BJP Distances Itself From Anti-Muslim Hindutva

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Ironically, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been forced to deliberate on the political efficacy of the very strategy, which till not too long ago was projected by the party leaders as crucial to attract attention, media coverage and electoral victory. The party has been compelled to question its own approach towards its communal politicking because of its failure to return to power in Lok Sabha polls and also win lesser number of seats than it did in 2004 polls. Not surprisingly, at the party’s two-day National Executive meeting (June 20-21), the party decided to gradually change its political strategy. It was evident by the manner in which several party leaders held Varun Gandhi’s “hate speeches” responsible for the BJP’s defeat. Varun, first time legislator from Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh), faces legal trouble for having made highly communal speeches targeting the Muslim community while campaigning.

At the end of the meet, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani said: “At our office-bearers meeting, two eminent colleagues of ours affirmed their faith in Hindutva but cautioned against any narrow, bigoted, anti-Muslim interpretation being put on it.”

During the meeting, Varun’s mother, Maneka Gandhi claimed that her son must not made a “scapegoat” and held responsible for the party’s poor performance. She faced strong criticism from BJP’s Muslim leaders, who hold Varun’s “hate speeches” as responsible for BJP’s defeat. During the “open debate,” when Shahnawaz Hussain expressed his displeasure at constant leakage of party’s internal matters, Maneka interrupted him, sources said. She claimed that Hussain discussed party’s internal matters with media most often. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, another Muslim face of BJP, came to Hussain’s defense saying that Maneka had spoken enough on Saturday. During war of words, Hussain and Naqvi blamed her son’s “hate speeches” for being responsible for party’s poor performance. To control exchange of verbal missiles, BJP president Rajnath Singh intervened and asked Maneka not to speak out of turn.

In BJP Muslim leaders opinion, Varun’s hate speeches led to polarization of votes in UP along religious lines, because of which the party lost several seats. The Muslims in BJP are also angry at Maneka for stating earlier that as Muslims were not BJP’s “core constituency,” her son should not be held responsible for party’s poor performance. Her claim that “Muslims do not vote for BJP” was also refuted by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi and Maharashtra BJP leader Gopinath Munde.

Maneka was apparently the only party member who spoke in defense of Varun, who attended the meeting the first day and stayed away on the second. Distancing itself from Varun’s “hate speeches,” labeled by his critics as “Pilibhit brand of Hindutva,” the party adopted a political resolution with a new emphasis on its approach towards people belonging to other religions. “Theocracy or any form of bigotry is alien to our ethos. Hinduism or, Hindutva is not to be understood or, construed narrowly confined only to religious practices or expressed in extreme forms,” the resolution stated. It emphasized that giving equal treatment to all regardless of their personal faith is integral to Hindutva.

Irrespective of whether Varun’s “hate speeches” were responsible for BJP’s defeat, the poll debacle has certainly forced veteran party leaders to accept that to move ahead politically, the party has no option but to give more importance to Indian secularism. Besides, with Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) reports having confirmed that CDs of “hate speeches” Varun made while campaigning in Pilibhit on March 7 and 8 were “not doctored” only spell greater isolation for him within his own party and political circles. Varun had claimed that CDs of his speeches were “doctored.” Defending her son, Maneka rejected the FSL report. “The entire tape is doctored, words have been interchanged…We will answer and prove in the court that the tapes are doctored,” she said on sidelines of the BJP meeting.

The FSL report, according to Pilibhit police, has paved the way for completion of investigation against Varun. Arrested in Pilibhit on March 28, on charges of making inflammatory communal remarks, Varun was released on bail from jail in Etah district on April 16, after he gave an assurance that he would not make any inflammatory speeches.

Undeniably, going by party leaders’ past record, it would be unfair to hold only and only Varun and his “hate speeches” as responsible for the party’s electoral defeat. As expressed by Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari: “Forensic lab reports have political implications, they have legal implications, and eventually it’s for courts to decide. But the larger political implication is that it has vindicated what this whole country has believed from day one — that Varun Gandhi, when he was uttering those hateful sentences, belittling and reducing the minority, was indeed reflecting the core ideology and the voice which emanates from the soul of the Sangh Parivar.”  Notwithstanding the hard reality that are many in the party who still have to answer for the role they played earlier in fueling communal violence for political gains, the BJP appears to have finally woken up to the strong truth: its communal politicking has little appeal for the Indian voter.

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Varun In Jail: His Communal Strategy For Political Gains Misfires

April 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2009-03-28T151939Z_01_PIL17_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-GANDHI-ARREST

Policemen clear the way for the police van in which Varun Gandhi, great-grandson of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and scion of a family dynasty, is sitting after he was arrested in Pilibhit, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 28, 2009. Police in northern India on Saturday arrested Gandhi over allegations he made inflammatory comments against Muslims. 

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI: Political drama and media-hype raised over highly communal and inflammatory remarks allegedly made by Varun Gandhi while campaigning in Pilibhit as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate for Lok Sabha polls carry a far more significant message than apparent. Undeniably, a primary motive behind the entire drama staged by Varun and his political patrons is to push him and the party into political limelight. Besides, Varun allegedly made provocative comments targeting the minority communities (including Muslims and Sikhs) to create a polarization of votes along religious lines in Pilibhit to attract the majority Hindu community to BJP’s side. Clearly, Varun tried his hand at the old-tainted communal card, which had incited public to the stage of riots over Ayodhya-issue, pushing BJP to the center stage as a national party from late 1980s onwards. The political novice apparently remained oblivious of the hard reality that the Indian voter has matured a lot over the past two decades. It cannot be ignored that 2002 Gujarat-carnage played a major role in pushing the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government out of power in 2004 elections. The anti-incumbency factor played a key role in helping Congress return to power, leading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Varun has also given little importance to the hard reality that BJP does not have as strong base in UP as it did earlier, which is responsible for Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati winning the state assembly elections in 2007 with a sweeping majority.

The situation would have been different were the national and/or UP government led by BJP. There is no denying that with her eye on capturing the prime ministerial position, UP Chief Minister Mayawati has no intention to agitate the minority community in UP and elsewhere. Hype raised by Varun’s political colleagues over his arrest and charges framed against him have ironically not played the part they probably aimed for. Nothing else can be a stronger indicator of this than the fact that neither Varun’s comments nor the subsequent developments aroused any communal frenzy to the stage of riots in Pilibhit. Yes, law and order in Pilibhit was put to risk when Varun allegedly made the inflammatory comments and when he courted arrest. The clash, the day he courted arrest (March 28) was between the saffron brigade activists and the police. This certainly defeats the logic exercised by Varun and his supporters to try inciting communal frenzy in Pilibhit.

If Varun assumed that by courting arrest for a few hours or days, he would return to the political field as a hero for his radical supporters, he has been proved wrong. This is marked by UP government slapping the stringent National Security Act (NSA) against Varun, which can keep him behind bars till elections are over. Thus, dismissal of the case filed against him on violating model code of conduct and grant of bails on other charges slapped on him spelt only a minor relief for him (March 30). He was granted bail on sureties of Rs 20,000 each in two cases – one related to allegedly causing breach of peace through inflammatory speeches and the other on charge of violating prohibitory order. The NSA was invoked against him the preceding day (March 29) for making inflammatory speeches at public meetings at Dalganj and Barkhera in Pilibhit on March 7 and 8 and for giving an aggressive speech at the court gate on March 28, because of which his supporters turned violent and clashed with the police. The decision to charge him under NSA was taken at a high level meeting, presided by Mayawati. Clearly, this move signals that BJP’s rivals in UP seem prepared to counter attempts made by Varun and his supporters to incite communal frenzy for gaining political mileage by polarization of votes along religious lines.

A three-member advisory committee, comprising of one acting High Court judge and two retired judges, has been set up by Allahabad High Court to examine whether the NSA imposed on Varun is correct or not. The committee is expected to submit its report in three weeks. Till then, Varun cannot appeal against the NSA, which means that the political novice may have to contest polls from behind the bars.

While BJP leaders, including Varun’s mother Maneka have strongly criticized invoking of NSA, majority of other party leaders think otherwise. Blaming Congress and BSP for conspiring against Varun, Maneka said: “Misuse of such powerful laws is unjust to Varun and to the country. The BSP and Congress are desperate for votes. They put pressure on the authorities.” BSP’s key rival in UP, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav considers the NSA against Varun as a “tactic” of BJP and BSP to “generate sympathy” towards him. “If the BJP-BSP are not having any sort of tacit understanding, then why was Varun not arrested before the road-show?” he asked.

In the opinion of left bloc and the Congress, NSA against Varun is justified. “A very strong, tough message needed to be sent that no hate speech will be tolerated against any community and it has been sent,” Brinda Karat (Communist Party of India-Marxist) said.

“Those who break law to get votes, do divisive politics with open eyes…. They should have courage to face the law if they break it,” Congress party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said. On whether invoking NSA in Varun’s case was correct, he replied: “If the state government is of the opinion that there is a threat to public order, it (NSA) can be used…. Can there be more threat to public order?”

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