Battle: 1757

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Anwarul Islam

evt100507085400060We’ve all heard the cliché: ‘A shot heard around the world.’ It refers to the start of the revolutionary war in 1775 that gave birth to United States of America.  In June 23 of 1757, about eighteen years before that shot, a similar incident of epic significance occurred in a not-so-known battlefield halfway around the world in India. That case, however, is known not for the firing of a shot, but rather its withholding. The outcome of the battle of Plassey would usher in the world in which we live today.

Plassey is a place in West Bengal of present day India. It is located about twelve miles north of the city of Kolkata. The battle that took place there was between Englishman Robert Clive of East India Company and nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-daula. It was not a big battle. A few Englishmen and few hundred of the nawab’s soldiers were killed.

Instead, the real battle in Plassey was fought in a dark alley of intrigue and treachery, underscored by the incompetence of a young nawab. The actual details of the battle are unclear. Only one thing is certain: the shots that were supposed to have been fired for the nawab were not fired. The cannons under the command of his general, Mir Jafar, remained silent.

The battle mirrored the fractured, bickering ruling class of India at that time. The silence would change Bengal and India’s history. It would prove a definitive moment in world history and eventually pave the way for the domination of English speaking people in the world.

Robert Clive, later know as Baron of Plassey in England, became one of the richest person of England as a result of this battle. And that evoked some not-so-subtle jealousy from the established order of that time. He had to face parliamentarians to explain his actions. In his defence, he offered, “Consider the situation in which the victory of Plassey placed me.  A great prince was dependent on my pleasure; an opulent city lay at my mercy; its richest bankers bid against each other for my smiles, I walked through vaults which were thrown open to me alone, piled on either hand with gold and jewels. Mr. Chairman, at this moment I stand astonished at my own moderations.”

Mr. Clive did not mention about the silver of Bengal. May be he did not find it as glittering as the gold and jewels or it was stored in some other vaults. But for centuries silver and gold had found its way into Bengal as a result of its trading relation with the world. The Rupee, the currency of India, Pakistan and many other countries got its name from Rupa or silver as in known in many Indian languages.

Today, it is difficult to mention Bengal and wealth in the same sentence. At one time, however, Bengal was one of the most prosperous places in the world. Even after forty years of East India Company’s plundering, it still remained one of the two leading manufacturing centers of the world.

In 851, Arab Geographer Ibn Khurdabhbih wrote about his personal encounter with Bengal’s cotton textile and praised them for their superior beauty and fineness. These textiles of Bengal would attract merchants from around the world, who would buy its products in exchange for precious metals. Before the arrival of silver from the mines of Potosi in Bolivia of the New World, silver came from upper Burma-Yunnan mines which the rulers used to monetize their economies. In the middle of the first millennium, Bengal’s economy became monetized and silver coins became the medium of exchange.  Then the Portuguese came to Bengal in early sixteen century flushed with new world silver.

Eventually, the silver went back to Europe. Leadership of the world changed hands from Portugal and Spain to England with a brief interlude of Dutch hegemonic piracy. For the British, the taxes received from India’s peasants—who cultivated of fertile land in the Bengal Delta—would lubricate its economic and military engine. India became the captive market for British Industrial Products as punitive tariffs would destroy the local textile industry in order to make room for the products of Manchester. The directors of the East India Company became enormously rich and thus gained influence over governmental policies. As the parliament became stronger, the monarchy became weaker. 

On a military and political front, the victory of Plassey was the impetus for British mastery of the world. The British gained control of the saltpetre of Bengal, the indispensable ingredient of gunpowder. With Bengal under sole control of the East India Company, the French had to make do with an inferior domestic supply of saltpetre, resulting in a suit for peace in 1763. Ending the seven year war, it paved the way for the rise of the British supremacy in the world.

For the East India Company, the booty of Plassey was huge.  Two hundred barges loaded with silver and gold were floated from Bengal’s capital, Murshibad, to London. It is almost certain that the barges floated down the Ganges contained that silver the Portuguese brought in.  American historian Brooks Adams states a direct link between the industrial revolution and Plassey: “Very soon after Plassey, the Bengal plunder began to arrive in London, and the effect appears to have been instantaneous; for all authorities agree that the ‘industrial revolution’, the event which has divided the nineteenth century from all antecedent time, began with the year 1760.”

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Electoral Verdict & Muslims’ Success!

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Declaration of results to the five state assembly elections has certainly ended political suspense regarding the fate of candidates and parties engaged in the political battle. It is now imperative to analyse the results particularly in context of electoral success of Indian Muslims. Before elaborating on Muslims’ standing in this political phase, it is relevant to evaluate the overall performance of major parties in the race. Undeniably, the success of Trinamool Congress in alliance with Congress in ousting the Left bloc from power in West Bengal stands out. The Left has been pushed out of power after having headed the state government for 34 years. Trinamool Chief Mamata Bannerjee, popularly known as Didi, has been hailed in most quarters for having succeeded in this mission. Having won 184 seats in polls held in 294 constituencies, the Trinamool has emerged as a major political force in West Bengal, as it has the needed the strength to form the government with or without support from its allies, including the Congress. The Congress has won 42 seats. Credit must be given to both the Trinamool and Congress parties for having fought the elections as allies. It was sensible of Congress not to have insisted on testing its political strength in all the constituencies without reaching any political understanding with Trinamool. The Congress tried this experiment earlier in Bihar assembly elections to only fail and make it easier for its rivals – National Democratic Alliance- to return to power in state with greater success than expected.

In contrast, Congress and its key ally- Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have failed miserably in Tamil Nadu. In polls held to 234 seats, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), led by J. Jayalalitha has won 150 seats. The DMK has secured only 23 and the Congress – five seats.

The Congress has fared well in Assam by winning 78 out of 126 seats. It is a hat trick for Congress leader Tarun Gogoi to return to power as Assam Chief Minister for the third term. Kerala has also spelt success for Congress but only with the support of its ally, Muslim League. Here, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) has been pushed out of power with the Congress-coalition that is the United Democratic Front (UDF) winning 72 seats in the battle for 140. The LDF managed only 68. While the Congress has won 38 seats, the 20 secured by Muslim League have played a major role in helping UDF form the new Kerala government. The elections to 30 constituencies in Pondicherry have witnessed victory for Congress in seven, AIADMK- five, DMK – two and others – 16.

Apart from stunning defeat faced by Left in West Bengal as well as its failure in Kerala to return to power, the political loss suffered by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot be sidelined. The BJP has won only one seat in West Bengal, five in Assam and none in South India. The five seats won in Assam are only half of the 10 BJP had in the preceding assembly. The BJP contested more than 800 seats in the five states’ assembly elections. Undeniably, the Congress has performed better, but it cannot be missed that except for in Assam, the party has not fared too well on its own strength. The Congress has won less than 50 percent of the seats it contested. The party has tasted success in only 170 of the 359 seats it contested. 

The assembly elections are also a crucial indicator of the increasing political importance of Muslim votes as well as Muslim parties. As mentioned earlier, the UDF’s success in Kerala would not have been possible without the state Muslim League as a key ally. The reverse is the case in Assam, where Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF) – led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Qasmi – has emerged as the leading party in the opposition. The BJP and its ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) have lost their position as the main opposition group to AUDF, which has won 18 seats. Though, nominally, unlike Kerala’s Muslim League, AUDF has not included any religious term in its label, the party is known as a Muslim party. Despite being in the political race only for the second term, AUDF has increased in its tally from 10 in the last assembly to 18 in the new one. What is more amazing is its emergence as the leading opposition party, the second most important party (after Congress) in the Assam assembly.
The percentage of Muslims in Assam is around 31 percent. Against 25 Muslim members in the last Assam assembly, there are 28 in the new one, with 16 from AUDF. West Bengal, with Muslims constituting 28 percent of the state’s population, has elected 59 Muslims, 13 more than in the earlier assembly. Twenty-five percent of Kerala’s population are Muslims. The state has elected 36 Muslims, 11 more than earlier, to the new assembly. Muslims constitute less than 13 percent of the population in both Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. The two states have lesser Muslim members than they had in the outgoing assemblies. While Tamil Nadu has elected six members, Pondicherry has elected one, against the seven and two, both the states respectively had in the previous assemblies.
There is no denying that representation of Muslims in the five state assemblies remains below the mark it should be in keeping with their population. Nevertheless, the assembly elections indicate that their political importance and strength have definitely displayed a decisive increase in states where their population is more than 25 percent, which are West Bengal, Assam and Kerala. Interestingly, BJP’s political card has failed miserably in all the five states against the electoral verdict won by Muslim candidates as well as Muslim parties!

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West Bengal Polls: The Muslim Vote

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI/KOLKATA:  The ongoing multiphase elections to West Bengal Assembly are marked by a new importance being given to the state’s Muslim vote-bank. Will the Muslim-vote play a crucial part in deciding the fate of the Left Front government, led by Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)? The state has been headed by left bloc since 1977. The Muslims constitute around 28 percent of the state’s vote-bank. Of late, a lot of hype has been raised about possible chances of Trinamool Congress, headed by Mamata Bannerjee, in alliance with the Congress Party ousting the Left bloc from power in West Bengal. Interestingly, Bannerjee, popularly known as Didi, is not contesting from any constituency in West Bengal. This naturally has raised questions about whether she is sure of her party winning substantial number of seats in the assembly.

The polls to 294-seats, spread over six phases began on April 18. Voting in the last phase will be held on May 10. The counting will take place on May 13. Within less than a fortnight, the political picture in West Bengal will be clearly laid out. At present, the possible impact of Muslim-vote in these elections shall be elaborated on. Out of the 42 members from West Bengal in Lower House (Lok Sabha) of the National Parliament, six are Muslims, with three from Congress, two-Trinamool Congress and one from CPI-M. The state has 15 members in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha), three of whom are Muslims with two from CPI-M and one an Independent.

The Muslim members constitute around 15 percent of the strength of outgoing state assembly. Of these, more than 50 percent belong to CPI-M and less than 30 percent to both the Congress and Trinamool Congress. The Speaker of the outgoing assembly is a Muslim from CPI-M, Hashim Abdul Halim. He has held this office since May 6, 1982.

Though Muslim-legislators’ strength in the assembly falls below their population-percentage in West Bengal, it would be wrong to assume that their concerns and grievances have been ignored or sidelined. A major reflection of this trend is that the state, under the Left-bloc government, has not been witness to any communal riot targeting the Muslims. In fact, Muslims have confided about their feeling secure in West Bengal. Here, one may draw attention to West Bengal government’s reaction, when Muslims were targeted in Gujarat-carnage (2002). A considerable number of the survivors, who decided to leave Gujarat, selected West Bengal as their home. Among these was Qutubuddin Ansari of Ahmadabad, whose picture with folded hands and tears streaming down his cheeks, pleading to rioters for sparing him, was then splashed across the world. He first rushed to Maharashtra, from where he was not spared by riot-mongers and some media persons. Eventually, he found a safe shelter in Kolkata, with initiative taken by some CPI-M leaders, including Mohammed Salim, who was then a minister in charge of secretariat dealing with development of minority communities. Ansari arrived in Kolkata with his wife and children in August 2003.

Electorally, apart from image presented by politicians appealing to Muslims for their votes, it is important to reflect on the picture that certain statistics suggest. More than 1700 hundred candidates are in the fray for contesting the West Bengal assembly polls. Less than 300 of these are Muslims. The Muslim candidates from CPI-M are more than 40, from Trinamool Congress- 38 and the Congress- 23. Interestingly, Muslim candidates trying their political luck are the maximum from small parties (116) followed by Independent candidates (61). Several major parties with minimal influence in West Bengal are also testing their political fate here, with Bharatiya Janata Party having fielded six candidates and Bahujan Samaj Party – 10.

These statistics clearly indicate that only 16 percent of the contesting candidates are Muslims. Interestingly, had Muslims decided not to enter the political fray as Independents and from smaller parties, statistically their participation as candidates would have fallen by more than 50 percent. When only the numbers of Muslim candidates fielded by major political parties, including CPI-M, Trinamool and Congress are added together, they constitute less than seven percent of the total candidates.

Now, the crucial question is whether the Muslims contesting polls as Independent and from smaller parties, will play a crucial part in deciding the fate of major parties in the fray? There is a possibility that a split or even too many divisions in Muslims votes may not prove helpful in helping Muslim candidates win. At the same time, considering that West Bengal is known for its secular harmony, the religious identity of candidates in the fray may not influence the voters in taking their decision. Their vote is likely to be more strongly influenced by their political preferences than religious identity of the candidates. There is a possibility that several Independent candidates may have been deliberately fielded by political players keen to cut into vote-base of rival parties, primarily on ground of religion.

Irrespective of the degree to which the religious card is being exercised by political parties in West Bengal elections, the crucial card is likely to be played by political speculation, apprehension and the trust that the voter displays through his/her vote. And the voters’ decision shall be known only when the results are declared later this month!

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Interview of Arundhati Roy

March 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

…on Obama’s Wars, India and Why Democracy Is “The Biggest Scam in the World”

New York, NY: Guest: Arundhati Roy, award-winning Indian writer and renowned global justice activist. Her latest book is Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. Her most recent article is published in the Indian magazine Outlook called Walking with the Comrades.

ANJALI KAMAT: We spend the rest of the hour with acclaimed Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy on the dark underbelly of India, a country that prides itself on being known as the world’s largest democracy? Earlier this month, when Forbes published its annual list of the world’s billionaires, the Indian press reported with some delight that two of their countrymen had made it to the coveted list of the ten richest individuals in the world. Meanwhile, thousands of Indian paramilitary troops and police are fighting a war against some of its poorest inhabitants living deep in the country’s so-called tribal belt. Indian officials say more than a third of the country, mostly mineral-rich forest land, is partially or completely under the control of Maoist rebels, also known as Naxalites. India’s prime minister has called the Maoists the country’s “gravest internal security threat.” According to official figures, nearly 6,000 people have died in the past seven years of fighting, more than half of them civilians. The government’s new paramilitary offensive against the Maoists has been dubbed Operation Green Hunt.

Well, earlier this month, the leader of the Maoist insurgency, Koteswar Rao, or Kishenji, invited the Booker Prize-winning novelist Arundhati Roy to mediate in peace talks with the government. Soon after, India’s Home Secretary, G.K. Pillai, criticized Roy and others who have publicly called state violence against Maoists, quote, “genocidal.”

G.K. PILLAI: If the Maoists are murderers, please call the Maoists murderers. Why is it that if Maoists murders in West Midnapore last year from June to December 159 innocent civilians, I don’t see any criticism of that? I can call it—159, if government have done it, a lot of people would have gone and said it’s genocide. Why is that not genocide by the Maoists?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Arundhati Roy recently had a rare journalistic encounter with the armed guerrillas in the forests of central India. She spent a few weeks traveling with the insurgency deep in India’s Maoist heartland and wrote about their struggle in a 20,000-word essay published this weekend in the Indian magazine Outlook. It’s called “Walking with the Comrades.”

We’re joined now here in New York by the world-renowned author and global justice activist. She won the Lennon Foundation Cultural Freedom Prize in 2002 and is the author of a number of books, including the Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things. Her latest collection of essays, published by Haymarket, is Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.

Arundhati Roy, welcome to Democracy Now!

ARUNDHATI ROY: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go into the very interesting journey you took, you arrive here on the seventh anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. You were extremely outspoken on the war and have continued to be. I remember seeing you at Riverside Church with the great Howard Zinn, giving a speech against the war. What are your thoughts now, seven years in? And how it’s affected your continent, how it’s affected India?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, I think the—you know, the saddest thing is that when the American elections happened and you had all the rhetoric of, you know, change you can believe in, and even the most cynical of us watched Obama win the elections and did feel moved, you know, watching how happy people were, especially people who had lived through the civil rights movement and so on, and, you know, in fact what has happened is that he has come in and expanded the war. He won the Nobel Peace Prize and took an opportunity to justify the war. It was as though those tears of the black people who watched, you know, a black man come to power were now cut and paste into the eyes of the world’s elite watching him justify war.

And from where I come from, it’s almost—you know, you think that they probably don’t even understand what they’re doing, the American government. They don’t understand what kind of ground they stand on. When you say things like “We have to wipe out the Taliban,” what does that mean? The Taliban is not a fixed number of people. The Taliban is an ideology that has sprung out of a history that, you know, America created anyway.

Iraq, the war is going on. Afghanistan, obviously, is rising up in revolt. It’s spilled into Pakistan, and from Pakistan into Kashmir and into India. So we’re seeing this superpower, in a way, caught in quicksand with a conceptual inability to understand what it’s doing, how to get out or how to stay in. It’s going to take this country down with it, for sure, you know, and I think it’s a real pity that, in a way, at least George Bush was so almost obscene in his stupidity about it, whereas here it’s smoke and mirrors, and people find it more difficult to decipher what’s going on. But, in fact, the war has expanded.

ANJALI KAMAT: And Arundhati, how would you explain India’s role in the expanding US war in Afghanistan and Pakistan? This is a climate of very good relations between India and the United States.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, India’s role is—India’s role is one of, at the moment, trying to position itself, as it keeps saying, as the natural ally of Israel and the US. And India is trying very hard to maneuver itself into a position of influence in Afghanistan. And personally, I believe that the American government would be very happy to see Indian troops in Afghanistan. It cannot be done openly, because it would just explode, you know, so there are all kinds of ways in which they are trying to create a sphere of influence there. So the Indian government is deep into the great game, you know, there, and of course the result is, you know, attacks in Kashmir and in Mumbai, not directly related to Afghanistan, but of course there’s a whole history of this kind of maneuvering that’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: For an American audience, and perhaps for an audience just outside of the region, if you could really talk to us about an area you’ve been focusing a great deal on, of course, and that is Kashmir. Most people here know it as a sweater. That’s what they think of when they hear “Kashmir.”

ARUNDHATI ROY: OK, mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: So, starting there, if you can tell us what is going on there—even place it for us geographically.

ARUNDHATI ROY: OK. Well, Kashmir, as they say in India, you know, is the unfinished business in the partition of India and Pakistan. So, as usual, it was a gift of British colonialism. You know, they threw it at us as they walked—I mean, as they withdrew. So Kashmir used to be an independent kingdom with a Muslim majority ruled by a Hindu king. And during—at the time of partition in 1947, as there was—you know, as you know, almost a million people lost their lives, because this line that was drawn between India and Pakistan passed through villages and passed through communities, and as Hindus fled from Pakistan and Muslims fled from India, there was massacre on both sides.

And at that time, oddly enough, Kashmir was peaceful. But then, when all the independent princedoms in India and Pakistan were asked to actually accede either to India or Pakistan, but Kashmir, the king was undecided, and that indecision resulted in, you know, Pakistani troops and non-official combatants coming in. And the king fled to Jamu, and then he acceded to India. But he was—you know, there was already a movement for democracy within Kashmir at that time. Anyway, that’s the history.

But subsequently, there’s always been a struggle for independence or self-determination there, which in 1989 became an armed uprising and was put down militarily by India. And today, the simplest way of explaining the scale of what’s going on is that the US has 165,000 troops in Iraq, but the Indian government has 700,000 troops in the Kashmir valley—I mean, in Kashmir, security forces, you know, holding down a place with military might. And so, it’s a military occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to your travels in Kashmir, Arundhati Roy, award-winning Indian writer, renowned global justice activist. Her new book is a book of essays; it’s called Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. She’s here in the United States for just a little while. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: ”Hum Dekhen Ge” by Iqbal Bano. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Anjali Kamat. Our guest for the rest of the hour, Arundhati Roy, the award-winning Indian writer, renowned global justice activist. Her latest book, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.

You recognize that music, Anjali?

ANJALI KAMAT: Yes, “Hum Dekhen Ge” by Iqbal Bano. Arundhati Roy, your latest article in Outlook, “Walking with the Comrades,” you end the piece by talking about this song that so many people rose up in Pakistan listening to this song, and you place it in a completely different context. Start by talking about what’s happening in the forests of India. What is this war that India is waging against some of the poorest people, people known as tribals, indigenous people, Adivasis? Who are the Maoists? What’s happening there? And how did you get there?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, it’s been going on for a while, but basically, you know, I mean, there is a connection. If you look at Afghanistan, Waziristan, you know, the northeast states of India and this whole mineral belt that goes from West Bengal through Jharkhand through Orissa to Chhattisgarh, what’s called the Red Corridor in India, you know, it’s interesting that the entire thing is a tribal uprising. In Afghanistan, obviously, it’s taken the form of a radical Islamist uprising. And here, it’s a radical left uprising. But the attack is the same. It’s a corporate attack, you know, on these people. The resistance has taken different forms.

But in India, this thing known as the Red Corridor, if you look at a map of India, the tribal people, the forests, the minerals and the Maoists are all stacked on top of each other. You know, so—and in the last five years, the governments of these various states have signed MOUs with mining corporations worth billions of dollars.

ANJALI KAMAT: Memoranda of understanding.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Memorandums of understanding. So as we say, it’s equally an MOU-ist corridor as it is a Maoist corridor, you know? And it was interesting that a lot of these MOUs were signed in 2005. And at that time, it was just after this Congress government had come to power, and the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, announced that the Maoists are India’s “gravest internal security threat.” And it was very odd that he should have said that then, because the Maoists had actually just been decimated in the state of Andhra Pradesh. I think they had killed something like 1,600 of them. But the minute he said this, the shares in the mining companies went up, because obviously it was a signal that the government was prepared to do something about this, and then started this assault on them, which ended up as Operation Green Hunt, which is where now tens of thousands of paramilitary troops are moving in to these tribal areas.

But before Operation Green Hunt, they tried another thing, which was that they armed a sort of tribal militia and backed by police in a state like Chhattisgarh, where I was traveling recently, they just went into the forest. This militia burned village after village after village, like something like 640 villages were, more or less, emptied. And it was—the plan was what’s known as strategic hamletting, which the Americans tried in Vietnam, which was first devised by the British in Malaya, where you try and force people to move into police wayside camps so that you can control them, and the villages are emptied so that the forests are open for the corporates to go.

And what happened actually was that out of the—in this area, in Chhattisgarh, out of, say, 350,000 people, about 50,000 people moved into the camps. Some were forced, some went voluntarily. And the rest just went off the government radar. Many of them went to other states to work as migrant labor, but many of them just continued to hide in the forests, unable to come back to their homes, but not wanting to leave. But the fact is that in this entire area, the Maoists have been there for thirty years, you know, working with people and so on. So it’s a very—it’s not a resistance that has risen up against mining. It preceded that a long time—you know, by a long time. So it’s very entrenched. And Operation Green Hunt has been announced because this militia, called the Salwa Judum, failed, so now they are upping the ante, because these MOUs are waiting. And the mining corporations are not used to being made to wait. You know, so there’s a lot of money waiting.

And, I mean, what I want to say is that we are not using this word “genocidal war” lightly or rhetorically. But I traveled in that area, and what you see is the poorest people of this country, who have been outside the purview of the state. There’s no hospital. There’s no clinic. There’s no education. There’s nothing, you know? And now, there’s a kind of siege, where people can’t go out of their villages to the market to buy anything, because the markets are full of informers who are pointing out, you know, this person is with the resistance and so on. There’s no doctors. There’s no medical help. People are suffering from extreme hunger, malnutrition. So it’s not just killing. You know, it’s not just going out there and burning and killing, but it’s also laying siege to a very vulnerable population, cutting them off from their resources and putting them under grievous threat. And this is a democracy, you know, so how do you do—how do you clear the land for corporates in a democracy? You can’t actually go and murder people, but you create a situation in which they either have to leave or they starve to death.

ANJALI KAMAT: In your piece, you describe the people you traveled with, the armed guerrillas, as Gandhians with guns. Can you talk about what you mean by that and how—what you think of the violence perpetrated by the Maoists?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, you know, this is a very sharp debate in India about—I mean, you know, even the sort of mainstream left and the liberal intellectuals are very, very suspicious of Maoists. And everybody should be suspicious of Maoists, because, you know, they do—they have had a very—a very difficult past, and there are a lot of things that their ideologues say which do put a chill down your spine.

But when I went there, I have to say, I was shocked at what I saw, you know, because in the last thirty years I think something has radically changed among them. And the one thing is that in India, people try and make this difference. They say there’s the Maoists, and then there’s the tribals. Actually, the Maoists are tribals, you know, and the tribals themselves have had a history of resistance and rebellion that predates Mao by centuries, you know? And so, I think it’s just a name, in a way. It’s just a name. And yet, without that organization, the tribal people could not have put up this resistance. You know, so it is complicated.

But when I went in, I lived with them for, you know, and I walked with them for a long time, and it’s an army that is more Gandhian than any Gandhian, that leaves a lighter footprint than any climate change evangelist. You know, and as I said, even their sabotage techniques are Gandhian. You know, they waste nothing. They live on nothing. And to the outside world—first of all, the media has been lying about them for a long time. A lot of the incidents of violence did not happen, you know, which I figured out. A lot of them did happen, and there was a reason for why they happened.

And what I actually wanted to ask people was, when you talk about nonviolent resistance—I myself have spoken about that. I myself have said that women will be the victims of an armed struggle. And when I went in, I found the opposite to be true. I found that 50 percent of the armed cadre were women. And a lot of the reason they joined was because for thirty years the Maoists had been working with women there. The women’s organization, which has 90,000 members, which is probably the biggest feminist organization in India, now all 90,000 of those women are surely Maoists, and the government has given itself the right to shoot on sight. So, are they going to shoot these 90,000 people?

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, the leader of the Maoists has asked you to be the negotiator, the mediator between them and the Indian government. What is your response?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Look, I wouldn’t be a good mediator. You know, that’s not my—those are not my skills. I think that somebody should do it, but I don’t think that it should be me, because I just have no idea how to mediate, you know? And I don’t think that we should be jumping into things that we don’t know much about. And I certainly—I did say that. You know, I mean, it’s—I don’t know why they mentioned my name, but I think there are people in India who have those skills and who could do it, because it’s very, very urgent that this Operation Green Hunt be called off. Very, very urgent, you know, but it would be silly for someone like me to enter that, because I think I’m too impatient. I’m too much of a maverick. You know, I don’t have those skills.

AMY GOODMAN: I remember, back to Kashmir, when President Obama was running for president, Senator Obama, in an interview, talked about Kashmir, and he talked about it as a kind of flashpoint, said that we have to resolve the situation between India—between India and Pakistan around Kashmir so that Pakistan can focus on the militants. Can you talk about it as being a flashpoint and what you think needs to be done there?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, I think, you know, unfortunately, the thing about Kashmir is that India and Pakistan act as though Kashmir is a problem. But really for them both, Kashmir is a solution. You know, Kashmir is where they play their dirty games. And they don’t want to solve it, because whenever they have, you know, internal problems, they can always pull up—pull this bunny out of the hat. So it’s really—I really think that these two countries are not going to solve it, you know?
And what is happening is that there is a population of people who have been suffering untold misery for so many years, you know, and once again so many lies have been told about it. The Indian media is just—the falsification that it’s involved with about Kashmir is unbelievable. Like two years ago—or was it last year? Two years ago, there was a massive uprising in Kashmir. I happened to be there at the time. I’ve never seen anything like this. You know, there were millions of people on the street all the time. And—

AMY GOODMAN: And they were rising up for?

ARUNDHATI ROY: They were rising up for independence. You know, they were rising up for independence. And then, that uprising was—you know, when they rose up with arms, that was wrong. When they rose up without arms, that was wrong, too.

And the way it was defused was with an election. An election was called. And then everybody was shocked, because there was a huge turnout at the elections. And all the—you know, we have many election experts in India who spend all their time in television studios analyzing the swing and this and that, but nobody said that all the leaders of the resistance were arrested. Nobody asked, what does it mean to have elections when there are 700,000 soldiers supervising every five meters, all the time, all year round? They don’t have to push people on the end of a bayonet to the voting booth, you know? Nobody talked about the fact that there was a lockdown in every constituency. Nobody wondered what does it mean to people who are under that kind of occupation. The fact that they need somebody to go to, you know, when someone disappears—or, you know, they need some representative.

So now, once again, the violence has started. You know? It’s a permanent sort of cycle where, obviously in the interest of geopolitical jockeying, any sense of morality is missing. And of course it’s very fashionable to say that, you know, there isn’t any morality involved in international diplomacy, but suddenly, when it comes to Maoists killing, morality just comes riding down on your head. You know, so people use it when they want to.

ANJALI KAMAT: And Arundhati, in both India and the United States, as these wars expand, as the military occupations, as you delineated, in Kashmir, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, as they expand, what is your message to antiwar activists, to peace activists around the world, here and in India? What do you think people need to be doing?

ARUNDHATI ROY: See, I think I just want to say one thing more, which is that in Kashmir, you have, as I said, 700,000 soldiers who have been turned into an administrative police force.

In India, where they don’t want to openly declare war against the Adivasis, you have a paramilitary police, which is being trained to be an army. So the police are turning into the army. The army is turning into the police. But to push through this growth rate, you know, you have basically this whole country is turning into a police state.

And I just want to say one thing about democracy. You know, in India, the elections—the elections were—they cost more than the American elections. Much more. This poor country costs much more. The most enthusiastic were the corporates. The members of parliament are—a majority of them are millionaires. If you look at the statistics, actually this big majority it has ten percent of the vote. The BBC had a campaign where they had posters of a dollar bill—$500 bill sort of molting into an Indian 500 rupee note with Ben Franklin on one end and Gandhi on the other. And it said, “Kya India ka vote bachayega duniya ka note?” meaning “Will the Indian vote save the market?” You know? So voters become consumers. It’s a kind of scam that’s going on.

So the first message I would have to peace activists is—I don’t know what that means, anyway. What does “peace” mean? You know, we may not need peace in this unjust society, because that’s a way of accepting injustice, you know? So what you need is people who are prepared to resist, but not just on a weekend, not peace but not just on the weekend. In countries like India, now just saying, “OK, we’ll march on Saturday, and maybe they’ll stop the war in Iraq.” But in countries like India, now people are really paying with their lives, with their freedom, with everything. I mean, it’s resistance with consequences now. You know, it cannot be—it cannot be something that has no consequences. You know? It may not have, but you’ve got to understand that in order to change something, you’ve got to take some risks now. You’ve got to come out and lay those dreams on the line now, because things have come to a very, very bad place there.

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Her latest book is called Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. I look forward to being with you and Noam Chomsky in Cambridge in a week.

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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.”

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Aamir Khan Adds Gandhian Touch To His Campaign In Gujarat

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI:  Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan has certainly taken a lead over politicians where his publicity campaign for his latest movie, “3 Idiots” is concerned. He has literally gone to the people, mingled with them and then surprised them by revealing his real identity. The silent message sent by this style of campaigning cannot be missed. The message stands out by the actor giving minimal importance to religious, regional as well as other socio-economic differences which are in contrast highlighted prominently by politicians when they try reaching out to the common people for their votes. This does not imply that the star has seldom given importance to communal tactics of Indian politicians. In fact, he earned a strong criticism in several quarters for having earlier criticized Chief Minister Narendra Modi for Gujarat carnage and supporting the Narmada Bachao Andolan (movement). Soon after Aamir criticized Modi in 2006, activists supporting Modi started persuading theater owners in Gujarat not to release his movies- “Fanaa” and “Taare Zameen Par.” They also demanded an apology from Aamir for his “anti-Gujarat” stand on NBA and his “anti-Narendra Modi” remarks. The actor had since stopped visiting Gujarat and had also refused to change his opinion on the two issues- NBA and Gujarat-carnage.

To a question on his stand, Aamir had said: “I had said that people killed in Godhra and its aftermath were not Hindus or Muslims for me. They were Indians, and whoever was responsible for the carnage was anti-Indian and anti-national. If that was the reason for this (ban on his movies), so be it.” On the financial losses that the ban spelt, accepting that they would be “huge,” he said: “And what about people losing their land and houses? I think that is a far bigger, deeper issue.” When questioned on whether he would apologize for his stand, he replied: “What should I apologize for? What wrong have I done? I am happy and proud of what I did.”

Against this backdrop, the nature of Aamir’s recent visit to Gujarat, the first since he faced the backlash, stands out. The actor apparently deliberately selected Lok Niketan Vinay Mandir, a small school in Palanpur village, about 135 km from Ahmedabad in Banaskantha district. The school is run on Gandhian principles, where the students weave their own khadi uniform. Wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, the actor entered the school at around noon last Thursday (December 17). Initially, nobody recognized him, but when they did, the teachers and students were pleasantly surprised. After a discussion with the school principal, Aamir interacted with students from class seventh to tenth. He heard a student sing a song, talked to students about their dreams, played cricket with them and also shared food from a girl’s lunch box, cooked by her grandmother. When a student showed Aamir, the star’s photo that he kept in his pocket, he picked him up and kissed him. He gifted the school two golden rings, two cricket balls, six tennis balls, one volley ball, two footballs and four tickets of the film premier with air tickets. The school felicitated him with a khadi garland.

Earlier, when questioned on his plans against his ban of his movies in Gujarat, Aamir had replied: “There are many avenues I could take recourse to. There is the legal option, I could seek help from the film industry and the various film associations, but on this issue I want the people to decide. The people should decide if this is the kind of political party they want.” Criticizing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for using “brute force,” with “no value for human life,” he had said: “In life, nothing is in our control. The maximum we can do is to do what we believe is right. I strongly believe that each one of us has to fulfill our karma, to do what he or she feels is right. The BJP should do what it feels is right, the people of Gujarat and India should do what they feel is right.”

Undeniably, Aamir’s visit to Lok Niketan school was a part of his two-week nation-wide campaign to promote his movie. Among the other places, the actor has suddenly turned up at, include Kolkata (West Bengal), Jaipur (Rajasthan), a remote village in Madhya Pradesh, Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and an unknown village near Faridkot in Punjab. The subtle message conveyed by his deliberately including a Gujarati-school run on Gandhian principles cannot be missed. He still remains hopeful and optimistic that secularism and Gandhian principles cannot be easily defeated even by communal atrocities, such as the Gujarat-carnage. While at the school, Aamir said that he wanted to “try and imbibe Gandhian values.” This was apparently his style of making people aware about the importance of Gandhian principles. A visit to the small school was not binding on the star. If he wished, he could have stayed out of Gujarat even now. But he did not. Rather, as is evident, he planned his Gujarat-visit to let the school run on Gandhian principles hit the headlines and gain substantial media coverage. The move has given his old critics (Modi-supporters) virtually no time or even reason to question his “campaign.”  

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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!

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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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