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Amit Shah vs Ghulam Nabi Azad: Congress and BJP lock horns

Arti Ghargi

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Amit Shah

While BJP President Amit Shah slammed the Congress for its comment on unemployment, Ghulam Nabi Azad called the BJP ‘The weakest government’ in past 70 years.

 

The winter session of the parliament mostly remained stormy. The Budget Session witnessed nothing different as well. Ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha election both Congress and BJP are taking each other head on the inside as well as outside the parliament.

Today, BJP President Amit Shah made his maiden speech in Rajya Sabha. Amit Shah moved a motion of thanks and parliament decided to discuss on it over Monday and Tuesday.

However, Amit Shah’s first speech was filled with sharp attacks on Congress. Amit Shah said when his party came to power in 2014, it was handed over a country where economic progress had gone downhill, by the preceding government.

Shah said, after 30 years in a “historic mandate” a party received a sweeping majority to form the government at the centre.  He said, “For the first time after independence, a non-Congress party was given mandate by the public and it was a BJP government led by PM Modi. In spite of getting an absolute majority, we formed the government with NDA members.”

Invoking Mahatma Gandhi and Deendayal Upadhyaya he said that the BJP has worked for the upliftment of the weakest sections of the society. Praising PM Modi he said that before 20114, vote bank politics had ridden the system and nobody was ready to leave their privileges. He reminded the house of former PM Lal Bahadur Shastri recalling that after his request to fast, it was PM Narendra Modi who asked people to give up on something for the poor people. “The PM asked the well-off people to give up their gas subsidies and people responded positively,” said Shah.

Taking a swipe at critics of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan he said, “Those living in Lutyens Zone will not understand the importance of toilets in every house.” For last few months, Congress has surrounded the government on a number of problems including unemployment. Rahul Gandhi during his speeches had raised the issue too. Shah defending the BJP government said that the Congress ruled the country for over 50 years. “Why couldn’t the Congress find a solution?” Shah asked. He also slammed former Finance Minister for his pakoda seller jibe. He said, “I believe it is better to work hard by selling pakodas rather than be unemployed. What sort of a mentality is it when you compare a pakoda-seller to a beggar?’ Amit Shah.

Talking about GST, he accused Congress of destroying the federal structure. Shah said he had studied GST and claims that small businesses will be destroyed are over the top. Boasting about the surgical strike by the army, he said the world realised that after America and Israel, India is the only country which can protect its soldiers & Army.

Kashmir and the increased instances of stone-pelting remains a main criticizing point of opposition. Shah claimed Kashmir is the safest in past 35 years. Attacking the Congress for stalling Triple Talaq Bill he said the party has to answer the people. Talking about the winning streak of the party, he said: “some parties are now finding victory in losing elections.”

Shah’s speech indeed fiery launched a sharp attack on the Congress who is trying to galvanize the support of opposition ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, from Congress’ side, the leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad took the charge of countering the accusations made by Amit Shah.

He began his speech wondering why Amit Shah didn’t mention Sardar Patel in his speech. With his witty replies to Amit Shah, it seemed that Azad had fully prepared to give tit for tat. Congress after 2G verdict last year had said that it feels vindicated. Azad today said that the UPA government was accused of Himalayan sized corruption but the CBI acquitted everyone under your government.

Taking a jibe at scheme introduced by BJP government, he said, “The Modi is the government is not game changer they are just namechangers.” Reminding Shah of election promises made by his party he said that the only thing the government has changed in last 3.5 years is the name of the country from India to New India.

Azad also targeted state government ruled by BJP. He said the crime rates in BJP ruled states has increased multiple folds.  He said, “BJP ruled states like Haryana has become the hub of criminal activities, gruesome rapes happening with minor and innocent girls.”  He struck a chord with members saying, “What kind of New India are we developing? If this is the new India give us our old India.”

Azad did not spare even Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah. In a veiled dig, he said, “BJP has one original scheme on how to turn Rs 50,000 to over Rs 80,00,00,000 but they don’t share it with us if they do everyone would be happy.” Talking about the budget introduced by the government last week, he said the Government’s promise to double farmer’s income is just a lollipop.

Slamming the ruling Modi government on Kashmir issue, he said that the government does not have a policy on Kashmir. “The maximum number of security personnel, armed forces personnel and civilians have died under your government in last three years,” Azad said. Calling the Modi government, the weakest in 70 years he said, the government failed to bring Massod Azhar to justice.

Replying to accusations on Triple Talaq bill he said the Congress supports the good part of the bill but opposes the part where it criminalises Muslim men. He said the BJP has created a divide between Hindu and Muslims.

Opinion

Symbolic Hindutva

Arti Ghargi

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Hindutva

Four years after rallying behind the Hindutva Poster Boy Modi, the common Hindu voter is puzzled how has the present government improved the lives of common Hindu voters?

 

Four years back the surge of Saffron aided by the peak Modi wave, fascinated the imagination of the average Hindu voter. And why he wouldn’t be? After all, almost a decade later, the “Silent” majority of India whose voices were bulldozed by the rampant Minority Appeasement, had found a representation in Modi. The average Hindu who was neglected and let down by the Congress regime decided to crown Modi in 2014 and it did. The Hindu middle class constituted a major chunk of Modi’s voters. The overwhelming majority that the party received was the result of the consolidation of Hindu votes that were scattered across the caste coalitions and alliances. However, the Hindutva push by Modi cobbled them together in the rainbow coalition of all the castes and sects of Hinduism.

Since then, the present BJP government under the Supreme Leadership of Modi did not miss any chance of tapping on the majoritarian approach. The Hindutva pitch was then extended to the states encompassing as much as 22 states under the Saffron cover. The party has established its dominance in both houses of parliament. In Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha as well. Four years later, when the Modi government is nearing the 2019 D-day, it is time to ask What exactly did the Modi government has done for the Hindus that voted for him.

Let us go by the checklist of the promises Modi made to Hindus:

Return of Kashmiri Pandits:

In 2014, the issue of the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits was one of the wheels that carried Modi’s Hindutva pitch. In an interview before 2014 Lok Sabha election, Modi slammed the Abdulla dynasty for their mishandling of Kashmir. He said, “Kashmir is the only place in this country where Pandits were evicted due to their religion. Kashmir was the land of Sufi traditions and it has been tarred with communal colour by you for selfish interests. Those who have chased Kashmiri Pandits out have no right to preach against communalism.”

The common Hindu voter who was equally pained by the government apathy towards the Kashmiri Pandits hoped that Modi and his Hindutva government will ensure the return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homes. But four years later, the Kashmiri Pandit issue is not even remotely on the radar of BJP government, leave alone rehabilitating them.

Hindutva

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Removal of article 35(A) and article 370:

Article 35(A) of Indian constitution accords a special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It does not allow any outsider (even an Indian citizen from other states) to purchase land in the state. Article 35A was incorporated into the Constitution in 1954 by an order of the then President Rajendra Prasad on the advice of the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet. However, the article came under criticism as it was not placed before parliament legislature which is the law-making body in India. The powers of President of introducing amendments and modifying the constitution were also heavily opposed.

The BJP in its 2014 Lok Sabha Manifesto had bated for the complete integration of J&K in India by repealing Article 35(A). However, after the assembly elections in the state, the party joined hands with PDP which was against the repulsion of Article 35(A). However, the issue was dropped from the Vision document quietly.

Hindutva

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Ram Mandir Construction:  

The 2014 elections campaigning of Modi charged with Hindutva also saw a revival of “Mandir Wahi Banayenge” mantra. But once elected, the issue went on backburner even as the subsequent campaigning for assembly elections saw mentions of the issue. The matter was conveniently put under the wraps with party leaders keeping mum on the issue and only bringing it out during the election period.

Now that 2019 has neared, to woo the Hindu voters Amit Shah has once again sounded the old bugle for construction of Ram Mandir.

Hindutva

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Beef Ban:

While most of the promises BJP made to its core Hindu voters were not fulfilled, it did, however, introduced Beef Ban; but absolutely deceiving. In the run-up to 2014 at a rally, Modi had asked the packed crowd whether they want to support the Pink revolution. The people expected that after coming to power the BJP government will implement the nation-wide beef ban. But the ban was put only in selective states where the ratio of beef consumers was negligible. In the north-eastern states where beef is a part of daily diet, the BJP state leaders, in fact, promised not to introduce the ban.

Did it put a stop on the beef industry? No. On the contrary, a 2017 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation (OECD) revealed that India is the world’s third-biggest exporter of beef. The only thing the beef ban resulted into was anarchy and indiscriminate lynching by the fringe in the absence of a legal framework for the ban.

Hindutva

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The reality of the Modi’s promises to common Hindu voters laced with doublespeak is now for all to see. Even the most prominent right-leaning intellectuals agree that the Modi government not only failed to deliver its promises to Hindu community but also has been fooling them in the name of Hindutva. Four years after rallying behind the Hindutva Poster Boy Modi, the common Hindu voter is puzzled whether the present government is any different from the previous one. How has the life of common Hindu voter has improved? Vis a vis only certain brands like Patanjali of Ramdev Baba have triumphed capitalizing on the Hindu sentiments. For Modi, Hindu sentiments were only a political tool which fixed his path to PM chair and continues to help make inroads in states. Whether the common Hindu voter is satisfied with Modi or not will be decided in the upcoming election. However, the reality remains that the BJP deceived the common Hindu voter who believed the Hindu-first policy of Modi. The mask has now fallen and the symbolic Hinduism adopted by the saffron party is exposed.

 

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Opinion

Why is PM Modi focusing more on Northern India than South?

Arti Ghargi

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northern

Strategically, focusing on the northern states where BJP enjoys dominance can get the party maximum result that Southern states where the saffron party faces an immense challenge.

With just six months in hands to go for next Lok Sabha Elections, the BJP has already entered the electoral battleground. During the Kisaan Kalyan Rally in Punjab’s Malout, PM Modi rung the bell for 2019. The message was clear to all the opposition parties- The campaigning for 2019 has kick-started. Within next few days, Modi inaugurated a slew of projects worth thousands of crores in the BJP-ruled state of Uttar Pradesh. Today, he is addressing a rally in West Bengal.

According to the campaigning schedule, in next few days, PM Modi has already visited key states including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan where Assembly elections are due in next four months. With a whirlwind campaigning, PM Modi will be addressing as much as 50 rallies across India until February 2019.

However, if the schedule is observed closely, we will find that most of the rallies will be conducted in the northern states. While, Modi has already visited UP twice- first for the inauguration of Samsung factory in Noida and the second time for laying the foundation stone for the upcoming Purvanchal Expressway connecting Mirzapur to Azamgarh- he will be visiting UP again on July 21 for as a part of Kisan Kalyan Rally. Which means, the July 21st rally will be Modi’s third visit to Uttar Pradesh within the span of 10 days.

Northern India

Modi at Kisan Kalyan Rally in Punjab

There are, however, several reasons why Modi seems to give impetus to the northern states.

Why is Modi focusing on Northern India?

In 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, the BJP registered a landslide victory with an absolute majority riding the “Modi Wave”. Out of the total 282 seats that were won by the saffron party, 195 seats were from the Northern Hindi-speaking belt only. At present, most of these states have BJP government ruling them.

In Indian Politics, it is said that the road to Delhi (PM chair) passes through Uttar Pradesh. The state has the highest number of Lok Sabha seats. In 2014, BJP scored the maximum number of seats in Uttar Pradesh. Out of total 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state, BJP won 71 seats. The Modi-Shah duo understands it well that these states are the key player if the party wants to get close to the majority in 2019.

Since 2014, BJP has also emerged as the dominant player in most of the northern states. However, the recent by-poll losses have added to the worries of BJP. In UP, the BJP’s dominance is threatened by the cast coalition of SP-BSP which proved effective in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-polls. The arch rivals turned alliance partners have also indicated that coalition will extend to 2019 Lok Sabha as well. The by-polls victory of SP-BSP came as a lesson to the BJP that the caste equations still dominates the UP elections than a political pitch based on religion. Thus, to counter this growing threat BJP has intensified its Hindutva agenda, more prominently where it is a dominant party.

On the other hand, northern states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh hold importance not only from Assembly election perspective but also from Lok Sabha Election perspective. The assembly election result in these three states will also help set the tone of narrative for the Lok Sabha election. With Karnataka slipping off its hands, BJP cannot afford to lose these three states. As 2019 nears, Modi would want to strengthen the states where the party enjoys maximum support.

Northern India

Modi at a foundation laying event in UP

The “South challenge” in front of Modi:

While the BJP strengthened its foothold in the northern states post-2014, it is still struggling to make an effective debut in the South. Apart from Karnataka, BJP has never been able to make indoors in the Southern states. Even when the entire country was witnessing a peak of a Modi wave, the BJP couldn’t win significant seats in South.

Out of 282 seats, the four southern states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu together contributed only 21 seats to the tally of BJP. While BJP won 17 constituencies in Karnataka and 2 seats in Andhra Pradesh, it won one seat each in Tamil Nadu and Telangana. The saffron party couldn’t even open its account in Kerala.

Over the period of time, the BJP has faced strong resistance from the South. Even in subsequent Assembly Elections, BJP faced a humiliating defeat. The South poses a major challenge to the BJP, as regionalism dominates the in these states as opposed to the nationalism of BJP. BJP has always been looked at as a party of Northerners. Apart from few handpicked leaders like Venkaiah Naidu and Nirmala Sitharaman, BJP has no big leaders from South.

On the other hand, BJP has always been perceived as a party of upper castes. The Hindi imposition on the southern states has also not gone well with the people. Recently, during Karnataka elections, these issues were upheld by the former CM Siddharamaiah as the battle cry against BJP. So much so that he even called the BJP party leaders “northern imports”. He had even stoked controversy claiming that under Modi regime South Indian states are being neglected even when they contribute most to the overall taxes. Earlier this year, protestors flooded the Tamil Nadu streets with “Modi go Back” slogans when PM Modi was in the state for the inauguration of Defence Expo at Thiruvidanthai. Recently, Amit Shah faced the similar protests in Tamil Nadu. Last year, the saffron party faced such resistance in Kerala as well.

northern India

States ruled by BJP

Over the years, it was the NDA partners that held BJP’s hands in the southern states. However, these same allies have turned their back to the BJP, including TDP. The Andhra Pradesh political scenario is nothing different. TDP-the former BJP ally withdrew from the NDA and government as well alleging Modi Govt’s negligent attitude towards the state’s demand of according Special Status.

Thus, the BJP is faced with contradictory scenarios in Northern India and South India. While BJP has been successful in expanding its base throughout the northern region, it has faced a greater amount of difficulty to do so in the south region. As 2019 nears, Modi would want to strengthen the states where the party enjoys maximum support.

Strategically, focusing on the northern states where BJP enjoys dominance can get the party maximum result that Southern states where the saffron party faces an immense challenge.

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Opinion

The 2 Ps of Indian Elections- Pakistan and Polarization

Arti Ghargi

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2 Ps

 India’s political parties have developed a formula for effective election campaigning where the 2 Ps- Pakistan and polarization remain constant.

 

“Former director general of Pakistan army Arshad Rafiq has insisted that Ahmed Patel should be made the chief minister of Gujarat. Former army director general intervenes in Gujarat election. They held meeting with Pakistanis at Mani Shankar‘s house,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he addressed a rally in the run-up to Gujarat Assembly elections.

“Do you want a government that worships Tipu Sultan or the one that worships Lord Hanuman?” asked UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to a packed crowd during campaigning for Karnataka Assembly election. If we go a little back in the time, we may recall PM Modi’s controversial statement during the campaigning for UP assembly election, “If Kabristans can be constructed, then Shamashans too should be built.” Go farther back in history and we may find such countless references in the election speeches.

Noam Chomsky, a renowned cognitive scientist had observed, “The key element of social control is the strategy of distraction that is to divert public attention from important issues and changes decided by economic and political elites through the technique of flood or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information.” Scan through the pages of the electoral history of most of the democratic countries around the world and you will find the observation to be accurate. India too is no exception to it.

In India, the 2 P’s fuel the election campaigning of political parties- Pakistan and Polarisation. For a long period of time, our political parties have been trying to master the narrative around these 2 Ps and build a rhetoric. No election campaigning is complete without the reference to Pakistan and communal/casteist polarization. Our political parties have developed a formula for effective election campaigning where the 2 Ps- Pakistan and polarization remain constant.

However, the variables may change depending upon whether it is a National election or Assembly election. Look no far than recently concluded Karnataka Assembly Elections. While BJP cleverly used religious polarisation on one hand and army, Kannada pride as a variable on the other. Similarly, Congress used casteist polarization with Siddharamaiah’s Ahinda card and Hindi imposition, South vs North divide as variables. These variables can be put on the back burner as and when needed.

But the 2 Ps work as both oxygen and distraction. While Pakistan and polarization keep the political parties alive and relevant, it also proves to be a great distraction from real issues that concern the common Indian citizen. After all, talking about Pakistan and polarization gets you more eyeball than talking about traffic woes, poor infrastructure, lagging economic reforms, health care or farmers’ issues ever can. The formula is further perpetuated and sheltered by the hyped coverage. The most recent example is Shashi Tharoor’s “Hindu Pakistan” comment. To bring the score to equal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman took the charge from BJP’s side. In a press conference, she attacked the Congress calling it “Anti-Hindu” on the basis of a news report that claimed the Congress President Rahul Gandhi said that “Congress is a Muslim Party”. However, BJP took a lead today with Amit Shah claiming that Ayodhya temple construction will start before 2019.

That leaves us with a question, why the 2 Ps-Pakistan and polarization work in India? The answer is hidden in both Political and cultural history. Throughout the medieval period most of the present day Indian land was captured by foreign powers including Mughals and British. The horrendous atrocities were unleashed upon the Indian (predominantly Hindu) people by them.

Though we got freedom from all foreign powers in 1947 and established a democratic country with equal rights to every citizen, the political class has not let the ghost of the traumatic past fade. On the other hand, our bitter relation with Pakistan after partition and the prolonged Kashmir issue has also been at the center of dislike and hatred towards Pakistan. The frequent Ceasefire violations and terrorist attacks sponsored from across the border keep the wounds fresh. Our political leaders do not miss any chance to exploit these events for their political gains. These elements are imbibed in India’s diaspora which provides as an undercurrent for the Pakistan and polarisation to work without fail in every election.

Come 2019, undoubtedly, we will witness again Pakistan and Polarisation formula, rather more intensively but the groundwork for the same has begun already.

 

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