SPE­CIAL: LALU And ‘SEC­U­LAR­ISM’: two Strands of A nar­ra­tive Come to An End

The political nar­ra­tive of the 1990s that saw the emer­gence of lalu and his ilk has be­come ir­rel­e­vant

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Ajay Singh

In a cu­ri­ous co­in­ci­dence, Bihar strong­man lalu Prasad got his come­up­pance – jail sen­tence for cor­rup­tion – in the very week that wit­nessed the triple ta­laq bill – a cor­ner­stone of “sec­u­lar­ism” – mak­ing progress in par­lia­ment. The two mat­ters would seem un­re­lated but are in fact deeply in­ter­con­nected.

lalu rep­re­sents the best and worst of In­dian pol­i­tics. Here is a son of soil who rose from a khatal (shed for cows and buf­fa­los) to the pin­na­cle of power in Bihar. His saga has run con­cur­rent with twists and turns of In­dian democ­racy over the last quar­ter of a cen­tury or so. at one point, he emerged as a champion of “sec­u­lar­ism” and mes­siah of so­cial jus­tice. later, he turned out to be the pro­to­type of the self-serv­ing politi­cian. once a stu­dent leader and dis­ci­ple of the inim­itable Jayaprakash Narayan, his me­ta­mor­pho­sis from a pop­u­lar leader of masses to a leader im­mersed neck-deep in political deprav­ity and cor­rup­tion is quite in­struc­tive.

His rise co­in­cided with a vir­u­lent com­mu­nal sit­u­a­tion aris­ing out of two wa­ter­shed events – the Shah Bano case and ram Jan­mab­hoomi-babri mosque episode – of the late 1980s and early 1990s. lalu found him­self on the side of a political nar­ra­tive which pan­dered to the mus­lim fun­da­men­tal­ism in the name of sec­u­lar­ism. Set­ting aside the supreme court’s ver­dict on the Shah Bano case, prime min­is­ter ra­jiv gandhi went on to even amend the con­sti­tu­tion to up­hold the sanc­tity of the mus­lim per­sonal law.

There is an in­ter­est­ing anec­dote that gives an idea of the in­tri­cate pol­i­tics of those times. ra­jiv gandhi went to see lk ad­vani to con­dole a death in the BJP leader’s fam­ily. as the two chat­ted, the Shah Bano mat­ter cropped up and ad­vani ad­vised ra­jiv not to pur­sue the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to over­turn the Sc judg­ment. ad­vani even added, “If you fol­low my ad­vice, it is against my party’s in­ter­ests, but it will be good for the na­tion.”

ra­jiv, of course, ig­nored the ad­vice and over­turned the Shah Bano judg­ment. What fol­lowed was a vir­u­lent re­ac­tion from the RSS-VHP-BJP com­bine and the re­sult­ing Hindu mo­bil­i­sa­tion boosted the ay­o­d­hya cam­paign. as part of this cam­paign, ad­vani was on a cross-coun­try ya­tra go­ing to ay­o­d­hya, and it was lalu as Bihar chief min­is­ter who stopped his jour­ney, by ar­rest­ing him in Sa­mas­tipur.

The dra­matic ar­rest of ad­vani pitch­forked lalu from a young re­gional up­start to a heavy­weight na­tional leader. In the process, he be­came the sole saviour of “sec­u­lar­ism”.

Need­less to say, it was ev­i­dent af­ter his first stint as cm that lalu dis­played scant com­mit­ment to any of th­ese causes. at best he was a self­seek­ing leader driven by baser im­pulses like greed and ne­po­tism. as for gov­er­nance, the less said the bet­ter, as he turned Bihar into a basket case of mis-gov­er­nance, wil­fully deny­ing peo­ple the ba­sics of a civic life. Yet, what is more no­table is the tenac­ity with which a sec­tion of “pro­gres­sive in­tel­lec­tu­als” des­per­ately tried to cam­ou­flage his crim­i­nal­ity in ver­biage of so­cial­ism and sec­u­lar­ism.

It did not come as a sur­prise when he was found in­volved in the fod­der scam. In his stint as cm and later as men­tor to his cm-wife rabri Devi, he be­haved like a ‘king’ of Bihar. He ac­quired the skill of con­duct­ing the ‘sec­u­lar and so­cial­ist’ dis­courses to hide his cor­rup­tion and crim­i­nal­ity. But what was more hideous than lalu’s con­duct was the ea­ger­ness of a sec­tion of sup­pos­edly pro­gres­sive and sec­u­lar in­tel­lec­tu­als to eat out of his hand. over the years, as he foul­mouthed the BJP in gen­eral and its new ris­ing leader, Naren­dra modi, in par­tic­u­lar, he re­mained the darling of the chat­terati. He was so em­bold­ened by his pol­i­tics that he re­fused to mend his ways even in his role as union rail­way min­is­ter. and he found his strength from his in­tel­lec­tual apol­o­gists who pre­ferred se­man­tics over sub­stance.

To­day the clock seems to have taken a full cir­cle. The triple ta­laq, or in

other words, sanc­tity of mus­lim per­sonal law, that trig­gered a se­ries of di­vi­sive political events in the 1980s-90s, is right on top of par­lia­ment’s agenda. The dif­fer­ence be­tween then and now is that the political axis of the coun­try stands rad­i­cally al­tered. even the congress and diehard sec­u­lar­ists are hes­i­tant to be seen in the league of mus­lim fun­da­men­tal­ists.

also, back then, arif mo­ham­mad Khan was the lone voice ar­tic­u­lat­ing a mod­er­ate and lib­eral po­si­tion on women’s rights within mus­lim per­sonal law, and he was prac­ti­cally hounded out of the congress and later marginalised within VP Singh’s Janata Dal. To­day, the Bjp-led NDA is quite up­front about its po­si­tion against triple ta­laq. In­stead of an un­demo­cratic re­ver­sal of an apex court rul­ing, there is full-fledged leg­is­la­tion be­ing en­acted with due demo­cratic process.

The fact that the gov­ern­ment has been un­re­lent­ing on crim­i­nal­is­ing the ta­laq is il­lus­tra­tive of the chang­ing times. given the political mood of the coun­try, the op­po­si­tion, par­tic­u­larly the congress, is scared of be­ing seen on the wrong side of the de­bate. No­body wants to es­pouse the cause of mul­lah-led mus­lim pol­i­tics. Since old habits die hard, the congress and cer­tain re­gional groups are run­ning with the hare and hunt­ing with the hound on the is­sue.

The political nar­ra­tive of the 1990s

To­day the clock seems to have taken a full cir­cle. The triple ta­laq, or in other words, sanc­tity of Mus­lim per­sonal law, that trig­gered a se­ries of di­vi­sive political events in the 80s-90s, is right on top of par­lia­ment’s agenda. The dif­fer­ence be­tween then and now is that the political axis of the coun­try stands rad­i­cally al­tered.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.