India Salutes Comrade Basu’s Memory

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Jyoti Basu is no more but the incomparable stamp left by communist patriarch on politics of the country and West Bengal cannot be ever erased away. Ninety-five year old Basu breathed his last this Sunday at a hospital in Kolkata, where he was admitted earlier this month after he complained of uneasiness. Described as a “political legend,” Basu towered over West Bengal’s politics as the longest serving Chief Minister, for a record period of 23 years, from 1977 till 2000. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led state government, with Basu as Chief Minister, spelt emergence of Left Front for the first time at the helm in West Bengal.

Basu is credited for championing the cause of farmers, giving them a political voice through the Panchayati Raj (decentralization of political power to the village-level) and by effectively implementing land reforms. He is remembered for restoring political stability in West Bengal which had faced severe disturbance in 1970s from Maoist insurgency. His political policy of forming a coalition government in West Bengal is there to stay at the national level for perhaps a long time to come. It led to like-minded parties come together as a third alternative to Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in late eighties and nineties. Though the third alternative did not make much of a political impact, the strategy of forming coalition governments remains in the lead till date. Initially known to be strongly anti-Congress, Basu’s secular inclination led to the Left Front give external support to the Congress-led coalition government in 2004 to keep BJP out of power.

Secular ideals followed by Basu restricted communal forces from entering West Bengal. This stood out markedly when as the Chief Minister, Basu played a firm role in not allowing any disturbance in West Bengal when anti-Sikh violence surfaced following assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and when communal riots spread across the nation over demolition of Babari Masji by extremist Hindus in December 1992.

Though a leftist to the core, who was first introduced to this ideology while studying law in United Kingdom, Basu is also remembered for not being averse to capitalism and attracting foreign investment to West Bengal. On this, he stated: “We want capital, both foreign and domestic. After all we are working in a capitalist system. Socialism is not possible now.”

Not surprisingly, the political icon was close to becoming the country’s first Left-bloc Prime Minister in 1996, as the head of United Front coalition government. His party, however, declined to take over power, a decision to which he yielded even though he criticized it as “historic blunder.” The CPI-M viewed his criticism as his “personal” opinion. Though he never held the office of the Prime Minister, Basu is remembered for being a guide on several crucial issues to many prime ministers. During the late eighties, he succeeded in convincing late premier Rajiv Gandhi on forming a hill council to restore peace in Darjeeling, where an agitation was on for a separate state.

In her condolence message, addressed to his son, Chandan Basu, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi stated: “We continued to count on him for his wise counsel even after he retired from political life.” “Together with Indiraji and Rajivji, I held him in the highest esteem. I have warmest memories of our many meetings – of his charm and grace and his deep humanity.” Describing him as “a tireless crusader against communalism, fundamentalism, casteism and all kinds of obscurantism; a warrior for social justice and equality and for the eradication of poverty; a true patriot who always put the national interest above all else,” Gandhi said: “He was a towering figure of our national life, whose noble vision, superb judgment and depth of experience was valued greatly.”

“In the years after he relinquished the Chief Ministership, he continued to be looked upon as an elder statesman, whose advice was sought by many political leaders in the state,” President Pratibha Patil said in her condolence message. “In his passing away, the nation has lost a veteran and an eminent public figure,” Patil said.

Expressing grief, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in his condolence message that Basu’s “passing away” “marks the end of an era in annals of Indian politics.” “He was a powerful regional voice in the national political scene and helped to strengthen Indian federalism,” Singh said. “On many occasions in my career, I turned to him for his sagacious advice on all matters, whether they related to West Bengal or to issues of national importance. His advice was statesmanlike but always pragmatic and based on unshakable values that he championed throughout his political career,” Singh said.

The condolence resolution of CPI-M Polit Bureau expressed “profound grief at passing away of Comrade Basu.” Though he stepped down from Chief Ministership in 2000 due to health reasons, “he continued to work and discharge responsibilities till the end of his life.” “The Left movement in the country was fortunate in having such an accomplished and dedicated leader at helm of affairs in West Bengal and in leadership of CPI-M for such a long time… The Polit Bureau salutes the memory of our beloved departed comrade.”

Tributes and condolence messages poured in from all over the country, with few states declaring a state mourning as a mark of respect. West Bengal government announced a three-day state mourning. Expressing grief, former prime minister and senior BJP leader Atal Bihar Vajpayee said that his demise had “ended a chapter in country’s politics.”

12-4

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!

11-51

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!

11-22