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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Muslims Lose Trust In Congress Party

October 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2008-10-17T080525Z_01_DEL35_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) arrives with security personnel to attend the opening day of the second-leg of the monsoon session of the Indian Parliament in New Delhi October 17, 2008.

REUTERS/B Mathur

NEW DELHI: Ironically, the questions raised over the role of the government, media and the police in the so-called “Batla House encounter” has pushed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh into an unenviable position. Cutting across religious differences, while Muslims have questioned his “silence,” many Hindus have wondered at how the Prime Minister who had threatened to quit office over the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal has chosen to remain quiet over innocent Muslims being targeted as “suspect” terrorists. Alarmed at Muslims being disillusioned with him and his party, Singh tried assuring them last week that his government was looking into every possible way of restoring confidence of minorities (October 18). He said this in context of the Batla House encounter as well as the series of attacks on Christians in Orissa and Karnataka. Considering that he gave this assurance to a delegation of Muslim leaders from his own party, the move was apparently deliberately planned to try and convince the Muslim community at large that they should not lose hope in his government. With assembly elections due in six states in the coming weeks and less than a year left for national elections, political parties in the race are trying their best to prop up their image among the voters.

The delegation had earlier called on Congress chief, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chief Sonia Gandhi. Among others, the members included Salman Khurshid, K. Rahman Khan, Mohsina Kidwai, C.K. Jaffer Sharief, Imran Kidwai (Congress minority department chief) and Anees Durrani (minority department secretary).

“The Prime Minister expressed concern over the incidents and said that he would look seriously into every possible way to restore the confidence of the minorities and that he will take a decision soon on the issue,” Khurshid said. Singh, however, did not give any commitment on whether he would pursue the demand made by several other Muslim delegations for a judicial probe into the Batla House encounter.

Despite there being limited prospects of Singh’s “assurance” finding much favor among the Muslim voters, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have not refrained from blaming his party and its allies from indulging in the game of vote-bank politics. While addressing a party rally in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), senior BJP leader L.K. Advani said: “The Congress and its allies are engaged in the dirty game of vote bank politics. This has turned out to be a greater evil for the country than the issue of terrorism” (October 18). The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate also said that the UPA government had no right to continue in power as it had “failed miserably” in checking terrorism. Asserting that as it is possible only for BJP to combat this menace, the country needs a government headed by it. “The country has seen enough of terror attacks. Now, it needs a party that can not only combat this, but also root out the menace,” Advani said.

The Indian Muslims at large along with regional parties, with a secular bent, particularly the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP), as developments suggest, have no inclination to give either Congress or BJP a chance to assume power in 2009 polls. The Batla House encounter followed by failure of the Congress-led government to take any constructive action in response to appeals and memorandums submitted by several leaders appears to have completely disillusioned the Muslim community. While they have lost trust in the Congress, they cannot afford to turn to BJP – which has played anti-Muslim card time and again.  ”Our youngsters have been killed in the name of terrorism. We had been associated with the Congress for decades, but now the same party has ditched us,” Akram (34), a resident of Okhla (Delhi), said. “We don’t want the Congress, but we don’t want the BJP either,” is the common comment made by Muslims of the area.

Lashing at the government for targeting only minorities, in its anti-terrorism drive, at a meeting of Muslim leaders, clerics and heads of Muslim organizations, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari said: “The government should proclaim the definition of terrorism. Is fake encounter not terrorism? Is it not an act of terrorism to burn alive Muslims in Gujarat,” he asked. “Is it not the act of terrorism to burn villages, mosques and churches in different parts of the country? And if it is the act of terrorism, then what is the meaning of alertness of the government and its security agencies only on bomb blasts whereas it overlooks other incidents of terrorism?” (October 14).

Not surprisingly, amid this backdrop, the SP and BSP members are trying their best to cash on the opportunity and turn the Muslims in their favor. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, BSP-chief, Mayawati called an all-India convention to discuss problems faced by Muslims (Lucknow, October 13). She blamed the Congress for having failed to combat terrorism and also for not taking sufficient steps for development of Muslims. “After independence, the Congress has ruled the country for nearly 48 years. During this long span, it never implemented any of the welfare schemes it announced for Muslims or other minority communities,” she said. At the gathering, Mayawati announced allocation of financial schemes to help raise educational standards of Muslims, from school to the university level. “An Arabic-Persian university will be set up in Lucknow. Several primary schools, junior high-schools and government secondary schools will be established in Muslim-dominated areas,” she said.

Not to be left behind, SP leaders have kept reiterating their demand for a judicial probe into the Batla House encounter. The SP plans to reserve as many as 40 percent of its seats for Muslim candidates for Delhi assembly elections. Since the Batla House encounter, SP leader Amar Singh has visited Okhla several times and addressed gatherings there to convince the Muslim populace that they should support his party. In his opinion, “The Muslim community is realizing how depending on any other party is a suicide. Congress has only used them to come to power and during Mayawati rule Muslim youth have been arrested from her state.” The latter point refers to police having made several arrests in Azamgarh, after the Batla House encounter.

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