Monday, April 14, 2014

Bread and Butter have expiry dateds ....... Power & Politics/The New Indian Express/April 12, 2014

Bread and Butter Have Expiry Dates, But Divide and Rule is Forever

Azam Khan

It’s a battle between two paladins belonging to two political potentates jousting bitterly to capture the throne room in 7 Race Course Road. Azam Khan and Amit Shah have nothing in common by way of ideology, culture or governance. Amit is known as the Hanuman of BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Damodar Bhai Modi. Azam is famous for doing malevolent communal combat on behalf of Netaji Mulayam Singh Yadav. Both Modi and Mulayam have given complete freedom of expression to their cohorts to the extent that both liegemen are able to alter national political discourse and dictate the agenda for Elections 2014. If there are individuals who can define and rewrite ideologies, there are others who can erase them with equal aplomb.

Azam and Amit have come to symbolise the politics of hate and revenge. While the latter is facing legal scrutiny for his alleged role in the Gujarat riots, Azam is under investigation for making communal remarks against the Indian Army. Ironically, both have held preponderous positions in party and government. It is not a coincidence that neither of the two is known for providing good governance. Their expertise lies in the art of intimidation using all available instruments of power and persuasion. With Azam and Amit engaged in a combat of epithets, Uttar Pradesh is the only state in which elegies for issues like development and good governance are already being composed. Other parties are parroting the divisive discourse discharged by the differing duo by offering a slightly refined version of their minatory monologues, which are dividing voters along communal lines. Two weeks ago, Akhilesh Yadav, perhaps India’s youngest CM, was holding forth on technology, highways, metro rail and hospitals as his agenda for governance. All the political parties hawked women empowerment, health, education, law and order and child welfare as the main attractions of their manifesto bazaar. But A&A brought the focus back on themselves and delegated their leaders into mere poster boys.

For the past two weeks, A&A have successfully altered the contours of political debate. As Uttar Pradesh with 80 seats would decide the nature of next government, the divisive duo is leaving little to chance to polarise the electorate. As Amit’s electoral road map upholds, it is evident that he was chosen not to just set up and revive a highly divided and demoralised BJP in UP, but also to convert the battle ground into They vs Us. From the choice of candidates to the selection of talking points, Amit has successfully ensured that the UP elections be fought using emotional issues riding the hardcore Hindutva gestalt. According to party insiders, he played a key role in persuading Modi to fight from Varanasi, the undeclared capital of hardcore Hindutva. It would be for the first time that an outsider—and that too a backward caste individual like Modi—would be contesting from a Brahmin-dominated constituency. After touring the state for over a month and confabulating with various middle-level BJP satraps, Amit convinced his leadership, including Modi, that UP could be won only if the party is able to revive the Hindutva forces, which gave it 58 seats in 1999 and brought the BJP to power in the state in 1992. Amit had done his homework well. Even in 1967, the Jan Sangh won over 90 seats in UP because of the police firing against Hindu saints who were protesting against cow slaughter in Parliament in 1966. BJP has always performed miserably in UP whenever it didn’t play up core issues like Ram Mandir, Uniform Civil Code etc.

For Amit, Muzzafarnagar came as a Ram-sent opportunity to reap a huge electoral harvest. A fiery orator and a master strategist, last year’s riot was the glue he used to unite Hindutva forces. Read the subtext of his speech carefully, which was carried by both the electronic and print media. He told party workers, “The election is about voting out the government that protects and gives compensation to those who killed Jats,” and used the words badla (revenge) and izzat (honour), perhaps deliberately. He followed it up with yet another provocative remark—“By voting for Modi, you will be doing two things. You will bring him to the Centre and you will uproot Mullah Mulayam from Lucknow.”

If Amit was determined to unite his hardcore base, how could Azam drag his feet? After all, he was given the mandate to ensure that minorities came out in full force to vote for his party. He even invoked minority supremacy in the Army’s role in the Kargil war. Of course, it was for the first time that a minority leader was asserting that Muslims were as powerfully nationalist as the saffron brigade. Claimed Azam: “Those who fought in Kargil weren’t Hindu soldiers. In fact, the ones who fought for our victory were Muslim soldiers.”

Azam and Amit wouldn’t have taken to confrontationist communal posturing unless their promoters gave them the nod to change the direction of political engagement. During the past few weeks, there has been a competitive bid by leaders of almost all the parties to acquire Muslims leaders as magic mascots at any cost. If Modi and his brigade were displaying retired Muslim civil servants and disgruntled Muslim leaders from Bihar to dispel the widely believed perception about Modi’s unacceptability among the minorities, Congress president Sonia Gandhi invited Imam Bukhari to her home to seek his support for her party. Interestingly, the Election Commission received more complaints from various political parties on religion being used to influence voters than it did in the last two elections. The maximum numbers were from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It is clear that over 250 million voters in 120 seats of both heartland states were being wooed not to make them more prosperous but to preserve their religious identity as vote blocs. For Indian politicians, issues like bread and butter have expiry dates. But what lives forever is the policy of divide and rule. The next few weeks will see more and more Azams and Amits who will excoriate and dominate the political markets.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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