Consensus Eludes Women’s Reservation Bill

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Euphoria raised over Women’s Reservation Bill’s passage in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) appears to have virtually lost its importance within less than a month. The bill was passed by Rajya Sabha, last month on March 9, a day after the Women’s Day. The bill proposes to reserve 33% seats for women in the Parliament and State Legislatures. Prospects of the bill securing passage in the Lower House (Lok Sabha) seem fairly limited. This was indicated by the failure of the all-party meeting held in the capital city to reach any consensus. During the meeting (April 5), chaired by leader of Lok Sabha, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, leaders of different parties expressed their stand on the controversial bill.

A brief note, issued after the all-party meeting by Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, stated: “The leaders of various parties expressed their views on the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008 pertaining to the Reservation of Seats for Women in the House of the People and State Assemblies.” “Further discussion will continue,” the note said, signaling that stalemate over the controversial bill has not yet been resolved.

The Congress party, heading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition, is on stickier ground than before, as at the all-party meeting, its key ally – Trinamool Congress Party (TCP), also voiced opposition to the bill. During the meeting, TCP chief Mamata Bannerjee, supported the demand of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) for a “quota-within-quota,” as per which the bill should include reservation for women, who are Muslims, belong to backward classes and Dalits.

“The Muslim interest should not be ignored,” Bannerjee said during the meeting while joining the chorus raised by opponents of the bill.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also emphasized that the party would oppose the bill, if it was presented in its present form without a “quota-within-quota.”

Prospects of parties arriving at any agreement on the bill seem fairly limited. A key supporter of the bill, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has indicated that it would oppose it, if it included the demand for “quota-within-quota.”  Sushma Swaraj, leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, said that her party (BJP) was “totally against quota-within-quota.”

Interestingly, the left bloc legislators, supporters of the bill in its present form, have not clarified their stand on “quota-within-quota.”  While stating that his party was not opposed to “consider” the proposal for “quota-within-quota,” Basudeb Acharia (Communist Party of India-Marxist) said: “Under the constitutional set up, there is no provision in election either for OBC (Other Backward Classes) or Muslim minorities.” He laid stress that his party favored passage of the bill in its present form; in other words- without “quota-within-quota.” 

When questioned on his party’s stand on “quota-within-quota,” Gurudas Dasgupta (Communist Party of India) said: “We have not raised it.” At the same time, he said that his party was against the bill being “dumped.” The CPI is not against the government taking time “to arrive at a consensus” but was against “any kind of deferment if the intention is to dump the bill,” he said. 

The question of a “consensus” being reached on the bill seems practically impossible as the three parties (RJD, SP and JD-U) remain firm on their demand for a “quota-within-quota.” Their stand was supported at the all-party meeting by TCP and BSP. RJD chief Lalu Prasad said after the meeting: “I thank the government for this all-party meeting. But Muslim, backward classes and Dalit women must be given quota. Our stand has not changed. We have requested the government to rethink the issue and call for a second meeting.”

“We have opposed the bill in its present form. We are not opposed to reservation for women,” SP leader Mulayam Singh said.

With 441 members out of 544 members in Lok Sabha in favor of the bill, the Congress would lose majority in the House, if TCP withdraws its support. Interestingly, chances of the bill being presented in the Lok Sabha, without a consensus being arrived at seem fairly limited. The TCP legislators had abstained from discussion and vote on the bill in Rajya Sabha last month.

Developments suggest that bill is likely to be pushed to the backburner till a “consensus” is reached among the different political parties. In fact, the bill may not be introduced in the Lok Sabha without a “consensus” being arrived at. This is suggested by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar’s reply to how would she handle the chaos and stormy scenes in the House over the bill. Laying stress that there was need for a “consensus first” among all parties on the bill, Kumar said: “There has to be a consensus about that for which they (the parties) are trying. Lets see what happens.” 

Ironically, differences prevailed even on the wording of the statement issued by the government at the end of the meeting. Initially, the government wanted to state that the meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere and that decency and decorum would be maintained in the Parliament. The government was also keen to state that efforts would be made to find an amicable solution to the issue. Objections raised by Lalu Prasad, however, compelled the government to redraft the statement, deleting these points and instead state: “Further discussions will continue.”

During the two-hour meeting, the government was represented by Mukherjee, Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Defense Minister A.K. Antony and Law Minister Veerappa Moily. Among others who attended the meeting were leaders of BJP, SP, RJD, BSP, CPI-M, CPI, JD-U, Telegu Desam Party, TCP and Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam. 

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Women’s Reservation Bill: “Conspiracy” Against Muslims…?

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The Congress-led government’s attempt to create history on March 8, 2010 by securing passage of Women’s Reservation Bill through the Parliament on International Women’s Day has failed. The controversial bill reserves 33 percent of legislative seats in the Parliament. Ironically, though the bill has support of the Congress and from ranks of opposition, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left bloc, it is fiercely opposed by Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Bahuajan Samaj Party (BSP).

Being celebrated across the world for almost 100 years, the global theme highlighted by United Nations for International Women’s Day this year was “Equal rights, Equal opportunities: Progress for all.” In India, the attempt made to reserve 33 percent of seats for women in the Parliament did not succeed on March 8. Rather, the dismal picture presented of the ruckus created in the Parliament, leading to repeated adjournments of both the Houses, raised questions on politicians playing a greater part in distorting legislative procedures than in contributing to actually creating history. Soon after the bill was tabled in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) by Law Minister Veerappa Moily, around a dozen members opposing it attacked the Chairperson, Vice President Hamid Ansari. They even threw tore the bill into pieces and threw around the paper, pen stands and microphone. The legislators opposing the bill shouted down the supporters to prevent a debate on the bill.

Justifying their opposition, the SP and RJD announced withdrawal of their support to the Congress-led coalition government. Demanding a quota within the reservation-quota for women, RJD chief Lalu Prasad said: “We are not opposing the bill per se. We want, and the nation wants, that the reservation should be given to backward women who don’t have resources. The real India should be empowered. Give them 50 percent reservation. We will not oppose that.” Taking the same stand, SP leader Mulayam Singh said that the bill should provide quota for minorities, Dalits and backward classes. Claiming that bill was a “conspiracy” against interests of Muslims and Dalits, SP chief said: “The interests of minorities and Dalits are being undermined. The reservation should be for Muslims.”

BSP leader Mayawati also opposes the bill without their being a “quota-within-quota” for women belonging to backward castes and the minority community. Incidentally, rifts are reported within the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) too, with one of its key allies Trinamool Congress led by Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee demanding reservation for minorities and backward classes in the bill. 

While the BJP pledged its support to bill, it expressed reservations on voting for it without a debate on the same. Ravi Shankar Prasad, BJP legislator in Rajya Sabha said: “We want this bill to be passed with proper debate and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure this eventuality in the house. Let us try to trust the managerial ability of this government which is coming in to question with every passing hour.”

Meanwhile, as Women’s Day passed by with the government having failed to “create history,” Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said: “It’s wastage of the day (International Women’s Day). The Women’s Reservation Bill is a subject where the only question is when and not if. It is an idea whose time has come.” Criticizing the bill’s opponent, he said: “The thinking of a handful of people has been exposed…. This mentality brings shame on Indian democracy.”

In general, the Indian Muslim leaders and organizations are keen on a reservation bill for increasing minorities’ representation in the Parliament. The women’s bill, without any reference to Muslim women, carries little importance for them. They are opposed to it, fearing that it would further marginalize Muslims’ representation in the Parliament.

All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) represented by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal in the Lok Sabha has opposed the bill, describing it as “simply unacceptable for minorities especially Muslims.” “The bill is actually an anti-minority bill in guise of empowerment of women,” he said. AIDUF claims that prominent political houses aim to use the bill to let women members of their families enter the Parliament. The bill thus is a game plan of a section of political elite to make a weak woman weaker and a strong one stronger, AIDUF said. With there being a “negligible minority representation” in the Parliament, the bill will lead to “no representation” for the minorities. Without any quota for Muslim and Dalit women, the bill is a “mockery at all minorities and Dalits and against the interest of Indian nationhood,” AIUDF stated. “If religion based reservation is unacceptable for majority when it comes to political empowerment of minorities, how can a gender-based reservation be viewed as rational,” AIUDF questioned.

Since 1996, the Women’s Reservation Bill has been introduced and re-introduced several times in the Parliament to have only faced strong opposition. With their political base emerging from the support of minorities and backward classes, SP, RJD and BSP are determined to fiercely oppose it. Describing the bill as “political dacoity,” which “won’t be tolerated,” Lalu Prasad told media persons in presence of Mulayam Singh: “We will use our democratic rights fully whatever the consequences. They (the government) can get us thrown out.”

12-11

Babari Masjid: As Politicians “Clash,” People Remain Calm

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Politically, the Indian public appears to be far more matured and secular than the politicians. This was marked by the 17th anniversary of demolition of Babari Masjid (December 6) being witness to primarily only political activists expressing their respective stands on the controversial issue, while the common people decided to remain away from the same. It would be erroneous to assume that the people have been unaware about politicians raking the issue again. The issue hit the headlines recently with the Liberhan Commission report being tabled in the Parliament (November 24). The commission led by retired Indian Supreme Court Judge M.S. Liberhan was formed on December 16, 1992 to investigate the demolition of the mosque on December 6, 1992 and the accompanying riots. It has taken the commission 17 years, 48 extensions, to finally submit the report to PM Manmohan Singh on June 30, 2009. A day ahead of it being tabled in the Parliament, contents of the commission’s report leaked to the media leading the politicians to level charges against each other over the leak and also the demolition.

Despite the legislators raising a row over the issue in the Parliament as well as through the media, the Indian people have not allowed themselves to be provoked to a stage of any communal frenzy in any part of the country. Though the 17th anniversary was witness to demonstrations in different parts of the country, including the capital city and Ayodhya, by and large, the day passed peacefully. While several Muslim organizations observed the anniversary as “Black Day,” the Hindu organizations marked it as “Victory Day.” There was tight security in Delhi and other parts of the country.

Ironically, though Parliament Street saw different groups assembling to voice their demands on the issue, they confined themselves to their associates and did not clash with each other. Among groups which voiced their stands at Parliament Street were All India Babari Masjid Rebuilding Committee (AIBMRC), Popular Front of India (PFI), Shiv Sena and Hindu Mahasabha. While the Muslim groups (AIBMRC and PFI) demanded action against those responsible for the demolition, Shiv Sena and Hindu Mahasabha claimed that Liberhan Commission’s report would only strengthen their movement.   

“Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani and others mentioned as culprits should be arrested and tried on a fast-track basis. Legal action is necessary against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena clique because they violated the law of the land and caused great harm to the secular image of India,” AIBMRC President Mohammed Younus Siddiqui said. The AIBMRC also submitted a memo to President Pratibha Patil for “time-bound and binding” decision on the Ayodhya issue by Supreme Court under Article 138-B of the Constitution.

During its demonstration at Jantar Mantar, the PFI demanded that Election Commission should cancel BJP’s recognition as a political party for its role in the Babari Masjid’s demolition. “The ECI should scrap BJP’s political recognition. We also demand that the Congress fulfill its promise of rebuilding the mosque,” PFI leader K.M. Shareef said.

Blaming the Congress-led government for playing with “sentiments of Hindu community,” Pandit Nandkishore Mishra, national working president of Hindu Mahasabha said: “Our movement has become stronger in the wake of the Liberhan Commission’s report being made public, which is nothing but a bundle of lies.”
The week began with the Lok Sabha debating on the controversial issue (December 7) under the non-voting Rule 193.  The debate had been postponed twice earlier due to non-availability of the Hindi version of Liberhan Commission’s report. Before the debate began, Speaker Meira Kumar asked the members to present their views in the most “dispassionate manner,” with it being a “politically sensitive” issue. Ironically, while the Lok Sabha was witness to parliamentarians going overboard to assert their stand on the issue, the people at large displayed a passive approach towards the same. The people have apparently sensed that irrespective of what the different political parties’ stand is on the controversial issue, their primary aim is to exploit it politically. Thus as politicians debated strongly and passionately in the Parliament, the common Indian remained unmoved by this political drama despite it being given a new turn by Liberhan Commission’s report.

Initiating the debate, Gurudas Dasgupta (Communist Party of India) wondered as to how to could a fundamentalist party lead to the demolition despite the Congress being in power at the center. When the mosque was demolished, Uttar Pradesh government was led by BJP, with Kalyan Singh (then a BJP member) as the chief minister, while P.V. Narsimha Rao (Congress) was the Prime Minister. “We were put to shame (by the demolition),” Dasgupta said. The demolition was a result of meticulous planning, he said. The nation wanted to know, he said:  “Why the disaster could not be prevented? Why the criminals could not be held in jail? Why did the political system fail?”

During his speech, BJP president dismissed Liberhan Commission report as a “political document” which was “baseless, biased and prejudiced” based on assumptions and presumptions.

Congress leader Jagdambika Pal laid stress on need of taking steps to ensure that such a tragic and shameful incident does not take place again. He blamed BJP for exploiting the issue not for religious reasons but to consolidate its vote bank by provoking communal fire. “It is necessary to protect our pillars of secularism and democracy. Besides, there are bigger issues like that of unemployment, staring in the face of the nation,” Pal said.

The hard-core political rivals in Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had a similar stand on the issue. Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP) held both the BJP and Congress responsible for the demolition. BSP leader Dara Singh Chohan went a step further, holding both BJP and Congress as responsible for the demolition and alleging that they had prepared the Liberhan Commission report jointly.

Seventeen years have passed, during which the Indian voters have matured enough not to be taken for a ride by communal passion being raised by politicians over a highly sensitive issue. Sadly, as displayed by the uproar raised in the Parliament over the Liberhan Commission report, the politicians have not yet learnt this!

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Political Battle Over Regional Vs National Identity/Languages

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)  India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Abu Asim Azmi’s decision to take oath in Hindi in Maharashtra Vidhan Bhavan on November 9 has not only enhanced his political importance but has also proved politically damaging for his rivals. Defying Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS)’s diktat for taking oath only in Marathi, Azmi took oath in Hindi. Though the few minutes, during which Azmi was manhandled and slapped by MNS activists inside the Vidhan Bhavan for taking oath in Hindi must have been traumatic for the SP leader, they have earned him substantial media coverage, adding to his political stature within his own party and across the country.

Amid the backdrop of SP faring poorly in recently held by polls, the worst shock of which is defeat of SP chief Mulayam Singh’s daughter-in-law Dimple from Firozabad, the party apparently is counting on Azmi’s newly earned popularity to help the party improve its political image. Dimple was defeated by Congress candidate Raj Babbar by more than 85,000 votes. The party’s poor performance is linked with it having lost Muslim votes because of its alliance with Kalyan Singh, who was the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and a member of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), when the Babari Masjid was demolished in 1992. The SP has thus decided to distance itself from Kalyan Singh and felicitate Azmi to gain the lost Muslim-base.

“Azmi upheld the prestige of the national language in the anti-Hindi environment prevailing in Maharashtra,” the SP stated at its meeting in Lucknow (November 14). Signaling that SP’s political friendship with Kalyan Singh had ceased, Mulayam Singh said:  “He is not a part of the Samajwadi Party. Kalyan Singh himself says he is not part of any party.”

Interestingly, the political limelight gained by Azmi on taking oath in Hindi has prompted quite a few Marathi celebrities to clarify their stand on their regional and national identity. Cricket maestro Sachin Tendulkar said: “Mumbai belongs to India. That is how I look at it. And I am a Maharashtrian and I am extremely proud of that but I am an Indian first.” (November 13) Tendulkar’s stand has certainly added some fire to the fight on “Maratha-issue” and also prompted more politicians to add their voice to it. 

Criticizing Tendulkar strongly for his remarks, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said in his party mouthpiece, Samana: “By making these remarks, you have got run-out on the pitch of Marathi psyche. You were not even born when the Marathi Manoos got Mumbai and 105 Marathi people sacrificed their lives to get Mumbai.”
Though it is not the first time that Thackeray has made such comments, they have invited greater political attention than before because of “Marathi-identity” being strongly in news.  Not surprisingly, Tendulkar has won strong applause from various political leaders for his comments. “His statement has been made in the true sportsman spirit. Though he is a Maharashtrian, he plays for the country. This (Tendulkar’s comment) will unite the entire country,” according to Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan. 

Among others who expressed appreciation for Tendulkar’s remarks and also congratulated him for taking the stand are Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Minority Affairs Minister (central cabinet) Salman Khurshid and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad. Thackeray has been “clean-bowled” by Tendulkar, Khurshid said.

Thackeray’s criticism of Tendulkar has not won any support from the saffron brigade. Taking a guarded stand on the controversy raised in Maharashtra over “Marathi,” without specifically referring to the issue, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat said at a public rally in Pune: “There are certain issues of Marathi-speaking people and agitations on this can be justified. But it should not be at the cost of national integration and harmony.” (November 15)  Declining to question Tendulkar’s stand, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said in New Delhi: “If Maharashtrian says he is proud of being a Maharashtrian as well as an Indian, then I find this statement absolutely correct.” (November 16)

Welcoming Tendulkar’s stand, Azmi said: “I admire Sachin Tendulkar to have not got cowed down by Shiv Sena’s intimidation tactics and having proudly declared that he was an Indian first. Sachin’s remark must make the Sena ruffians understand that after all, Maharashtra is like any other state – a part of the Indian nation.”  Azmi is also hopeful that his party would be able to regain the support of Muslim-vote. On this, he said: “I welcome my party president’s decision to distance himself from the man who was responsible for demolition of the Babari Masjid. I wonder what had led him to shake hands with Kalyan Singh, but thankfully realization dawned on my Netaji (Mulayam Singh), who finally decided to part ways with that man.” “I am sure that Muslims who had chosen to distance themselves from the SP because of this reason, would once again return to stand by Mulayam, whose contribution to the cause of minorities was unmatched,” Azmi said. SP has a long political innings to play, during which it certainly is counting on projecting Azmi as its Muslim face. It is to be watched whether the limelight gained by Azmi on taking oath in Hindi will help turn the political trend in SP’s favor or not. 

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Vande Mataram Fatwa: Hardly Controversial

November 12, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service India Correspondent (MMNS)

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding all the reservations and bias, they entertain against each other, several groups representing extremist sections of Indian Hindus and Muslims may be blamed equally for needlessly making noise over their stand on the Indian national song- Vande Mataram. The controversy hit the headlines with Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH), a Muslim organization issuing a fatwa against recitation of Vande Mataram, as according to them several stanzas were against their religious principles. The JUH issued the fatwa at its 30th general session held at Deoband (November 3). It did not take long for extremist Hindu groups, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv Sena, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal to immediately protest against the JUH-fatwa. Several leaders associated with saffron brigade also labeled as not singing the Vande Mataram as an act of treason.

Clarifying his stand on the issue, Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid questioned both the JUH-fatwa and the saffron brigade’s stand on it being compulsory for all Indians, including Muslims, to sing Vande Mataram. “During the independence movement, all national leaders, including leaders of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind Hind sat together and resolved that some stanzas of Vande Mataram would be treated as the national song and would be sung voluntarily. Nobody was forced to sing it and this is something which was there in the resolutions of both JUH and the Congress party,” Khurshid said. Just as there was no need for JUH to raise the issue again, as it had been already settled earlier, no individual could be forced to sing the song, he said. “I don’t know why this issue is being raised again,” he commented.

Vande Mataram, song was a part of the novel written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay called Anand Math, published in 1882. When India achieved independence in 1947, it was expected to become the national anthem. Objections raised by Muslim leaders, led to the song (Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak Jaya), written by Rabindranath Tagore become the national anthem.

Considering the fact that issue was resolved several decades ago, there was no reason for any fatwa against it. It would have been different case altogether, had JUH issued the decree in response against any of their members or associates being forced to sing the song. Similarly, the protest raised by extremist Hindu groups would have carried some relevance were the JUH-fatwa legally or morally binding on the entire Indian Muslim community. Or if the fatwa was suggestive of their showing disrespect to the national song. In this context, Vande Mataram is not the only national issue over which controversies have been raised time and again. Officially, though Hindi is India’s national language, it is not binding for government work across the country. Each state uses its regional language, with Hindi being the official language of less than 10 states. Bengali is West Bengal’s official language, Tamil of Tamil Nadu, Marathi – Maharashtra, Gujarati – Gujarat, Telugu – Andhra Pradesh and so forth.

The key point here is that the decision of various states of not using Hindi as their official language is not regarded as an act of treason and/or their showing disrespect to the national language. So why should questions be raised regarding the JUH-fatwa on Vande Mataram? Just as all Indians cannot be forced to use only Hindi, why should hue and cry be raised if some individuals or even groups decide not to sing Vande Mataram? It would have been a different case altogether, if the same was suggestive of such national symbols being abused.

Besides, it is indeed surprising that a lot of noise has been made over JUH-fatwa. One organization’s fatwa has prompted critics to say that it reflects the backwardness of Indian Muslims, their suffering from leadership crisis and their life being still being confined to dictates of their clerics. These points would have had some credibility if JUH was representative of the entire Indian Muslim community. It is not. The error lies in the critics confining their approach to analyzing issues linked with Indian Muslims only to their stereotyped approach, strongly suggestive of the negative bias they still hold against the country’s largest minority community. Just as neither the BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena or any extremist organization linked with saffron brigade or known to project its Hindutva-agenda, be held as representative of the entire Indian Hindu community, no Islamic group – even if claims to – be regarded as the voice of all Muslims in India. The error lies in assuming a few select groups to represent one whole religious community. How can the regional, religious, casteist and other ethnic factors the Indian people across the country are divided into be ignored? This is strongly reflected by numerous political parties, spread across the country. Difference in political culture from north to south, east to west and from state to state also stands marked by the dress, language, even the variety in food, used by Indians. It is indeed amazing, that while making noise against the JUH-fatwa on Vande Mataram, the critics virtually ignored facts such as that organization does not represent the entire Indian Muslim community and singing it is not binding on all Indians, just as using Hindi as the national language is not. The issue, hardly controversial, has been made to appear as such by noise raised over it!

11-47

Indian Voters’ Shrewd & Stunning Verdict

May 21, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2009-05-20T124442Z_01_DEL200_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-ELECTION-SUPPORT

PM-elect Manmohan Singh (R) addresses the media next to Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi (L) after their meeting with President Pratibha Patil in New Delhi May 20, 2009.  India’s Congress party-led coalition has the support of 322 lawmakers, Singh said Wednesday, giving it a clear majority in a new government.     

Reuters/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI:  Definitely, the average Indian voter has proved to be far more intelligent than sharp political analysts and key political parties probably envisaged him/her to be. The electoral verdict spells a return to power of not just the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) but also a defeat of controversial as well as highly sensitive communal issues raised by certain politicians. Besides, the poll verdict also indicates the major role that can be played by average Indian voter’s decision of not being taken for a ride by the tall promises spelt out by politicians in the fray. Not surprisingly, while the Congress leaders are celebrating their return to power with a massive lead over their rivals, the others are pondering are what could be responsible for their dismal performance. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance has won 261 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, with it being only a few seats short of the magic number-272 needed to claim majority. National Democratic Alliance trails behind with 157 seats, the Third Front – 59 and Fourth Front securing only 27. While the Congress in UPA has bagged 205 seats, the BJP has managed only 116. The left front bloc in Third Front has won just 24. In the Fourth Front, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has failed to win a single seat, with its own leader Ram Vilas Paswan suffering defeat, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)’s score has fallen to four, while Samajwadi Party (SP) has managed to win only 23.

Compared to 2004 results, while Congress has gained more seats, most parties have fallen significantly short of what they gained earlier. In 2004, Congress won 148, the SP-30, RJD-23 and the left bloc – 61. The BJP has gained marginally as it won 110 seats in 2004. The performance of Congress in Uttar Pradesh has been phenomenal, where while in 2004 it could not win even 10 seats, this time it has bagged 21. Crediting party leader Rahul Gandhi for improving the Congress’ score in UP, Jyotiraditya Scindia said: “All credit goes to Rahul Gandhi for single handedly reviving the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. What worked was the combination of Manmohan Singh’s policies and Rahul Gandhi’s thrust on party cadres and youth.”

It is also held that SP lost Muslim votes to Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) by having aligned with Kalyan Singh, who as the then UP chief minister is held responsible for demolition of Babari Masjid in Ayodhya (December 6, 1992). There is also the view that by reaching out to Kalyan, SP managed to attract votes of Dalits and Yadavs and thus could win 23 in UP. Revival of Congress together with SP’s political strategy prevented a substantial chunk of votes from Brahmins, Muslims as well as Dalits going to BSP. The BSP leader, UP Chief Minister Mayawati was apparently banking on winning around 50 percent of seats from UP, which sends 80 legislators to Lok Sabha.  It has won 20, increasing its 2004-score by just four seats.

Congress has also gained, with its Trinamool Congress (TC) winning 19 seats in West Bengal. In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress has won 33, Maharashtra- 17, Rajasthan-20, Kerala-13, Madhya Pradesh –12, Gujarat- 11 and Delhi- 7. The BJP has managed to win 19 in Karnataka, Gujarat -15, Madhya Pradesh- 16, UP-10, Maharashtra – 9 Rajasthan- 4, and 12 in Bihar, where its key ally Janata Dal-United has won 20 seats.

Interestingly, neither Congress nor of any its old allies have fared well in Bihar. Differences over seat sharing with Congress in Bihar, prompted RJD, SP and LJP to float the Fourth Front, that has secured only four seats. There is a view, that common Biharis, including the Muslims, have been “taken for a ride for too long by tall promises made RJD and LJP leaders. So they decided to teach them a hard lesson in these elections.” With RJD’s own score confined to four, that of LJP – zero, in addition to this being a hard hit for their political image, both the parties have lost the numerical importance they earlier held for UPA.

Conceding defeat, BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said: “We accept voters’ mandate with full respect. If we have an overall view of the trends, then we see that we have performed below our expectations as we had expected our tally to improve from the last elections.”

Accepting that Congress has performed better than expected, CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat said: “The CPI-M and left parties have suffered a major setback in these elections. This necessitates a serious examination of the reasons for the party’s poor performance.” “The Congress and its allies have succeeded all over the country. They have done well on the platform they provided to the voters,” he said. Ruling out the option of left supporting the Congress-led UPA, Karat said that they would sit in the opposition.

“Our expectations have not been fulfilled, we admit. Congress is in a position to form the government. Let them form it,” Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary A.B. Bardhan said. On prospects of left supporting the Congress, Bardhan said: “Why should they need our support? They don’t need our support. We will sit in the opposition and fight for the cause of the poor.”

Poor performance of BJP and the left bloc is also attributed to both groups suffering from a leadership-crisis. During these elections, while BJP was devoid of its chief campaigner – former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the left bloc had to manage without Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) comrade Jyoti Basu. Both have retired from politics due to health reasons. In West Bengal, unlike in 2004, when CPI-M won more than 20 seats, this time it has got only 9, while its rival TC’s score has increased from one to 19.

Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Sharad Yadav holds BJP-candidate Varun Gandhi’s “hate speeches” and projection of Modi as future prime minister responsible for NDA’s dismal performance. “It may be right or wrong or he (Varun’s) might have denied, but his statement has caused immense damage. His statement was unconstitutional. It was against the country’s unity and must have affected the polls,” Yadav said. Terming projection of Modi as prime minister as a political mistake, Yadav said: “It was a factor. When the issue had come up, it created confusion among the people’s mind. Since the NDA had already declared a Prime Ministerial candidate (L K Advani) unanimously, the issue should have been dismissed immediately.”

Yadav’s comments suggest that in addition to its own campaign, Congress has fared well because of wrong strategies pursued by rivals in the fray. While politicians have yet to figure out causes of their defeat, the voter has shrewdly declared his verdict- giving all in the race to ponder over where did they fail. Undeniably, had Congress checked the seats won by BJP and its NDA-allies in states like Karnataka, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, it may have been able to form a single-party government. Though the Congress has fared well, it still has to deliberate on what prevented voters from extending it greater support!

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