Hindu Votebank Versus Rule Of Law

‘shraddhaa’, the Hindu sentiment. This parliamentary move to undo a judicial verdict reminds of what transpired 32 years back when law was challenged in the name of faith. Pertaining to the Muslim community initially, it engulfed the whole country. The apex court had then upheld the claim of Shah Bano, a Muslim divorcee, in a suit for maintenance beyond what is mandated in the Sharia. The court had made some observations on failure to enact a Uniform Civil Code as prescribed in the Directive Principles of the Constitution. While these observations came in handy for the BJP that has nursed this issue for long, for the Muslim orthodoxy, this was a direct interference in their faith. Pressures were built on the streets and through lobbying in parliament. The Muslim community did not have (the situation has changed but marginally) a secular leadership, its own clergy doubled up as intermediaries and spokespersons and pressurized the government and Muslim lawmakers. Finding the Congress’ traditional vote challenged, an inexperienced Rajiv Gandhi buckled and brought in the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986, restoring the status quo ante that favoured Muslim men over women. This capitulating before the Muslim orthodoxy and use of the legislative route to overturn a judicial verdict, it was perceived, may not go well with the Hindu voters of the Congress party. To assuage that sentiment, the Rajiv government unlocked the doors of the long-disputed temple in Ayodhya supposedly built on the place where Ram was born. He fell between the two stools and lost the 1989 elections. This triggered a chain of events — BJP stalwart L K Advani’s Rath Yatra (1990), destruction of the 15th century Babri Mosque that stood on the disputed site (1992) and sectarian violence that followed. In its prolonged aftermath, Gujarat witnessed violence under Modi’s watch (2002). India has never been the same again. What we see today is competitive communalism with the Congress pursuing “soft Hindutva” to counter the BJP’s ‘hard’ one. As always happens, the ‘hard’ one sets the agenda. This is evident in Congress President Rahul Gandhi frequently visiting religious shrines during his campaign trails. In Sabrimala’s case, he admits to his party’s stand in Kerala being ‘different’. The Congress does not want to lose the Hindu vote. In Kerala, only the ‘Godless’ communists who rule in “God’s own country” are left, isolated, to uphold the court verdict and protect women who dared to approach the temple, but were turned back. Like Rajiv Gandhi whose government enjoyed the largest ever parliamentary majority, today Modi, too, enjoys a comfortable majority and does not have to worry about being destabilized. But unlike a politically naïve Rajiv who got buffeted by both communities and a Congress that continues to tail BJP while attacking it, Modi and his party seem clear about their aim. They want a fresh electoral mandate for now and beyond that, ‘consolidation’ of the majority Hindu community. By no means confined to sprawling, poorly-developed Uttar Pradesh and the North, the Ayodhya issue contrasts with Sabrimala that is playing out in a highly literate, multi-religious and compact Kerala. Yet, both Hindu and Muslim religious traditions have combined with patriarchal pre-dominance in a significantly matriarchal society. The process has begun elsewhere and cannot easily be stopped. Women are allowed entry in the Haji Ali Durgah in Mumbai although trustees resisted saying the women devotees may “show their breasts while kneeling to pray.”  Those running the Shani Shinganapur temple in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district also relented after women forced their way, strongly supported by media and public opinion. These are but individual examples that bear little generalization. Significantly, however, they have emerged from within the community, without the State or politicians’ involvement. Women are gainers as questions are being raised: If the Modi Government can go the whole hog to outlaw triple talaq in support of gender justice for Muslim women, do Hindu women keen to pray at Sabrimala not deserve the same justice? For now, political implications are very many, none too exciting. While Modi talks incessantly about ‘vikas’ , development, his party’s men and women have turned faith into a corrosive force and an expedient tool to win elections. The most charitable thing that can be said, as assessed fairly objectively by Congress lawmaker Shashi Tharoor, is that Modi is caught between his own development platform and pressures from his political and ideological mentors to push a backward-looking faith-based agenda of which the temple in Ayodhya is the core. The development agenda has not worked, or to put it charitably again, not to the expectations Modi generated four years ago. With the economy not doing well – a matter of intense argument and can only be measured in terms of expectations and not what critics and previous governments did or did not – Modi placing his electoral bets on development seems less likely. The pressures to fall back on the temple agenda have increased given the compulsions of a fresh mandate. But they have been hit by the Supreme Court declining to fix until January 2019 a date for hearing the Ayodhya case. In doing that, the court has judiciously diminished the possibility of a final verdict before the next Lok Sabha election. If Modi takes the ordinance/legislation route to expedite Ayodhya and undo the Sabrimala verdict, India will be likely swayed by a combination of faith and a heavy dose of hyper-nationalism, causing a toxic us-versus-you discourse. The author can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com  ]]>

CHALLENGES BEFORE MODI IN RUN UPTO 2019

The much-sought and aggressively fought Gujarat polls have sent out conflicting signals for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Victory it certainly is,  but it may prove pyrrhic if he fails to surmount a combination of caste, religious, organizational and individual obstacles in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, barely 15 months away.   The new year has begun with two significant developments. The government could not push through the legislation to ban and criminalize Talaq-e-Bidat, popularly called triple talaq, a practice that places Muslim women to great disadvantage when divorced. Passed through the Lok Sabha, it was stalled in the upper house. The Opposition wanted changes to remove some serious lacunae and be referred to parliamentary for deeper discussion and wider consultations,   Naive though this suggestion may appear, could the government not have accepted the changes? Despite frequent incidents of violence against Muslims and campaigns like “ghar wapasi” and “love jihad” by Hindu rightwing vigilantes, the liberal classes, and by government’s own assessment, a bulk of the Muslim women, want this to become law. Here is a case of a good move at gender justice gone awry.   In the second development, age-old fault-lines surfaced in Maharashtra. Dalits, the lowest of the low castes, part of a British force, celebrating the bicentenary of their victory against the Peshwa at Bhima Koregaon, were attacked by upper caste groups.   Modern-day celebration of a British victory against an Indian ruler is certainly a rarity, going by the history of colonial India. But neither the celebrations, an annual affair for long, were new, nor is the caste friction that they represent. But violence, that quickly spread to other parts of Maharashtra and spilled over to neighbouring Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, was a new development.    [caption id="attachment_24114" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Pune: Protesters stage a demonstration during a Maharashtra shutdown called by various Dalit parties against Koregaon-Bhima (Maharashtra) violence, in Pimpri of Pune on Jan 3, 2018. large (Photo IANS)[/caption] Seen politically, it has eroded the support among the Dalits that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has nurtured through long years of effort, living down its image of an upper caste party.   Viewing this through the BJP prism, again, is incidental since it is power. India as a whole and Indians have a long, unenviable record of undermining their own social ethos for narrow and short-term political gains. This is the reason why it got colonized in the first place.      Modi’s silence on these and other sensitive issues is deafening. It adds grist to the mill of his friends and foes. The end-2017 saw Modi’s friend-turned-inveterate foe Pravin Togadia being elected President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a key arm of the Sangh conglomerate that works under the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) umbrella.  The two have been at logger-heads for five years and Modi, on becoming PM, had all but sidelined him. A medico turned Hindutva hardliner, Togadia won against retired judge VS Kogaje and Jagannath Shahi who were reportedly proposed by Modi’s camp.  Significantly, Gujarat is the political backyard of all three – Modi, BJP chief Amit shah and Togadia — and could become a key battleground, yet again, as the elections approach.  Inexplicably, neither the pro-government sections of the mainstream media, nor the critics, took serious enough note of this development that, given the way the Sangh Parivar works, could not have occurred without a tacit nod from the RSS.  Does that indicate RSS’ declining confidence in Modi and impatience when it has made no secret of its desire to push its Hindutva agenda before the parliamentary polls?         It needs recalling that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had in January 2015 suggested that construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya ought to be initiated. Its Pratinidhi Sabha had adopted a resolution to that effect. However, Modi has been silent on this for two years now. Nor has he changed his development agenda that places building toilets over the temple.  If the temple is to be built on the disputed site, it remains mired in litigation the course of which the Modi Government has been unable to alter. There is speculation that the government may promulgate an ordinance, but such a course is fraught with serious political risks.  Modi cannot take the RSS’ unquestioned endorsement of his leadership for granted. Continuance till after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls of Shah, Modi’s principal political ally, as the BJP chief, remains uncertain. Shah’s term ends in August. His getting a third term is against the party’s norms. Will they be tweaked?  Undoubtedly, Modi is unbeatable as of now and there seems no alternative to him to head the next government. But the Sangh that, in the first place anointed him in 2013, may take a different view. Political logic states that the temple and other agenda of the Sangh could become the litmus test for Modi’s continuance.  The Gujarat outcome has shown that the BJP is weak in rural areas. The urban infrastructure has not percolated to the countryside. Principal rival Congress upturned BJP calculation by bagging 70 of 123 rural seats. The BJP could reach its lowest tally in over two decades of 99 only because it could bag 46 of 59 urban seats.   Now, with Karnataka being an exception, all other states going to the polls this year – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – are hugely rural. They suffer from rural indebtedness and poor infrastructure, besides deep caste and sectarian cleavages. Both Modi, the principal polls campaigner, and the BJP, will have to learn lessons from Gujarat while strategizing for these states.  The issues even for the rural areas in these states are different. Gujarat, along the sea coast, is relatively advanced and prosperous when compared to the land-locked Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The BJP has been in power there for long, attracting the incumbency factor.  Impoverished tribals dominate Chhattisgarh. Tribal population in Rajasthan’s southern parts is not happy that the Vasundhara Raje Government attempted to win over the agitating Gujjar community. Land owning and relatively prosperous, the community has a record of oppressing the tribals and dalits. Unwilling to suffer incumbency, Rajasthan voters have been alternately changing the ruling party.  Lastly, the economic factor. BJP circles cite last year’s unprecedented victory in Uttar Pradesh as political validation of the twin measures —  demonetization and the GST. But an impoverished UP stands in contrast to Karnataka or to Gujarat where  the urban voter bowed to Modi’s appeal for “Gujarati pride”. The “our man is in Delhi” factor worked.  In a diverse India, beyond a point, people in Gujarat do not get carried away by emotional appeal and people of Uttar Pradesh cannot be carried away with material and practical issues.            Modi had promised rapid economic development in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. That had helped him to sweep all four states that will go to the polls this year. Large parts of the country voted him to office.  The initial 18 months of his tenure saw his efforts to deliver on his electoral promises. Statistics, and the way the critics view them notwithstanding, the political perception is that the ‘toilet’ agenda has taken numerous hits from ‘temple’ and its aggressive proponents.  How will Modi tackle them? What will he promise to the people in  the summer of 2019? // ]]>

On Babri anniversary, BJP puts Cong in Sibal corner

This is getting interesting!

After Congress threw Kapil Sibal under the bus saying that he is representing Sunni Wakf Board on Babri Masjid in his personal capacity, Sunni Wakf Board gets back with saying, we never asked for postponement of court proceedings, Congress did ?? — Sonam Mahajan (@AsYouNotWish) December 6, 2017   By then, Modi had moved on to Dahod. Addressing a meeting of party workers, Modi said: “The Sunni Waqf Board must be congratulated for their brave stand on the matter and disassociating themselves from the statement of Kapil Sibal ji.” Party president Amit Shah jumped into the fray, too. By Wednesday evening, the Sunni Waqf Board was leading a damage-control exercise. All the petitioners in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi case, including the Sunni Waqf Board, said that they totally support senior lawyer Kapil Sibals plea to the Supreme Court that the hearing of the case should be deferred till July 2019. They also emphasised that Haji Mehboob is neither a member of the Sunni Waqf Board nor does he represent the Board in any capacity. “Whatever Kapil Sibal saheb said in the Supreme Court yesterday (Tuesday) was said after thorough consideration and after taking us into confidence. We totally support his stand,” Zafaryab Jilani, a member of the Babri Masjid Action Committee, who is actively involved in the case since the beginning, said. Sibal, too, came out swinging, albeit a little late because it appeared that the damage had been done. The PM should “check his facts”, the Congress leader said. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), a leading plaintiff in the case that is also bearing the cost of litigation, also said that Sibal’s plea was right as the BJP would try to cash in on the Ram temple issue in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Modi’s remarks came a day after Sibal on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to defer hearing in the Ayodhya title suit till July 2019 when the next Lok Sabha elections will be over. However, the demand was brushed aside by the court as it fixed February 8, 2018 for commencing final hearing in the case. The Congress had distanced itself from Sibal’s stand saying it does not represent the party’s stand. The Gujarat Assembly polls will be held on December 9 and December 14.     The BJP wasn’t far behind Modi, rather outdoing him with a vicious, Padmavati-flavoured attack on Gandhi. “Rahul Gandhi has teamed up with Owaisis, Jilanis to oppose Ram temple in Ayodhya. Rahul Gandhi is certainly a “Babar Bhakt” and a “Kin of Khilji”. Babar is said to have destroyed the Ram temple in Ayodhya and the 13th century Khilji ruler plundered the Somnath temple. Zafaryab Jilani is convenor of the Babri Masjid Action Committee. “Nehru dynasty sided with both Islamic invaders. Travesty and perversity of dynasty!” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said in a tweet. On Tuesday, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi said the Sangh Parivar wants to use the Ram temple issue to save Narendra Modi in the 2019 general elections as “he has failed on all fronts”.  

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SC rejects plea to defer Ayodhya case to 2019

In a new twist to the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, the Sunni Waqf Board on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to defer hearing in the Ayodhya title suit till July 2019 when the next Lok Sabha elections will be over, but the top court brushed aside the plea and fixed February 8, 2018 for commencing final hearing in the case.

As the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer began hearing the matter on Tuesday, senior counsel Kapil Sibal, Rajiv Dhavan and Dushyant Dave urged the court not to go ahead with the hearing which would have repercussions for the country’s polity. “The court should not hear the matter which has repercussions on the polity of the country,” Sibal, who appeared for the Waqf Board, urged the court to have the hearing in July 2019, suggesting that it would have a bearing on 2019 general elections. Senior counsel Harish Salve countered Sibal. He told the bench that whatever the repercussion outside the court was not the court’s lookout. As far as the court was concerned, it was “just a case” like any other case before it, he stressed. Urging the bench to commence hearings in December itself, Salve took exception that “it is being presumed which way the verdict will go… You have it (hearing) in December”. Salve appeared for one of the petitioners seeking an early hearing on the petitions challenging the 2010 Allahabad High Court verdict, which was stayed by the top court on May 9, 2011, which had described the High Court verdict that had divided the disputed Babri Masjid site between the Nirmohi Akhara, Lord Ram deity and the Sunni Waqf Board as “strange and surprising”. Referring to a statement by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader that the matter would be listed and decided in three months, Sibal said that “justice should not only be done but also appear to have been done”. Dave, also seeking that the hearing takes place after the 2019 elections, wondered what was the “hurry”. He told the bench that the government was keen that the Supreme Court heard the appeals early because Ram temple was part of the ruling party’s manifesto. He urged the court not to fall into their trap, a point also reiterated by Sibal.

Shah tears into Sibal, asks Rahul to clear party stand

Latching on to Kapil Sibal’s statement in the Supreme Court for deferring hearing in the Ramjanambhoomi dispute till after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP President Amit Shah on Tuesday asked Rahul Gandhi to clear the Congress stand on the Ram temple issue. He accused the Congress of having “double standards” on the contentious issue and said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the other hand wanted an end to the matter as soon as possible. “I appeal to the future Congress President — please clear your stand on the issue,” he said. “The Congress puts up (Congress leader and eminent lawyer) Sibal every time it wants to take a different stand — be it the 2G scam when Sibal came up with ‘zero loss’ theory or the reservation issue in Gujarat when he said reservation beyond 50 per cent is possible.” He alleged that the Congress did not want the issue of the proposed Ram temple at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh to be resolved soon. “On the one hand, temples are being visited (by Rahul Gandhi) ahead of elections. On the other hand, they are trying to delay hearing of the Ramjanmabhoomi case (in the Supreme Court). The Congress has double standards on the issue. They should clarify their stand,” Shah said.
According to Dave, the issue tears into the secular, democratic fabric of the country. He joined senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan in urging the bench that the matter should be heard by a five-judge constitution bench. Sibal also raised the issue of paucity of time in preparing the case that involves relying on more than 19,000 documents, a position also supported by Dhavan, who said the hearing would involve making their submissions and also “honestly” responding to the queries from the bench. Telling the bench that hearing would take long and would not be completed till October next year when Chief Justice Misra retires, Dhavan along with Sibal pushed for deferring the hearing till July 2019. As Justice Bhushan did not appreciate the submission that hearing would not be completed within the tenure of the Chief Justice Misra, Dhavan regretted his submission. Having ordered that the hearing would commence on February 8, the court on Tuesday directed its registry to inform the bench by mid-January whether all the requirements of filing of pleading and documents had been completed for appropriate orders on the administrative side. After rejecting the submission on postponing the hearing till 2019, including hearing by a constitution bench, the court asked senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan, appearing for deity Ram Lala, to give introduction of the dispute before the court.

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