Dr. K. R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies (CDMS) Jamia Millia Islamia organized a two-day conference on “Election 2014: Implications for Dalit and Minorities in India” on 2nd and 3rd September 2014 in the Tagore Hall of the varsity. The Conference saw academics, journalists, members of Parliament and scholars coming together to analyze the 16th Lok Sabha elections, the scenario leading to it, the results and the expectations and fears associated with the new government.
Prof. Talat Ahmad, Vice Chancellor JMI, chaired the inaugural session of the Conference. In his address, Prof. Ahmad spoke of the pre-election scenario and while it was evident that UPA II wasn’t coming back to power, an absolute majority wasn’t expected for the BJP either. “But it has happened. Let’s look at it well. It is not possible for anyone to change things overnight. Maybe things get stabilized for the better; we should give a fair chance to this government”, the Vice Chancellor said, expressing hopes that the rights of Dalits, minorities and other backward classes are taken care of. Giving an insight into the concept behind the Conference, Dr. Mujibur Rehman, CDMS and Convener of the Conference, said that it was essentially to discuss the implications of election 2014, how certain core and foundational ideas got challenged and how a language of majoritarianism made its’ way even into the Parliament.
Presenting the keynote address, Prof. Sudha Pai, Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University, gave an analysis of BJP’s stupendous victory in Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha elections 2014. “Continuing decline of Congress, weakness of BSP and SP, ideological and organizational changes introduced by the new BJP leadership are some reasons for BJP’s spectacular victory”, Prof. Pai said. She added that it was the twin factors of Hindutva and development that helped BJP secure U.P. and that Modi successfully used the changed political context in the state to his advantage. “However, it remains to be seen if BJP converts its’ victory in 2014 elections to its’ control over state politics”, she concluded.
The first session of the Conference titled “2014 Election, BJP and Future of Secular Coalition” was chaired by Dr. Malvika Kasturi from Toronto University, and the panelists included Prof. Sandeep Shastri, Pro V-C Jain University Karnataka, and Pawan Varma, MP Rajya Sabha. Prof Shastri focused on the social base of BJP, its retaining of traditional support base in addition to the leadership factor and what was ranged against it. “There is a funnel of support that BJP enjoyed- wide at the top, comprising of socially and economically privileged sections, and narrow at the bottom, including those who are socially and economically not well off”, he said, adding, “never in the past was there a generation gap in terms of voting factors. But this time it has emerged as an important factor.” He further spoke of UPA’s contribution in BJP’s victory, high levels of discontent among people and how the promise overload by the BJP is now showing its’ colors within hundred days of being in power.
Next to speak, Pawan Varma highlighted the challenges before India’s national coalition against Moditva, which he said stood for the culmination of a philosophy that has been in use for decades now. “Moditva has an exceptional support of a cadre, an organized, leadership hierarchical cadre, which shares the same core belief that constitutes what RSS thinks. The cadres have a goal to which they are committed; they are not in search of power alone but in search for the kind of India that should be”, Mr. Varma said. He further said that the naked projection of merely the Hindu Right wasn’t enough of an appeal, hence masked under the façade of development. Speaking about the challenge for opposition, he said, “The greatest challenge is that the opposition is absolutely divided. And sitting on the high platform of ideology is not going to help. You need a counter narrative, and it is based on inclusive growth, religious and social harmony and good governance.”
The second session titled “Hindutva, Caste and Politics in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar” was chaired by Prof. Shri Prakash, Director Academy of International Studies JMI and the speakers included journalists Ajay Bose and Sankarshan Thakur, Dalit scholar Chander Bhan Prasad and Dr. Charu Gupta, Department of History, University of Delhi.
Ajay Bose spoke particularly about the challenges Mayawati faces and how that plays itself out in U.P. politics which then has a great bearing on national politics. “Mayawati has managed to stay in the game and build up BSP because she managed to win but from 2009 Lok Sabha polls onwards, she has been losing…and now this humiliating defeat in the L.S polls”, he said, adding that “now she clearly feels that her core support base in under threat, so she has gone back to talking about the Dalit being fooled by the upper caste”. He went on to speak of the dilemma she now faces in having to choose between a Dalit- Muslim alliance which on the ground seems impossible or taking the side of Dalits against Muslims, and so “she is staying back”, hoping that BJP’s lack of local leadership may result in a law and order problem and alter the political scenario.
Journalist Sankarshan Thakur spoke of the disturbing trend in Bihar in the recent bi-elections in the form of “a frightening discourse that the score in this election was ten-nil”, referring to the fact that no Muslim candidate won a seat and implying how there is a counter consolidation whenever a Muslim candidate stands for elections. Stressing on the need for inclusive politics, he said, “it is not solely a political project; it has to go far beyond this. This project of inclusiveness has to be expanded beyond political parties. If rejections aren’t political but societal, then the challenges to inclusive democracy have become even deeper”.
Next speaker Chander Bhan Prasad focused mainly about Non State Actors and Dalit Empowerment. “There is no hope among Dalits in the discourse that’s going on about expectations. Also, Dalits have never considered the non-state actors and the role they can play in the former’s emancipation”, he said. He went on to speak of the economic reforms of the early 1990s, their implications for Dalits and how the kind of people who favour Dalit liberation oppose the outsourcing that globalization has brought about.
The last panelist for the session, Dr. Charu Gupta expressed her concern with mentalities and what enters our recesses in an unconscious way and then becomes a part of the mentality, this in relation to the myth of ‘love jihad’ and how women’s bodies are being used as a critical glue to bring together people by the Hindu Right in the name of protection of women. “Love jihad has become a new clarion call for the RSS, especially in Western U.P. Raised first in 2007, the alleged love jihad movement of today has a lot of parallels with the ‘abduction campaign’ of the 1920s. If Love Jihad is an alleged conspiracy, then why has no one found any evidence of this ‘organized crime’?” Dr. Gupta questioned. She went on to speak of how such campaigns were based on exclusionary principles and meant to penetrate disciplinary action into women’s lives.
The final session of Day One of the Conference, chaired by Prof. Rizwan Kaiser of JMI’s Department of History, broadly focused on the “Narendra Modi, and non-Modi wave in South India”.
Author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay was the first panelist in the session who spoke mainly about Narendra Modi’s campaign and the process of transition initiated by him in the last hundred days. “The transition has been in terms of acceptance of the dominant ideology. The idea of how we look at Indian nationhood is seen through the prism of not territorial but cultural nationalism. There has also been a transition in terms of leadership; 75 plus brigade is out. There is a transition to more of a presidential style of government. The process of dismantling how we look at India has begun”, he stated, adding however that it was difficult to predict where this would be heading towards.
Next to speak, independent researcher and documentary filmmaker Anwar Ibrahim spoke about Modi, Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi and the minority dilemma in Tamil Nadu. “After the campaigning and election results, one community in Tamil Nadu which felt ignored was the Muslims. The unthinkable unfolded in the political scenario of the ‘Land of Periyar’; it was a place where previously Hindutva couldn’t find any ground but then parties were seen aligning with BJP”, he stated. He went on to speak of Jayalalitha and Modi not criticizing each other during campaigning and how Tamil nationalists were falling over themselves to woo BJP but it didn’t work well as cracks started showing post government formation, starting with invitation to Rajapakse to attend the swearing in ceremony of Narendra Modi.
The final speaker of the day was Prof Ramu Mannivanan of Political Science department, Madras University whose address focused on Tamil Nadu’s amazing historical social movement base and the exceptional challenge it presented to Modi and the BJP to penetrate this wall. “There’s already a social articulation in Tamil Nadu where people look at BJP as Brahmanical and communal, knowing that Modi or no Modi, this ideology is not going to change. They look at the Congress in shades, secular in daylight and otherwise during the night. So the option is to fall back on the Dravidian parties”, Prof Mannivanan said. He further added that Tamil Nadu and other non- Hindi states have long asked for overcoming the single party dominance and been in favour of coalitions, for that gives a chance to representation. “But this time, coalition had a dangerous end because it was not a party but an individual who was voted for…and the mega capitalist dream is a scary phenomenon”, he concluded.
Day two of the Conference started with the session on “Hindutva, Crisis of Secularism and the Muslim Question” chaired by Dr. Asha Sarangi, Centre for Political Studies, JNU. Director, Centre for Feminist Legal Research and visiting professor at the Yale Law School, Prof Ratna Kapur was the first speaker of the session and spoke primarily about the legal politics and the constitutional discourse of secularism. “There is an increasing influence of the Hindu Right in shaping the contours of secularism in law in India… The Ayodhya case represents a real shift in the Indian legal discourse from a dynamic understanding to being transformed into more substantial terms”, she said. She went on to talk about the ideology of Hindutva, the competing discourses on secularism and how the position of the Hindu Right towards it has found legitimacy in law.
Next to speak, Mukul Kesavan of Department of History JMI, offered an insight into whether the 2014 elections signal a reconstitution of the ‘Republic’, how far this remade Republic differs from the first one and whether 2014 is to secularist politics in India what 1989 was to the socialist politics in Europe and also engaged with the question of Indian nationalism. “Hindu nationalism is a nationalism that is fundamentally majoritarian. It differs radically from the founding nationalism of the Republic”, Dr. Kesavan said, adding that it was now reasonable to believe that the Republic’s common sense would shift rightwards.
Next, Dr. Mujibur Rehman, CDMS JMI, presented his paper on ‘Toba Toba Moment in 2014 Election: Hindutva, Modi and Muslim Voters’ engaging with the question of Muslim voters, who they voted for and the anxieties post the results. Dr. Rehman argued that there wasn’t much evidence of a national trend among Muslims to vote for BJP and questioned Modi’s silence on certain issues. “If indeed Modi looks at Muslims as equal citizens, how then does his silence on Muzaffarnagar and not visiting the relief camps exactly fit in with that?”, he asked. He further spoke of Yogdaan camps as BJP’s post-election strategy for Muslims, the movement of India more rightward and the West’s attitude towards Modi.
Chaired by journalist and author Praful Bidwai, Session 5 of the Conference dealt with “Left Politics and 2014 Election” and the speakers included Dr. Dwaipayan Bhattacharya, Fellow at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Kolkata, Dr. Maidul Islam from Kolkata’s Presidency College and scholar and activist Dr. Prasenjit Bose. Speaking about the crisis in Parliamentary Left in West Bengal, Dr. Bhattacharya said, “Left failed to theorize what it did in actual politics… It received a substantial support from socially marginalized but these groups hardly found a place in the high ranks of the Left”, adding that Dalits were reduced to mere foot soldiers of the Left, an issue that the latter ignored. He emphasized on the need for pro-active dynamism and not preventing capital but to keep vigil that the popular aspirations aren’t lost because of it. Dr. Islam focused on the political behavior of religious minorities, particularly Muslims, in West Bengal in the 2014 elections and stated, “Muslim discontent was a major factor for the loss of the Left in 2011 elections. By the time the Left decided to implement some policies, it was already too late and Muslim disenchantment was visible”. He spoke of BJP having performed beyond expectations in West Bengal and Assam as an alarming trend for the minorities and also focused on the increasing communal clashes over the last couple of years and doubling of BJP’s Muslim membership in the state post-poll as two interesting developments to be kept an eye on.
Dr. Prasenjit Bose spoke of the decline of Indian Left as “not in the interest of Indian democracy or the poor and the marginalized of the country”. He spoke of the ideological, political and organizational factors for the decline of the Left, stating, “There was an intellectual cooption of the dominant sections of the Left in West Bengal. Also, it failed to comprehend the political economy changes that have come up…and the tendency to imitate the Chinese model in a multiparty democracy backfired.” He further spoke of Left’s detachment from movements and struggles as its’ biggest political problem, the need for a difference between Modi’s neo-liberal Gujarat model and the Left’s response to globalization and a greater need for the secular-liberal-pluralist section to opt for a fresh, progressive framework of politics.
The sixth session of the Conference on “Muslims, Christians and Issues of Election Rhetoric” was chaired by Dr. Arshad Alam, Centre for Social Systems JNU. Jesuit Fellow from Mumbai, Dr. Rudolf Heredia was the first speaker and presented a paper on ‘Spinning Myths and Confronting Realities: Election 2014, Marginalized and Minorities’. Highlighting the link between big businesses and this election, Dr. Heredia said, “It is the victory of big business lobbies. We are now facing the saffron neo-liberal wave. We are transiting into a democracy led by business lobbies… BJP managed to shake off its’ stigma of communal politics using the Gujarat model. We are in for a neo liberal capitalism dressed in Hindu covers”.
Prof Biswajit Das, Director CMGS JMI was the next to speak. Focusing primarily on rhetoric and deliberation, Dr. Das said that so much has been written and spoken that now we have a rich repository of data about the elections but “language has been dismissed as a rhetoric. But we can’t undermine rhetoric”. He went on to talk about the profound change that language has undergone and how it has reacted to the changing context in many ways. “When you listen to political speeches by the politicians, that actually speaks volumes about their politics”, he concluded. In an attempt to highlight the relation between Muslims and BJP, particularly from BJP’s self-portrayal, CSDS Fellow Dr. Hilal Ahmad explained the secularist claims of ideological, constitutional and political factors to explain the link. He, however, maintained that officially BJP had never tried to define Hindutva except for one article by Arun Shourie and that “there is a clear reluctance on part of BJP to project controversial issues officially”. He explained this by talking of BJP as “an inseparable component of both the Sangh Parivar and the NDA, a delicate placing that makes it distinctive”. According to him, multifaceted accountabilities contribute to BJP’s official policy on Muslims, what he termed as “the politics of intentional ambivalence”.
The last speaker of the session, activist and scholar John Dayal, highlighted mainly the paranoia and lack of organization within the Christian community, stating, “We find it difficult to be a part of a united civil society that tries to resist Hindutva because we have a guilt feeling that we have done nothing previously. We are seen as the ‘other’ by the BJP and by a large chunk within the Congress too”. He went on to criticize the response of the Christian Church to structural violence that ultimately leads to a lack of concerted response to physical violence.
The final segment of the Conference was a roundtable on ‘Hindutva, Minority Rights and the Future of Secularism’ chaired by journalist and author Sir Mark Tully with journalist Siddharth Vardharajan, MP Rajya Sabha Mani Shankar Aiyer and Director North Eastern Studies JMI, Sanjoy Hazarika as the speakers.
Speaking of the difference between those in the Sangh Parivar and those outside of it, Mr. Aiyer said, “The fundamental difference is that we recognize the existence of specific problems which arise in Dalits and Minorities because of their being Dalits and minorities. The best Sangh Parivar argument is that since we are all Indian, why should we refer to a community we belong to; the problem doesn’t disappear with that. If you deny the problem, you are never going to solve it” He went on to speak about the need to recognize sub-identities and the challenge of responding to a philosophy which denies a sub-identity of all Indians.
Mr. Vardharajan engaged with questions of whether the election was fought on communal grounds, what the record of UPA in upholding minority rights was, what the fate of minority rights under Modi was likely to be and what the way forward is. “It is too early yet but we’ll see a fairly consistent nourishing of this bogus sense of grievance among the Hindus. We’ll see the deployment of overt Hindutva politics at the tactical and subterranean levels… There is a need to develop a strong vocabulary of anti-discrimination. The ugly discourse of appeasement has to be resisted. This entire campaign has to be a part of a wider agenda for the development of socially progressive politics”, the noted journalist said.
Sanjoy Hazarika spoke especially of the North East issues and the fragility of manufactured consent. “The North East states have come to quick conclusions of issues that have troubled the communities for a long, long time. Quick solutions are sought. In this process of manufactured consent, the right to redressal is completely left out”, Mr. Hazarika said. He further spoke of the contentions about land in the North East as the main reason for violence, raising of the issue of migrants before elections and the silence over it now and concluded, “The power of politics is different from the rhetoric of election game”.
Dr. Mujibur Rehman, Convener of the Conference, presented the Vote of Thanks.
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