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Muslim Appeasement, Strident Hindutva

March 10, 2012

The much hyped assembly elections in five Indian states have thrown up a verdict that many anticipated but most refused to believe. The largest state of India, Uttar Pradesh has given a decisive mandate for the regional Samajwadi Party headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav. Punjab has returned Shiromani Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party combine to power much to the consternation of the Congress. Goa has given a decisive mandate to the Bharatiya Janata Party headed by Manohar Parrikar. Manipur was the consolation for the Congress where they have retained power with a thumping majority. Uttarakhand gave a khanded (divided) mandate. While the Congress piped the BJP by a seat at 32, and will therefore get the first shot at forming the government, the lack of decisive mandate in this hill state has meant that there will be a relatively weak government in Uttarakhand.

The Congress is trying to keep its chin up. But the fact of the matter is that these assembly elections have been a big blow to the ruling party. Punjab has returned the same party to power again after the early 1960’s. It was always the Akali’s once and then the Congress. For the Akali-BJP combine to come back to power is a great achievement for the octogenarian Prakash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal. Their victory is more startling as the Badal parivar had been divided and Manpreet Badal, nephew of Prakash Singh Badal had floated a parallel political party. This division in the Badal camp was what made Congress complacent and Captain Amrinder Singh and the Congress had taken their return to power as a foregone conclusion.  They were wrong. While Prakash Singh Badal’s towering personality was surely a factor as wa s Sukhbir’s organizational skills and his grandiose plans it was the tenacious bahu of the Badal clan Harsimrat Kaur Badal that was the decisive difference between the two parties. Her emphasis on women empowerment and lifting of some useful schemes meant to benefit the fairer sex from MP and Gujarat and getting them implemented that made the difference. She did not stop at that. She went from village to village addressing small gatherings of women and exhorting them to go out and vote that made the vital difference. Punjab saw an extra-ordinarily high voter turnout and that was ominous from Congress point of view.  The lady is a maverick and a force to reckon with in Punjab politics. Women relate to her and she has gone out of her way to make sure they are benefitted. Congress did not stand a chance. SAD-BJP returned to power and created history.

What the Badal’s did in Punjab one lone fighter did it in Goa. Manohar Parriker, the IIT Mumbai alumni single handedly fought the might of the Congress backed by the mining mafia. The Maharashtra Gomatak Party, a traditional ally of the BJP stood by him. The clean image of Parriker and his mass campaign worked.  BJP this time over did not hesitate to give tickets to Catholics and all 7 of their Catholic candidates won their seats. BJP has always been a pluralistic party and the media blitzkrieg against them is really far from the ground reality. Manohar Parriker takes the office of the CM amidst a lot of expectation of cleansing the beautiful state of Goa. If anyone can make a difference, it is this man. Kamat bemoaning that had he been projected as CM candidate by the Congress they would have won is meaningless rhetoric. It has been a happy holi for Manohar Parriker and the BJP in Goa. It is time for them to show they can deliver.

While it is true that both Punjab and Goa have been a huge let down for the Congress, the body blow of sorts was the largest state of Uttar Pradesh.  Rahul Gandhi and the Congress had made UP their turf and a question of honor. They had put in all and more. It would be hard to quantify the money put in the Congress campaign. Suffice to say that a few hundred crores having spent by the Congress for UP campaign alone will surprise no one.  Rahul Gandhi addressed more than 220 meetings. He travelled the length and breadth of the state in his chopper and state of the art bullet proof shamiana, addressed press conferences time and time again, swore he would not back down come what may, tried to convince he was there for the long haul and yet managed less than 30 seats. Congress understood from the very beginning that their success or failure depended on how the 18% Muslims of the state voted. They went out of the way to appease the Muslims. Samajwadi Party knew that Muslims were the key to their success too. Congress leaders would invariably make statements almost every other day trying to woo the Muslims. They assured them 4.5% of reservation. When this did not seem to cut ice they promised them 9% reservation. Rahul Gandhi met some ulemas and Muslim clerics to ensure Muslim votes. Samajwadi Party upped the reservation to 18% saying that Muslims should get reservation according to their population percentage. But it was perhaps Mulayam Singh’s meetings with Muslim clerics in Deoband and other places that sealed the fate of which way the Muslim electorate would vote. When the Congress leadership saw that Muslims had voted against them and for the SP in the first few rounds of polling leaders like Sri Praksh Jaiswal and Digvijay Singh tried to threaten the electorate of a possibility of president’s rule in the state. This backfired even worse and the electorate both Muslims and Hindus voted decisively in favor of the Samajwadi Party. The situation was so bad that even in the Gandhi strongholds of Amethi and Rae Bareilley Congress candidates lost with huge margins.  Media had made much of the Priyanka Gandhi effect in Amethi and Rae Bareilley where she campaigned.  Evidently her charm had limited impact and most candidates for whom she campaigned lost. Will that be a solace to Rahul, only he knows. Suffice to say that Rahul and his team of Congress luminaries do not have a clue as to what hit them. They were claiming that they would form government on their own. They could not manage even 30 seats.

The usual charade of state leadership resigning has started and Rita Bahuguna Joshi has submitted her resignation. Digvijay Singh has not lost his wit and humor even in defeat and that is such a departure from the scowling faces of most Congressmen. Perhaps the man has seen enough highs and lows in life to make too much of the UP defeat. Perhaps he anticipated the result. Congress lacks organization on the ground and that is a given. Maybe it was the hawa (wind) that blew away the Congress juggernaut. The truth of the matter is that the Samajwadi Party led by the new star on Indian political horizon, Akhilesh Yadav connected with the people better than Rahul Gandhi and the Congress leadership. He understood the psyche of the people and played on it to the hilt. The way the Congress bent backwards for the Muslim votes bordered on the obscene. Muslims voted against the Congress. Mulayam’s equation with the Muslim leadership was of course decisive. Other sections of the society fed up with Mayawati’s regime voted for the party that was winning. The BJP made good in traditional pockets but failed to convince the people they could be an alternative to the BSP. SP was a more credible alternative and the people decided to give them a decisive mandate. To Mayawati’s credit she managed an impressive 80 seat haul. Her Dalit vote back remains untouched, her organizational capabilities unquestioned.

A forlorn Rahul Gandhi accepted responsibility for the UP debacle. The guy looked absolutely dejected and it took a smart sister in Priyanka to give him a shoulder as the brother-sister duo walked away arm in arm from the prying eyes of the media cameras. Rahul Gandhi said that he will continue to work for the people of UP as he always has. I hope he does. I hope he has the courage to keep his chin up after this crushing defeat. You see. it takes little to differentiate between victory and defeat. Lest I sound philosophical, it is true that victory and defeat are two sides of the same coin. Rahul Gandhi, I am sure will take heart from the fact that there was a 4% swing in favor of the Congress – this after bloopers galore from him and other Congress leaders. His standing on the chair and saying that he will keep on working till people of UP stand up was a comical aside to a largely serious business of politicking. The dramatic tearing of a supposed SP manifesto was taken as an insult by the media that picked on Rahul Gandhi like they never have. Some have called him incompetent, others are wondering if he will now concentrate on Central politics and even become the PM.

Rahul Gandhi should take solace from the fact that the true colors of the SP came soon after the election results. Some who had voted against the SP were targeted and their houses burnt. SP candidate in Jhansi tried to bully his way to victory manhandling the returning officers, once it was clear that SP was the winner. A 12 year old child was shot dead in celebration procession. It is a familiar scenario and one not totally unexpected. As I write there is a growing clamor for Akhilesh Yadav to be made the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. I hope he become the CM. I hope he works hard for UP. UP deserves better administration. UP deserves cleaner administration. But I have serious doubts whether Akhilesh can deliver. His father will still be the proxy CM. The Samajwadi culture will prevail. And the one axiom of the Samajwadi culture is that ‘my man can do no wrong and the rest can go to hell’. This does breed fanatical loyalty but this also is the reason why Samajwadi Party has failed to give meaningful administration to the state. There are the common citizens and then there are the Samajwadi’s. For these exalted souls everything is at their beck and call. Can Akhilesh change this rowdy mindset? If he does he will have to change the way the party functions. I have not seen this happen till now. I do not think he can do this. This will need a complete revamp. Even Mualyam Singh Yadav called for more discipline. But Mulayam has gone out of his way for his friends. Akhilesh will do no different.

It is this mindset that should give Rahul Gandhi hope. People will get fed up of Samajwadi Party sooner rather than later, unless Akhilesh Yadav brings about a radical change. If the Samajwadi culture prevails Rahul Gandhi should fancy his chances the next time around. Mayawati will do better than she did this time around. But she may not get a decisive mandate. Her administration was corrupt and vengeful and people will not forget that in a hurry. Her core vote bank will remain. But there will be an opening for Rahul Gandhi and the Congress in 2017. Were they to start working on organization from now and highlight SP’s incompetence, they could be a force to reckon with. Invariably there will be voices within Congress to reach out to Muslims even more blatantly. There will be Muslim appeasement by the Congress. While reaching out to the Muslims won’t be a bad idea, Congress must make sure they do not make it so blatant that it borders on the obscene. Mayawati made a telling observation. She said that her party will try to amalgamate the Muslims in the society. She is talking about social engineering. Congress must take a leaf from her. Maybe politics will lead to a more harmonious society. My fear is that Muslim appeasement will only increase. Both SP and Congress will go out of their way to woo the Muslims. It’s a charade that has left a bad taste in the mouth, more so for the Muslims themselves. I will watch eagerly as to how Mayawati goes about her politics in the years to come.

For the BJP UP elections have thrown a plethora of questions. Their tally has decreased from 51 to 47. Clearly, playing it safe and hoping for a division of Muslim votes has not worked. When Muslims vote for a party other sections of the society vote alongside, anticipating a victory for the party in question. That is true if there is no consolidation or as some others might put it – a polarization of the Hindu votes. That was true in early 1990’s soon after the Ramjanambhumi-Babri Masjid controversy. Hindus voted en bloc. This time the BJP top brass decided to keep away Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi from campaigning. Modi’s bête noir Sanjay Joshi was at the fore front in the UP campaign. It could be that the L.K. Advani faction of Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Ananth Kumar feared a Modi wave were BJP to let him loose in UP and the party actually won. I will not be surprised if Uma Bharti under whom the BJP fought the election wanted Narendra Modi in UP. I think she was hampered by others making decisions for her. The lady was not given a free hand. BJP failed to latch on to dissatisfaction among the backwards on the question of reservation for Muslims from within their quota. BJP top brass, if they are a thinking lot, will arrive at the conclusion that strident Hindutva is the only way forward, if they are to again become serious players in UP and national politics. Trying to play the secular card when ‘secularism’ has been reduced to Muslim appeasement is playing the game with both hands tied at the back. BJP cannot fight the SP and the Congress at its own game. BJP will have to play the game according to its own rules. The USP of the BJP is the Brihad Hindu Samaj and that is what they should be looking at. When the Hindus vote en masse it has been found that Muslims votes tend to scatter as they are at a loss as to who to vote for. BJP will do well to take the issues from the scruff of the neck and make sure their concern for the society gets across. BJP needs to learn to get aggressive. BJP needs to learn to believe they can win. BJP can do a lot for the state of Uttar Pradesh under Uma Bharti. They cannot betray the trust of the millions who silently look up to them to give credible governance.

Just a word about Uttarakhand before I pen down! Congress has edged BJP by a seat and should therefore form the government. BJP’s internecine politics took its toll and bringing back BC Khanduri may have salvaged a lot but even he could not ensure a victory for his party. Remarkably he himself lost elections and people are pointing fingers at his arch rival within BJP, Nishank for the embarrassing debacle. BJP had given a blank cheque to the civil society and passed a hugely lopsided Lokayukta Bill in Dehra Dun. They thought that this would help them sail through. It did not. The moral of the story is that there are enough provisions in the administrative structure to fight corruption and one does not need to have an extra-constitutional body as the Lokayukta to ensure a corruption free society. The importance of the ‘Civil Society’ Is also hugely overblown. BJP may sit in the opposition and hopefully the Congress government will rectify the anomaly of the lopsided Lokayukta Bill. Mayawati’s BSP is the king maker in Uttarakhand and that should bring the BSP and the Congress closer at the Center. The election of the president may see the BSP coming together with the Congress in finding a ‘consensus’ candidate. Congress will be loath to use the CBI against Mayawati. The cat and mouse game will go on. Some are calling for a mid-term poll. The ‘Civil Society’ reckons that were the Congress to abdicate power at the Center their chances of getting the JanLokpal Bill passed will increase exponentially. There was never a better time for the BJP and the Congress to come together and thrash out issues that confront the nation. That is as unlikely as BSP and SP coming together. These elections have taught the political parties and the nation a lot. I hope we keep in mind what lessons we as a nation have learnt.

Maybe at the back of the mind the Congressmen are regretting Ramlila outrage and ruing the resultant fallouts. Maybe that would have meant a better showing in UP and a clear mandate in Uttarakhand. Maybe they could have even salvaged Punjab. The one lesson for all   political parties from these elections is the need to be more sensitive to the people. Ask Harsimrat Kaur Badal.

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