What is worrying is that the political discourse is degrading election after election. The times of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Rajiv Gandhi is no more.
More than two and a half decades ago, Rajiv Gandhi the former Prime minister of India and the prominent PM candidate for the upcoming general elections was assassinated in a bomb explosion. An incident that left not only the Gandhi family but entire country in an irreparable loss. BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was an opposition leader at that time, talking to senior journalist Karan Thapar had said, “Rajiv Gandhi is the reason I am alive today.”
“Today I’m in the Opposition and people expect me to speak like an opponent. But I can’t. I only want to talk about what he did for me,” said grieving Vajpayee. Such a camaraderie in politics is rare today. The tale behind Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s statement is even more fascinating and reveals a humane side of the erstwhile ruthless politics.
Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India from 1984-1989. Atal Bihari Vajpayee the leader of the opposition was suffering from a severe kidney-related ailment. Talking to Thapar Vajpayee said, ”He (Rajiv Gandhi) somehow found out I had a kidney problem and needed treatment abroad.” Vajpayee recalled that Rajiv Gandhi one day called him to his office and told him that he would be included in India’s delegation to UN. “He hoped that once I go to New York, I will get whatever treatment necessary,” Vajpayee said.
Even after coming back from the New York neither Rajiv nor Vajpayee mentioned the incident to anybody. Both played their roles as opponents in public life. However, Atal Bihari Vajpayee later sent a postcard thanking Rajiv Gandhi for this courtesy. One must notice that both remained tight-lipped about the incident until the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi when Vajpayee expressed his grief calling Rajiv Gandhi his “younger brother”.
While the then political history will be remembered for the friendship and mutual respect between politicians cutting across party lines, one wonders, what contemporary political scenario will be remembered for? Today, the political discourse is woven mostly around hateful, poisonous commentary about political opponents. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing a rally at a Hubbli during a campaigning in Karnataka had said, “Congress leaders should be aware of their limits, they’re dealing with Modi. They won’t be spared.” The threatening language was condemned by former Prime Minister Dr Manmmohan Singh. Even during Gujrat Assembly Election, PM Modi had said that Pakistan is conspiring with Congress and is planning to make Ahmed Patel the CM of the state to keep him out. BJP National President Amit Shah had during the party foundation day event had compared the opposition to animals like rats.
What is worrying is that the political discourse is degrading election after election. The times of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Rajiv Gandhi is no more. The attacks on political opponents have become personal. On the death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, all the politicians need to learn a lesson from this extraordinary tale of humane gesture, more than ever.
Sabarimala Showdown: CPM is equally responsible for the politicization of the issue
Earlier this year, the CPM government in Kerala tried to amend a law enabling non-Hindus to be appointed on the boards of Devaswom temples including Sabarimala.
The volcano of public anger against the recent Supreme Court ruling striking down the age-old restrictions on women’s entry in Sabarimala temple, exploded on Wednesday when the temple gates were thrown open. A massive crowd of protestors gathered around Nilakkal and Erumeli, the two base camps for the pilgrimage to prohibit the women devotees from entering Sabarimala. Since the Supreme Court ruling, several organizations including the Pandalam royal family have asserted a strong disagreement with the apex court’s decision. While the state government refused to file a review petition in the Supreme Court, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also stressed that the state government will take steps to provide safety and security for women who may want to visit the shrine.
On one hand, the state government is determined to implement the Supreme Court decision, a large section of Hindu society of the state have taken it to the streets under “Save Sabarimala” campaign. As the pilgrimage day started, the protesters blocked roads leading up to Pamba and women devotees even frisked the vehicles passing by to check if there were women on board. Some women devotees who tried to visit Sabarimala were forced to return. A number of female journalists who were reporting from the spot were heckled and attacked by the protestors. As the area surrounding Sabarimala has turned into war-zone with violent protests, the law and order situation has been difficult to handle despite the deployment of heavy security.
What is Sabarimala Controversy?
The Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity at Sabarimala was adopted by King Rajashekara, the foster-father of Lord Ayyappan belonging to the Pandya dynasty. As the legend goes, Lord Ayyappa is a “Naishtika Brahmachari”- a celibate and thus, menstruating women are barred from the hill shrine. The custom has been followed since ages.
In 2006, Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a PIL before the Supreme Court challenging the Sabarimala Temple’s custom of excluding women. The PIL was filed by five women lawyers namely- Bhakti Sethi, Laxmi Shastri, Prerna Kumari, Alka Sharma and Sudha Pal. The Association made a case that custom of banning women entry violates the rights to equality under Article 14 and freedom of religion under Article 25 of female worshipers. Later, one of the five lawyers, Prerna Kumari said that when she filed the petition in this matter, she was not fully aware of the facts of this case.
What was the Supreme Court’s decision?
Supreme Court in its 4:1 majority judgement lifted the ban on entry of women in Sabarimala. Interestingly enough, the only women judge in the five-judge constitution bench Justice Indu Malhotra dissented and opined that the judiciary should not interfere in the matters of faith and religion. Delivering the Judgment, the bench said, “Right to worship is given to all devotees and there can be no discrimination on the basis of gender.” The bench further added, “The practice of barring women in age group of 10-50 to go inside the temple violates constitutional principles.”
Though the Sabarimala issue is primarily a cultural and religious one, it did not take much time for it to turn into a political one. While the Left Front government in Kerala supported SC decision, the BJP-RSS after initial silence took a U-turn and opposed the ruling. Congress, on the other hand, seem confused as the state unit under the leadership of Ramesh Chennithala has echoed the BJP-RSS stand while the central unit welcomed the SC decision. There were hundreds of RSS-BJP cadres among the protestors who swamped Sabarimala today.
Reacting to the police action on protestors, Kerala BJP leader Shobha Surendran said, “I am warning the Chief Minister that if the police resort to lathi-charge on Hindu devotees, the BJP will firmly rally behind these pilgrims. I also want to tell the CM that consequences will be severe.” Adding that the protests will change “the face of Kerala”.
State government’s response:
The fact that Sabarimala issue has always been a political one can be understood by the fact that the state’s response to the PIL over the year changed as per the change in state government. The then CPM-led government under the leadership of VS Achuthanandan favoured the entry of women of all ages when the court seeking its opinion in 2007.
The state government’s stand changed after Congress came to power. After former Congress MLA Prayer Gopalakrishnan was made board chief, the issue was brought to the Congress leadership’s attention, which wanted to file a fresh affidavit against the entry of women. Gopalakrishnan said the Congress government and the board were against changing the tradition.
In July 2016, when the issue came up before the Supreme Court, the current LDF regime continued with the stand of the previous Congress government taking a detour from its 2007 stand. Under fire from activists, CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan then stated that the government would file a fresh affidavit, favouring entry of women of all ages to the temple. Now, the CPM govt in the state has extended complete support to it.
A political conspiracy against Hindus?
The communist government is facing a strong backlash for its refusal to file a review petition in the Supreme Court. On the other hand, its perceived haste to implement the order is being seen as an alleged “Anti-Hindu” agenda of the CPIM. On July 8 this year, the Kerala govt passed a law proposing an amendment to the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institution Act. The act was constituted in 1950. The amendment proposed by the state govt to Section 29, in sub-section (2) suggested that the words “who shall be appointed by the Board. He shall be a Hindu.” shall be omitted. In simpler words, even a Non-Hindu could be appointed to the Devaswom board. This was met with a strong opposition from Hindus of the state.
Kerala Govt’s decision to implement SC order comes in a stark contradiction of the last year’s incident where the CM of the state had lashed out at the Idukki district collector for demolishing a massive cross that was erected on an encroached state government land.
Moreover, the CPM- which rules the state proclaims to be atheist by the principle which bars its members from attending religious rituals. Then why such a party feels the need to interfere in a matter of religious concern? And particularly that of Hindus?
The CPM accuses RSS-BJP of playing communal politics. Well, such decisions definitely show that the party cannot certainly take a high ground when it comes to politics over religion.
MP Assembly Election 2018: The Kamal Nath factor
The return of Kamal Nath to state politics who had remained at the Centre was considered to overturn Congress’ prospect in Madhya Pradesh.
“I don’t want you to vote for Congress leader Kamal Nath, I want you to vote my third son Kamal Nath,” said Indira Gandhi in a rally while campaigning in Chhindwara. Nath who traces back his family roots to UP’s Kanpur was contesting for the Lok Sabha seat from MP’s Chhindwara constituency-a constituency dominated by the tribal population. On April 26, Congress President Rahul Gandhi rejigged the Madhya Pradesh unit of the Congress Committee and handed over the reins to Kamal Nath-a 71 years old party MP and Gandhi family loyalist. In a poll-bound Madhya Pradesh where Congress has been out of power for the last 15 years, the task in front of Kamal Nath is to deliver the results when the state unit is infested with factionalism.
Nath’s return to state politics who had for most of his political career remained at the Centre was considered to overturn Congress’ prospect in Madhya Pradesh. He has been a member of parliament for record 9 times from Chhindwara and had also held positions like Union MoS Environment and Forests, Union MoS Textiles and Minister for Commerce and industry. However, it also came as a surprise since Rahul Gandhi as a president was expected to give chance to more young force. For that matter, Jyotiraditya Scindia’s name, the royal scion of Gwalior, was considered a front-runner for the Chief Ministerial candidature. Yet, ‘importing’ Kamal Nath from Centre was a move carefully devised to keep the party flock together in the state. There are various reasons why the Kamal Nath factor was added to the Madhya Pradesh Congress chapter.
Kamal Nath- the Gandhi family loyalist:
Kamal Nath studied from a Doon school in Dehradun. He and Sanjay Gandhi were school buddies. Kamal Nath hailed from an affluent family while Sanjay Gandhi, from a family that wielded the political power in the country. Nath’s batchmate remembers him as an unconventional person who always had Sanjay Gandhi’s back. The stories of the friendship between the two still are among the hot topics discussed in Delhi corridors. Not only did he dream of Maruti car – the affordable car for the Indian middle class along with Sanjay Gandhi but also went to Tihar jail when Gandhi was put behind the bars during Janata Government days. From Dehradun to Delhi, he was a shadow of Gandhi, a part of what was then infamously called “Sanjay Ke Chhokre” (Hoodlums of Sanjay Gandhi). He was so inseparable from Sanjay Gandhi that a campaign slogan was created- “Indira Gandhi ke Do Haath, Sanjay Gandhi aur Kamal Nath.”
Even after the death of Sanjay Gandhi, Nath remained close confidante of the Gandhi family. He was even named in 1984 Anti-Sikh riots. He was also Rajiv’s trusted lieutenant. His acceptability and good relations across parties made him a man Friday of Sonia Gandhi when it came to managing allies and the opposition during the UPA-2 government. Though the talks with BSP’s Mayawati have soured now, it must be recalled how Kamal Nath managed to get her to support the Congress’ Rajya Sabha candidate from MP Vivek Tankha when party fell short of two votes.
The man with a deep pocket:
It is no longer a secret that Congress party is facing the worst fund crunch currently. In the election year, this can put the party on a back seat especially compared to the rival BJP who got richer multi-folds since 2014. Some in the Congress also believe that Kamal Nath got the post because of the financial resources that he has. Kamal Nath owns as many as 23 businesses which are managed by his sons- ranging from the fields of real estate to aviation and from plantations to hospitality.
Kamal Nath serves as president of the board of governors for The Institute of Management Technology (IMT). He is also the Chairman of “Madhya Pradesh Child Development Council” and Patron to the Bharat Yuvak Samaj (Youth Wing of All India Bharat Seva Samaj). As Livemint points out, some companies in which the Nath family has direct stakes include Span Plantations Pvt. Ltd, Alzo Investments Pvt. Ltd, Nakul Securities Pvt. Ltd, Bakul Holdings Pvt. Ltd, EMC Projects Pvt. Ltd and International Management Technologies Pvt. Ltd. Some subsidiaries include Span Air Pvt. Ltd, Centenary Trading Pvt. Ltd and Shaka Properties Pvt. Ltd. However, his business ownership has always been a low-key affair.
The hero of Chhindwara:
In the state, the Congress is banking on Kamal Nath’s Chhindwara model of development. In his constituency, Kamal Nath is worshipped for transforming the face of the town. The tremendous development work done by him in Chhindwara- which even rivals cannot dare doubt, is the main plank of Congress this assembly election. Despite not being the son of the soil, Kamal Nath is so popular that at the peak of Modi wave, he managed to win by a huge margin in 2014. The people from his constituency vouch for the development-broad roads, big industries, IT parks, Tech parks, schools & colleges & big hospitals. He brought industries such as Western Coalfields Limited & Hindustan Unilever in Chhindwara.
He also brought many institutes such as Raymond Cloth making training institute, Ashok Leyland Drivers Training Institute, NIIT knowledge center, Apparel Training & Design Centre & Footwear Design and Development Institute. His image as a one who is above petty politics has earned him respect in opposition camp as well.
The mastermind administrator:
Having been the longest serving member of parliament from his constituency, Nath has earned the reputation of a skilled administrator and an efficient floor manager who knows how to move the cadre and the financial resources. He is also popular as a master strategist who can effectively lead the party in a high decibel election fervor. Not only he has a good reputation among the elites but also has a strong grass root connect- a balance only a few can pull. While many leaders draw clout from the caste they hail from, Kamal Nath has earned his base purely on the basis of his work-which also seems to work in his favor. He is entrusted with bringing the factions together. His strategy to unsettle BJP’s Hindutva pitch as soon as he took over the charge suggests the shrewd political acumen that he employs.
Fear of another faction?
When Kamal Nath was brought in, the state unit was enthusiastic that the party will be able to put a stop on the factionalism. However, as it turned out, the party is fearing another faction supporting Kamal Nath for CM post emerging. Though former CM Digvijay Singh has been backtracked by the party for his loudmouth image, he has returned to the active politics with his ‘Narmada Ekta yatra’ after a 10- years sabbatical. He still has some support base in the party. On the other hand, the supporters of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath are often seen sparring over social media. Even in the recent rally of Rahul Gandhi, posters demanding Scindia to be made CM appeared. Many also believe that Digvijay Singh, Congress’s coordination committee chief – who strongly supported Nath’s appointment, is running the show. This has again led to cracks in state Congress unit when the state is just a month away from polling.
The Kamal Nath factor comes with its own advantages and fallouts. Whether the strategist and pro-development image of Kamal Nath outweigh the factionalism, will be tested in the upcoming days.
ABP-CVoter Survey: SP+BSP+Congress alliance can be a big shocker to NDA
The ABP-CVoter survey predicts NDA to win 276 seats, the UPA, on the other hand, stands to gain 112 seats if the elections are held now.
A day after Mayawati’s shocker that her party BSP will not be joining Congress in Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan, a pre-poll survey has come to fore which suggests that Congress stands to lose more if it fails to stitch an alliance with SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha Elections. The ABP News-CVoter ‘Desh ka Mood’ (Mood of the Nation) survey also predicted that with the divided opposition NDA can reap big benefits although at the cost of lesser seats.
However, the survey predicts Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get the second term at power in 2019. While the survey predicts NDA to win 276 seats, the UPA, on the other hand, stands to gain 112 seats if the elections are held now. The non-NDA, non-UPA parties are predicted to get 115 seats. The vote shares of NDA and UPA will be 38 percent and 25 percent respectively while others will have a vote share of 37%.
What is interesting to note here is in 2014 Lok Sabha election, BJP singlehandedly won 282 seats. However, according to the survey, the BJP together with the NDA parties cannot even reach the mark if the elections are held today. If BJP loses the comfortable majority it has now, it will have to depend on the coalition partners to form the government. As we have pointed out in our survey, this poses a serious threat to Modi’s PM prospect in 2019.
On the other hand, Congress which showed an abysmal performance in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and fell to only 44 seats stand to gain as UPA is predicted to win 112 seats. In 2014, UPA had won 60 seats. The ABP-CVoter survey thus predicts a jump of almost 50% in the seats of UPA.
The ABP-CVoter survey has presented predictions for three possible scenarios-firstly, if Congress, SP, and BSP join hands. Second, if BSP decides to go alone and third if SP-BSP forms an alliance without Congress. The state has 80 Lok Sabha seats which are the maximum and thus is considered the most crucial state.
In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP had swept the state by winning as many as 71 seats. SP won 5 seats, while Congress and Apna Dal won 2 seats each. Mayawati’s BSP couldn’t even open an account in the state which is considered its stronghold.
According to the Survey, if the above three parties form a grand alliance then they can win as many as 56 seats. BJP, on the other hand, will face a big setback with seats falling down to only 24.
Another possible scenario is Congress chooses to stay out of the SP+BSP alliance. In this scenario, the alliance will get 42 seats, UPA (Read Congress) will get only 2 seats and NDA will get 36 seats. In this scenario, the SP-BSP alliance stands to gain the most while NDA stands to lose 37 seats.
- In case there is no Grand Alliance
In case there is no Grand alliance and UPA and NDA parties contest the election, then NDA will repeat the 2014 result albeit with the loss of only 1 seat. While UPA will win only 2 seats, others will win only 8 seats.
In the first case, i.e. if they join UPA then the UPA is predicted to grab 18 seats while NDA will get 22 seats. However, if they remain in NDA, the UPA is speculated to lose 9 seats while NDA gets 31 seats.
In both the scenarios, NDA has an edge over UPA parties in the state.
Madhya Pradesh has total 29 Lok Sabha seats. In 2014, UPA had won only 2 seats in the state while NDA had won 27 seats. The ABP-CVoter survey predicts that UPA’s seats will increase only by 4 seats and NDA will win 23 seats.
In a survey conducted in August, the agency had predicted that NDA is set to lose the assembly elections in the state.
Rajasthan has 25 Lok Sabha constituencies. In 2014, BJP has swept the state winning all the seats. Congress couldn’t even open its account. According to the survey, the BJP’s seat may come down to 18 while Congress may win 6 seats if elections are held today.
Apparently, CVoter had predicted that NDA would lose the upcoming state assembly elections in a survey conducted in August.
Chhattisgarh has 11 lok sabha seats. In 2014, BJP won 10 seats while Congress won only 1 seat. The survey doesn’t predict a major difference in the tally. If the elections are conducted today, BJP will lose one and Congress will gain 1 seat from the current seats.
Maharashtra is one of the crucial states for both BJP and Congress. As the alliance scenario is still not clear in Maharashtra, the political situation remains ambiguous. On one hand, Shivsena is sending every possible signal of being upset with the BJP, at the same time refusing to walk out of alliance and government, on the other hand, the talks of an alliance between NCP and Congress are still in initial phase. A new alliance between Prakash Ambedkar and Owaisi is also expected to cut into secular votes.
The state contributes total 48 seats to the parliament. In 2014, BJP won 23 seats, Shivsena 18 seats, NCP won 4 seats while Congress won only 2 seats in the state. The ABP-CVoter have given predictions for the three possible scenarios:
- Congress+NCP, Shivsena goes solo:
In this case, UPA stands to be the biggest gainer with 30 seats. NDA will win only 16 sets while Shivsena is considered to win only 2 seats if it goes solo.
- Congress+NCP, BJP+Shivsena:
If the original UPA and NDA parties remain intact then, the alliance of Sena and BJP can get an edge over the Congress and NCP alliance. The NDA here stands to win 36 seats while UPA will win 12 seats.
- All parties contest solo:
In this case, BJP will get maximum seats i.e. 22 followed by Congress which is predicted to get 11 seats. NCP has to settle with 8 seats while Shivsena may win only 7 seats.
Odisha has 21 Lok Sabha constituencies. In 2014, BJD has won 20 seats in the state barring one which was won by BJP. According to the survey, the tables could turn upside down with BJP winning 13 seats in the state, BJD winning 6 and Congress gaining 2 seats.
Punjab has a total of 13 Lok Sabha constituencies. In 2014, SAD, Congress and AAP had won 4 seats each while BJP only won 1. The survey predicts this time Congress (UPA) will emerge as a clear winner by winning 12 seats while BJP/NDA will win only 1. Punjab is now one of the few remaining states where Congress is in power.
Haryana has a total 10 Lok Sabha constituencies. In 2014, BJP won 7 seats, INLD won 2 and Congress won only 1 seat in the state. According to the survey, BJP may lose one seat. Congress may get 3 seats while others will win 1 seat.
The popularity of the ruling BJP seems to remain intact in the national capital as like in 2014, the party is expected to sweep all 7 seats, according to the survey.
South (Karnataka+ Kerala+ Telangana+ Andhra Pradesh+ Tamil Nadu):
The five southern states together contribute total 130 seats to the Lok Sabha. 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.
Interestingly, Congress too hasn’t shown any better performance in the south. In 2014, the party only won 20 seats in the south. However, significantly, out of the 44 seats that the party won 20 cases from South.
The regional parties, however, dominated the results.
According to the ABP-CVoter survey, NDA will still get the same numbers i.e. 21, UPA tally will be 32. However, the regional parties will be the real king of South getting 76 seats. It must be seen whether this comes as a signal for the Congress to look south for alliances.
North-East (Assam+ Manipur+ Mizoram+ Nagaland+ Tripura+ Arunachal Pradesh+ Sikkim+ Meghalaya):
The seven states of North-East contribute to 25 seats in the Lok Sabha. Incidentally, both Congress and BJP managed to win 8 seats each from this region in 2014. However, following the formation of North-East Democratic Alliance and Himanta Biswa Sharma’s joining of BJP has strengthened the party. The victory in Tripura and Assam has added to it. On the other hand, Congress’ presence in the state has deteriorated sharply.
According to the ABP-CVoter survey, the NDA coalition will get as many as 18 seats in north-east. This comes close to the target of 21 seats from North-East set by Amit Shah. UPA has to settle with 6 seats while others will get 1 seat.
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