Rahul faces tough task ahead



Nilofar Suhrawardy

Published — Tuesday 20 November 2012

Last update 20 November 2012 2:57 am

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Now, there remains no doubt about Rahul Gandhi heading Congress party’s campaign for parliamentary elections scheduled to take place in 2014. He will head a five-member, high-power Election Coordination Committee which will “oversee all party activities” related to parliamentary elections.
Not surprisingly, the Indian media has started addressing Rahul as “crown prince” of the Congress party. Despite the Congress going overboard to institutionalize the campaigning process by creating panels and sub-panels to focus on prepoll alliances, manifesto, government programs and communication as well as publicity, substantial attention has yet to be given to its secular agenda and minority card.
The Congress cannot afford to forget that its return to power less than a decade ago was made possible primarily because of Gujarat carnage (2002). The country was then headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Despite the BJP spending millions on its campaign for 2004 parliamentary elections, the country chose to push it out of power. The majority of Indians were against Gujarat carnage being repeated elsewhere under a BJP-led government. True, the Indian Muslims were primary sufferers of what happened in Gujarat in 2002. The rest of country learned about this through media reports and did not allow the same communal fire to engulf their regions. It was this secular spirit that sealed the fate of BJP in 2004 elections.
One is compelled to reflect on the importance that secularism has in the multireligious Indian society and politics for once again efforts are being made to excite communal frenzy. Suddenly, peace and amity prevalent for years in certain parts appear to have been overshadowed by communal disturbances. This naturally raises the question as to whether communal propaganda is being deliberately used for political reasons.
Riots took place in most parts of the country following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on Dec. 6 1992 by Hindu extremists. Ordinary Hindus and Muslims living in Faizabad did not let their ties be affected by the communal frenzy hitting other parts of the country. The situation took a different turn a few weeks ago on Oct. 24. It was a Hindu religious day marking immersion of idols of a deity in a river. As processions carrying idols passed through Faizabad, rumors spread of a stone being thrown at the idols. Even before the rumor was confirmed, within hours, communal riots affected Faizabad. One person was killed, more than a dozen shops and some vehicles burned. This was not simply the case of a death and property worth millions being destroyed but that of secularism of this area being disturbed by communal elements.
As Faizabad limped back to normalcy, people living there were stunned to see their lives disturbed by riots. This naturally implies that these civilians probably had no inkling of their peace being targeted by communal elements. Rumors about the stone throwing were probably deliberately spread. There are reports of more than 100 Muslim homes in Bhadarsa village in Faizabad having been burned down by extremist elements. This only adds credence to the anti-Muslim riots having been deliberately planned as the rioters must have spent some time in collecting petrol or kerosene and selecting Muslim homes to be targeted.
Faizabad is not the only area in UP to have witnessed recent communal conflict. Over the past few months, more than a dozen people have been killed in major and minor communal clashes at Mathura, Pratapgarh, Bareilly and Ghaziabad. The state capital Lucknow and the neighboring town Kanpur have also been affected by communal disturbances.
Considering that peace and harmony prevailed under the former Chief Minister Mayawati’s government, what has led to a sudden rise in these communal disturbances? Have they been deliberately incited by some extremist elements for their political gains in forthcoming parliamentary elections? The 20th anniversary of Babri Masjid’s demolition falls in the coming month. There is a view that communal disturbances are therefore being deliberately engineered to polarize religious communities. Well, 19 anniversaries have passed and peace prevailed in Faizabad. Even if the 20th anniversary was not around the corner, political interests would guide certain extremist elements to try and abuse Indian secularism. If Mayawati could succeed in containing communal tension, why has the present Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav failed?
Communal tension prevails at present in several other parts too, particularly in Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) and in Assam. Undeniably, while addressing crowds during their respective election campaigns, most leaders make tall claims about their secular agenda. Secularism has indeed remained a strong power of the Indian community as a whole. If secularism did not prevail here, India would not be home to second largest population of Muslims in the world. Nor would Muslim celebrities make their mark in various fields. Yet, when secularism is being put to a test in several parts of the country, why have most leaders chosen to remain silent?
Of late, several new self-acclaimed leaders have earned media coverage by making noise about corruption. Strangely, even they have refrained from making any comments about recent communal disturbances. Clearly, extremist elements still prevail in the country whose primary purpose is to target Muslims, create communal disturbances and thus try whipping up political passions of voters along religious lines. Considering that Congress party and its new electoral mascot Rahul Gandhi are not oblivious of these facts, it is indeed strange that to date they have not said much about their stand regarding these communal conflicts. After all, the present central government is headed by the Congress-led coalition.
Every time a communal riot takes place in any part of the country, secular credentials of both the central and state governments are put to test. Time and again, by not allowing the communal frenzy to dominate their lives for too long, people have displayed their strong belief in true secularism. Now, it is for Rahul to decide how he would project his and his party’s commitment to secularism. Would he downplay it out of fear of losing Hindu votes or propagate it aptly enough to win and suit the multireligious Indian polity as well as society? He indeed has a tough task ahead.

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