Ifs and buts of Elections 2019


I am not a psephologist, neither do I owe the ability to perfectly predict what goes on inside mind of Indians. Social scientists of variety have been at it to tell us who will win, whose winnability is it this time in Indian Parliamentary elections. Facebook’s, WhatsApp and so on, they are all over it. Hats off to their ability.

I got inspired and thought I will also try my hand at this very attractive vocation. So I asked the question to myself: who will win the General Elections 2019? I don’t have a clear cut answer and that is an answer in itself because it does not seem like a wave – a clean sweep that we saw in 2014. Then I went on to see what if

What if SP-BSP alliance wins around 40-45 seats in UP

What if Congress performs a little better in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh following their win in assembly elections thereby preventing 2014 repeat performance for BJP there

What if DMK-Congres combine performs well and takes away at least 75% seats in Tamil Nadu

What if Congress-JD(S) combine manage to get half of seats in Karnataka and Left does the same in Kerala

What if TMC wins around 34-36 seats in Bengal

What if North East does not repeat itself as 2014

With such ifs BJP may not retain the position it held in 2014. This would mean that some other political forces might form the next government. And given that it is all about ifs and buts this may or may not happen. What is important is to think about what will happen if there is a new government – new political forces who claim to represent a counter-narrative to the earlier regime?

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The Battle at Begusarai: More than loss and win it is about what kind of politics we want

There are a lot of anti-BJP intellectuals who have not been writing why people should vote for Kanhaiya Kumar. And I understand the predicament. For them, dilemma emanates from the fact that either of the anti-BJP candidates – RJD or CPI – would work. I also understand why both are put at the same plane – because there is a belief among many that the need is to defeat BJP at all costs, which I may not agree with. Defeating BJP is also an ideological act of defeating a politics that uses communal hatred, hates dissent and neglects the masses to serve a few corporates. Any opposition to right wing must be able to answer why despite alliances of different kinds it has not been able to curtail growth of right-wing in India since 1989. Similarly, it must be able to answer if fighting right wing is only about electoral alliances or is it also a much deeper question of socio-economic transformation. Begusarai to me is an interesting conjuncture to dwell upon these questions.

The elections for the Begusarai constituency have acquired significance because of two reasons: firstly, it has Kanhaiya Kumar, who has been made into a symbol of anti-BJP politics, contesting, and secondly the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are pitted against Kanhaiya Kumar. As usual the politics of caste and religion is being played at its best by the RJD and BJP. In this age of technology driven democracy the social media is flooded with messages on why one should keep community’s interest in mind while voting. For secularism and democracy to exist a more profound battle needs to be waged – a battle that is ideological, a battle that transcends the communitarian politics in an age and time when community’s political allegiances keep shifting. This is also an age and time when identitarian politics shorn of its political economy is debated by journalists and university academics in isolation from what is happening on the ground. This is not a battle about an individual called Kanhaiya Kumar. It is neither a battle of one community’s assertion over another. It is rather a battle about how those political forces, who win in the name of a particular religion or caste, when come to Parliament have the singular agenda of destroying the sense of collective, privatising each and sphere of our lives, transform all of us into precarious wage-workers, destroy any semblance of the public (whether in health or education) and take away from us our rights to express, dissent and disagree.

In a situation when Raj Thackeray supports Congress, when Dalit formations like RPI and Dalit Panthers go with right wing, when RLSP shifts from being a BJP’s partner to being Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) or when Nitish Kumar keeps wavering between secular and communal goal posts it has become difficult to make sense of secular politics or for that matter politics of social justice. What was RLSP, RPI, JD(U) or others doing when Muslims were being lynched, when sectarian food regimes were being put in place or when universities were attacked consistently as they were in the government? Everything that the central government was doing had their tacit acceptance. Their goal posts shift from being secular to being communal and vice-versa. When Sanjay Kumar, a faculty at central university in Motihari was nearly lynched to what extent did the political compatriots talking about communalism and social justice take the battle forward apart from issuing statements? The political battle is turned into a farce by political organisations such as JD (U), which sought vote on an anti-communal plank (as in 2015 assembly elections) but became part of the communal government. In a situation when politics has become farce, when it has been shorn on any ideological commitment to the ideas of justice, equality or transformation and when electoral battles are no longer about ideas but about being in power the discourse of CPI candidate in Begusarai that we do not promise you things that are beyond our control but we promise you that we will not sift sides, that we will fight alongside you, that we will contest the forces that create unemployment, agrarian distress, sectarian violence and so on is a refreshing break. It, then, becomes an electoral battle about ideas and politics of transformation. It ceases to be a rhetoric or typical opportunist bourgeois electoral process. In this kind of situation the battle is not about an individual such as Kanhaiya Kumar. He is merely an embodiment of whatever has transpired in politics in last few years. What brings together so many people in his support is not only his ability to brazenly stand against the powers that are out to destroy the ideas and places that talk of a world where you are not put behind bars for being a dissident but because he symbolises a possibility, a hope that would enkindle a new wave (whose direction will have to be decided soon).

Some journalists went to the extent of wrongly presenting facts about the elections, more so when there is anti-BJP Mahagathbandhan hell bent on ensuring that the CPI candidate should not win. This is not a Battle only about winning or losing. It is more than that. It is about upholding a politics, which is negotiating between the rhetoric of social justice, which didn’t lead to anything more than curtailing the hegemony of savarnas, and the politics of hatred. It is about moving beyond that rhetoric by bringing in the element of redistribution along with recognition while simultaneously countering the menace of the most ugly collaboration of neoliberal and neoconservative forces. Kanhaiya Kumar and Begusarai in that sense must be read as symbols in this Battle.

It has also been seen that once again the onus of putting together an anti-BJP front has been put on the left with questions such as why is it contesting against RJD or Congress. RJD has put up its own candidate against CPI in Begusarai and Rahul Gandhi has contested against a left candidate in Kerala. A close look at the history of India would reveal that the Left has been moreprincipled and consistent in its fight against communalism. Not only that the recent resistance against the right wing in India on the ground has been led by the left be it the farmer mobilisations or the student’s resistance in campuses. The candidature of Kanhaiya Kumar needs to be seen in this light as well – as a person who withstood the onslaught of the repressive state apparatuses of police and criminalised ethos of the right wing student politics. Every time one thinks of what happened to JNU during last five years among many images that conjures in front of our eyes one of them is that of Kanhaiya Kumar resisting the administration, being hounded inside the justice system physically by lawyers while the institution only stood there looking at all this like a helpless entity. Can you recall the image of Kanhaiya Kumar and Vishwajit being assaulted inside court premises by lawyers? It was a blatant statement from the right wing that spaces such as that of even judiciary is not beyond their reach (remember that nothing happened to those assaulting lawyers).  

I am yet to see that image of a fighter in the RJD leadership or the candidate from Begusarai. While one would not question Laloo Yadav for stopping the rath of Advani when no one was daring to but the current leadership is not the same. Tejaswi Yadav or Tanveer Hasan do not invoke any imagery in you specially if you have grown up in Bihar and have kept a close watch on its politics. Their names or that of the RJD today invokes an image of a blank canvas, without any concrete thought or action on the issues that confront us today. There is a general lack of ideological tenacity in anti-right wing politics. The Mahagathbandhan is no different – Jeetan Ram Majhi was with Nitish Kumar, RLSP was part of NDA in not so distant past and many other leaders have been part of different set of politics at different points of time. In other words, it is an alliance, which is not so embedded in a politics of anti-conservativism or anti-neoliberalism. Kanhaiya Kumar as of today represents a distinction – of being someone who is fearless, has fought on the streets and will hopefully continue to do that against both the forces and it will be a fight of principles not driven by the temporary electoral interests.

The intellectuals who were talking about defeating communal forces never posed the question to RJD and Congress about its decision to put up candidates against the left even though they were not asking for many seats. What history does Tanvir Hasan symbolises in this fight against the behemoth of an authoritarian state? Or for that matter what are the credentials of Tejaswi Yadav as a political personality to fight the right wing resurgence. If electoral choices are to be made on the basis on contributions of how much individuals have contributed to a fight then Kanhaiya Kumar from Begusarai or Amarnath Yadav from Siwan for that matter clearly win the case. By putting up candidates against them the other ‘secular’ formations have only played in the hands of the right wing.

This is a defining moment in the history of neoliberal-neoconservative India. It is so not only because the impending direction of politics will consolidate the common sensing of hatred towards minorities but it will also normalise the destruction of universities and schools – their intellectual-ideological structures. Killing someone because you don’t like his way of life, his food habits, his ideas etc., will be the new normal. Differences, debates, disagreements will become pathologies as authoritarianism in institutions of all types increase, surveillance reaches new heights and terminologies such as Justice will lose their presence even in texts. This moment is also defining because it awaits what comes out as an alternative vision to this authoritarianism – an ideological framing of idea of justice entertwined with anti-neoliberalism and anti-neoconservativism is urgently needed. Unless done we will slide down further towards an order that would not allow any space to meaningful opposition. Oppositions would remain only as superficial structures under garb of different names with similar politics. We have seen that in some of the states recently. What is required is a concrete political vision that is being put forth in Begusarai through the CPI candidate. It would need further debate, refinement and concretisation but right now as an electoral process the elections in Begusarai needs our attention as a crucial political statement.

(Note: Image courtesy https://www.socialnews.xyz/2019/04/12/begusarai-bihar-2019-lok-sabha-elections-cpis-kanhaiya-kumar-during-an-election-campaign-gallery/)

Afghanistan: Can it emerge out of its Darkness with External Assistance?

Wars have been fought historically to control territories in physical sense as well as in non-physical economic sense. In contemporary times these wars are not doing anything different. They have only acquired different weapons – from military stockpiles to the power of media, which presents to the world what the powers that be want to project. The reality and truth have to be dealt with sceptically because the way media presents it to us has been question many a times. They are constructed; they are partisan; and they are part of a larger project. I was a school going child when the television channels and print media had declared that the whole world in unison wanted a war against Saddam Hussain after he trampled Kuwait under his tanks. It left me thinking if the whole world really wanted the western imperialists to wage this war. I know I did not want and I know many more people did not want this. I also know that a survey was not done across world to ask people what they thought about this invasion by the Western forces. A war, which began with the farcical agenda of restoring democracy, could not do much to that effect even after thousands and thousands died over a period of time. America could neither achieve control over natural resources in Iraq nor could it win the war. It created one after the other new ghosts with missiles, grenades and automatic rifles, which came from nowhere else but from USA itself.

When ISIS took over it began using the same arms, manufactured by 24 countries, that it captured from the Iraqi and other forces[i]. A report by Conflict Armament Research (CAR) said that some weapons bought by the U.S. military in 2015 ended up in the hands of Islamic State fighters within two months. “Under at least two different programs, the U.S. government has supplied weapons to Syrian armed groups, first to fight the Assad regime and then to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against the Islamic State. Some of ISIS’ weapons are also thought to have been pilfered from military stockpiles while others were purchased illicitly”[ii]. We very well know what has happened in case of Afghanistan and who armed whom in its history. Those ghosts from the past are the ones haunting today. Politically, Afghanistan seems to be moving in a direction where the forces that wanted Taliban out and considered it as their enemy have now accepted its presence and inevitability. Taliban is being legitimised or has forced powers to recognise itself[iii]. Obviously, a country like India says it is doing this to promote democracy in Afghanistan as its spokesperson said: “India’s consistent policy has been that such efforts should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled and with participation of the Government of Afghanistan”[iv]. When Gen. Austin Miller, the head of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, said that “this is not going to be won militarily… This is going to a political solution” he was only reinforcing the fact that USA and others had failed to secure even their economic interests and had murdered thousands of people in vain. It was also a reiteration that they must get out of Afghanistan. However, it seems difficult and after the mess that they created over 16 years or so it will become extremely difficult for Afghanistan to come back to any kind of normalcy in near future.

War today, as in past, revolves around economy and economic benefits. Unfortunately, for likes of USA or UK they cannot go today and militarily occupy some country as they ran their colonial dreams. Hence, they develop new methods to retain and expand their control. While they spend a lot on military their interest lies in unilaterally deciding how to lead a nation without colonising them in the classic sense. They are colonised today in newer ways – through indirect and direct management of the local democracies and playing a role in the national policy-making and so on.

War means Business: It is not about democracy at all

If one looks at statistics s/he will be tell the amount of money that comes to Afghanistan as foreign aid and the amount that is spent on military operations or towards militarisation of the Afghan society. USA is supposed to have spent a total of around $45 billion in 2018, which is supposed to include “$5 billion for Afghan forces and $13 billion for U.S. forces inside Afghanistan. Much of the rest is for logistical support. Some $780 million goes toward economic aid”[v]. When it comes to spendings, we must not be mistaken that it is being spent on safeguarding people. The weaponry that is used is produced somewhere and wherever it is produced it generates a huge profit there. In other words, a missile, a bomb, a rifle or a tank that is fired or dropped in Afghanistan augments riches of private capital in United states.

The biggest beneficiaries of Pentagon largesse will, as always, be the major defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, which received more than $36 billion in defense-related contracts in fiscal 2015 (the most recent year for which full statistics are available). To put that figure in perspective, Lockheed Martin’s federal contracts are now larger than the budgets of 22 of the 50 states. The top 100 defense contractors received $175 billion from the Pentagon in fiscal year 2015, nearly one-third of the Department of Defense’s entire budget. These numbers will only grow if Trump gets the money he wants to build more ships, planes, tanks, and nuclear weapons[vi].

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) Report of 2018 says that an aid agency like USAID, which has undertaken a project for women in Afghanistan worth $216 million for Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs (Promote), after spending $89.7 million over three years (from 2013 when it was launched) “has not fully assessed the extent to which Promote has improved the status of women in Afghanistan”. Its aim was to improve status of more than 75000 women. Over all, SIGAR’s financial audits have identified more than $414.6 million in questioned costs.

Regarding the anti-narcotics programme of USA SIGAR says that “no counterdrug program undertaken [between 2002–2017] by the United States, its coalition partners, or the Afghan government resulted in lasting reductions in poppy cultivation or opium production.”[vii] One often wonders where does all this money lands, which comes into Afghanistan or is spent on its security (ranging from the purchase of arms and ammunition to employing soldiers or its economic well being).

Creating a New Corrupt Class: Ruling through Proxy

The story of someone like Hikmatullah Shadman, an Afghan trucking-company owner, who earned more than $ 160 million dollars while contracting for the United States military is an example of how an elite formation within the Afghani society has taken place in course of war. His story was that from rags to riches. A person, who went on to become an interpreter for the western forces, got into trucking business as his contacts with them ripened[viii]. The story of Fahim Hashimy, the English language teacher who owned only a bicycle, but after he became interpreter to the American military went on to become a millionaire is only another instance. He went on to own a television company, logistics and construction companies as well as a low-cost domestic airline.[ix]

After the 9/11 attacks, it has been argued that USA was looking for local allies and many of the ex-warlords became obvious choices. The warlords have developed “a mafia-like control of jobs, security services, money, contracts and land”[x]. For instance, Somebody like “Gul Agha Sherzai, the warlord who had retaken the province with the help of the C.I.A. and Special Forces” became the Governor of Kandahar. “…His brother Abdul Raziq was a general in the Afghan Army, in charge of the airport. The Sherzai also controlled lucrative contracts to supply gravel to the American base, and Raziq’s company, Sherzai Construction and Supply, provided trucks to the Americans.” Americans had built an economy on sub-contracting and “Between 2007 and 2014, the U.S. spent eighty-nine billion dollars on contracting in Afghanistan”[xi].

It is interesting that a discourse has also been built by think tanks about how good Gul Agha Sherzai is as a governor/administrator. A Carnegie paper argues that Governor Gul Agha Sherzai

adopted a newcomer’s strategy of co-opting the tribal leadership at the district and village level through regular consultations and the provision of gifts and favors. He has leveraged these relationships, as well as ties to the U.S. military ground forces, to affirm his authority. In so doing, Sherzai has successfully delivered on a variety of priorities, from counternarcotics and reconstruction to provincial security, without necessarily advancing the cultivation of formal institutions of provincial governance[xii].

He is shown to be a person committed to democracy and allowed popular ideas to be included in his governance. The paper says that

In a democracy, people’s ideas should be collected and this is what the governor is doing. If he had started to implement all projects without considering the priorities of the people, it would have distressed people. It would not have received a positive response. He is not a dictator—he has collected people’s ideas and involved people in the decision-making process.

This runs counter to the way he promoted his own interests as shown above. Some other reports have mentioned that when he was “governor of Kandahar, Sherzai allegedly extorted large amounts of money from civilians at police checkpoints, embezzled reconstruction money, and ran protection rackets for opium traffickers. U.S. officials estimate he has a net worth of $300 million after running Kandahar. He has also been accused of murdering and torturing rivals[xiii].

The informal ways in which American capital was pumping in its money was accompanied by the development of highly corrupt formal institutions. Kabul Bank, which became symbol of “progress and modernisation in the country and held the salaries of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, policemen and government staff paid by international donors including America and Japan” nearly collapsed when a fraud scheme of over $861 million was detected. This money was diverted from the bank to “a clique of beneficiaries including the president’s brother”, a British-funded audit by Kroll found out. With a modus operandi that included 10 airline pilots on the payroll to smuggle vast sums of cash out of the country to Dubai via Kabul airport it made most of its loans to 12 individuals. It is said that “Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s brother, received $30.5 million… Haseen Fahim, a brother of the vice president, also received millions. Both men used loans to buy large shareholdings in the bank. The audit found the chairman, Sher Khan Farnood, and chief executive, Khalilullah Frozi, profited most by keeping two sets of books and fabricating loans to divert money to themselves and their other shareholders”. A lot of money was invested in Dubai’s property bubble[xiv].

How the Picture Emerges

As part of its modern day conquest the Western powers invade Afghanistan, obviously with the rhetoric of saving democracy from the hands of forces they themselves had created. The same powers had created the Frankenstein’s monster that went beyond their control. In fact, America built this monster bit by bit – from training in arm combat to bomb making.

American officials estimate that, from 1985 to 1992, 12,500 foreigners were trained in bomb-making, sabotage and urban guerrilla warfare in Afghan camps the CIA helped to set up[xv].

It was a great day for the guerrillas in 1986 when USA gave them Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and provided an overall support to the Afghan “guerrillas” worth $2 billion. Saudi Arabia matched the American money in a joint account in Washington for missiles. Some Saudi princes on their own also funded these guerrillas. Americans went to the extent of exporting around 700 mules from Tennessee to Afghanistan. China supplied rocket launchers[xvi]. The arms that were supplied to the Mujahideens to fight a left government were subsequently used against the suppliers. Now more arms were to be produced, bought and transported to fight those forces that America had created. Hence, the only contented partner in this whole exercise has been the arms lobby, which never ceased producing bombs and weapons whether to be supplied to the Mujahideens or to the Coalition Forces. The clear winners are the arms manufacturer.

What this whole process in Afghanistan from day one did was to not allow Afghanis decide what they wanted their polity to be like. The photographic documentation of life in Afghanistan in 1960s by Dr William Podlich, a faculty of Arizona State University, revealed it to be a completely different world, at least the urban centres. From there to a situation where death dances everywhere is a world apart. And it is important that we think about whom this dance of death entertains, who foments it and who wants it to continue.

A peculiar economy, which survives on aid has come into existence. This economy is extremely hierarchized along class lines with widening gap between those who have pocketed benefits from the foreign money and those who have been not been able to do so. The wide gap is also on account of absence of any other vocation that could expand the service sector or for that matter manufacturing in the country. One often wonders if there is an intentional design on account of those who have pocketed benefits out of war in Afghanistan to let the economy be as it is. This way it will serve the armament industry and would allow the few to remain in power to do things that they want to.

What is of concern amidst all this is that innocent people get caught in this design of the western powers and local entrenched interests, which according to some are also ethnic in nature. The recent instances of Hazara villages being attacked by the Taliban is a point in the case[xvii]. Some scholars are of the view that Ashraf Ghani has very intentionally cracked down on the non-pashtun militias which have been trying to protect themselves against the Taliban because he intends to “legitimize the Taliban as a Pashtun nationalist force through ethnonationalist politics” in order to “expand his base among the radical Pashtuns” so as to muster “more votes in the next election”[xviii]. No doubt Hazaras have been at the receiving end in this conflict but the ethnic question will have to be understood in its complexity and not simply as a conflict between different ethnicities. The recent offensive against the Hazaras has been seen as an effort by Taliban to wrest those regions and put them under their control[xix] and given the past history of how Taliban thinks and what it did to them during 1996-2001 rule it will be disastrous for this community. There have been efforts to construct some idea of a Afghan nation-state and the consistent rhetoric regarding the same laced with some cocktail of democratic practices such as elections and so on are proving contradictory to what is happening on the ground. A democratic politics ought to shun away warlords, contractors and middlemen from the playground and make it an egalitarian, equal opportunity system in the best possible way so that each and every ethnicity, class and gender could participate in the building of a democratic nation. The recognition of Taliban as a political force to negotiate with is a major hurdle in that direction because such a political force feeds on conservative, sectarian and narrow vision of a world, where others (such as particular ethnicities, women in general and subversive ideas) must remain subservient to their vision and practice. Such a politics rather than being democratic would foster aggression, violence and intolerance and that would impede the process of making of the new nation. The nation cannot shun its history, it cannot teach historical amnesia but that is what Afghanistan of today is doing by manipulating their textbooks, which are funded by Americans and Indians alike. You cannot hide Hitler from children, rather tell them what historical conditions produce a Hitler and teach them to work towards not creating those conditions. That is how you shun such a tendency. Afghanistan seems to doing the opposite. It is a massive pedagogical and intellectual failure supported by those powers that believe that the nation should never get out of the peril in which it is trapped.

Endnotes

[i] https://www.amnesty.org.uk/how-isis-islamic-state-isil-got-its-weapons-iraq-syria

[ii] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/isis-weapons-arsenal-included-some-purchased-u-s-government-n829201

[iii] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/india-russia-support-afghan-led-afghan-owned-peace-process-deputy-nsa/articleshow/66621195.cms

[iv] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/11/afghan-peace-conference-india-shares-table-taliban-181109092419577.html

[v] https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2018/02/07/pentagon-afghan-war-costing-us-45-billion-per-year/

[vi] https://www.thenation.com/article/we-are-spending-a-trillion-on-war-and-we-need-to-own-up-to-it/

[vii] https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2018-10-30qr.pdf

[viii] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/03/07/the-man-who-made-millions-off-the-afghan-war

[ix] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32008567

[x] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/the-warlords-casting-a-shadow-over-afghanistan-1682660.html

[xi] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/03/07/the-man-who-made-millions-off-the-afghan-war

[xii] https://carnegieendowment.org/files/warlords_as_bureaucrats.pdf

[xiii]https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/news/2009/10/26/6734/profiles-of-afghan-power-brokers/

[xiv] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/9706093/Kabul-Bank-diverted-540-million-to-group-of-12-in-massive-fraud.html

[xv] https://www.theguardian.com/world/1999/jan/17/yemen.islam

[xvi] https://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/18/world/arming-afghan-guerrillas-a-huge-effort-led-by-us.html

[xvii] https://thediplomat.com/2018/11/a-new-turn-in-the-talibans-war-hazarajat-under-siege/

[xviii] ibid

[xix] https://www.rferl.org/a/afghan-taliban-wants-what-it-hasn-t-been-able-to-hold-hazara-regions/29598848.html

When Haryana Burnt: Religion, Politics and Lumpenism

The Failure of the Haryana Government

Why the Haryana government failed to ensure that the violence that Panchkula and Sirsa witnessed is more than merely a law and order question because law and order is as much a political as social question. As pointed out by courts despite section 144 thousands of supported marched into the city whereas we know that the few hundred workers trying to hold a meeting in the Honda compound were beaten up mercilessly and very often smaller sized marches by workers and civil society are repressed with utmost efficacy. In other words, the thousands who marched inside the city were allowed by the administration to sneak in knowing from past experiences of violence involving Rampal or much later the Jat reservation agitation unless Haryana government admits its inability to handle such incidents.

The administrative machinery has been lenient towards Dera Sacha Sauda because he has been providing them a vote bank. It was way back in 2014 that the Dera supported the BJP in Haryana and asked its supporters to vote for them. The BJP leaders even sought his blessings. The BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) also found his support in Delhi elections in 2015. The pictures of Haryana Chief Minister and leaders like Kailash Vijayvargiya also pointed to the relationship that the present government had with him. In fact, the education minister of the state, Ram Bilas Sharma, defended the march of Dera supporters to Panchkula on grounds that the Dera supporters are peace loving. He, in fact, had donated Rs 51 lakh to the Dera recently. Anil Vij, the senior Minister of the Haryana government had given Dera Rs.50 lakh from his discretionary funds for promoting sports. Manish Grover, another Minister did lag behind and gave his some money from his discretionary fund. In other words, if the political party running the state has such a close relationship with the Dera it was impossible for the law and order machinery to act against them. The administration could only maintain the appearance of being on guard while allowing the mob build up in the otherwise quiet township.

The implications of such a politics are serious. We have seen in recent past how godmen have been charged with serious criminal charges and have been awaiting court judgements – ranging from Asaram to Rampal to Ram Rahim. It is important to note that these are are also extremely rich entities. For instance, the Dera’s income was Rs 165,248,455 in 2010-11; In the year 2011-12, it grew to Rs 202,099,999 and in the 2012-13, it touched Rs 290,818,760.

Once this money combines with the political connections it produces an extremely corrupt and deviational religious entity. A process of militarisation of such sects also start as we saw in case of Rampal and now in case of Ram Rahim, who is also one of the 36 people in India to get a VVIP status and Z level security. While such personalities must be held liable for their acts the political formations, which help them in building an empire based on sheer lumpenism and violence waiting beneath the appearance of quietude and solidarity, must also be held liable.

BJP’s Politics: Opposing Judiciary, Supporting Violence Against Women?

BJP has a history of its leaders coming out openly in support of chargesheeted godmen such as Uma Bharti’s defence of Asaram Bapu in 2013. Their understanding of women’s position was also clear when their leaders remarked that they must remain within their laxman rekha or that they must not wear jeans, etc. The events of August 25 are more or less a repetition of the same understanding within the party. With over twenty people killed in the first few hours after the judgement, the statement of the Haryana Chief Minister that some miscreants had infiltrated the followers was still an act of trying to save the Dera leader from further humiliation. Thankfully, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has been extremely proactive and ordered that all his properties be attached. Even in such a moment apart from the milder reaction of the Haryana Chief Minister the vocal BJP leader Sakshi Maharaj stood for the convicted godman. He not only put the onus of violence on the Court, which convicted Ram Rahim, but also indirectly meant that he should not have been convicted. His conviction appears to be an attack on India’s culture to the Member of Parliament.

The MP asks as to why was the voice of one person (meaning the complainant) given so much of importance when crores stand with him. The ramification of such a defence is also that the complaint filed by a woman in this highly patriarchal society should not be given as much as importance as the larger (patriarchal) society itself. Hence, let the oppression continue because it hurts the perpetrators. Now the question also remains that why does BJP and its progressive Beti Bachao Beti Padao rhetoric has space for such voices and such politics to coexist within itself. It may not be a rocket science to answer this question given the history ad politics of the Right but it needs to be answered by the ruling party in light of all its rhetorics and even other formations who have been patronising this phenomena as why would noboy came in defence of the women who for so long stuck to their complaints when powerful politician and officials were trying to pressurise the CBI official to drop the case.

What also needs to be understood is how such a huge following from the poor, marginalised section of society gets attracted towards such sects. It is more than the charisma of the person – it is also the larger political economy within this needs ot be located.

Photo courtesy: The Economic Times

Ghar Vaapsi for Nitish Kumar and Project Bihar of BJP

In 2012 Nitish Kumar had said, “The leader must be secular and have an abiding faith in the democratic values“. In 2013 JD(U) executive had criticised Narendra Modi’s candidature for Prime Ministership on the grounds that he failed in discharging his duties as the head of the state to check communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. The same political party today sees him as upright and secular as Nitish Kumar moves back to his old ally. So, either he has become ‘communal’ or BJP’s Prime Minister has become secular since 2012. Whatever is the nature of transformation in the orientation of the two personalities it will have significant ramifications for Indian politics. Whatever the ‘ghar vaapsi’ of Nitish Kumar means it denotes more a victory for BJP than Nitish Kumar, who would only be a loser in long run because he heads a party which is without cadre. He only survives through populist policy measures. BJP will use these few years to demolish the support base of Laloo Prasad Yadav and extend the RSS presence in state and Nitish Kumar will happily oblige them as he did earlier.

BJP’s Bihar project seems to be nearing its completion. In an environment where corruption is abounding the selective display of efficiency of Enforcement Directorate or Income Tax authorities or CBI definitely raises questions. The recent expose about Chhatisgarh minister’s wife buying forest land, Shashi Karnawat’s complaint against corrupt bureaucracy in Madhya Pradesh, criticisms from within party have come and veteran leaders suspended for raising questions, Anandiben Patel‘s daughter took advantage of her mother’s political position, veteran lawyer Prashant Bhushan has been raising issues of corruption relating to Birla-Sahara papers and the related trail of corruption in the system or evidence have been there about the undue favours to particular corporate houses but nothing has been done. When there is so much of corruption around the country when the central government picks up certain cases (which are in the opposition political spectrum) and ignore the ones which are within their own realm it smacks of a deep seated motive.

There might be valid cases of corruption against the Yadav clan as they failed to learn even after the conviction of Laloo Prasad Yadav and, therefore, there is no ground for not raising questions about the same. However, the way BJP and JD(U) have managed to create a political atmosphere to delegitimise one political force and not others also need equal attention, which nobody seems to be doing. Nitish Kumar’s closeness to BJP is definitely not due to the sudden discovery of a corrupt Deputy Chief Minister but he has been consistently showing signs of going back to the old ally as pointed in an earlier article. In an alliance with Laloo Prasad Yadav Nitish was not getting any national significance and RJD was definitely going to be part of a national alliance against BJP. If he remained with RJD alliance he would have been gradually eclipsed. Nitish Kumar wants to be in limelight and is looking to play much longer innings and BJP seems, as of now, to be more helpful in that. He fails to understand that Narendra Modi would overshadow any political personality because of his own domineering and masculine traits.

Another Mockery of Democracy and Right-Wing Orientation of Nitish Kumar

The quick unfolding of events on 26th July 2017 are too quick to be taken as a result of some sudden development. The calculations and internal lobbying must have been going on for some time now. BJP has shown that if it cannot win by popular mandate it has other ways to come to power. It must be recalled that the 2015 assembly elections were fought by telling people that they should vote for a secular political alliance which also went by the agenda of social justice (it is a different matter if they really believed in it) against a brahmanical, communal political alliance. BJP and its allies were routed in the elections. People voted for a secular front. The upright Chief Minister of Bihar belied the hopes of voters and has now gone with the opponents against whom he was asking a mandate. He could have gone to people with the problem of corruption rather than going against a democratic verdict which brought him to power.

What also needs to be analysed is the fact that the upright politician is going back to an alliance which has shown its fangs post-2014 through encouraging mob lynchings of minority community, delegitimising the judiciary, parliament and office of President (where swearing-in is celebrated through slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’). His allies would be politicians who spew venom against minority communities. It would be interesting to see how he would defend his ‘secular’ credentials amidst all this.

Implications for 2019

It is increasingly becoming clear that the anti-BJP alliance of the so-called secular parties will be more cosmetic than with any potential to do damage to BJP in 2019 elections. With JD(U) going with BJP and Mulayam Singh, in all probability, will be siding with the NDA, the possibilities of a front would be between Congress, CPI(M), BSP, TMC, Akhilesh faction of SP and RJD as major parties. Whether these will be able to counter the corporate funded blitzkrieg and RSS cadre work on the ground will be a big question. Also, the positive outcomes for BJP in impending elections in states like Orissa will have a popular sway in their favour. Given the existing political circumstances, it would be difficult to counter the right-wing offensive even in 2019. The only option left for the anti-BJP forces would be to go back to the masses as BJP cannot be defeated now only through the mere arithmetic of alliances.

Political Turmoil in Bihar and the Future of Anti-Communal Politics

When the 2015 assembly election campaign was in full swing central locations such as Dak Bungalow road had massive posters pointing to the way BJP fomented communal riots. The history of Laloo Prasad Yadav and the memory etched in the popular imagination of a leader who arrested Lal Krishna Advani when the ascendant BJP had taken out a rath yatra for the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. Laloo could do it even though the Left government in West Bengal had failed to arrest Advani. This consolidated the secular support behind RJD and thereby JD (U). The initiation of the campaign through a mega congregation in Gandhi Maidan brought another section behind Laloo when he announced that the election was for Mandal – II. These consolidations also happened when Sangh Parivar leadership was spewing venom against minorities and reservation. The additional advantage that Laloo brought to the alliance was mass support. As the main campaigner, his eloquence connected him more to masses compared to the rhetoric of Narendra Modi (who addressed 31 rallies, more than any other leader) and Amit Shah.

BJP has overcome its defeat in Delhi and Bihar elections through victories in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur. Given the absence of any formidable opposition, it will perform better in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu compared to earlier elections. Bihar is one state where it would not be an easy ride for BJP even in 2019 and this is largely because of the brahmanical and anti-minority politics it has pursued. Hence, it is important for BJP to work out mechanisms to delegitimise Laloo Yadav, which would make it inconvenient for the possible allies to go ahead with him. And one way of delegitimisation is to bring up the corrupt nature of Laloo Prasad Yadav.

It is a universal knowledge that Laloo has been convicted once in case of corruption. One would assume that such a mature politician would not repeat the same as it jeopardises his political career. If the charges are proven against him it would reflect not only his political immaturity but his failure to overcome the shortcomings of being trapped in family-led politics.

The challenge for Laloo

A lot of is being said about the dilemma of Nitish Kumar – wherein he can neither afford to be branded an opportunist and communal by going with BJP nor can he completely go against an image of anti-corruption leader that he has projected for himself. However, it may not be an easy ride for Laloo Prasad Yadav and his family in case they part ways with JD(U). Even if BJP is not able to fast-track the cases against them (which it can be given its authoritarian penchant) how would Laloo project himself to the voters will be complicated. One possibility would be that he goes to them and plays victim at the hands of a brahmanical and anti-minority party and whip up caste and religious sympathy and support for himself. However, it may not be that easy now given that there is an expansion of middle class, if not economic then aspirational, which has been made to feel that a corruption free India would ensure them a better life (the absence of any popular discontent against demonetisation and GST reflects this tendency). The OBC youth may not go in as large number as it used to go earlier with him. Minority vote might stay with him.

Given that BJP’s vote share in the last assembly was around 24.42 % of the total votes polled if JD(U) goes with it (its share was 16.83%) even with reduced votes from minorities it would a stronger alliance also assuming that some OBC votes would go towards it. RJD’s vote share was 18.35% and Congress’s was 6.66%. This would not match the BJP alliance unless they are able to bring towards them at least some savarna votes due to their disenchantment with the BJP leadership at centre as well as the state. They would also require bringing back the Dalit votes towards themselves from JD(U). This political scenario would bring a lot of difficulties for Laloo Prasad Yadav and the big breakthrough that BJP is looking for could be achieved. It must be recalled, as I had stated in an earlier piece in Scroll, that Nitish Kumar has been soft towards Sangh Parivar, hence, with its increased network, it would go to the masses with the BJP agenda like no other political formation. It would also depend on how effectively can the Sangh Parivar take the BJP’s message to the masses. Only Left could have challenged their ideological work at ground level but that is a spent force in Bihar, no doubt some of them would be aligning with RJD if elections happen.

The Long Term Loss

It seems that the battle against communal forces has not been taken seriously by the so-called secular formations. This is reflected in not only an absence of a counter-narrative at ground level to what Sangh Parivar does but it is also reflected in the many chances that they give to the BJP to delegitimise themselves through one charge of crime and corruption or the other. Bihar is important for the national level politics against BJP because if Laloo is delegitimised it would affect the national alliance and may delegitimise the anti-communal politics as well. An alliance of the spent forces like non-BJP forces from UP, Orissa (because BJD would loose in all possibilities) and then Bihar would not have much teeth to encounter the well organised BJP.

Punjab, Goa and Delhi Elections: Scripting a Requiem for AAP

The municipal election results of Delhi have been of special interest this time not so much because one wanted to see whether the BJP-RSS wave (a combination of corporate capital and cadre based politics) sweeps it or not but more because it would give a mid-term appraisal of AAP’s hold over the city. First it was AAP’s humiliating defeat at the Rajouri Garden constituency in an assembly bypoll and now it’s drubbing in the MCD elections. The party would have its usual naïve and implausible explanation – such as after the assembly bypoll Arvind Kejriwal’s comment that people in Rajouri Garden constituency were unhappy because their sitting MLA was sent to Punjab – and then after MCD elections it is obviously the EVM’s fault. Those who are blaming the will have to ensure that when paper trail will be introduced in 2019 General Elections they must win to prove that BJP wins only because it manipulates the machines because they don’t they would be further discredited. The opposition in general and AAP in particular are still not seriously analyzing the reasons of BJP’s victory and therefore have no plan to counter its surge.

However, this is the right time to reflect upon the ‘phenomena’ called AAP. When it won the landslide victory in assembly elections in 2015 analysts and activists felt that a new political force had descended on India’s political horizon. Remember that when it won it was not a chance victory but a concerted work by ‘volunteers’ from across the country and it was a victory of ‘hope’ that AAP would cleanse the system and allow an ideal and clean model of governance. You would have sat in a rickshaw two years back and heard words of praise for ‘Kejriwal’. Going around Delhi talking to people then one felt an excitement about this new political force. The frustration of the middle class with the existing parties and governments and its search for an ‘ideal-type’ governance found an echo with AAP while the poor of the city saw promise of a better life in its rhetoric. The contractual teachers, the temporary DTC staff, the health employees and more importantly the youth had hope from the new dispensation. These hopes, two years down the line, have been shattered and the support base among youth, middle class and the precariously working population has declined drastically.

It all started when a few people within AAP felt insecure and started purging it of others who might have challenged them as objections were raised to the way tickets were distributed among many other things. Given that some of the MLAs have been forced out of the party has partially proven those objections to be true. On another front the party started appointing its public faces to different state bodies, which could have been given to others from outside the party to expand the organisational reach and the public faces could have been assigned important organisational role. For instance, it could have started identifying intellectuals with expertise to head bodies and it would have sent a different message. Along with this its experiments in student’s politics in Delhi University failed miserably and it could neither make inroads into the vast mass of unorganised workers who have been suffering from extremely precarious existence. Like other non-BJP political forces it failed to organisationally capitalise on the demonetisation issue as well. Many of these things were difficult to manage because of the high rhetoric that AAP engaged in during elections. It lacked the basic understanding and foresight that once in state power it would have to follow the rules of the game like going back to a welfare state when the national economy is being aggressively neoliberal was an impossibility. It also needed to realize that within the given framework there are limitations imposed by countervailing political and bureaucratic forces.

It has undertaken significant initiatives in the field of education and health as one could see infrastructural developments such as construction of school buildings and improving health facilities. However, it failed when it came to regularizing teachers in their jobs and undertaking qualitative changes in curriculum and pedagogy. It made a historical decision to implement the idea of neighbourhood school which was recommended as early as 1966 by Kothari Commission and it would have set in motion a lot of changes in schooling system but it could not foresee the High Court’s rejection of the notification at private school’s plea. A step like this could have been made use of if there was an organisational set up to follow it up and take it to the larger public. The idea that private systems of education or health care are not the affordable solutions to the education and health needs of masses and that there can be alternative models as Scandinavian countries or British or French systems demonstrated prior to their dismantling by neoliberal state could not be taken to public. The reason was AAP has lost its network and it never had a robust cadre base.

If AAP needs to save itself from a wipe-out in 2020 it will have to understand two things – that it’s rhetoric and promises of 2015 cannot be achieved fully on account of many political and economic reasons and, secondly, to survive Congress is not the opposition it is the BJP, which has a huge cadre support base through RSS and financial support through corporate funding. In order to sustain itself it will have to expand itself and get out of an oligarchic organisational set up and try to build organisations across the sections that it considers its long term support base. During the MCD elections in a constituency like Greater Kailash or Chitranjan Park one could see that it did not have volunteers, leaflets, public meetings, hoardings or any local mohalla faces. The others had all these. If they do not realise right now and start acting on it even after Punjab, Goa, Rajouri Garden and MCD fiascos this might be a requiem for a political trend that appeared briefly only to get lost in what seems to becoming an unipolar Indian politics.