Cong scripted Samajwadi romp in UP (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT NEW DELHI | 11th Mar
Unemployed girls queue up to get themselves registered at an employment exchange office in Lucknow on Friday. PTI
The UP game plan of Rahul Gandhi's political managers worked flawlessly. The Muslim vote got consolidated, while the upper and intermediate cas-tes deserted Mayawati. The former would have gravitated to the BJP, but for Congress-initiated rumours that the saffron party and the BSP were certain to stitch together a post-poll alliance. The prospect of this drove Muslims away from the BSP, even as it spooked many upper-caste voters from casting their ballots in favour of Nitin Gadkari's party. Although the RSS is considered to be masters of the "bush telegraph", i.e. word-of-mouth propaganda, the Nagpur-based outfit lags far behind AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh in such skills. The former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister is known to have command over anonymous pamphleteers and others trained in the planting of
negative information about opponents, news subsequently retailed across a network of small publications and internet sites, thereby catching fire. The canard that the BJP and the BSP had come to a secret understanding was widely believed, despite the presence of players such as Varun Gandhi and Rajnath Singh, to whom Mayawati is anathema. The result was that most Muslims walked away from Mayawati, while many upper-caste voters avoided the BJP, the only two parties (of the four main contenders) that lost vote share in the 2012 polls in UP.
Unlike in Punjab, where even the Akali Dal distanced itself from a sectarian platform, the Congress worked for more than two years to create a sectarian consciousness within the Muslim community, picturing it as the victim of a conspiracy by "saffron forces". The Muslim in India — and this includes UP — is as allergic to terrorism as is any other citizen. She or he looks for the requisites of a comfortable life, with the government guaranteeing law and order. Hence the attempts by Digvijay Singh to paint those targeted by police in the Batla House encounter as innocents bombed, as did Salman Khurshid's revelation that Sonia Gandhi wept uncontrollably on news of the encounter. Whether it was the playing up of "Saffron Terror" or Batla House or minority reservation, the Congress presented itself as the authentic voice of India's Muslims. This has already cost it considerably across the country, where a mood is spreading among major clusters of Hindu voters that they are being ignored by a UPA that seems to have space only for the minorities. Provocative actions by some minority groups, such as seeking to ban the teaching of the Gita in schools has only added to the alienation of several Hindus from their earlier embrace of secularism.
Digvijay Singh is known to have command over anonymous pamphleteers and others trained in the planting of negative information about opponents, news subsequently retailed across a network of small publications and internet sites, thereby catching fire.
This changed mood ought to have boosted the performance of the BJP. That it did not can be directly traced to the simmering rivalry between Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the Delhi quartet (L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari) of the former ruling party. Aware that communal polarisation is the trump card of the regional challenger to their dominance over the BJP, the four have sought to accentuate the Vajpayee line of Nehru-izing the saffron party, openly distancing themselves and the campaign from Modi, "to avoid polarising the Muslim vote". They failed, in that the vote of the community was indeed polarised (as a result of the ceaseless Congress propaganda warning of the perils of a BJP-BSP coalition), while the Hindu vote got atomised in the very way that the BJP's Delhi-based strategists sought to ensure for the Muslim vote. The only benefit secured by the Congress from its "information offensive" was an increase in its upper-caste votes, a rise caused by the perception within this bloc that Mayawati and Gadkari would join hands after 6 March. Had Muslims too flocked to Rahul Gandhi's standard, his team would have comfortably crossed a three-figure tally.
That they did not was not due to any lack of effort on his part. Short of announcing his conversion to Islam, Rahul Gandhi worked hard at presenting a Muslim-focused image. While his beard may be a fashion statement rather than a political gimmick, the
Heir Apparent of the Congress has devoted substantial chunks of time towards meeting key members of the conservative Muslim establishment, including in several seminaries. The problem for Rahul Gandhi is that the Muslim in India is no different from the Christian or the Hindu. He or she looks towards the 21st century and not the 19th. She or he wants to hear Rahul Gandhi's vision of modern India, rather than constantly be told that Muslims are an endangered minority whose interests only his party can secure. Overwhelmingly, Muslims are shedding the defensive, "victim" mindset that in the past had made many of them fodder for the Bukharis. Unfortunately, in Rahul's India, the only Muslims he seems to take seriously are the dwindling number who still cling to the Shahi Imam's retrogressive mould. He does not look, for example, of the millions of young Muslim women who are rejecting the shackles of conservatism in favour of joining the global village through advanced education. From Salman Khurshid down, Congress leaders in UP were forced to dance to a medieval tune, one completely out of sync with the aspirations of most Muslims. Small wonder that the community related better to the (clean-shaven) Akhilesh than they did to Rahul.
The backing given by the UPA to retrogressive elements within the Muslim community has not had the desired effect of ensuring that the community become a reliable vote bank for the ruling party. Instead, it seems to have made many allergic to
Congress backing for conservatives. It is no secret that the Congress took the lead in ensuring the removal from Dar-ul-Uloom of Maulana Vastanvi, simply
for saying that Muslims in Gujarat, together with all the rest of society, wanted development. Given Vastanvi's exemplary record in the education of women and in promoting curricula that empower young Muslims to be productive citizens, this is a tragedy for minority education in India. Given the zombie-like consistency of the Congress High Command in pursuing hazardous pathways, it is unlikely that UP will teach Sonia and Rahul that the only way they can hope to repeat 2009 would be to reach out to all Indians rather than just a few segments, and to those who look to the 21st century rather than to the 19th. By their patronage of those peddling communal stereotypes last seen in the 1940s, the Congress is doing a disservice not only to the country, but to itself. All that playing up the "Minorities in Danger" bogey will achieve will be a significant rise in traction for those voices that make the claim of Hindus being in danger. The politics of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi helped Akhilesh Yadav to power in UP in 2012. The same policies may propel Narendra Modi to power in Delhi come 2014.