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. 

11-48

Once Bitter Rivals, Mulayam & Kalyan Patch Up

January 29, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

babri-masjid

NEW DELHI:  Kalyan Singh, once the Hindutva mascot of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was the Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister when the Babari Masjid was demolished in 1992. He has now joined hands with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), the very party that had earlier strongly criticized Kalyan for demolition of the mosque. Taking a U-turn on his earlier stand against Kalyan, Yadav said the former was not responsible for the mosque’s demolition. “He (Kalyan) did not do that. The mosque was demolished by Shiv Sena and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),” Yadav said within a few days of Kalyan quitting BJP to move closer to SP. Acknowledging that mosque’s demolition was Kalyan’s “moral” responsibility as he was the then UP chief minister, Yadav said: “Kalyan now represents the downtrodden and working-class and he has always been a supporter of their issues. We cannot call him extremist now.” On their being bitter political rivals earlier, Yadav said: “We were never enemies but opposed each other, as we have always been in opposite parties” (January 25).

On his part, suggesting a negotiated settlement on the disputed Ayodhya-issue, Kalyan said: “All concerned parties, including prominent Muslim clerics, saints and sadhus, intellectuals, historians and archaeologists, should sit together and find out an amicable solution to the dispute keeping in mind that the sentiments of no group or community are hurt.”

Ayodhya-issue is not responsible for Kalyan’s decision to resign from BJP. Announcing his decision to resign from all party posts in BJP, Kalyan said: “I am feeling suffocated in the party and it is impossible and humiliating to continue” (January 20). Clarifying that he had never asked for party ticket for his son or his supporters, Kalyan said that the BJP had ignored him while preparing candidates’ list from UP for Lok Sabha elections. “No one consulted me while preparing a poll candidates’ list for 80 constituencies. I just wanted Bulandshahr seat but they offered me ticket from Etah, which I have returned to party president Rajnath Singh,” he said.

Kalyan is angry with the BJP for nominating Ashok Pradhan from Bulandshahr. He holds Pradhan as responsible for sabotaging his son Rajveer Singh’s chances in assembly elections two years ago from Diboi seat in Aligarh. The preceding day, Yadav had said that Kalyan’s son was welcome to fight on a ticket from SP. When asked to comment on this, Kalyan said: “I would like to thank him for that. We will see.” Rajveer was inducted into SP and appointed its national general secretary, the following day.

Yadav is hopeful that alliance with Kalyan will swing the Dalit-vote in their favor and create a dent in the support enjoyed by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which at present heads the UP government under Chief Minister Mayawati.

The U-turn in Yadav’s attitude towards Kalyan has angered quite a few Muslim leaders within SP. Azam Khan, known as an important Muslim leader of SP, has strongly opposed Yadav’s decision to join hands with Kalyan. “This is just not acceptable to me. Kalyan Singh is a hardcore RSS man who was directly responsible for the demolition of the Babari Masjid. How can I brush shoulders with a man like him? What has led Mulayam Singhji to go for such an alignment?”

Saleem Sherwani, who has been elected to Lok Sabha five times, voiced his opposition to the “Kalyan deal” by expressing his decision to contest the Budaun seat as an independent candidate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Sherwani is disillusioned with Yadav at his decision to hand over Budaun seat to his nephew Dharmendra Yadav. Though his nephew won the last election from Mainpuri, he earned a bad name there for ignoring the constituency and only allegedly furthering his personal interests. SP chief apparently decided to hand Budaun to his nephew as the constituency has 316,000 Yadav votes and around 290,000 Muslim votes. Sherwani’s confidence on winning the seat as an independent rests on his being favored by both the sections.

Muslim leaders within BSP have criticized Yadav’s tie-up with Kalyan to win the Muslim-vote. “We have always been calling bluff the Mulayam Singh Yadav’s claims of secularism. By joining hands with Kalyan Singh, he has shown his true colors,” BSP national general secretary and senior member of UP cabinet Nasimuddin Siddiqui said while addressing a party meeting in Allahabad (January 24). “Muslims must not forget that Kalyan Singh was the very person during whose chief ministership Babari mosque was demolished. Besides, although he has resigned from the BJP he has never ever expressed regret over the incident of December 6, 1992,” Siddiqui said.

Congress has no problems with the SP forging an alliance with Kalyan. “Though it’s a historical fact that the Babari Masjid was demolished in his (Kalyan Singh) time, now if the Samajwadi Party gives ticket to him or his son (Rajvir Singh), it is between them. We don’t have any problem with the alliance,” senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh said.

With the SP-Kalyan deal, according to BJP, the Congress can no longer call itself “secular” and cannot absolve itself from joining hands with those who were involved in the Ayodhya movement. One of the accused in the Babari Masjid demolition-case, Brij Bhushan Sharan, a former BJP member was already given a Lok Sabha ticket by the SP.

Irrespective of whatever political calculations may be responsible for the SP-Kalyan deal, Muslim leaders of UP have strongly criticized it. Describing it as an ill advised move, Zafaryaab Jilani, legal advisor to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and also convener of the Babari Masjid Action Committee, said: “Let us see what explanation the SP chief will offer to the Muslims during Lok Sabha elections.” The SP will pay heavily by losing Muslim votes in Lok Sabha polls is the opinion voiced by most Muslim leaders in UP.

11-6