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Promoting Prejudice, Poisoning Minds - Parivar’s intrusions into education

If there’s one thing that the 102nd Indian Science Congress, held in Mumbai, will be remembered for, it’s the outrageous claims made at it about the achievements of science in ancient India, including the assertion that Indians between 7000 and 6000 BC knew how to make airplanes that could undertake “interplanetary travel”, and fly backwards and sideways, as well as forwards!

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How the Parivar is taking over institutions in education and culture (Parts I and II)

A hallmark of the Modi government’s first 200 days in office is the beginning of the Sangh Parivar’s Long March through the Institutions of the State, in particular bodies that deal with education and culture. The Parivar’s agenda is to influence their working to reflect its own specific brand of “cultural nationalism” by engineering long-term changes in their programmes and priorities, and making key appointments of personnel who will loyally execute such changes.

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Hindutva: Back to the Savarkar-Hedgewar ideal?

Nothing in Indian politics has dismayed me recently as much as a report (The Hindu, November 22) on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s success in attracting 600 middle-class professional families in Noida to a late-night education-cum-entertainment event featuring preacher Satyanarayan Mourya. Each family paid Rs300 to attend it. Mourya is a crasser version of Ritambhara. He speaks ( execrable language while attacking Muslims, and invokes Hindutva pride by claiming that ancient India gave the world geometry and airplanes, besides mastering space and nuclear technologies, achievements that today’s youth have all but forgotten under the evil influence of modern Western culture.

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Why The Right To Dissent Is Indispensable: Romila Thapar speaks out

When Bharatiya Janata Party leader LK Advani famously said of the media during the Emergency that “when asked to bend, they crawled”, he received widespread praise from the intelligentsia and even from people opposed to the BJP’s ideology—because he spoke the truth about the loss of independence and professional integrity on the part of the Fourth Estate and other institutions. Today, not just the media, but leaders from the fields of education, culture, healthcare and law, are crawling before the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh without even being asked to bend

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Spreading Fear Through Stereotypes: The politics of ‘love jihad’

How does Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lofty slogan Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikaas (inclusion and development for all) square up with India’s social-political reality as vulnerable groups such as the religious minorities experience it? The honest answer is that these groups had the most to fear from a Bharatiya Janata Party election victory, and some of their fears are coming true. The BJP’s leaders, Mr Modi included, have done very little to allay them although it’s their duty to do so.

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A Nightmare Materialises In India: Hindutva-capitalism takes power

The Lok Sabha election has produced what was easily the worst conceivable outcome by giving an outright majority to the Bharatiya Janata Party under a man who is widely believed to have been complicit in mass killings of Indian citizens belonging to one faith, and who even 12 years on has not been fully exonerated by the country’s legal system despite its compromised, semi-functional nature, and vulnerability to diabolical manipulation. Make no mistake. Despite a limited (31 percent) national vote, Narendra Modi’s victory is the result of a Rightward shift in society, and the triumph of Hindutva combined with neoliberal capitalism.

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Polls Driven By Bigotry & Big Money: Is the EC failing the public?

Two weeks ago, many public-spirited Indians complimented the Election Commission for banning public speeches and rallies by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Uttar Pradesh chief campaign manager Amit Shah, and the Samajwadi Party’s fiery Azam Khan, both of whom had made provocative speeches for or against religious groups. This action was seen as in keeping with the Commission’s mandate, legally well-founded, even-handed, exemplary in punishing/deterring the use of communal means during canvassing, and encouraging the conduct of elections in a free and fair manner, as befits a democracy.

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Bigotry, big money and India

Two weeks ago, many public-spirited Indians complimented the country’s Election Commission for banning public campaigning by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Uttar Pradesh chief election manager Amit Shah, and the Samajwadi Party’s fiery Azam Khan, both of whom spoke provocatively for or against specific religious groups.

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How The Media Whitewashes Modi: BJP’s true colours

When Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in 1975, the vast majority of Indian academics, intellectuals and media commentators protested. Barring a few publications like India Today, most newspapers carried sharply critical comments and truthful, horrifying accounts of the excesses perpetrated in the name of defending India against contrived “threats”—until censorship was imposed, and sometimes defying it.

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Poll Campaign Gets Shriller, Dirtier: Modi plumbs the depths

Many Narendra Modi zealots are acting as if he had already been sworn in as Prime Minister, or as if that were only a matter of time. They have taken their cue from Mr Modi’s March 29 statement in Chandigarh, where he declared himself India’s future PM. He says the people have chosen the government even before voting; the national election is a mere formality to be gone through. Such contrived hype about a “Modi wave”, bankrolled by corporations, and propagated by much of the media, ignores four main trends which have emerged in the last couple of weeks. These suggest the election still remains open-ended. Mr Modi has doubtless established an edge, but it isn’t decisive, and cannot ensure the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s election victory.

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No absolution for Gujarat massacre

Gujarat-2002 was much worse than Delhi-1984, when some Congress leaders incited anti-Sikh violence and the state indulged them. The Congress-led government’s responsibility was constructive, not direct. In Gujarat, the BJP-led government planned, authorised and organised the violence and allowed it to continue into May. Its responsibility was direct – and far graver. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi have at least apologised for the Delhi carnage. But Modi, boasting of a “56-inch chest”, doggedly refuses to show any remorse for Gujarat’s pogrom

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Modi (mis)appropriates Patel

Whatever its other sins and there are many one charge can never be made against the Sangh Parivar: that of having produced a halfway tall intellectual. No star in its firmament, from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s founders, to the present leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Sangh’s 30-odd other affiliates, remotely approaches the description ‘intellectual’.

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RSS Anoints Modi As PM - Candidate: Stooping to a new communal low

The Bharatiya Janata Party has committed a historic blunder by allowing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—a secretive, conspiratorial, unelected body with a deeply sectarian anti-democratic agenda—to dictate the choice of its Prime Ministerial candidate for the next election. It’s no surprise that the candidate is India’s vilest and most hated political figure, who has blood on his hands, pure aggression in his veins, and a slavishly pro-corporate agenda in his heart.

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Winning by polarising the Gangetic plains?

The shortest, if dirtiest, route to victory in the circumstances is to polarise politics along religious lines by engineering communal violence. This is exactly what happened in Muzaffarnagar-Shamli in Western UP. A minor incident—a youth allegedly made lewd remarks to a girl of another community—was converted by RSS-VHP-BJP rumour-mills into “love jihad” (seduction-abduction of Hindu women), triggering Jat-Muslim clashes, in which 40 people were killed and 50,000 displaced.

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Modi: hype vs reality

"Modi moves centre-stage!" "Modi storms in as the BJP’s PM candidate." "It's Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi!" "Modi wants to serve the nation" (read, become prime minister).

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Bringing Hindutva terrorism to book

The Hindutva terrorist network must be ruthlessly exposed and brought to justice. Its infiltration into the police, civil services and security forces must be thoroughly investigated. This is a precondition for reaffirming the secular character of the state and the rule of law.

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Restoring Public Faith In Rule of Law: Justice in Ayodhya

How should India's Supreme Court treat the appeals certain to be filed before it against the Allahabad High Court judgment on the Babri Masjid issue, which dismisses the Sunni Central Waqf Board's title suit and says the site was the birthplace of Lord Ram? Should the Court strive to reconcile the Vishwa Hindu Parishad with the Waqf Board? Or should it overturn the judgment?

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Defending the idea of India

Mumbai’s industrialists have funded, protected and used the Sena for decades to attack trade union and Left-wing cadres, create terror in labour bustees to evict people and grab land, and settle financial disputes with one another. The captains of Indian industry have kept the Sena’s extortion machine well-oiled—for purely short-term gains.

This has meant strengthening a monstrous force that further vitiates society and politics, and undermining the idea of India as a plural, diverse, secular society, where all citizens have equal rights. This idea of India is not something optional, to be used instrumentally whenever expedient. It is essential to India’s survival as a minimally civilised society which aspires to cohesion and progress. The idea is as important for industry as it is for politics. But Indian businessmen have yet to show this recognition.

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Wayward trends

(Frontline, April 11-24, 2009)

by Praful Bidwai

As the BJP struggles to stem its decline by using communal means and the Congress spurns alliances, political churning is producing new uncertainties.

IF Feroze Varun Gandhi wanted to imitate his father Sanjay Gandhi in brazenly defying the law of the land, throwing civility and political decency to the winds, and mobilising goons to challenge the Uttar Pradesh administration, he could not have done better than he did by courting arrest amidst stone-throwing and slogan-shouting at Pilibhit. As his supporters celebrated his anti-Muslim hate speeches and communal villainy, Varun Gandhi emerged a hero for the Bharatiya Jana ta Party (BJP), which has refused to deny him the party ticket for the Lok Sabha elections.

Varun re-enacted the Sanjay Gandhi of the immediate post-Emergency period every inch of the way as he defied legal summons, condemned judges inquiring into his excesses as politically prejudiced, and asked his admirers to whip up hysteria and unleash violence. The only difference is that Sanjay Gandhi was an experienced practitioner of lumpen politics and had the Youth Congress apparatus behind him, while his son is a political greenhorn.

One only has to recall the headlines of 1977-79 highlighting the “free-for-all at Sanjay Gandhi’s court appearance” and the mayhem after he was held guilty of destroying a film Kissa Kursi Ka critical of the Emergency to note the parallels between the methods of Sanjay Gandhi and his son.

By maligning Muslims, and threatening to “chop off their hands” and “forcibly sterilise them”, Varun Gandhi has catapulted himself into the BJP’s top echelons. His route to fame is indisputably inglorious. He speaks the unspeakable – or rather, what many in the Sangh Parivar think, but dare not say in public – and deliberately acts like a lout, gratuitously vitiating the political discourse, offending public morality, spreading fear and loathing, and exploiting every legal loophole in the cynical pursuit of power.

Suddenly, the least-known Gandhi in the Indira Gandhi family has become a Hindutva icon. The formula is crude: spew venom against a beleaguered minority and win votes in the secure knowledge that a candidate cannot be disqualified under the Representation of the People Act (RPA) while campaigning. Others too have tried the formula, but Varun Gandhi has succeeded spectacularly, if shockingly, because he is a Gandhi.

By all accounts, this was not a BJP or Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) script. Varun Gandhi himself authored it. He knew he could present a fait accompli to the BJP and yet count on its support because it is the kind of party it is – wedded to Islamophobia, grossly communal, instinctively devious, and desperate to win votes by means however foul, so long as it can get away.

To its abiding disgrace, the BJP has backed Varun Gandhi to the hilt. With the hypocrisy that is its trademark, it says it does not share his allegedly anti-Muslim sentiments and dissociates itself from the remarks attributed to him based on a CD recording of three of his speeches. But it also supports his ludicrous claim that the CD was doctored. It has doggedly rejected the Election Commission’s (E.C.) advice not to field Varun Gandhi.

The fact that the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani fully endorses this position, itself based on egregiously immoral double standards and crass cynicism, speaks poorly both of him and his party.

Varun Gandhi confronted the legal-political system with a big challenge. The E.C. found itself helpless to debar him despite strong prima facie evidence. Unlike in the Bal Thackeray case, where the speech was made to support another person (candidate Ramesh Prabhoo), this instance involves Varun Gandhi’s own act. The E.C. could have fortified itself by getting an expert opinion on the CD’s authenticity, but did not.

This is not the first time the BJP (or the equally communal Shiv Sena) has used viciously anti-Muslim appeals to win votes. The E.C. has over the years disqualified 3,423 people from contesting elections for “corrupt electoral practices”, many involving communal canvassing.

Yet sadly, according to most interpretations, the E.C. has no powers to disqualify a candidate until after a court holds him/her guilty. This is a gaping loophole. It does not stand to reason that disqualification should only become possible after a candidate has poisoned the political climate, polarised opinion along communal lines, and converted hatred into votes. Belated disqualification can at best partially remedy the original offence.

The E.C. recommended in 1998 that the law be amended to allow disqualification before trial where the offence is grave and a charge-sheet has been filed. Ironically, last year, a parliamentary committee rejected the recommendation. Its members included legal luminaries such as Ram Jethmalani and Abhishek Singhvi. MUCH-ABUSED LAW

Now the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh has booked Varun Gandhi under the draconian National Security Act (NSA), 1980, which allows him to be detained for up to a year without bail subject to approval by an advisory board, to which the case must be referred within three weeks, and which must give its decision within seven weeks. If the detention is approved, Varun Gandhi will not be able to campaign although he can contest the election.

In one sense, this remedies the flaw in the RPA, but risks another excess. The NSA is indeed a much-abused law. It has been routinely applied in numerous States to make preventive arrests of hardened criminals and those inciting communal violence, indeed even to deter riots and unrest. Its objective is defined by a holdall term: preventing a person from acting “in any manner prejudicial to the security of the state or … to the maintenance of public order…”

Incitement of communal violence logically falls within this category, but the law should be used with the utmost caution. The U.P. government can claim that it acted with patience. It filed two First Information Reports against Varun Gandhi and tried repeatedly to stop him from acting provocatively, but he recklessly went ahead, leaving it with no other option. It is probable that Mayawati had a political purpose too: of countering the Samajwadi Party’s (S.P.) charge that she is soft on the BJP. But Varun Gandhi’s political agenda was far worse.

At any rate, the NSA has been used by several governments, including BJP-led ones, for much lesser offences. For instance, it was used under the BJP in 11 districts of Rajasthan in 2007 against the Gujjar agitation for reservation. Last December, a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLA was detained under the Act in U.P. for killing engineer Manoj Kumar Gupta. Nobody protested against this. So the BJP is on slippery ground in criticising Varun Gandhi’s detention as “political vendetta” – another case of its double standards.

The plain truth is that the BJP is desperate. Its campaign is not doing well. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has shrunk to less than a third of its original size. Its second most important component, Janata Dal (United), is deeply uncomfortable with the BJP’s stance on many issues, including its Hindu-communal orientation in general, and its support for Varun Gandhi’s antics, in particular.

Further, the BJP has wantonly antagonised the JD(U) by fielding Shatrughan Sinha and Rajiv Pratap Rudy, both vitriolic critics of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Nitish Kumar says he does not want Narendra Modi and other communally tainted BJP leaders to campaign for the NDA in his State.

Although Nitish Kumar’s own State-level popularity is not in doubt – thanks to his record of relatively good, responsive governance – many of his supporters, especially Muslims, but not just them, will not cast their ballots for the NDA in the national election because that would mean endorsing Advani as Prime Minister. No wonder the JD(U) has dropped hints that it may quit the NDA soon after the Lok Sabha elections. DIVIDED BJP

Organisationally, the BJP presents a picture of disunity and disorder. Campaign strategist Arun Jaitley has rebelled against the U.P.-centric and rustic party president Rajnath Singh, who only wields limited clout. Narendra Modi has acted tough on candidate selection in Gujarat, even defying Advani. And in acceptance and authority, Advani is no match for Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The recent change in the RSS’ top leadership can at best provide a minor boost to the BJP as it flounders for strategy.

If the voting pattern of the recent Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh repeats itself in the national elections, the BJP will lose 10-12 seats in its Central Indian bastion. In addition, it will probably lose some in Karnataka and Maharashtra. Karnataka’s last Lok Sabha election was a freak. The Congress bagged more votes but fewer seats than the BJP, the JD (Secular) split the anti-BJP vote, and the iron-ore miners’ lobby played a disproportionate role. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena has split.

It is unclear if the BJP can make up these losses in its core geographical base area through (probably small) gains in Gujarat, Jharkhand and Haryana. It could also suffer further erosion in U.P. and Bihar, where it is already marginal. Its allies are unlikely to do brilliantly, especially in Punjab, U.P. and Assam. CONGRESS’ ISOLATION

However, this cannot bring much cheer to the Congress which vetoed a joint national campaign or profile for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and is now paying for its decision.

Unlike in 2004, when Sonia Gandhi walked the extra mile to recruit allies and reach out to numerous leaders, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s M. Karunanidhi, BSP’s Mayawati, Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar and Lok Janshakti Party’s (LJP) Ram Vilas Paswan, this time the Congress is confining alliance-building to Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Jharkhand.

It has spurned seat-sharing deals in the Hindi heartland. It probably was never serious about one with the S.P., but strung the party along and refused its offer of 17 seats. (It currently has nine of U.P’s 80 seats.) It will now fight the S.P. in more than 60 seats, losing the advantage of a fruitful alliance that would have drawn some Muslim and upper-caste votes away from the BSP, and conceivably won 35-40 seats. In Bihar, the RJD-LJP upped the ante by offering the Congress a minuscule three seats. Effectively, it has no allies there.

The Congress’ decision to go solo was reportedly heavily influenced by Rahul Gandhi and functionaries such as Digvijay Singh and Ahmed Patel, who believe the party must be rebuilt from scratch in the Hindi heartland; so it must contest as many seats as possible. The Congress leadership is loath to sacrificing the party’s distinct political identity and space, and believes that it must counter the “Tamil Nadu-isation” of U.P. and Bihar, under which it would forever play second fiddle to the S.P. or the BSP, much as it does to the DMK or the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).

This is a huge gamble. The Congress not only lacks the leaders and cadre with which to rebuild itself in U.P. and Bihar; but Rahul Gandhi’s attempts to create a youthful new leadership there has failed to produce results, indeed even credible candidates.

The party can only be rebuilt through grassroots organising and by developing progressive policies and programmes, which can help it connect with the social groups which have been at the centre of recent transformative processes, including Dalit self-assertion and the Mandal mobilisation, to which the Congress has not related at all for three decades.

There is no sign of this happening. Rahul Gandhi’s social agenda is even more confused than his right-leaning economic policy orientation. So the Congress’ decision to go solo is fraught with the risk of growing isolation. It also carries the disadvantage of not having a pre-election alliance, which is likely to be cited, after the precedent set by former President K.R. Narayanan, as the criterion for being invited to form the government in case of a hung Parliament.

If the Congress fails to equal or better its 2004 score of 145 seats, it will be hard put to stake a credible claim to government – unless it is prepared to make all kinds of compromises. On present reckoning, 145 seats are not assured. The Congress-UPA is likely to suffer setbacks in Tamil Nadu, and probably in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Gujarat. Whether it can recoup these likely losses is an open question. If the gamble fails, the Congress may have to lend support to a non-Congress non-BJP Third Front – if only to keep the NDA out of power. NEED FOR A PROGRAMME

The Third Front has recently expanded and acquired momentum. But without a convincing common programmatic document asserting its commitment to secularism, an inclusive economic policy, and independent foreign and security policies, it cannot project itself as a credible and attractive alternative.

This will not be easy because all the Third Front’s constituents barring the Left stand tainted by their past association with the BJP-NDA, including the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the JD(S) and the AIADMK. The BSP too has thrice shared power with the BJP in U.P. and Mayawati has campaigned for Narendra Modi in Gujarat. Again, many regional parties in the Third Front no longer represent the plebeian social coalitions and egalitarian or emancipatory agendas they did in the late-1980s or 1990s.

Still, the Third Front is a worthy idea but it will have to be forged over a period of time through grassroots struggles on issues that really matter to the underprivileged. A non-Congress non-BJP combine could make a good beginning if it wins 130-150 seats. This will help it attract support from other parties, including some NDA constituents. But this assumes that the TDP, AIADMK, the JD(S) and above all the BSP perform remarkably well, and that the Left parties do not lose a significant number of seats. These are big ifs.

Even if the Third Front can become the nucleus of a government, it will need external support. That spells uncertainties. The Biju Janata Dal, the Akali Dal, the Asom Gana Parishad and probably the TDP will find it difficult to accept Congress support. If the BSP joins the Third Front, the S.P. will not. If the Left is part of it, the Trinamul Congress will keep away. If the RJD joins it, the JD(U) may not. Amidst these uncertainties, political churning continues unabated.

Hate-based politics

Frontline, March 01-14, 2008

by Praful Bidwai

Only forging a firmly pluralist notion of Indianness and defending fundamental freedoms can combat the ultra-chauvinist politics of the Raj Thackeray variety.

THE arrest of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray for inciting ethnic violence against Mumbai’s migrants and his speedy release on bail constitute yet another instance of the Indian state bestowing impunity upon the practitioners of hate-based politics. The irony is all the more sour because Thackeray was arrested on a non-bailable offence, which carries imprisonment for up to three years, but was let off within three hours. The government did not co ntest his bail application even as MNS thugs were beating up north Indian vegetable vendors and taxi drivers for being “disloyal” to Maharashtra, its language and culture.

This episode may only have pumped oxygen into the MNS, a marginal party that has failed to make a mark since its inception two years ago. But that is not the sole tragedy unfolding before our eyes amidst the fleeing of nearly 10,000 people of north Indian origin from Nashik, Pune, Mumbai and other cities.

The recent events underscore yet again the persistent failure of the Maharashtra government to muster the will to punish hate speeches directed at “outsiders” and religious minorities. The failure first became glaring way back in 1966 when the MNS’ predecessor, the Shiv Sena, was created amidst the explosive nativist and xenophobic violence orchestrated by Bal Thackeray.

For decades, the Sena inflicted countless atrocities and iniquities upon Mumbai and its citizens by attacking trade unionists, Muslims and non-Marathi-speaking groups. But it was never punished or effectively restrained. Even in the worst instance of Sena-organised communal violence, following the Babri Masjid demolition of December 1992, the government refused to act on irrefutable evidence against Bal Thackeray. This includes nine “open-and-shut” cases against him for inflammatory writing through which he virtually directed the anti-Muslim riots that led to 1,500 killings.

Despite solemn promises, the Vilasrao Deshmukh government has failed to implement the Srikrishna Commission report, which recommends the prosecution of the culprits of the violence. Going by an affidavit the government filed in January in the Supreme Court, it has decided not to reopen the 1,371 cases pertaining to that campaign of murder, arson and looting. It would be surprising if it treats Raj Thackeray any differently and prosecutes him thoroughly.

It arrested him only under pressure from the Congress party’s top leadership. To appear “even-handed”, it filed identical charges against Samajwadi Party (S.P.) leader Abu Azmi – although what the two men did was different. Raj Thackeray not only launched vicious tirades against north Indians, he incited/engineered physical attacks on them. Azmi merely issued statements.

As if this were not sordid enough, not a single major leader of Maharashtra – from Deshmukh to the Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, from State Congress chief Prabha Rau to Home Minister R.R. Patil – has condemned Raj Thackeray’s campaign of crass chauvinism or his goon tactics. They have not uttered a word against the intimidation and beating up of scores of working people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They have been silent on the MNS’ glorification of all that is Marathi and its nauseating condemnation of the culture of the north. Although the progressive and secular intelligentsia has spoken out, the politicians’ silence is revealing.

The top leadership of the United Progressive Alliance too has chosen to refrain from deploring the MNS’ hate campaign. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken to frequent exhortations to crush and eradicate “the virus” of “left extremism” (naxalites). But not once has he spoken in a similar vein against right extremism, which has caused far greater destruction to this society and posed a much more virulent challenge to its constitutional-democratic order. Leave alone “crush” the forces of vicious nativism and xenophobia such as the MNS and Shiv Sena, Manmohan Singh does not even talk of restraining, discouraging or combating them. About his expression of solidarity with the terrorised victims of the recent hate campaign, the less said the better.

This is creating a peculiar polarisation along narrow ethnic-linguistic lines. Thus, it is left to the maverick Amar Singh to defend the people of Uttar Pradesh against the MNS. And it falls to Railway Minister Lalu Prasad to come to the rescue of Biharis in Mumbai. He even threatened to hold the Bihari festival of Chhat Puja – which Raj Thackeray cited as an instance of the undesirable, growing “outsider” influence – right outside Raj Thackeray’s house in Mumbai!

Such polarisation does not speak of a decent, mature political leadership nor, more importantly, of a tolerant, democratic and inclusive social ethos. If our leaders and state institutions cannot even defend the fundamental right of all Indians to live and work in any part of the country, we are in trouble. At peril is the idea of the citizen’s identification with, and ownership of, democracy itself. Meagre response

Three factors might explain the tepid or meagre response to the Maharashtra events from secular liberals and defenders of constitutional values.

First, many believe that Raj Thackeray resorted to a cynical, probably counterproductive, tactic by embracing the ultra-chauvinist platform and that people will see through this crude political move and its link with the coming Assembly elections.

Second, anti-migrant slogans “won’t sell”. The proportion of migrants in Mumbai’s population has fallen, and the locals do not see them as a threat, unlike in the 1960s and 1970s.

Third, some argue, the appeal of cultural symbols is eclipsed by material realities. Mumbai’s economic boom and emergence as a financial centre ensure that people’s attention cannot be commanded by rank chauvinism.

There is merit in these arguments. But that cannot detract from the responsibility to proactively fight chauvinism. True, Raj Thackeray has his eye on the delimitation process, which will raise the weight of constituencies in Mumbai’s north-eastern suburbs and Thane, where the north Indian presence is strong. Recently, the Shiv Sena joined the S.P. and the Bahujan Samaj Party in wooing this group and became an easy target for Raj Thackeray, who has been in search of an emotive issue to revive his party.

This may not win him many votes, but it will trigger chauvinist competition with the Sena and put the anti-immigrant plank back on the agenda – with dangerous consequences.

Moreover, the proportion of migrants in Mumbai’s population sharply declined from 66 per cent in 1961 to 43 per cent in 2001. The proportion of migrants from within Maharashtra fell from 27 per cent to 16 per cent and of those from other States from 34 per cent to 26 per cent. Particularly sharp was the decline among migrants from the south, down from 10 per cent to 6 per cent.

However, the proportion of migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar rose one and a half times although its magnitude is still very low: 12 per cent. These largely rural, unskilled and poor people work in highly labour-intensive and low-paid occupations such as delivering newspapers and milk, vending vegetables and fish, or carrying heavy loads. Many old settlers refuse such work. Without its northern migrants, Mumbai would grind to a halt. They have done much to assimilate into Mumbai’s hybrid culture despite their language problem.

But the picture is different in other cities of Maharashtra, where the proportion of migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has more than doubled in 20 years. Their greater visibility can be used to whip up xenophobic hysteria. For instance, a poll conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi, in 2004 found that 37 per cent of the State’s people feel that migrants take away job opportunities and 16 per cent say migrants affect both culture and job chances.

Maharashtra’s growth is non-inclusive and inequality-enhancing. Unemployment runs there at 15 million, in a population of 100 million. Fifty-four per cent of the unemployed resent migrants. This provides a fertile ground for hate-driven politics. Marathi chauvinism

The strength of Marathi chauvinism must not be underestimated. The Sena cynically exploited the Shivaji cult and the rancour among a section of Maharashtrians at the fact that their struggle for a unified Maharashtra succeeded politically but they remained “subalterns” economically: Mumbai, the “jewel in the crown”, was not “Marathi enough”; its economic levers were controlled by Gujarati and Marwari businessmen. This resentment was mobilised to attack underprivileged working-class south Indians active in Mumbai’s once vibrant trade union movement.

The Sena succeeded in rolling back many of the social gains Maharashtra made through its social reform movement and embrace of Enlightenment values, including reason, liberty, equality and tolerance. Some of these came from the one-and-a-half-century-long legacy of Shahu Maharaj, Jyotirao Phule and B.R. Ambedkar. Under the Sena, Mumbai became a city of prejudice and hatred, fear and loathing, character assassination, and lynching of innocents.

It will be impossible to combat this xenophobic chauvinism without campaigning for a pluralist notion of Indianness based on a multilingual, multicultural identity, defending basic constitutional freedoms, including the rights of residence and work, and advocating a passionate egalitarianism. This alone can counter the parochial ideas of an insular, insecure, lumpenised middle class, with its inferiority complex and propensity to blame “outsiders” for its own shortcomings. Regrettably, that combination is not on the horizon.

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