Poll Drum for 2019 Be­gins

BJP’s agenda to win 2019 gen­eral elec­tions is to po­lar­ize 50 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion while Congress is unit­ing whole op­po­si­tion to at­tain at a com­fort­able 50 per­cent vote bank

The Day After - - COVER STORY - By Asit Manohar

The As­samese govern­ment re­leas­ing the fi­nal list of Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Ci­ti­zens (NRC) of In­dia and West Ben­gal Chief Min­is­ter Mamata Ban­er­jee com­ing out in de­fi­ance of the As­samese govern­ment ini­tia­tive whilst other op­po­si­tion par­ties in­clud­ing Congress Party re­main­ing cold to her call speaks vol­ume about their prepa­ra­tion for the com­ing Lok Sabha Polls, which is due in next 7-8 months. Ac­tu­ally, the NDA nom­i­nee and JDU leader Hari­vansh Narayan Singh won the Deputy Speaker of the Ra­jya Sabha elec­tions with the sup­port of Navin Pat­naik’s BJD, K Chan­drasekhar Rao’s TRS and AIADMK. Re­mem­ber, in this poll, Lalu Yadav’s RJD Ra­jya Sabha law­maker and noted lawyer Ram Jeth­malani cross voted in favour of the JDU leader Hari­vansh Narayan Singh. If NRC has po­lar­ized North East and West Ben­gal, the ex­pected hear­ing on the Ar­ti­cle 35A of the Jammu and Kashmir in the Supreme Court on Au­gust 27th may fuel the whole na­tion into the de­bate over the spe­cial sta­tus be­ing given to the J&K state lead­ing to abo­li­tion of ar­ti­cle 370 in the state. If NRC and ar­ti­cle 35A are glar­ing ex­am­ple of the govern­ment prepa­ra­tions for the com­ing gen­eral elec­tions, Cen­tral govern­ment tabling the Triple Ta­laq Bill into the Ra­jya Sabha on the last day of the Mon­soon Ses­sion too can be seen as a poll gim­mick of the Modi govern­ment.

DOWN SOUTH PART­NERS

If we go by the No Con­fi­dence Mo­tion and the Deputy Speaker of the Ra­jya Sabha elec­tions, one thing is for sure that BJP has rea­sons to smile. How­ever, the ‘party with dif­fer­ence’ is still not able to find a strong hold in the south. Af­ter much hard work by both RSS and BJP lead­ers, it could only man­age to be­come the sin­gle largest party in Karnataka As­sem­bly Polls. Ad­ding salt to the BJP’s in­jury, the BJP failed to man­age few MLAs in Karnataka lead­ing to JDS and Congress form­ing a coali­tion govern­ment there leav­ing BJP sulk­ing in the state as­sem­bly. How­ever, if we go fur­ther south, BJP’s chances be­come fur­ther grim. It has al­ready lost its ally TDP in Andhra Pradesh — which is a strong re­gional player there. In Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Ker­ala, BJP has al­most neg­li­gi­ble pres­ence. But, TRS com­ing in open sup­port of NDA on both oc­ca­sions of no con­fi­dence mo­tion and Deputy Ra­jya Sabha Speaker and YSR congress ab­stain­ing on both oc­ca­sions clearly in­di­cates that they are not ready to side with Congress to­day. With AIADMK too sup­port­ing BJP on both oc­ca­sions sug­gests that BJP has found new al­lies in Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh while its ri­val camp is still look­ing

for a poll mo­men­tum there. Though BJP’s arch ri­val Congress has strong pres­ence in Ker­ala. Af­ter bi­fur­ca­tion of Andhra Pradesh, Congress was ex­pect­ing re­wards in Telangana but to its sur­prise, it ceded its ground in re­main­ing Andhra Pradesh to Ja­gan­mo­han Reddy’s YSR Congress while TRS’s K Chan­dresekar Rao be­came vic­to­ri­ous in Telangana. In fact in last four and half years, both Ja­gan and KCR have grown fur­ther stronger leav­ing more tough work for the Congress party work­ers to re­gain their ‘Andhra pride.’ For grand old party’s so­lace, DMK is still with the Congress. But, the po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics there has com­pletely changed af­ter the sud­den demise of both stal­warts J Jay­alalitha and M Karunanidhi. To fill in their larger po­lit­i­cal shoes, two cine stars Ka­mal Has­san and Ra­jinikanth have en­tered pol­i­tics and their en­try would be a chal­lenge for both DMK and AIADMK so it would be for their al­lies Congress and the BJP re­spec­tively.

TRIPLE TA­LAQ PLOT

While the BJP has sought to al­lay the con­cerns of the Op­po­si­tion and Mus­lim women groups on its triple ta­laq bill by amend­ing some of the most con­tro­ver­sial pro­vi­sions, the Congress party’s po­si­tion on the is­sue con­tin­ues to re­main am­bigu­ous — giv­ing off the im­pres­sion that even three decades af­ter the Shah Bano de­ba­cle, the party is un­able to shed its “mi­nor­ity ap­pease­ment” tag.

This per­cep­tion is likely to only get strength­ened given that the bill has failed to be taken up in this ses­sion of Par­lia­ment due to the lack of con­sen­sus among po­lit­i­cal par­ties on the last day of the Mon­soon Ses­sion of the par­lia­ment.

A day af­ter the Cabi­net cleared amend­ments to the draft bill and sought to ta­ble it in the up­per house of Par­lia­ment, Congress leader So­nia Gandhi said, “Our party’s po­si­tion is ab­so­lutely clear on this, I will not say any­thing fur­ther.”

The Congress along with other op­po­si­tion par­ties and Mus­lim women’s groups had in­sisted that the bill must in­clude the pro­vi­sion of bail for the ac­cused — a de­mand which the Cen­tre has now heeded to — yet no one from the party has come for­ward to ei­ther wel­come or crit­i­cize the devel­op­ment.

Congress lead­ers, in­stead, in­sisted that the govern­ment should de­bate the al­leged scam in the Rafale fighter jet deal with France – com­pelling crit­ics to ar­gue that the party is not in the mood to an­tag­o­nise ortho­dox Mus­lim groups.

For­mer Congress min­is­ter Arif Mo­ham­mad Khan, the cat­a­lyst be­hind the triple ta­laq bill, said that some peo­ple are still un­der the in­flu­ence of the All In­dia Mus­lim Per­sonal Law Board (AIMPLB). “I am not nam­ing any­one but some peo­ple think that hob­nob­bing with the AIMPLB is still more po­lit­i­cally use­ful for them than help­ing Mus­lim women,” he said.

Zakia So­man, a Mus­lim so­cial ac­tivist, who spear­headed the cam­paign against the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of triple ta­laq, too shared Khan’s view.

“What is the pol­i­tics that the Congress is try­ing to play? They have called us (Mus­lim women’s groups) for de­lib­er­a­tions on the is­sue on at least three oc­ca­sions and can­celled the meet­ings or just not fol­lowed up,” she said. “They are still not com­ing out of their Shah Bano mind­set.”

“Whether you like it or not, the BJP govern­ment has come out look­ing very

sin­cere in this whole thing,” So­man said.

While Zakia So­man along with other so­cial ac­tivists had crit­i­cized the bill in its ear­lier form, given the scope of its mis­use, she wel­comed the amended bill as one very close to the de­mands of Mus­lim women.

As per the amend­ments, an FIR may be reg­is­tered in a triple ta­laq case only at the be­hest of an ag­grieved wife or a close rel­a­tive – as op­posed to the ear­lier pro­vi­sion, un­der which any­one could ini­ti­ate crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings against a Mus­lim man for in­stant divorce.

Fur­ther, while the “crime” would still re­main non-bail­able, as per the re­vised bill, a mag­is­trate would be equipped to grant bail af­ter hear­ing the vic­tim. Lastly, the amend­ments make the of­fence a com­pound­able one, which ba­si­cally leaves room for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

How­ever, Govern­ment’s to­kenism will only end up caus­ing more trou­ble while leav­ing out glar­ing vi­o­la­tion of Mus­lim women’s rights. The govern­ment may hail the leg­is­la­tion on crim­i­nal­iz­ing triple ta­laq as a vic­tory for Mus­lim women, but the prob­lem ar­eas have been con­ve­niently over­looked.

The prob­lem with the triple ta­laq bill is that it seeks to pro­vide a crim­i­nal law so­lu­tion to a civil law is­sue of divorce. Ut­ter­ing ta­laq thrice does not trans­late into divorce, as per the Supreme Court ver­dict. So in re­al­ity, the “of­fence” is de­ser­tion and leav­ing the wife as a des­ti­tute as law min­is­ter Ravi Shankar Prasad puts it.

Leav­ing the wife in a lurch is not an of­fence so far, but now it will be for only Mus­lim men. Mus­lim Women (Pro­tec­tion of Rights on Mar­riage) Bill, 2017 is noth­ing more than eye­wash be­cause the bill serves no pur­pose other than pro­vid­ing a le­gal frame­work to tar­get Mus­lim men. Its to­kenism will only end up caus­ing more trou­ble. While fo­cus­ing on in­stant triple ta­laq, it is leav­ing out other glar­ing vi­o­la­tions of women’s rights in nikah­ha­lala — which re­quires a di­vorced woman to marry an­other man, con­sum­mate the mar­riage and divorce him if she wants to re­marry her pre­vi­ous hus­band. Con­ve­niently, even the apex court did not pick up this is­sue while de­cid­ing on triple ta­laq.

It is dan­ger­ous to reg­u­late civil as­pects by bring­ing pe­nal con­se­quences. If the aim is to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of Mus­lim women, then at­tempt must be made to­wards se­cur­ing main­te­nance and al­imony for them in­stead of send­ing the man to jail.

Al­though the Congress, fear­ing the la­bel of be­ing a Mus­lim sup­porter only put up a fee­ble fight against the bill in Lok Sabha and even­tu­ally voted on it, it has made some noise in the Ra­jya Sabha. The govern­ment seems to have pro­vided two con­ces­sions to get the op­po­si­tion on board – to make the of­fence ‘bail­able’ in­stead of ‘non-bail­able’ and to en­sure that only the af­fected wife or her blood re­la­tions can com­plain against her hus­band.

The first con­ces­sion is tricky since non­bail­able doesn’t mean that the man will be en­ti­tled to bail rather it will be the judge’s dis­cre­tion to grant one. The sec­ond con­ces­sion, how­ever, is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it avoids a sit­u­a­tion where a grudg­ing neigh­bour or a mi­nor­ity hater can sim­ply file a case against a Mus­lim man. De­spite these changes, the triple ta­laq law will have a tougher test in the courts.

NA­TION­AL­IST CARD

With the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Ci­ti­zens draft list leav­ing out 40 lakh ap­pli­cants, a big po­lit­i­cal row has erupted in the coun­try. While BJP has de­fended the NRC ex­er­cise with party pres­i­dent Amit Shah call­ing it the soul of the 1985 As­sam Ac­cord to iden­tify il­le­gal mi­grants, Congress has crit­i­cized the process say­ing that gen­uine ci­ti­zens have been left out. Mean­while, Tri­namool Congress head and Ben­gal chief min­is­ter Mamata Ban­er­jee has al­leged that the ex­er­cise has been car­ried out to di­vide peo­ple.

Po­lit­i­cal par­ties are for­mu­lat­ing their re­spec­tive po­si­tions on NRC with an eye on the next Lok Sabha elec­tions. The

As­sam-spe­cific ex­er­cise is per­fect for more wide­spread dog-whis­tle sig­nal­ing. For ex­am­ple, BJP clearly plans to po­lit­i­cally cash in on the is­sue by pro­ject­ing it­self as the party that fi­nally took de­ci­sive ac­tion against il­le­gal Bangladeshi in­fil­tra­tors. The sub­text here is that Mus­lim mi­grants from neigh­bour­ing coun­tries have no place in In­dia. This was un­der­lined by Amit Shah him­self as he re­it­er­ated that changes were be­ing made to the Cit­i­zen­ship Act for Hindu and Sikh refugees.

Congress, while crit­i­cal of NRC, finds it hard to dis­so­ci­ate it­self from the As­sam Ac­cord that Ra­jiv Gandhi had signed. Hence the party’s re­course to tech­ni­cal flaws of the ex­er­cise in the hope of ap­peal­ing to both for and against NRC con­stituen­cies and Tri­namool’s force­ful re­jec­tion of NRC po­si­tions it as a party for the ag­grieved – par­tic­u­larly Bengali speak­ing Mus­lims in As­sam and Ben­gal. Ad­ding to the pol­i­tick­ing is the fact that the fi­nal NRC list is ex­pected by the end of the year – close to the ten­ta­tive Lok Sabha poll sched­ule. No­tably, none of the par­ties have spo­ken about so­lu­tions for those who will be left out of the fi­nal NRC.

The row over the NRC, the flames of Marath­wada, al­lies roar­ing like foes and the chang­ing friend­lier tones of po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights who had till now been spew­ing venom! The one com­mon thread in all these con­tra­dic­tory de­vel­op­ments has to be the 2019 Lok Sabha elec­tions. Without wait­ing for the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, our politi­cians have gone on the of­fen­sive. This is an il­lu­sory bat­tle.

Much more is sim­mer­ing in the po­lit­i­cal caul­dron than is vis­i­ble to you on the hori­zon. Here’s an ex­am­ple. One of the se­nior most politi­cians in the coun­try, Ram Vi­las Paswan gave an ul­ti­ma­tum to his own govern­ment on the amend­ments to the SC/ST Act. Dalit MPs, in­clud­ing Ram­das Athavale, joined him. Now that the govern­ment has an­nounced it will amend the law to over­turn a re­cent Supreme Court or­der on the SC/ST Act, the ques­tion is: the govern­ment is your own and you have a ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment. Then why dis­cuss your in­ter­nal mat­ters in the pub­lic? The sole in­ten­tion ap­peared to be to cre­ate some hype and take credit so that ad­ver­saries could be hurt. The Govern­ment has also set up OBC Aayog, that will look af­ter the reser­va­tion meant for 2479 castes listed into the ben­e­fi­ciary cat­e­gory. How­ever, the in­for­ma­tion re­vealed by the in­sid­ers of the Aayog is in­trigu­ing. Out of these 2479 castes, near 75 per­cent of the OBC reser­va­tions has gone to the four castes — Yadav, Kurmi, Sahu and Nai (bar­ber com­mu­nity). Cur­rently, there is 27 per­cent reser­va­tion granted for the OBC com­mu­nity means more than 20 per­cent of it goes to these four caste ap­pli­cants. The Aayog is look­ing af­ter to han­dle this anom­aly.

This was one way of bat­tle. On the contrary, the Shiv Sena, de­spite be­ing en­trenched in the power cor­ri­dors of Mum­bai and Delhi, doesn’t miss any op­por­tu­nity to at­tack the BJP and the

top govern­ment lead­er­ship. Why do this? If you want to play the op­po­si­tion, you should shun the fruits of power. The Shiv Sena is a large party, but even lo­cal re­gional out­fits are be­hav­ing in a sim­i­lar man­ner. The two na­tional par­ties ap­pear to be strug­gling to evolve strate­gies to stay above this morass.

The Congress, too, is suf­fer­ing ow­ing to this bit­ter ne­go­ti­a­tion. The party has nom­i­nated Rahul Gandhi to de­cide on elec­toral al­liances. Rahul knows he has to si­mul­ta­ne­ously grap­ple with the party’s in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal af­fairs. He is mak­ing a Her­culean ef­fort, but when friends and foes join forces against you, the road ahead be­comes ar­du­ous. Uttar Pradesh is a glar­ing ex­am­ple. Now that news is emerg­ing that the Congress, Sa­ma­jwadi Party (SP), Bahu­janSa­maj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal are close to fi­nal­iz­ing an elec­toral un­der­stand­ing, spec­u­la­tion is rife about who has got how much? The top lead­er­ship is silent on this. They know that any state­ment may cause dis­sent.

This un­spo­ken agree­ment has given rise to an­other ques­tion: Are the Congress and the BSP also work­ing in tan­dem for the Ra­jasthan, Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh as­sem­bly elec­tions? The BSP en­joys small pock­ets of sup­port in these states. Sim­i­larly, Ajit Singh can be of mar­ginal as­sis­tance in Haryana. Should they join them in these states? From the out­side, these al­liances ap­pear to be very promis­ing. But the Congress has rea­sons to be anx­ious. In the past, it has lent sup­port to the SP and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh and di­luted its own mass base. The ex­per­i­ment in Karnataka is an ex­am­ple of this.

Pol­i­tics moves for­ward on the fuel of courage and con­vic­tion. These days, Rahul ap­pears to be liv­ing by this credo. He wants to stop the BJP’s vic­tory jug­ger­naut in 2019. For this, he isn’t hes­i­tat­ing to seek the help of old friends of the party. The meet­ing be­tween Sharad Pawar and Mayawati, Omar Ab­dul­lah’s Kolkata visit and Mamata Ban­er­jee’s trip to New Delhi and dur­ing her visit, her touch­ing LK Ad­vani’s feet. Lead­ers from many par­ties, in­clud­ing the Shiv Sena, met her. En­cour­aged by this, Didi made her po­si­tion clear with two an­nounce­ments: One, she wasn’t the prime-min­is­te­rial can­di­date. And two, the BJP will face a united op­po­si­tion in 2019. Do you think all this just hap­pened sud­denly? Don’t be un­der any mis­con­cep­tion. Noth­ing hap­pens overnight in pol­i­tics.

The BJP knows this coali­tion is go­ing to place hur­dles be­fore its ash­wamedh (jug­ger­naut). Without de­lay, the saf­fron party evolved its own coun­ter­strat­egy. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi vis­ited Uttar Pradesh five times be­tween 27 June and 29 July. He tore into the op­po­si­tion on ev­ery oc­ca­sion. The strong lan­guage used by Amit Shah on the NRC is­sue in­di­cates that he was send­ing out a mes­sage to vot­ers across the coun­try, not just the North-East and West Ben­gal. The BJP knows there is only one an­swer to the prob­lem of tak­ing on a united op­po­si­tion: po­lar­ize 50 per­cent of the vot­ers by any means. But this is some­thing the BJP and its lead­er­ship has been dream­ing of for many years and have not man­aged to achieve. Amit Shah has been fight­ing an elec­tion ev­ery day of the year to re­al­ize this dream.

The Congress and the BJP are adopt­ing poli­cies that are in con­flict with each other. Both have their own pros and cons. Let us see who the na­tion de­cides to sup­port.

PM Naren­dra Modi with BJP Pres­i­dent Amit Shah

Congress Pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi chairs Congress’ top lead­er­ship body meet­ing

Ben­gal CM Mamata Ban­er­jee with LK Ad­vani

Triple Ta­laq bill stuck in the Ra­jya Sabha

Peo­ple at the NRC of­fice to ver­ify and check their names in the fi­nal draft of NRC

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