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 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.
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