The minority polarization actually leads to the reverse of ‘majority’ polarization.  India needs to be careful about it. Pakistan had presumed that Islam plus Urdu language and hatred towards India of ‘kafirs’ would sail it through. Today, it faces serious threats including existential ones. 

Secularists in India need to draw some lessons. They must ponder: Why BJP emerged in the centre of Indian politics latching onto the Hindutva ideologies.
They believe they were always on the right side, but then why did the majority Indians reject them?  (ends)


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Deepa Karmakar of Tripura among Padma Shri award winners of 2017

In sports category, Padma Shri award this year will go to Olympiad Dipa Karmakar of Tripura. The 23-year-old Karmakar is credited for making India proud at the world stage by coming fourth in Gymnastics at Rio Olympics of 2016.
The Olympiad Girl Dipa

In the social service category, another recipient of Padma Shri award will be West Bengal's "volunteer fire fighter" Bipin Ganatra.
A school dropout and recognised as a volunteer fire-fighter by Kolkata Fire Department, he is credited for being only one person apart from the fire brigade officials who has been to almost every fire accident site in Kolkata in past 40 years.

Oldest woman exponent of Kerala's famous martial art Kalaripayatu, Meenakshi Amma has been selected for the Padmashree Award this year in the Martial Art category among others, the government announced today.
      In Science and Engineering category, the prestigious award goes to Telangana-based Chintakindi Mallesham, who has to his credit to reduce the time taken to weave a sari from 4 hours to 1.5 hour – help freeing up women for higher value chain and more remunerative work.
      According to government announcement, in social work category, 68-year-old Daripalli Ramaiah gets the Padma Shri award for his mission to plant one crore trees. Also known as Chetla Ramaiah, it is said whereever he sees a barren spot, he takes out seeds from his pocket and plant them.  

Captain of Indian Blind cricket team Shekhar Naik would also get Padma award. An ace batsman, he has his credit in leading his team to win first T20 World Cup in 2012 and ODI World Cup in 2014. Also an all rounder, Naik has so far played 63 matches across all formats of the game.
      Another sportstar to bag the prestigious award will be Paralympian Gold medalist Mariyappan Thangavelu, who won Gold in Rio in 2016 Paralympics - T42 High Jump.
      In the agriculture sector, physically challenged farmer Genabhai Dargabhai Patel of Gujarat would get the award. A farmer from village-Sarkari Golia in Banaskantha district, he is credited for transforming drought hit border district into the largest producer of pomegranate in the country.
      In Literature and Education, US-based Anant Agarwal would bag the Padma award. He is founder of  an online platform 'edX' -- that brings courses from the likes of MIT and Havard at all "at no cost", the government citation said.
      Among others the distinction of winning Padma Shri awards this year would also be shared by Suki Bommagowda, the Nightingle of the Halakki Vokkaliga tribes of Karnataka, Odisha's singer Jitendra Haripal, writer activist Eli Ahmed from Assam.
      While Mr Haripal is a top exponent of Kosli – Sambalpuri songs having rendered his voice to 1000 songs, 81-year-old Ms Ahmed is credited for establishing first Assam Film Institute in the in the NE Region, the government announcement said.
Meenakshi Amma

In social work, West Bengal's 'ambulance dada' Karimul Haque also gets the prestigious award. He is credited for running a 24x7 service in Dhalabari village of West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district. He  transports the poor to the district hospital on his bike, often providing first aid as well.  He has single saved over 3,000 lives on his mission. Haque's  bike has virtually become the only lifeline for 20 villages in and around Dhalabari.
      The Padma award winners also include 'Swachta Doot' Pune-based Dr Mapuskar, who is said to have convinced the villagers of Dehu (Pune) to build toilets way back in 1960. The entire village had moved from open defecation to building their own latrines in 2004. He also introduced low-cost sanitation. Punjab-based Balbir Singh Seechewal would get the award for having successfully mobilised volunteers and raised funds from locals and created public awareness not to dispose sewage into the river and thus helping to keep the riverbed clean. He is credited for resurrecting 160 km long river Kali Bein in Punjab.
Tree man: Daripalli Ramaiah

This year's Padma Shri award will also go to Nepal-based Anuradha Koirala, also known as 'Saviour Mother'. The 67-year-old Koirala is credited for rescuing and rehabilitating 12,000 sex trafficking victims and runs a rehabilitation home in Kathmandu and such transit homes along Indo-Nepal border towns.
      In medicine, the Padma Shri award this year goes posthumously to Dr Suniti Solomon of Tamil Nadu, diagnosed first AIDS case in India. She had to her credit the distinction of diagnosing first AIDS case in India in 1985.
      Dr Solomon had also established country's first AIDS Research Group and took up working on AIDS patients at a time when doctors stayed away from them due to stigma attached.
  Dr Subroto Das of Gujarat also gets the award in medicine category for being 'Highway Messiah' and is credited for providing immediate medical help to road accident victims on India's Highways.

      In the same category, Dr Bhakti Yadav, 91-year-old gynaecologist is known for delivering 1,000 babies and is also credited for treating patients free for the past 68 years.
      The government announcement said in the social work category Girish Bharadwaj of Karnataka would get the honour for building more than 100 low cost and eco-friendly suspension bridges connecting remote villages across India.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Emergence of 'The American Modi' :Is the World ready for Donald Trump?

Crisis is sometime a bitter pill – a necessity, often essential for reforms. So in such cases anyone who contributes to crisis also contributes for the success of reforms.

Well, creating a prelude to the following article is not without good reason.  The unthinkable has happened and Donald Trump is the new President of the United States of America. Trump's election was greeted with concern by many countries around the world, in part because of the potential for an isolationist foreign policy. This is predictable part of the story. Let us examine the other view too.

There is a Tolstoyan perspective of history that prescribes that individuals may be  irrelevant and in effect only circumstances create events. Taking a leap from these theories we ought to examine the issues flagged off by former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
'Desi Trump and American Modi'
Harper was in New Delhi for the hyped Second Raisina Dialogue. His talk was informative and well analysed. There is a growing need of realisation that too much of negativism against a leader or a particular political system can often boomerang and result in immense support base for such a system, former Canadian Prime Minister has said referring to the triumph of Donald Trump in the US elections or the exit of Britain from the European Union could be attributed to this.

      "...May be they (Trump's election victory and exit of Britain from EU) happened because they were condemned by all. Does that sound strange?," Mr Harper asked.

This is precisely here I have an answer to offer. Rather my answer is illustrative. It is the case of the rise of the Moditva phenomenon in Indian politics – where the know all and intellectuals unhesitatingly had dumped Narendra Modi lock, stock, and barrel.  
Here actually comes the diagnosis of Stephen Harper: Negativism and underestimating by rivals actally led to Trump victory as also another unthinkable episode of circa 2016 – the exit of Britain from the European Union.

In this context, I tend to endorse the argument placed forward by Harper, one of the longest serving Prime Ministers of Canada.
Harper said unlike in the past, when 'newspapers' or news bulletins on radio and TV were sole source of information, the game has changed with the emergence of social networking as powerful tools. "Moreover, information is getting tailored to your choice now," he said. He further explained information flow is not one sided -- people can participate in a news event instantly. 

"With modern technology, people who disagree with consensus now get their own information, develop own views, and define their own interests - who feel the same ultimately support leadership from outside the system," he remarked.  

As a result, he said, "Virtually everyone is being politicised now and they are getting politicised in their own terms". It is here lies the relevance on the need to understand the 'politics of Hindus' vis-a-vis social networking in India. This is an emerging trend and it is trending strongly.
Harper: Razor Sharp Analysis

My take is simple: Don’t we agree with him vis-à-vis emergence of Narendra Modi? Was Modi not dismissed as a ‘communal’ Hindu Gujarati – who will never be acceptable to the “people (self-styled read broad minded secularists of India”? 

Have not we heard: India is no Gujarat?

Hence, may be Modi is 'Modi of today' - the Prime Minister of world's largest democracy --- because he was condemned by all? Indian intellectuals, NGO activists - may be thought - everyone else is stupid?

Harper was of the view that though significant enough, such major drastic happenings had happened in the past also. On this he referred to the breaking up of the Soviet Union and claimed that many years back a Polish communist leader, who disapproved the Soviet variety of communism, had predicted that things would go chaotic in the erstwhile communist empire (Soviet Union). Harper cautioned that all these - globally significant incidents - happened because the world was perhaps not willing to prepare itself for such outcome. "I believe this problem is going to get worse because we are not prepared well to respond," said Harper. Harper also diagnosed that Trump's victory was a testimony to the fact that he took up issues like 'immigration' as it concerned the people of America. 

I have referred this earlier also and again bringing in here. I was interviewed by a popular website Matters India on the day Modi was elected Prime Minister by Indian voters – May 16, 2014. To a question on secularism and minority appeasement from senior scribe Jose Kavi, I had said, “The Indian ‘secularism’ propagated by the Congress and Left and even parties of Mulayam Singh and Mamata Banerjee is also a Fundamentalism. They divide people. Muslims get 5 per cent job quota, bigger amount of scholarship. Then, will it be wrong if his Hindu classmate hates the Muslim boy? 

"Our good friend, Mobarak Haider, a liberal Pakistani writer, says the Congress and the Left pampered the pathological Muslim narcissism, making Muslims more of a minority”. (Extract from interview with Matters India: (www.matterindia.com)
My contention has been there is little to dispute that if we cherish democracy, the public perception is important. Thus, as the Prime Minister – Modi needs to convince and carry along his people. In Indian context, the onus is on him as expectations too are from him as the Mandate 2014 suggested. The mandate of 2014 somehow had nothing or less to do with the 'Hindutva agenda' of the RSS even as a large number of Sadhus were deployed during electioneering in 2014.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Akhilesh battle with dad Mulayam signals shift in socialist politics

In 2012, when Akhilesh Yadav  declined to play a 'papa's boy' and repeatedly addressed his aging father as ''Netaji (our ultimate leader),'' little did any political pundit predict that  a seemingly amiable son will humble his father in a fierce political tussle -- snatching from former UP strongman, his party and the symbol bicycle.

Just as today -- post the Election Commission verdict, giving his faction the recognition of being the genuine Samajwadi Party has set the tone for key contests in UP -- many say they could see the changes coming in the party affairs as more than fighting his father Mulayam Singh Yadav-Akhilesh was more keen to reform SP from its traditional Hindi-heartland socialistic values.

In this context, says former Samajwadi MP Shailendra Kumar -- "behind a soft exterior, Akhilesh is a tough mettle  and in between 2009 and 2012 -- as the president of UP unit of Samajwadi -- he had implemented several key decisions". 
Brushing aside the senior Yadav's moves, Akhilesh had opposed induction of Western UP strongman and history-sheeter DP Yadav, forced the 'Netaji' (his father) to remove veteran Mohan Singh as the spokesman for backing DP Yadav's entry.
 In fact, as the UP unit president of the party, showing firmness during his battle for 2012, Akhilesh  gave unto himself the larger say in the running of the party, selecting candidates and also drawing the campaign graph
He also had forced the party – still drunk with old socialistic stance – to shed the past prejudices and led Samajwadi turn 'modern' and pledged English education and computerisation and announced distribution of laptops and computers in the 2012 election manifesto.
  Akhilesh camp says, with the look of a next door youth and quite an infectious smile, Akhilesh Yadav started representing a paradigm shift in North India’s politics, which for long rested on caste, religion and also violence.

  His best trump card thus and not without good reason -- and that distinguished him from his rival-uncle Shivpal Yadav -- has been humility -- but ear-on-ground approach.
  Perhaps this difference in style and substance distanced Lucknow's 'neo-Chhote Nawab' from his father at least in political realism and endeared himself to his other uncle and new find mentor Ram Gopal Yadav. Thus, party sources say while defeat in a legal battle before the Election Commission was an humiliation and embarrassment for Mulayam, the long-run family feud also has ensured emergence of a new crafty socialist in the form of Ram Gopal Yadav, in the corridors of power.
Samajwadi Party watchers consider Ram Gopal Yadav as a silent player, who sticks to his own script and seldom interacts with the media. "The Rajya Sabha MP (Ram Gopal) once readily played second fiddle to Mulayam's confidant Amar Singh, but he has been always firm about his own views and when time came, he teamed up with veteran socialists Mohan Singh and Rewati Raman Singh to oust Amar Singh," says a CPI leader.

 Meanwhile, those who know Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav say in the changed scenario a hardcore political entity that he is, former UP Chief Minister and an ex-Defence Minister may still try to fight out.
 In the past, Mulayam has played a number of key political games, wrestling his position well. Mulayam's associate and a senior Janata Dal (U) leader pointed out: "In 1999, Mulayam stunned non-BJP forces when he virtually single-handedly stalled Sonia Gandhi's march to the PMO, when he categorically declined to support a Congress-led Government after Jayalalitha withdrew support to the Vajpayee Government". 

Again in 2002, he was instrumental in ensuring APJ Abdul Kalam's election as the President, when he was reported to have stuck a deal with the BJP.
  In 2008 again, Mulayam had chipped in to bail out Dr Manmohan Singh regime, when the Left parties had withdrawn support to UPA-I, over the Indo-US Nuclear deal.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Assembly Elections: Acid test to Narendra Modi's popularity, Demonetisation drive

While Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat is more often called a Hindu laboratory, the perceived Hindu-Muslim polarization is not confined to this western Indian state only. Uttar Pradesh, which goes to the polls in seven phases in February and March, has actually witnessed more Hindu-Muslim clashes than Gujarat, both in the pre-independence era and also in contemporary settings.

With the stage set for elections in five Indian states including the bellwether Uttar Pradesh, the love-hate relationship that frames India's religious communities is bound to figure in political discourse once again.
The elections — scheduled over the next two months — will also predict the political future of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which came to power two years ago riding on a wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric, along with the "neo development model." 

Even a substantial number of Muslims are reported to have voted for Modi in 2014 especially in Gujarat, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Much of the politically-linked temple campaigns aiming to undo "Muslim rulers' destruction of Hindu temples" revolved around temples in that state and that helped propel the BJP to the mainstream.
The same Hindu-Muslim disunity factor would also come into the political debate in the state of Uttarakhand where so-called ‘Muslim appeasement' by the BJP's rival, Indian National Congress has already made news in the run up to the polls.
The Congress-led state government's decision to give "special noon breaks" to Muslims to perform Friday prayers has provoked angry reactions from the BJP. "What if the Hindu community says they need a two-hour break on Monday for Shiv puja, on Tuesday for Hanumanji and on Sunday for the Sun God?" BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said.

The state that witnessed devastating floods in 2013 is also famous for Hindu pilgrimages and shrines. How these issues will influence polls - however- remains to be seen.

Amidst these debates, many political watchers are taking an overall caustic view of the Hindu-Muslim relationship. "The Hindu-Muslim permutation and combination in politics as seen in the last 20 years often sparks off rows about whether the two communities have been nurtured by a single civilization or two distinctly different civilizations," says Kolkata-based educationist, Chiranjeet Shanyal.
While all eyes will be on the Uttar Pradesh polls, as this happens to be India's most populous state, the issues concerning other minorities, like Sikhs, will be in play in the northern state of Punjab where Sikh followers are a majority.

For Christians, the electoral games will be crucial in the states of Goa and Manipur. The Christian community in Goa has been curiously sharing a love-hate relationship with the BJP for different reasons at different times and in different situations. In Goa, just as in Manipur, an interesting political campaign remains to unfold.

The BJP is banking on the support of local Meitei Hindus for its fortunes in Manipur that borders Myanmar. The rival Congress has a strong Meitei leader in the form of incumbent Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh, who is known for his crafty moves to get Meitei Hindu voters to favor him.

The state also has a substantial Naga tribe, most of them Christians, who are largely perceived to be soft towards the BJP. 

"The Nagas could be inclined to support the BJP or its ally, the Naga People's Front primarily because the Modi government has entered into an agreement with The National Socialist Council of Nagaland. Moreover, Ibobi Singh of Congress has relentlessly pursued anti-Naga policies during the last decade," said L. Siro from the United Naga Council.
Ibobi Singh has created new administrative districts to reach out to another section of the Christian population in Manipur: the Kukis. The division of Christian voters could spoil Modi's ambitions in Manipur.
In Goa, the BJP won the support of Christians in 2012, helping them ultimately to provide six Christian legislators. They even have a Christian as the deputy chief minister: Francis D'Souza.

"I was asked if there can be a Christian chief minister for Goa in the future. I said it is possible," D'Souza told a press conference in Panaji.

But it is a fact that the BJP has lost the good will of Goan Christians for several reasons, including reported attacks on churches in various parts of India after the Modi government took power in Delhi.

"In Goa, the people and Christians in particular saw the BJP as a viable alternative in 2012. But 2017 will be different," says Manish Tewari, Congress leader.

In a democracy, the election process throws up opportunities for sizing up the polity. It does a reality check. The parameters of this check will differ greatly in each state's vote. But these are first acid tests for the popularity of Modi's programs and policies.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Bengal Visit – Post-Rose Valley Turmoil – A Psychic tug of war

Never did I tend to draw a ‘troubled picture’ of West Bengal as this time around January first week in circa 2017. The arrest of two prominent parliamentarians belonging to Trinamool Congress over multi-crore Rose Valley scam has certainly left the people of West Bengal confused. Anguish against ‘Delhi’ is what Mamata Banerjee has tried to build up and repeatedly called for resignation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and even called for formation of a ‘national government’ headed by the likes of L K Advani, Rajnath Singh or Arun Jaitley. 

The offer had no takers nationwide. BJP was certainly little amused. But the confusion is palpable among the people as many feel they are not sure of the future political road map of West Bengal.
Thanks to ‘maverick’ style of Bengal’s noted ‘elder sister’ – Didi – Bengal – as I find in the first week of January is struggling to find a stable and effective form of government. The general impression is Didi is busy elsewhere – either politicking, giving away awards to film stars or hopping between Delhi, Patna, Lucknow and Kolkata. The agenda is clear – her Prime Ministerial ambition. Modi-bashing and appeasing to minority vote bank would give her a ‘decisive role’ in the national politics --- so believe Didi herself and more certainly her advisers. 

Bengal deserves to give India - a Prime Minister ! But Mamata? 
Didi had replaced Marxists ‘dadas’ in 2011 – generating immense hopes of bringing in changes in many front. 

The law and order situation has only gone from bad to worse as the general understanding in Kolkata or Siliguri is the erstwhile Left cadres have changed flank. Thus – while Bengal represents a cultural and intellectual renaissance, the politics here has been sickening – wherein principal gift of the Left culture is work-shirking and being 'mere talkative' -- 'bol bachan' !! 
Poverty: An Issue
Some of this 'sound box'/talkative virtues are well seen in journalism too and – partly also visible in ‘liberal-Bonglish’ kind of journalism exported to the national capital.
Once upon a time – Bengal press was known for being increasingly free and outspoken. Today – the lesser said is better.
While media has done reporting of ‘Dhulagarh’ variety of  communal riots – there has been a tendency to give cushion to the Didi’s ineffective police force.
Mamata Banerjee’s focus is hardly on governance – little does she realize that Narendra Modi has made it big ‘nationally’ only after giving a semblance of ‘better government’ in Gujarat for over 12 years. Like most Bengali leaders and intelligentsia – Ms Banerjee is in immense hurry. If today – she finds the Modi regime and the CBI pursuing ‘vendetta’ politics – she must do some soul searching – on the kind of approach she had towards the Modi regime from very beginning.

On the other hand, BJP guys would point out how PM Modi made her a special guest during his trip to Bangladesh. The kind of ‘importance’ he gave her in his maiden Lok Sabha speech. But in return – she kept the battle ‘personal’.  On the other hand, look at Nitish Kumar – who is only trying to play a smarter game.But it could be fallacy to dismiss Mamata's hyped battle cry against Modi as 'nothing achieved so far'. She has definitely shown that when it comes to Modi-bashing --- with or without demonetisation, she is in the forefront. This may bring in some political dividends.

Now the ‘cultural and intellectual context’ of West Bengal – as one finds around the first week of January 2017.  But before dwelling deep on the subject, let us try to figure out few illustrations from history – as this would make a befitting backdrop to pursue the debate.
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay was ‘most popular’ of literary fugures from Bengal after Rabinranath Tagore. It is said during Bankim’s lifetime (1838-94) as reflected in his novels, Bengal was transformed into “an essentially Hindu nation in which Muslims were antagonistic outsiders”.
Blogger: Bengal Rediscover Voyage
Bankim’s Kapalkundala (1866) was popular in the context of mass reading and had a Hindu slant. It had described gruesome Tantric rituals and indicated the same cultural trend toward dividing urban middle class Hinduism from rustic Hindu cults. Rajsimha (1881) had Rajput heroes fighting Muslim oppressors while Mrnalini (1869) depicted a Muslim invasion of Bengal. His novels were actually historical fiction. In Anandamath (1882) Bankim brilliantly had depicted Hindu ascetics (sanyasis) fighting Muslim armies and similarly ‘Sitaram’ (1886) described Hindu struggles against Muslim tyranny.  
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay would be certainly remembered for contributing towards elevating Hinduism to the level of a global /world religion -- not understood in the west.
According to Debendranath Tagore, Bankim’s one of the first ‘Durgesh Nandini’, featured a Rajput hero and Bengali heroine and it took “Bengali heart by storm”.
So, how does these relate to our contemporary setting vis-à-vis Mamata-Modi battle royale?

I have always argued that the past is the foundation of present and similarly the present signifies to a large extent what future is stored in. Indian history as much as that of Bengal or the community of Bengalis, in 19th and 20th centuries, is akin to a creature tied to the earth but with the desire to flight. There are truly certain inherent paradoxes to such a situation. The coexistence of Hinduism and Islam is a remarkable aspect of India. But the religious affiliations are also our unmaking. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Oh! 'Whispering Galleries' ! Happy New Year 2017 -- 'Minus 365 days' and other thoughts on 'Collective Stupidity'

Another year has gone by. In effect, it means there is 'minus' of 365 days from one's account of life. Human being has always been a sufferer of not having adequate time. But none can control it either. No one can stop it, no one can make it pass bit faster. Time just not decides things for you - it plays omnipotent.
But memories do play a different game. When it comes to para-phrasing 'time' vis-s-vis a memory game - it can be possibly rearranged and even stretched or shrunk as the requirement may be. The calendar year 2016 had many ups and downs, many interesting tales to remember fondly and some old episodes to be perhaps forgotten easily.  
Journalism remains a vocation - notwithstanding the industrialization of the same - as one of few professions still bordering with human emotions - albeit often considered redundant and foolish. Writers are the original custodians of memories. Journalists are only those involved in reportage.
The blogs are somewhat like readable memoir mostly revealing links between fiction, art, part realism and one's attempted autobiography. In these blogs, I have time and again tried to define and redefine journalism - often betraying my frustration. Moving around from organisation to organisation and largely confining my works with the print-medium - a dying art by its own standards today. - In contemporary setting journalism is often transformed into a world of 'personally intelligent people' but 'collectively stupid'.
Thus - WHIISPERING GALLERIES seem to rule the roost. Our reportage has been generally confined to 'he said - she said' stratagem -- once a sign of 'limitation' of news agency journalism and now a virtual bible for taking the "right quotes". Hence journalists with average memory and below average intellect no longer compete with stenographers - they readily play safe to recorder modes in their mobile handsets. Worse the lazy pigs happily switch on to Youtube video channels.
So- while the quotes may be correct - understanding of a statement or forceful interpretation is hardly visible.
Journalism has been also reduced to 'pro-and-anti manoeuvre'. In the process, either a journalist is Modi-bhakt or pappu-admirer or a news organisation is pro-BJP or pro-ultra left liberals. Hence - either there is blatant support to Modi's demonetisation drive or radical support to 'hate India campaigns' in the university campus. Overall - you are far from the truth but the temptation is extreme. The 'whispering galleries' of our history may in effect tend to justify all these lies into truth.
In the process, we have columnists hailing Rahul Gandhi --- coming out of his mother's control - in a year when Congress lost power in Assam, Kerala and saw desertion of party leaders in smaller states like Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. The mainstream media seldom has shown the courage to pin point that playing second fiddle to a maverick leader like Mamata Banerjee - was a mistaken strategy for Congress Vice President. The year 2016 for Rahul Gandhi was also a momentous one - when he tried to reach out to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi - but was granted only a five minutes audience. BJP's Shrikant Sharma has made the paradox sound more bitter but direct: "The probe on AgustaWestland chopper has now reached his doorsteps".
In regional journalism - things are getting more open. Kolkata journalists reportedly travel to Delhi more frequently these days and their trip is being linked/related to Didi's prime ministerial ambition? Does it not merit more discussions? To old patrons of by blogs - it may not be news any longer that Mamata Banerjee has even displayed magical influence on journalists asking them to sing carols in press conferences at Banga Bhavan in Delhi.
 It is no longer a wiseman's duty to pin point that for English journalism - hate Moditva is more than a fashion statement. The irony is the malady has largely shifted to Hindi and regional journalism too! They also feel it is always a safe and 'intelligent' bet to lampoon at the Modi regime. Now, come of it - the bigger irony is --- those who 'hate and curse' BJP-RSS -- seem to be getting rewarded by Modi-led dispensation! What's the secret behind such operations?
One can only guess foolishly.