Aijaz Zaka Syed

The road from Kairana

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That the tide has started turning against Narendra Modi has been apparent for some time. Nothing demonstrates it more spectacularly than a little known town in western Uttar Pradesh called Kairana, which had been at the heart of a major communal showdown orchestrated by Hindutva groups in the run-up to 2017 assembly elections.

The sleepy town catapulted itself into the media spotlight this past week after it elected a Muslim woman Tabassum Hasan to the Lok Sabha, the only Muslim sent to parliament by a state that is home to around 20 million Muslims.

Long before a desperate BJP went for an all-out power grab in Karnataka in the South, throwing established constitutional norms and common sense to the wind, it had suffered a series of humiliating defeats, including in the prestigious Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha constituencies in the Hindi heartland. Of course, the unexpected reconciliation between Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samajwadi Party helped.

If Gorakhpur had been the parliamentary constituency of saffron-robed chief minister Yogi Adityanath since the 1990s, the Phulpur constituency, once represented by Jawaharlal Nehru, had been vacated by deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.

Before Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the BJP came a distant second in Goa, Meghalaya and Manipur assembly elections. Yet, it managed to cobble together governments in these states by using its friendly, pliable governors and brute money and muscle power that it now all too often throws around. However, the stunning outcome in Kairana is perhaps the most defining and historic in many ways.

First, the voters have decisively rejected the BJP, notwithstanding the long and vicious Hindutva campaign targeting the predominantly Muslim town over the past few years. Using its friends in the media, the Parivar ran a vicious campaign against the Kairana Muslims, accusing them of driving out Hindus and turning the town into a ‘mini Pakistan’.

Second, Kairana saw the logical progression of what began in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, rallying secular opposition forces under one banner. As Professor Mohammed Sajjad of the Aligarh Muslim University notes: “In the Kairana Lok Sabha constituency, the Opposition, a grand coalition, was able to transfer its votes to a Muslim candidate in supposedly an era of anti-Muslim ambience. Given this perspective, the Kairana result seems more significant than that of Gorakhpur and Phulpur a few months ago”.

In a region that felt the shockwaves of the horrific anti-Muslim violence during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots after the BJP rabble-rousers managed to pit the land-owning Jat community against the minority, there had been scenes of Hindus giving way to fasting Muslims in long polling booth queues. Clearly, a semblance of sanity has begun to return to UP. Tabassun Hasan had been fielded by Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, which is known as a party of Jats.

In any case, until Muzaffarnagar happened, the Jats and Muslims had historically enjoyed close, amicable relations. Indeed, they had been part of the successful ‘MAJGAR’ (Muslim, Ahir, Jat, Gujjar and Rajput) coalition spawned by former prime minister Charan Singh.

However, the fact that the BJP managed to get 350,000 votes against 400,000 polled by the common opposition candidate – Hasan – goes to demonstrate that it was the solid unity and determination in the opposition ranks that eventually won the day. The BJP once again tried to communally inflame the campaign using issues like an old Jinnah portrait at the AMU.

Going forward, this is the only template and winning formula to check the BJP juggernaut in 2019. The grand old party, the Congress, will need to work with regional stakeholders like the SP, BSP, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam, Tamil Nadu’s DMK and, of course, left parties.

As Professor Sajjad argues, only a highly accommodative coalition where allies have their adequate say can be helpful to the opposition cause.

Any split of secular votes can directly benefit the BJP, which treats every electoral contest as a do-or-die battle, throwing in massive resources, ideologically motivated cadres and Goebbelsian propaganda.

In the months ahead, as the going gets tough, the saffron party is bound to do what it does best: queer the communal pitch and play dirty in the run up to the 2019 encounter. This would demand unassailable unity of purpose and action in the opposition camp.

Many regional players like the ruling Telangana Rashtriya Samiti and Naidu’s TDP find themselves in serious competition with the Congress in their states. However, some compromises and accommodation by all sides will have to be made to confront the shared threat. Only a party like the Congress, with its nation-wide presence, history and organisational resources, is capable of taking on the BJP and providing a stable government at the centre.

This is not merely about stopping the BJP in its tracks and denying Modi another disastrous term in office. What is at stake is the very existence and future of Indian democracy and the idea of an inclusive, pluralistic India.

The damage that the past four years of this order have inflicted on the country and its democratic and constitutional institutions, and rule of law has been unprecedented and may already be irreversible.

Thanks to years of infiltration and ideological indoctrination by Hindutva forces, no institution – from political executive to judiciary, and law-enforcement agencies to bureaucracy – remains unaffected and above board.

As the recent Cobrapost investigation reveals, the rot is all-pervasive and all-consuming. It is not just the media that has fallen by the wayside, ever willing and ready as it is to push the Hindutva agenda. We all know of the unsavoury drama that has been unfolding in the Indian Supreme Court over the past year or so thanks to the manipulations of the powers that be.

What is the future of the republic and democracy if institutions that are supposed to act as its guardians and watchdog find themselves neutralised? It is a sign of the changing times and new political realities that the RSS – an organisation once banned by the Indian government for its role in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination – today finds itself emboldened enough to invite former president Pranab Mukherjee to address its new recruits at its Nagpur headquarters.

What is even more remarkable is the fact that the former president and commander-in-chief, sworn to protect the constitution of India has accepted the invite from an organisation that has worked all these years to replace the secular and democratic republic with the Hindu Rashtra.

Even if Modi’s BJP is defeated next year and we have a change of guard in Delhi, it would take more than an election to defeat the ideology and the politics of hate and fascism that the BJP-RSS represent.

It would require long years of sustained efforts and hard work to undo the incalculable damage inflicted on the body politic over the past four years.

Secular political parties and civil society stakeholders will need a new narrative and blueprint to counter the narrative of hate peddled by the RSS and heal the deep wounds inflicted on Indian society. The 2019 election is only a small but critical part of this battle. If the BJP wins 2019, we may as well say goodbye to the idea of India as we know it.

Courtesy The News

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