Nation Is Rising Up, Where Is Opposition Holed Up?

From the langar cooked by Sikh farmers from Punjab at Shaheen Bagh to children shouting azaadi slogans from balconies and car windows, the anti-CAA mass movement has struck a chord across the country. So why is the Opposition missing the nation’s heartbeat?

Be it dusty and arid inner village lanes, or claustrophobic and packed road shows in small Uttar Pradesh town, an effervescent Priyanka Gandhi has always been a ‘natural’ among Indian people. Even Indira Gandhi seems stiff when compared to her organic relationship with people on the ground, especially ordinary women. Perhaps she comes closest to Jawaharlal Nehru in the family tree in the natural bonding with the teeming masses.

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They seem to love her young, smiling and easy demeanor, as if a daughter has returned home after exile in a big town. During the CAA protests recently, at India Gate in a cold bone-chilling night, Priyanka seemed totally at ease, comfortable amidst the rising tide of anger against the ruthless atrocities on Jamia students in Delhi by the police. She seemed equally confortable taking on the bullies in uniform in Yogi Adityanath’s UP, as she broke the police barricades in trying to reach out to the family of the highly respected and gentle former Inspector General of Police in UP, SR Darapuri, who was arbitrarily picked up by the cops as he protested peacefully in Lucknow.

He was picked up with outspoken spokesperson of the Congress Sadaf Jafar, also an actor in a forthcoming Mira Nair film and a social media celebrity. There was national outrage because Sadaf was manhandled, abused, kicked and allegedly told to go to Pakistan by the male cops at the police station.

To break the police barricades imposed using Section 144, Priyanka rode pillion on a scooter with a Congress worker, both without helmets, the ride on the streets of Lucknow becoming television’s ‘breaking news’. However, the scooter driver was later fined by an overzealous and revengeful UP police for driving without a helmet!

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Indeed, even as she upped the ante against the Yogi regime, or, earlier, against the Jamia atrocities, or, with her perceptive and aggressive tweets, there always seemed to be a ‘missing link’ in the political conduct and body language of the Congress General Secretary in-charge of UP. It seemed abjectly transparent that she is just about holding herself back, not moving into the floods of the crowd like an effortless mass leader, not taking on the ‘enemy’ or the police and the government with an organic confidence which only she could carry off. Surely, she is a million times better and combative among crowds than her staunchly secular brother, who continues to remain a ‘reluctant inheritor’.

Indeed, while she still stood up with Jamia and activists in UP, Rahul, yet again, simply disappeared from the turbulent scene. Did he not realize that this was a non-violent mass movement which has struck a chord all across the country, perhaps for the first time after the freedom movement and the ‘total revolution’ called by JP post-Emergency?

Did he fail to see the young, brutalized, beaten up and assaulted, both girls and boys, in JNU, Jamia, AMU, refusing to succumb, blood dripping from their heads and faces, their hands in plaster, taking on the brutish, nasty and cold-blooded repressive state apparatus of Narendra Modi and his number two: Union Home Minister Amit Shah, under whom the Delhi Police played along tacitly with masked ABVP armed goons in JNU? Did Rahul not see and hear the mothers, sisters and daughters of Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, in tens of thousands, holding forth for more than a month in this freezing cold, even as the movement led by most ordinary women have moved into new zones of peaceful resistance?

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In Delhi alone, the Shaheen Bagh model has been successfully recreated at Khureji in East Delhi, Inderlok in Northwest Delhi, Turkman Gate in Old Delhi and Rani Garden in Northwest Delhi. Across the country the epicenter of the circle of resistance is Shaheen Bagh with its songs, graffiti, wall paintings, work of art, speeches, poetry and theatre, even as a tribute to the Kashmir Pandits who had to forcibly leave their beloved homeland.

So there we have Park Circus in Kolkata, Ghanta Ghar in Old Lucknow, Sabji Bagh in Patna, and at least 120 such Shaheen Baghs all over the country. Add to this the tens of thousands coming out routinely and everyday across the big metros and small towns, including in places like Malerkotla in Punjab, Kota in Rajasthan, Gaya in Bihar, Ranchi in Jharkhand, Nagpur in Maharashtra and Mangalore in Karnataka. This circle of resistance is moving like a whirlwind, unarmed with slogans resonating of azaadi, and riding on that immortal revolutionary song written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, which he first wrote challenging the army general dictator in Pakistan, General Zia ul Haq, and which was so famously rendered by singer Iqbal Bano: Hum Dekhenge.

Even children are shouting azaadi slogans in their balconies, in classrooms and through car windows, and there are multiple versions of Hum Dekhenge floating in public spaces, including in Bhojpuri and Kannadiga. Even Faiz and Iqbal Bano could never have imagined that this song will become so popular in India in the winter of 2020. Surely, if this is not a national freedom movement, then what is it?

One sublime moment of great magnanimity, love and compassion which was celebrated in Shaheen Bagh and all over the social media was the arrival of Sikh farmers from Punjab. Many with long white beards, accompanied by little boys and girls, they arrived in trucks and buses with huge utensils, foodgrains and 10 quintals of milk. So that is how they started their ‘Guru Nanak Langar’ in solidarity.

Delicious ‘kheer’ cooked with milk from Punjab and wholesome meals were distributed to thousands of protesters with a simplicity and lucidity which only the big-hearted Sikhs would know. Truly, they stole the heart of the people out there, and those who saw them from a distance on social media.

So where is the Opposition in this golden moment of living history and incredible humanity when the movement is reclaiming both the Indian tricolor and the Constitution, with the Preamble of the Indian Constitution being repeated in campuses and streets? At Jama Masjid in Delhi, the Preamble was read by thousands in Urdu, which is Hindustani’s original and indigenous gift to the nation.

So where is the Opposition, as history marks a paradigm shift and the ‘superman double’ of Modi and Amit Shah find themselves vulnerable despite their belligerent rhetoric and doublespeak?

Barring Mamata Banerjee in Bengal and Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala, they seem to be still looking for trees amidst the wood. This was exactly what the message came from Priyanka Gandhi and the Congress, despite the politically correct and well-intentioned messages coming from the leadership. Surely, Amarinder Singh has shown his strength in Punjab with a categorical clarity, but will the party showcase him as a national leader to take on Modi? Surely, both Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot have led massive marches in their state capitals, but did it capture the national imagination?

Between the Congress ruled states, except Punjab, it seems all hunky dory. Indeed, they should learn a few lessons from both Pinarayi Vijayan and Mamata Banerjee. In both Bengal and Kerala, the majority are vehemently against the NRC/CAA, and yet the ruling leadership has never been complacent. So much so, Pinarayi took the Congress by surprise by asking the party to join the Left in joint opposition protests.

Indeed, Mamata has done the same in Bengal by asking the Left and Congress to unanimously join her in the assembly in rejecting CAA. If politics is about public perception and timing, both of them have been on the dot. So much so, every hoarding in Kolkata is testimony to Mamata’s resolve: “They can only pass NRC and CAA in Bengal over my dead body.”

Making the reading of the Preamble of the Constitution in schools in Maharashtra compulsory is a good move in the celebration of a national movement which has reclaimed the Constitution from the hands of those who do not really have great faith in it, or in its founder Dr BR Ambedkar; but the campaign demands more commitment, resolve and backing from the Opposition.

Already, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati have lost their credibility in the eyes of the protesters. The Congress and the Opposition must remember how Anna Hazare’s movement, tacitly backed by the RSS/BJP, was like a ‘putsch’ which pushed UPA2 to the brink, and led to the rise of a Frankenstein Monster in India backed by the industrialists and the middle class. In the same vein, the call of the times is to translate this mass angst and anger into a creative and unceasing flow which will once again break sectarian and communal divisions, unite people, celebrate the secular synthesis and pluralist democracy of India, and restore the content and spirit of democracy.

Or else it will be too late for the Opposition. As for the women and protesters in Shaheen Bagh, on the streets and in the campuses, they are still waiting and singing: Hum Dekhenge…

Misogyny In Indian Politics

The Inherent Misogyny In Indian Politics

Most political parties have no system in place that will restrain their leaders from using coarse and sexist language to deride female opponents

The ongoing campaign for India’s Lok Sabha polls is plumbing new depths on a daily basis. As electioneering gathers momentum, reports of politicians using coarse and abusive language against their opponents have become a regular occurrence.

Though male politicians, especially high-profile leaders like Congress president Rahul Gandhi, are constantly targeted by rivals, it is the women politicians who are the worst off. Civility in public life is now a rare phenomenon as women politicians are finding out to their own peril, having to continuously contend with the worst possible sexist and misogynistic comments. From being called “prostitutes”, “skirt wali bai”  and “nach gaane wali” to comments on their physical appearance and how they dress, women in politics have to face all this and more.

The offenders come from across the political spectrum and the insulting language used by them has become such a regular feature that both their party bosses and the public at large view it as acceptable behavior, putting it down to election fever. The common excuse proffered for this behavior is that “people sometimes get carried away in the heat of the moment.” If at all there is any outrage and anger, it is confined largely to the social media.

Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan, who is not new to controversies, touched a new low recently while campaigning against Jaya Prada, a former film actor who has been fielded by the Bharatiya Janata Party from the Rampur Lok Sabha constituency. Addressing a public meeting, Khan remarked, “It took you 17 years to understand her true face. But I realised in 17 days… that she wears khaki underwear.”  And, of course, an unrepentant Khan shrugged off these comments, merely saying these were not meant for Jaya Prada. Similarly, another Samajwadi Party leader Firoz Khan had not held back in degrading Jaya Prada. “Rampur ki shaamein rangeen ho jaayengi ab jab chunavi mahual chalega (Rampur’s evenings will turn colourful in this election season),” he had said at an election rally, clearly referring to her former career in films.

While Jaya Prada has always been at the receiving end, primarily because she comes from the world of cinema, other women politicians are not spared either. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the newly-appointed Congress general secretary, is currently the prime target of her political rivals. From comments about her clothes to her looks, nothing is off-limits. 

The gamut of comments ranges from being called a “choclatey face”, “Sarupnakha” (Ravan’s sister) and “Pappu ki Pappi”. BJP’s Bihar minister Vinod Narayan Jha had derisively remarked that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra may be beautiful but has no political achievement to her credit. His party colleague Harish Dwivedi did no better. He chose to comment on Priyanka’s clothes, stating at another election rally that “Priyanka Gandhi wears jeans and top in Delhi but wears a sari and sindoor when she tours rural areas. Senior BJP leader Kailash Vijavargiya went a step further when he remarked that Priyanka’s entry into politics was similar to fielding Kareena Kapoor or Salman Khan in elections. “The Congress does not have strong candidates, so it is bringing in these charming faces,” he sneered.

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati is another “favorite” with the abusers. As a woman, the BSP chief has many “disadvantages” to her credit: She is heading a party, has been a chief minister, nurses Prime Ministerial ambitions but above all, she is a Dalit. A scheduled caste woman leader, who had the temerity to upset the social status quo, is anathema to male politicians, especially those belonging to the upper castes. As a result, her adversaries consistently demean and disparage her.

When Mayawati recently mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for calling himself a chowkidar while living in royal style,  BJP leader Surendra Singh responded by stating that the BSP chief coloured her hair and gets a  daily facial to “hide her age.” And when the BSP teamed up with the Samajwadi Party, another BJP leader did not blink before calling her a “transgender”. Three years ago, another BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh had accused Mayawati of selling tickets like a “prostitute,” a remark which was defended by his wife Swati Singh.

But BJP leaders are not the only offenders here. Misogyny cuts across political barriers. Sanjay Nirupam, former president of the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee, had, in the course of a television debate, jeered Union Smriti Irani, calling her “thumke lagane wali”.  Congress alliance partner Jaydeep Kawade, fared no better, stating that Irani wears a bindi and “that the size of a woman’s bindi keeps grows as she changes husbands.”

As charges and counter-charges fly thick and fast, it appears that there is going to be no early end to this coarsening debate. It is little wonder that women hesitate to enter politics as political parties have no systems in place to check such behaviour. On the other hand, the conduct of offending politicians is invariably shrugged off without inviting any form of punishment from their party bosses.

This comes at a time when political parties, in an effort to appear more gender-friendly and to get a slice of the women’s vote, have publicly declared that they would give more tickets to women and even implement a quota for women in party structures. However, their commitment can easily be gauged by the fact that the women’s reservation bill, providing quotas for women in Parliament and state assemblies, has been pending for nearly two decades while the pledge to give more representation in the party organisation and the selection of candidates invariably remains unfulfilled.

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Priyanka Meets Bhim Army Chief In Hospital

Congress general secretary and in-charge for the party’s east UP affairs Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Wednesday met Bhim army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, who is undergoing treatment at a hospital in Meerut.

On Monday, Azad was taken into the police custody along with his supporters for allegedly violating the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), which is in force in view of the ensuing Lok Sabha elections.

After some time of his arrest, Azad complained of high blood pressure and fell unconscious. He was admitted to a hospital here, where he is undergoing treatment.

Police said was registered against Azad and 28 others on Wednesday for violating the Model Code of Conduct.

Senior Superintendent of Police Dinesh Kumar said: “Azad organised a rally and violated the Model Code of Conduct on Monday. The local officials tried to stop them, but he continued with his rally. He was held for four hours in a private school.”

Police said the rally had been organised without required permission at Kasimpura village by Azad. When the police tried to stop the rally, they resisted and later blocked Muzaffarnagar-Saharanpur highway.

On Tuesday, Azad started a ‘Padayatra’ from Saharanpur to Delhi and announced to address a rally in New Delhi on March 15. He has also announced to fight elections against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

(ANI)

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Priyanka's First Rally: Vote Is Your Weapon

In her first political rally, the newly appointed Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Tuesday told electorates that their votes are a “weapon” which should be used wisely, disregarding useless issues and tall claims made by others.   

“Your awareness is a weapon, your vote is a weapon. It is a weapon where no one will get hurt or sad, it is that weapon which will make you strong,” said Priyanka amid loud cheers from the crowd at the rally in Gandhinagar.

Targetting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Priyanka said that those who do “badi badi baatein (tall claims)”, the people should ask where is two crore jobs and the Rs 15 lakh to every account as promised during the last Lok Sabha poll campaigning.

The country is made on the foundations of love, harmony and brotherhood, she said adding that whatever is happening today, however, is “very sad”.

Addressing the crowd at the rally, the general secretary told the electorates, “This fight is not less than the fight we fought during Independence. Our institutions are being destroyed, hatred is being spread everywhere.”

Asking voters to focus on the election, Priyanka said: “You will have to think what exactly is this election. What are you going to choose in this election? You are going to choose your future. Useless issues should not be raised.”

“Issues which should be raised must comprise as to what is most important for you and how can you move forward. How will youth get jobs? How will women feel safe? What will be done for farmers? These are the issues for elections. So, I request you all to vote wisely,” she added.

Attacking the BJP-led Centre, Priyanka further said, “Those who talk about ‘fitrat’ (nature), the ‘fitrat’ of this country is that the winds of hate will be blown away by love.”

She said that farmers and youth have worked hard to build the country and they can only protect the nation and no one else.

Priyanka’s brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Patidar leader Hardik Patel, who joined the party today, were among those present at the rally.

Priyanka’s first ever political rally comes after she made her debut appearance in the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting held in Gandhinagar earlier today.

The CWC meeting comes days after the Election Commission of India announced the schedule for the 17th Lok Sabha election, which will be held in seven phases beginning April 11. The final phase of voting will take place on May 19. The counting of votes will be done on May 23. (ANI)

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Not me, mom will fight from Rae Bareli: Priyanka

It’s a proud moment for me to see her (Sonia Gandhi) because I have been part of her 20-year journey. I saw her begin…the difficulties she faced. I think she is one of the bravest woman I know. “There is no question…my mother (Sonia) will be contesting from Rae Bareli,” said Priyanka when asked if she would contest from Rae Bareli in 2019. About Rahul Gandhi taking over the mantle of party President, she said: “He has a tough road ahead and I think he is the man for it. He is brave enough to…” Replying to questions related to Sonia Gandhi, she said: “It’s a proud moment for me to see her because I have been part of her 20-year journey. I saw her begin…the difficulties she faced. I think she is one of the bravest woman I know.” Priyanka was accompanied by her husband Robert Vadra at the ceremony in All India Congress Committee headquarters where Rahul Gandhi formally assumed office as Congress President. (IANS) // ]]>