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Monday, March 30, 2009

Lok Sabha election 2009: BJP, Congress equally worried about numbers


In just over two weeks, the first phase of the general election will start but leaders of both the major national parties are unsure about how to gather the seats. Privately they concede that they don't know where they will get the numbers from.

Congress in trouble

While the Congress is in serious trouble because it has to face the anti-incumbency and it failed to form alliances, the bigger problem is that it doesn't seem to be getting seats from anywhere, unless the Indian electorate suddenly gets enamoured of Congress.

If you look at the map showing victories of Congress, BJP and other parties in the last Lok Sabha elections, Congress is just not visible in major states stretching from UP, Rajasthan to MP, Chhattisgarh and even beyond.

Andhra Pradesh crucial

Had it not been the sweep in Andhra Pradesh (AP) in the election in 2004 when the party had won 36 seats along with its allies [Congress 29, TRS 5, Communists 4], it won't have been able to form the government.

This year, it seems difficult for Congress to repeat the magic. TDP is likely to do well. The best Congress can hope is that it doesn't get routed. In Tamil Nadu, the loss of an ally like PMK that has a transferrable 6% vote is going to cost dear.

The party is fighting without any partners in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It can only hope that it will do better in the states where it reached its nadir like Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh and do well in Karnataka.

BJP's woes: Saturation in heartland

Ask any BJP leader off the record, he will tell you that the party workers are worried how to get to even 150 when they had just managed to reach 138 in the 2004 Parliamentary polls when Atal Bihari Vajpayee's personality had dominated the party's campaign.

The bulk of seats had come from the states where it has already reached a saturation. BJP had got 25 out of 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh. It had won 21 out of 25 seats in Rajasthan and had emerged victorious in 14 seats in Gujarat. "We can't peform better than this", says most of the BJP leaders in private conversation.

BJP hopes to add to its tally from UP

Besides, it can't hope for a better performance than the 18 MPs it had got in Karnataka in the last elections. In Bihar, the alliance of RJD with Ram Vilas Paswan, means that JD (U)-BJP would not have an easy win like in the Assembly elections, as Paswan's Dalit votes are solidly behind him and are as transferable as Mayawati's constituency in Uttar Pradesh.

No wonder the BJP doesn't mind the Varun Gandhi act. Hoping that the communal polarisation and the 'Hindu victimhood' card can fetch it a few seats in the state. The alliane with Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) gives it the hope.

That again brings us to the question that which party will emerge as the single biggest group in the Lok Sabha and which alliance will form the government. In all fairness, it is too difficult to predict, the race is narrowing down, and most will depend on the so-called third and fourth front parties.

Though several opinion polls give an edge to United Progressive Alliance (UPA) over the BJP-led NDA, I don't think it is as simple. No mathematics or the bigger sample sizes can predict the outcome of Indian elections where 700 million would vote, many of them not revealing their cards in pre-election surveys.

We have reached a stage where there will be nothing like a clear mandate for any party or any alliance. It can be just the comfortness level among the regional parties with either the Congress or the BJP, that will determine the winner. And, of course, fortuity.

[Map showing constituencies won by various parties in the last Lok Sabha elections is obtained from the wikipedia page. Link]

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why no tears for the eight Army martyrs?

In one of the longest-running encounters with terrorists that ended after five days in Jammu & Kashmir's Kupwara, eight Indian armymen including Major Mohit Sharma were killed.

Surprisingly, it didn't get proper coverage and the martyrs haven't got tributes from the citizens, media or politicians. In fact, you try searching the names of the eight martyrs and you may not even get more than two of them on any website. [Forget about photographs at all]

Why there is such apathy? Even the section that wears patriotism on its sleeve, didn't bother to pay any tribute. Among the martyrs are Major Mohit Sharma, Shabir Ahmad Malik, Sanjay Singh, Anil Kumar, Rakesh Kumar and Nithar Singh.

Hundreds of army men including Rashtriya Rifles personnel were involved in the operation. Senior journalist Vinod Dua questioned, 'Is it that urban Indian elite just doesn't care about things that happen away from major cities?'.

One of the names in the list of martyrs was Mir Shabir Ahmad Malik, a young jawan trained as commando, who was just 19.

When his body was brought for burial, thousands took part in the janaza. It was rare to see such outpouring of emotions in Kashmir. Pro-Indian slogans filled the air.

'When the body was brought in Tricolour-wrapped coffin borne by fellow soldiers, his village turned out in strength to salute its son (Shabbir)', wrote The Telegraph. The body reached Ganderbal on the day he was to turn 20, on his birthday.

Are things changing in Kashmir?

Anil Kumar was hero of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack but died unsung

One of the martyrs, Lance Naik Anil Kumar, was among the NSG commandos who had stormed Nariman House that was occupied by the terrorists in November 2008 attack on Mumbai.

Kumar was then on deputation with NSG. After the operation, he had gone on leave to his native place in Himachal Pradesh and after a little while joined duty. He returned to his parent unit in Kupwara where he lost his life along with other army jawans.

Indian Express correspondent Majid Jehangir did write a moving piece titled 'He fought Lashkar in Mumbai, dies fighting them in Kupwara'.

[Photo: A woman relative of martyred Indian soldier tries to control her emotions. The last rites of Shabir]

Related post on this blog:
No medals and honours, No tears for 15 policemen killed by Naxalites

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Opinion poll gives Congress edge, BJP slipping in Election 2009!

Just now another Opinion Poll has given the Congress an edge and predicted a victory for UPA in the Lok Sabha elections 2009.

The Star News-AC Nielson poll predicts 257 seats for the UPA and 184 for the NDA with Third Front getting nearly 96 seats and six to the others in the 545 [543=2 nominated MPs] member house.

Can it be true?

Strangely, there seems no difference in the results of General election 2004 and 2009 if we believe this poll that gives Congress 144 seats and BJP 137. The number of seats in the last election was Congress 145 and 138 for BJP.

So the poll suggests that there will be no change, just one seat less for both the major parties! So none of them performing good or bad compared to each other. I find it unusual. There are surprises like DMK again getting a high number of seats. Left is not with Congress.

Besides, there could be anti-incumbency at work and the poll itself doesn't show any sudden rise in number of seats for Congress. So it is just a question of right or wrong allies? Else, how can UPA be declared on its way towards victory and BJP getting defeated!

In the past also, it was Tamil Nadu that had embarrassed the Indian psephologists when they were completely flummoxed by the voter. Conventional wisdom says that Jayalalitha should gain but the opinion poll gives 24 seats to Karunanidhi's DMK and just 9 to AIADMK, while six go to the rest.

And where is the UPA? With RJD and LJP contesting the election together and not leaving any seat for Congress and SP having no truck with Congress, will the situation be same. Had the poll taken care of the recent changes?

It seems the seats of not just Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti and Lalu Yadav's RJD, but also Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party have been included to take the UPA tally up to 257, on the basis of the assumption that these three parties will not join NDA at any cost.

The AC-Nielson Star News poll results for 2009 elections:

United Progressive Alliance [UPA] 257
National Democratic Allianec [NDA] 184
Third Front 96
Rest 6

Now see the position of the parties:

Congress 144
BJP 137
Left Front 34
Others: SP 30, BSP 21, DMK 24, JDU 16, NCP 13, TMC 13, TDP 14, Shiv Sena 12, RJD 11, AIADMK 9, LJP 6, JD (S) 4, AGP 6, RLD 6, TRS 3, NC 2, PDP 1, MUL 3, INLD 1, JMM 1 etc.

In West Bengal, the Communists are heading for a bad show and Mamata Bannerjee's TMC along with Congress will together bag 20 seats while in Bihar, RJD will be reduced to 11 despite the coalition, says the poll. LJP may get 6 while Nitish Kumar gets 15.

In Maharashtra it's evenly split. Congress 12, NCP 13, Shiv Sena 12 and BJP 10. The bulk of seats for BJP will come from MP (25), Rajasthan (14), Karnataka (16) and Gujarat (16).

It's not easy to fathom the mind of Indian voter and howsoever large the sample size may be, it's difficult to make any predictions in a country as huge as India where often it is three or four-cornered fight.

Why poll appears in Congress' favour?

What seems going in Congress favour is that, unlike Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had a 24party coalition, the current BJP has barely 6 partners. TDP, a major party has vowed not to go with BJP.

However, Congress doesn't have Left parties with it, though SP compensates it to an extent. The Congress will have to deal with growing aspirations of allies as regional satraps would want their pound of flesh agressively.

It is in such situations that BSP will play a crucial role. Left may not be as big a player as it was but it will certainly play a role in post-election scenario. A change in Tamil Nadu or an upset in any other state, can change the situation drastically.

In fact, the polls don't give much importance to the third parties or the prospects of a hugn parliament. That's the reason the predictions appear more in favour the Congress.

The Previous Poll

Earlier, the CNN-IBN and CSDS pre-election survey had also given similar results but it didn't give exact figure. It had given UP 215-235 seats, NDA 165-185 and the Third Front 90-100.

The third front seems set to get 100 seats again and that's no small number. Let's wait just a few days to see how close AC Nielson-Star TV poll is to the real composition of Indian parliament.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Varun Gandhi's provocation: Anti-Muslim speech in Pilibhit, threatens to cut and behead!

Varun, the son of late Sanjay Gandhi and Maneka, apparently forgot all sense of decency when he openly abused Muslims and threatened to behead them.

At a rally in Pilibhit, Varun declared his war from the stage and roared against Muslims. Using an abusive term for the community, he openly said that he would cut such heads after the elections.

Link to the Video on Youtube. The comments tell us about the spread of fascism and how fanatic some of us have become in our country.

Raising his hands, he repeatedly said that this not the Congress' symbol of hand but is the BJP's arm that will behead these &K&t*%* (extremely derogatory word which is a highly offensive slang to describe the community). It was both sad and shocking, coming from a 28-year-old politician.

[Yeh itne ghinaune shabd hain ki ham aapko sunaa bhi nahiN sakte: The anchor had to say that some words and remarks were so disgusting that they couldn't be aired. Though the channel inserted a sound at that partiular word, still it could be understood]

Amid chants of Jai Shri Ram, the young face of BJP and the scion of Nehru-Gandhi delivered not just a speech of extreme vitriol but threatened to kill and cut heads and hands. He didn't even spare the Congress either.

This part of the speech during the campaigning was not adequately mentioned in a few reports published in papers regarding the DM's notice to Varun for his diatribe. Pilibhit is away from major Cities and mostly the reports mentioned that it was provocative speech but not what exactly the provocation was, though there was some mention about his warning to cut hands and heads of those who were anti-Hindu (including Congress in his speech).

Varun is the BJP candidate from Pilibhit. His mother Maneka has repeatedly won from the same constituency and Muslims who constitute a large number of electorate have voted for her even when she was independent. But this is not the issue. The issue is how irresponsible a politican or any public personality can be and is it tolerable?

Watching the speech [and the comments] anybody would be horrified as to what must have got into his head. And this is the young man, who was praised as a poet and a man of vision! A relatively new channel India News got the video of Varun's speech and it telecast the entire speech live.

In his speech Varun lays himself bare, comes out of his sophisticated cocoon and tries to fan religious passions by such hatespeak which is unbelievable to hear in any civilised society. He repeatedly claimed that he would perform the act after the elections. EC has sought explanation. Let's see what happens.

They are dangerous, have scary names

Varun has delivered a number of speeches in various meetings. In one meeting he says that the Muslims have names that appear scary. They also look dangerous. If one comes across them at night, he may get frightened.

Then Varun takes the pledge of Gita and says that he would cut all such hands and taken on them solely. It's time the BJP should accept his fault and condemn it. Sadly, the spokesperson Venkaiah Naidu evaded all questions in this regard.

Even BJP leaders in Pilibhit shocked

Though this is just one offensive remark by Varun that has been caught on camera, local BJP leaders are no less shocked. Eminent journalist Sharat Pradhan, who has been covering UP for decades, writes that popular leaders like Naresh Verma have decided to stay away from campaign as they feel it has become too communal and divisive.

A Sikh leader was even asked to leave the gathering. Several Hindu sammelans have been organised where Varun has almost 'gone out of hand', say BJP leaders. Read the complete IANS report about Varun's campaign and other remarks here.

For those commenting on this blog:

Many comments have been moderated because of the abusive language. However, to others I must repeat that they should have heard the whole speech.

In some channels and papers only the particular sentence 'Anybody who would harm Hindus...' has been reproduced. Had this been the case, I won't have written this post. Please see the whole video. He uses the most abusive terms for Muslims.

Asks for them to be sent to Pakistan and lot of other things. When he uses that particular abusive word for Muslims, a 'beep' is introduced by channels. Those who still support him, must remember that this is how fascism spreads and it is our duty to fight such racist and fascist elements.

They must be reminded that there are laws to deal with lumpen elements. In this country we don't treat hatespeak as seriously as we should do. However, when we go to foreign countries, we expect great sensitivity.

Don't forget that in Britian, BBC sacked a popular female anchor for the off-air comment to an agency for sending a taxi with preferably a non-South Asian driver. This is the standard of sensitivity there.

And here we are tolerating abuses and what not! Had it not been the model code of conduct, he may have gotten away with all this even more easily. He is not apologetic and claims to be a victim of a political conspiracy, says that the tape is doctored. He even mocked at Mahatma Gandhi.

Link to the VIDEO. Brief excerpts on CNN-IBN about beheading.

And if someone has any doubts about how much is objectionable. Read the Indian Express report that published some of the Varun Gandhi's gems. Read the story.

[Latest update: Now Varun claims that he didn't say Katua (circumcised) rather had said Vote-Katwa. He perhaps thinks everybody is so gullible that they would be taken in by his 'innocent' shifts of stand every day. The Vote-katwa is generally a term used more in Bihar for smaller parties that just field candidates to cut votes of other parties and not aim at winning.]

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Elections 2009: Will Majlis lose Hyderabad?


For the first time in decades the hegemony of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) seems to be under a serious threat in Hyderabad.

Zahid Ali Khan, the editor of the renowned Urdu daily Siasat, who has been involved with social work, is contesting the election as an independent candidate. He has managed to get the support of virutally every party on the political spectrum.

The Majlis remains strong but this is the first election after the demise of veteran Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi and his son sitting MP Asaduddin may not find it a cakewalk as it was in the 2004 elections when his father had vacated the constituency for him and he managed to reach the Parliament.

Zahid Ali Khan is seen a progressive leader. He has the right credentials and has managed a rainbow coalition with half-a-dozen parties supporting him. These parties have decided not to field any candidate in support of Khan.

The Leftists, Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam, Telugu Desam Party (TDP), K Chandrashekhar Rao's TRS and several other parties have come out in Khan's support. Their aim is to finish Majlis' stronghold on Hyderabad.

Though it is believed that despite the middle-class and educated class openly speaking in favour of Zahid Ali Khan and opposting the hooliganism by Majlis cadre, the masses may still vote for Majlis.

Khan says that he is fighting a corrupt and communal party that has not brought any change to the lives of even ordinary Muslims for which it claims to speak.

Siasat is considered one of the most respected newspapers and has played an important role in Muslim society in the Deccan. However, it is felt that despite the grand alliance which Khan seems to have forged, it may not translate into votes. PHOTO: Asaduddin Owaisi (Right)

Assault on Zahid Ali Khan turned the tables
It was the attack on Khan that had led to widespread condemnation. It was suspected that Majlis cadre were involved in the incident. Subsequently, Khan became the rallying point of all anti-MIM parties.

However, if the non-Muslim voters throw their weight behind the joint opposition candidate [Khan], Owaisi may have a tough time. Twice in the past, BJP candidates have managed to secure over 4 lakh votes and had once nearly given a shock to the late Salahuddin Owaisi.

If these votes go to Khan apart from part of the Muslim vote, then Owaisi is in serious trouble. BJP is yet to decide whether to field any candidate from Hyderabad. It has been urged not to fileld any candidate to facilitate Khan's victory and in process end the Majlis' hegemony.

The Majlis has in early years played a role in the politics of Hyderabad. After the police action, it was involved in social work and after Abdul Wahid Owaisi, his son Salahuddin who was termed Salar-e-Millat won Assembly election for over decades .

Later Owaisi became invincible as fropm 1984 till 2004 he never lost the Parliamentary election. However, there is strong criticism of the family-centric party that revolves around Owaisis. The official party website mentions even Asaduddin and his brother Akbaruddin as Legends.

The Owaisis had to start an Urdu paper Etemaad to hold sway on people and counter the other influential Urdu dailies--Munsif and Siasat along with Rahnuma-e-Deccan that had joined hands and were opposing Majlis' role.

But MIM hopes that after the recent delimitation the rise is Muslim votes in the Hyderabad Lok Sabha constitutency, it has an edge even in wort case scenerio. The party had successfully faced a challenge from Amanullah Khan's Majlis Bachao Tehrik [MBT] in the past. It remains to be seen if the editor-turned-politician manages to stage a coup.

Read an earlier post on All India Muslim Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen on this blog

Monday, March 09, 2009

Muslims and RSS leaders meet in UP


When the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) leaders and Muslims including the Ulama meet, it should make a news but there was no report published in major newspapers published from Delhi.

The programme was held in Moradabad. Many Muslims were sceptical. Some called it political skulduggery though there were a few who welcomed the initiative. The occasion was Ittehad-e-Ahl-e-Watan conference.

The questions in the mind of Muslims were raised. Several Muslims asked direct questions and the RSS leaders replied to the charges. Though cynics would laugh at such an exercise and dismiss it as useless, I personally feel that social interaction with even your die-hard opponent is a welcome step.

Agreed that RSS has an agenda and its leaders have a different vision of India, a country where minorities are subjugated. Many Muslims say that it is hydra-headed RSS propaganda that has demonised the madarsas.

Such is the situation that seminaries like Deoband that played a leading role in freedom struggle are today seen with suspicion while RSS and [especially, its allied organisations] that had no role in independence movement, today set yardsticks for nationalism.

The current global geopolitics is also responsible for the situation. But it's always better to talk. I don't see any harm in that. When RSS leader Indresh told the gathering of Muslims that there should be joint monitoring committees to check riots and identity the rioters, it was nevertheless a heartening thing to hear for the audience.

"Many of you just said that you have a fear and suspicion about RSS. But today I'm standing amid you without police protection and we have talked, agreed on many issues and there is no discord", spoke Indresh, who asked the Muslims to think whether not all the major communal riots in India till 1992 were under the Congress rule.

There were Maulanas, Muftis and a large number of ordinary Muslims. Nobody should expect any change of hearts but at least, social contact will help improve the relations and also strengthen the unity.

Personally I feel that when you know a person of other religion and share a bond with him, the next time you are making a statement, the next time you may use a less harsh word for him or his religion.

Neither an RSS worker will change his world view overnight nor a Muslim become sympathetic to the cause of the lathi-wielding khaki-clad RSS swayamsevak. But meeting and eating together can soften hearts.

It happened in the City of renowned Urdu poet late Jigar Muradabadi. Moradabad district has the highest Muslim population in the entire country save for Kerala's Mallappuram and West Bengal's Murshidabad with nearly 25 lakh (2.5 million) Muslims.

It was Ali Sikandar 'Jigar' Muradabadi who had written the immortal lines:

unka jo kaam hai, voh ahl-e-siyasat jaaneN
meraa paiGaam mohabbat hai, jahaaN tak poNhche

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Lok Sabha elections 2009: Will UP Muslims vote for SP?

Elections are just round the corner and Uttar Pradesh, with 80 constituencies hold the key to the Centre.

Neither the Congress nor the BJP appear getting more than 150 seats in the current scenario. With Left no longer keen to support Congress, there is an uncertainty as to which alliance will form the government.

The regional parties are flexing muscles due to this crisis. From Sharad Pawar to Chandrababu Nayudu and Lalu Yadav, every self-styled satrap is dreaming of becoming the Prime Minister, just like HD Devegowda and IK Gujaral had managed to do, with outside support.

It is this reason that UP has again become crucial state in this election. Last election despite SP and BSP getting chunk of seats, they couldn't wield proportionate influence at the Centre.

But with Communist parties upset with Congress, UP has become a vital state. This is the reason that SP has tied with Kalyan Singh despite criticism and fear of vote loss. And BJP is fielding all its old warhorses.

Will Muslims vote for Samajwadi Party?

In over half-a-dozen Assembly and Parliamentary elections since early 90s, every time there is the speculation that Muslims will leave Mulayam Singh. But psephologists have been proved wrong.

The reason is that while Congress remains an almost non-player, Muslims aren't exactly sure about BSP. Mayawati does speak out Muslims a couple of times every year, she is not too concerned about them.

I personally also feel that she is not aware about sentiments of Muslims as hers is a party that in its banners and posters never gave any importance to Muslim heroes--be in the field of nation building, literature or social welfare. Not even for the sake of inclusion can you see a banner or poster recognising Muslim presence at the BSP's conferences and functions.

She doesn't seem to have any plan about welfare of the community. Ever since she cosied up with the Upper Castes, Muslims seem to have been forgotten. However, there is the usual speculation whether Muslims will vote for SP?

Over 55% Muslims in UP have voted for Mulayam Singh in most elections. Though it's a substantial percent, the figure suggests that there is considerable vote going to BSP and other parties including BSP, Congress and Lok Dal with even a very marginal vote to BJP. So in that sense, it's not that all Muslims just go and push the button for bicycle.

Dalits are considered the biggest block in UP with 21% populace followed by Muslims (19%) and Yadavas (11%). Brahmins constitute nearly 7% of the voter while the rest of the Upper Caste are around 6%. Castes like Kurmis, Lodhs, Jats have areas of concentration spread across the state.

People just want peace

The results of the Bhadohi Assembly by-election that was declared just three days back, have again proved that Muslims haven't drifted. Else, the victory of SP wouldn't have been possible.

The BSP candidate was quite strong and there were several Muslim contestants in the fray but the SP candidate won though he isn't a Muslim. Every party had made it a prestige issue because it was the last poll before Parliamentary elections.

Bhadohi has 37% Muslim electorate and it's quite clear that they voted for cycle. Congress managed to get just 2,500 votes. Why? Clearly, it's not that the goodwill earned by Mulayam Singh Yadav during the demolition of Babri Masjid, is reason enough for this support.

Journalist Zafar Agha says that Bhadohi residents (like most of the silent rural and poor voter that doesn't speak on TV and whose opinion is not sought in discussions) haven't forgotten the riots that were an annual feature till 1993, when the first Mulayam Singh-led government had come to power in UP.

"The weavers of Bhadohi, mostly Ansaris, must have recalled the horrific communal riots that occurred in towns of UP for forty years under Congress rule". He mocks at sections who said that SP will lose the support because of rebellion by Shafiqur Rahman Barq or dissent shown by Azam Khan and others of his ilk.

Perhaps, he is right. It is a hard truth. For the last 16 years, UP has seen no major communal riot. Of course, BSP has also been in the power. Elsewhere Muslims do vote for Congress, but it seems in UP they are still wary because they haven't forgotten the past when towns where the Muslims were employed in industries were constantly rocked by riots--Firozabad, Moradabad, Aligarh et al.

Peace and riot-free atmosphere, it seems, they yearn for. But the day is still far when ensuring peace and law-and-order would be considered the most basic qualification of any party to run the government.

Read earlier posts on this blog:

Congress and communal riots in India

Fall of Congress in Uttar Pradesh