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MJ Akbar raises some obvious but pertinent questions on the Liberhan Commission report in the Times of India:
The 1989 BJP versions of Varun Gandhi were full-throated, not muted, in their slogans as parties sought votes with a rhetoric that has been subsequently banned: Mandir wahin banayenge! and Mussalman ke do sthaan, Pakistan ya kabristan! No one hid anything: We shall build a temple on that precise spot! Muslims have two options, either Pakistan or the graveyard!
...What was there left to inquire into?
And then he provides the answers:
Every government between 1992 and 2004 had a vested interest in delay. The minority governments of H D Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral could not have survived a day without support from the Rao-Sitaram Kesri Congress. (Mrs Sonia Gandhi was not party president then.) Neither Gowda nor Gujral would have wanted a report that indicted their benefactors.
The BJP-led coalition that ruled for six years had the guilty on its front row... Justice Liberhan could have punched mortal holes into the BJP front row when it was in office.
But, as he notes, there remains a curiosity question:
. Why did he not submit his report in 2004? Admittedly Dr Manmohan Singh was finance minister in the Rao government, but he had nothing to do with the politics of Babri.
Rudrangshu Mukherjee in the Telegraph:
In 1964, when the CPI split and the CPI(M) was born, the latter, at least in West Bengal, got the giant share of the party’s resources save the intellectual ones. The intellectual cream remained with the CPI. The CPI(M) was born under the sign of mediocrity. Its leadership promoted anti-intellectualism and the cult of mediocrity. This, it was assumed, would bring the CPI(M) closer to the people. Promode Dasgupta, the redoubtable head of the party apparatus in West Bengal, was the driving force behind this kind of thinking. Under his successor, Anil Biswas, this tendency was aggravated. Biswas personally controlled educational institutions and intellectual organizations. This brand of nepotism alienated real talent. Many came under the flag of the CPI(M) lured by the loaves and fishes of office, but numbers did not make for quality. The moral and intellectual high ground that communists had once enjoyed in West Bengal gradually came to be eroded. Today, the CPI(M) stares at a moral and intellectual vacuum....
...The transformation of society will never occur through the brutal use of State power and the deployment of terror through cadre. It demands a more sensitive handling by a leadership that is confident enough to be broadminded and open.
Read the full piece: Cult of Mediocrity. And staying with West Bengal, MJ Akbar has a word of caution:
Nature, and political nature, abhors a vacuum. The space vacated by the CPI(M) retreat is being visibly occupied: those who vote are with Mamata Banerjee; those who don't vote in rural Bengal are gravitating around the Maoists...Read the full piece: West Bengal: Next time, the volcano
...It would also be unwise to forget the game-changer of the 1960s, the riots. Violence is an infectious plague, and demographic tensions always have a fuse in the tail. Bengalis believe that they are not communal. No one is communal, except in that brief moment of madness when the civilized mind crumbles.
The drama of Bengal is full of actors making powerful speeches. We need a plot, very quickly.
Are the MEA's worst nightmares about Obama coming true? So it would seem, judging by the recent visit of US under secretary of state for political affairs William Burns and his remarks on Kashmir ("Any resolution of Kashmir has to take into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people") and Pakistan that have predictably raised hackles in New Delhi.
Tavleen Singh asks in the Indian Express:
Why did nobody ask Under Secretary William Burns if his country would be persuaded to have a ‘dialogue’ with Pakistan if Osama bin Laden were similarly arrested and released?
...As someone who thought Barack Obama really was ‘the one’, I find myself increasingly disillusioned by his South Asia policy. Is he so naïve that he believes Islamist terrorism can be fought selectively? How is it possible to fight the Taliban in Swat and Waziristan while continuing to support the Lashkar brand of jihad in Lahore and Karachi?
MJ Akbar continues with the same thread in the TOI:
If America wants a DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) in India they will first have to ensure a DTZ (De-Terrorised Zone) in Pakistan....
... There is great danger in this "soft border" thesis. How can you have a "soft border" unless both sides recognize it as a border? Moreover, what does the phrase "mutual overwatch" mean? Both would dilute symbols of Indian sovereignty in Kashmir.
MJ Akbar is, as always, in great form when discussing such matters and here he joins issue with our man in Cairo:
Dear Brother Hussein,
I am certain about two things. I am a Muslim, and I live in this world. Now the uncertainties begin. On June 4 you gave what was heavily advertised as a major speech to the ‘Muslim world’. Does that mean that while every Christian believes in the divinity of Jesus, he can be legitimately and widely varied in his political interests, but Muslims must have both Allah and politics in common?
... The conflation of Islam and Muslims is precisely the kind of misconception that encourages pre-nation-state fantasies like the revival of a Caliphate. One might add that while every Muslim was deeply committed to his faith, political disputes among Muslims began with the election of the very first Caliph, Hazrat Abu Bakr. Muslims see themselves as a brotherhood, not a nation-hood. If Islam is sufficient glue for nationalism, why would Arabs be living in 22 countries? That should have been obvious while you were snacking on Arab cookies and Islamic lemonade in Cairo.
Read the full piece here
The open season is coming to an end. And in the spirit of the times, we even have an Outlook guesstimate, and the indefatigable Arun Nehru of course is still projecting numbers similar to the TOI for the two parties:
The three possibilities are a Congress-led coalition with Group D if the former has the numbers and can meet the requirements of the Left and the demand list of the AIADMK, which could, for a start, be the dismissal of the DMK government.
Further, the TDP and the BJD may also need the assistance of the Congress if they have a hung Assembly in the state.All the main parties in Group D (BSP, AIADMK, TDP and BJD) could also travel to the NDA if things do not work out to their satisfaction.
The first attempt I feel will be to forge a strong combination involving the Left and others in Group D. Attempts will be made to weaken both the UPA and the NDA by inducting the NCP and the JD(U) into this combination. At 160-plus seats they will be bigger than the Congress and the BJP but not bigger than either the UPA or the NDA.
One IB estimate received late last night says BJP 147, Congress 139. This may explain the stream of overtures from the Congress to the Left.
A pollster whose conclusions are contrarian (but often accurate) says that of the 457 seats polled to date, the projections are: BJP 154 and allies 42, Congress 123 and (pre-poll allies) 24. This makes it NDA 196, UPA 147.
MJ Akbar, as always, should be allowed the last word:
For the rest of India, back to astrologers and bookies. Bookies are considered superior because they seem to put their money where their mouth is. A friend who was born intelligent but has grown wise over many an educational afternoon spent in the exquisite environment of the Kolkata race course, reminded me of the first law of racing. Bookies only make money when the favourite loses. What would a bookie prefer? To get it right, or to get rich? Dumb question.
As the great Faiz Ahmed Faiz said,
ChaNd roz aur merii jaan,
faqt, chaNd hii roz
MJ Akbar in the Times of India suggests that we are asking the wrong question:
Facts lay hidden in a different question: not in the absence of the rich, but the boycott of the poor. Most non-voters of Mumbai are either edge-of-nerves middle class or edge-of-hunger poor. They did not vote five years ago, and they did not vote again. The drop of about 4% is easily explicable, as long as you are not transfixed on celebrities framed by candlelight. In 2004, Mumbai Muslims voted aggressively to defeat the BJP-led NDA because of the Gujarat riots and lifted the average turnout to 47%. This year, they are indifferent to the Congress and hostile to the BJP-Shiv Sena. There is no one to vote for. The Congress has once again fudged its way through five years over the Srikrishna Commission report, which named the guilty in the 1992-93 riots. As for their other demand, job reservations: the joke is that other communities get jobs, while Muslims get enquiry commissions.More here
But what's the harm in guessing? First Arun Nehru in Deccan Chronicle:
I still see both the Congress and the BJP getting close to 300 seats between them. Either of them could form a stable government and the floating vote may stabilise in favour of either party. In states where both are in contention we may see the biggest changes in the next few weeks.
A swing of 20 seats in either direction can change the existing power equations and I think this may well happen as the voter is generally ahead of most political parties.
I find a distinct change in the mood of the electorate as several chief ministers returned to power beating anti-incumbency trends. There is a premium on integrity and good governance based on stability
Graphic Courtesy Deccan Chronicle
And then DNA editors, who now show the UPA losing big and the Others gaining this week:
Graphic Courtesy DNA
MJ Akbar said it best:
Sharad Pawar, it has been suggested, has thrown a cat among the pigeons by opening a can of prime ministers. He may have done something more worrisome than that. He may have thrown a pigeon among the cats.
And another useful insight:
The Left read a clear message in this decision. The Congress wastreating the Left, rather than the BJP, as its principal enemy in thisgeneral election. How? Because in the states where an alliance wouldhave hurt the BJP, like Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, theCongress rejected an alliance with leaders who could have helped defeatthe BJP, like Shibu Soren, Lalu Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and MulayamSingh Yadav. The distribution of seats in Jharkhand had even beenannounced, but the arrangement collapsed suddenly, and inexplicably, atthe last minute. As a consequence, the BJP will pick up vital extraseats in a state where it was comprehensively defeated five years ago.The Marxists do not consider this accidental. They believe this to be partof a careful Congress strategy to marginalise the Left. There isnothing personal or sentimental about their response.
They will notpermit Congress to lead another Government because they are convincedthat the Congress will use every tactic, political and administrative,behind a screen of conciliatory words, to pursue the same objective ifit returns to Government. They know it is a battle of survival and theyintend to survive.