Monday, May 18, 2009

A rathyatra to the wrong side of history

A rathyatra on the road of hatred may lead you up to the gate of 7 Race Course, but not beyond that. Having lost his prime ministerial dreams once and forever, Advani is learning this hard way. Given the long-drawn out bloody strategy he so skilfully charted way back in 70s, nurtured through 80s, pursued in 90s and bolstered in the new millennium, his disappointment is understandable. Evidently, Advani finds it hard to come to terms with the crumbling of his grand project.

His reluctance to address the public for the first two days post the counting of votes is but pitiable. Perhaps, at least for me who developed a negative image of this man when his 1992-rathyatra climaxed in the demolition of centuries-old mosque and massacres, his absolute disappearance from the public seen following the election results confirms the deep upset it has inflicted upon him.

A retrospect of Advani’s political life for the last 20 years after he rose to national prominence would never reveal any instance of this man seriously engaging with the basic development question – poverty, lack of infrastructure, educational backwardness – nothing influenced the agenda of national debates initiated by this man.

He was so aggressively harping on the theme of wrongs committed by medieval Muslim invaders which finally led him to demolish the 500-year old mosque. The agenda was all too clear – create a false sense that Hindus in India are victimized by Muslims and mobilise a vote-base on the basis of majoritarianism. It was actually ridiculous to suggest that a community intimidates another one which is numerically six times bigger than that.

After the evolution of this nation as a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-cultural society which was historically influenced by various streams of people, the idea of holding the Indian society hostage to the ‘magnified medieval wrong-doings’ was not only absurd but also reactionary.

The orchestrated communal killings across the country, be it Bombay riot or Gujrat carnage, offered some political mileage to Advani’s brand of politics.

But, the underlying wisdom of Indian public could sustain the communalisation efforts, thanks to the powerful stream of liberal thoughts, which put spoke on communal juggernaut. BJP ridiculed the liberal elite of the country as ‘pseudo secular’ and their activities as‘minority appeasement’.

Advani’s ideological dishonesty was unravelled when he staged a sentimental drama in Pakistan calling Jinnah secular. In his desperate bid to occupy the moderate space within the BJP in the post-Vajpayee era which suited his prime ministerial project backfired because his ideological patrons in the RSS did not pardon him, neither the liberal elites of the country got carried away by his new-found love for secularism. It just turned out a political opportunism that did not pay off.

BJP has been professing the philosophy of hate (under the garb of self pride) with absolute conviction that the people of India can be taken for granted, they would be swayed by their communal agenda. But the one billion plus nation stunted them several times.

The same conviction that the people of India is gullible to the concocted reality presented by them was evident in the utterly counter-productive brash India Shining electoral campaign in the past. This time it was all the more ridiculous as the 81-year old ‘prime minister in waiting’ was shamelessly aping 47-year old US president Barack Obama.

Obama for America campaign was imitated by similarly sounding Advani for PM campaign. There were attempts to bring in subtle messages of ‘change’ as well as ‘youthness’ which were ironically lacking in the campaign of octogenarian who is a prisoner of medieval hatred. While Obama transcended race and professed harmony the imitator believed in garnering political capital out of divisiveness.

Advani’s desperation was reaching new levels in the 2009 campaign as we could see in several occasions. His refusal to disown Varun Gandhi’s vitriol just suggested he fell back on appealing to the extremist sentiments. Having perceived that the party could not catch up with the Congress, the BJP changed tack midway; they prematurely announced Modi as 2014 prime ministerial candidate. The idea was to cash in on the perceived popularity of rabblerousing Gujarat Chief Minister who remains unrepentant over the genocide of 1000 plus Muslims.

Even his autobiography which was published well in advance to the election 2009 did its share of damage to Advani’s campaign. The then Home Minister pleading ignorance over the decision to release dreaded terrorists in exchange of Kandahar hostages revealed nothing but dishonesty and cowardice.
If Advani had owned up that move, since it anyway has a justification since lives of hundreds of Indians were under risk, it would have been much more straitforward.

Besides all his vicious projects, Advani finally earned notoriety for denigrating the election campaign to such a low by calling Manmohan Singh, a weak prime minister. People of India who have seen both of them on prime-time TV had the right assessment.

A man and a movement blinded by its quest for power always ended up in the wrong side of the history.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bharat Mahan

The resounding electoral victory for the UPA underscores that the policy shift of the Congress towards left-of-the centre position has struck a chord with the Indian masses. The surprise victory of the Congress in 2004 which was out of power for eight long years was in the context of a ravaged rural India languishing under agriculture crisis and collective impoverishment. The Congress returned to power as the masses voted out BJP.

In 2004, the ruling BJP, the so called ‘Hindu nationalist party’ (courtesy to Reuters for the usage), so firmly believed that the post-liberalisation, prosperous urban middleclass would endorse their ‘India Shining’ campaign. They seem to have taken for granted the rural masses, the 70 per cent of Indians, that a vast majority of them would support the party for its extreme Hindutwa postures.

But they miserably failed as evidenced by the two subsequent national elections – 2004 and 2009. The ruthless violence, demagoguery and vicious use of emotional issues were completely rejected by the masses. This is where the Congress entered the scene.

The Congress, which is often criticised for neo liberal approach, which is broadly defined as the withdrawal of state from its welfare responsibilities, downsizing of government and hijacking of resources by capitalist forces, knowingly or unknowingly underwent a policy correction.

The government initiated a creative job guarantee scheme for the rural poor which ensured 100 days of employment. This has two-way benefit that it addresses the basic development question in those interior areas. In other words, these labourers are employed in projects such as road construction, water harvesting initiatives and collective farming. This should be viewed in the context of the historic problem of rural unemployment in India.

When the corrupt bureaucratic mechanism manipulated the wage distribution to those labourers, the government came out with the Right to Information Act to ensure transparency in government affairs. This coupled with distribution of smart cards, at least in some parts, helped reduce corruption and manipulation to a certain extent.

This was followed by farm-loan waiver which saved millions of farmers from perennial indebtedness. Remember, the agrarian regions were ridden by the series of farmer suicides as a result of successive years of drought, crop loss, price crash and mounting debt.

The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, Bharat Nirman Rural Infrastructure Project and Rural Health Mission are among other achievements of the UPA Government which critics would dub as populist measures. In the absence of a vociferous propaganda mechanism as its political opponent RSS-backed BJP has, one was doubtful about the Congress’s ability to convert those populist measures into public support.

However, the Indian electorate surprised everyone with its discretion which once again withstood the propaganda onslaught of a haughty, majoritarian, divisive movement. The outcome of 2009 national election conclusively proves that the people of India have rejected the politics of partisanship. This reinforces the faith in India as a country which upholds the values of peace, harmony and tolerance.

The simple, learned, modest Manmohan Singh appealed to the masses and they dismissed insinuations that he is weak and submissive for the dishonesty and arrogance behind such propaganda.

However, will the shrinking space of the Left in our national debate, its much reduced influence on the policy making be an opportunity for the Congress for aggressive pursuance of neo-liberal agenda?

Will we see more corporate hijacking of resources? Will we see profit-making navaratna public sector undertakings being put up for sale? Will we see the basic functions such as power distribution being left to private players? Will we see further de-regulation of stock markets which will make it vulnerable to the manipulations of international players?

If the increased numerical strength marks a departure from pro-people policies of the government, the masses would not take much time to go back to the days of anti-Congressism.