It’s another case of media blowing out of proportions an issue that the country’s constitutional framework is well capable of dealing with. Here’s a case where the Election Commission (EC) – a constitutional body – has all the powers in its hands to decide whatever has to be done in the process of ensuring a fair election. It doesn’t need anyone’s help – least of all media’s.
 Anwar Ibrahim’s meeting with two prominent and controversial figures in Islamic movements, Yusuf al-Qardawi and Khalid Mish’al in Doha, Qatar.
Qardawi is an Islamic scholar and prominent figure in Islamic Brotherhood or Ikhwanul Muslimin, while Khalid Mish’al is the leader of Hamas, an organization that is labeled as ‘terrorist’ by USA and Israel.
Prior to this meeting, Anwar met many Islamic leaders and scholars from various organizations, as well as world leaders, such as Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his cabinet members, Dr Ahmad Muhammad Ali, Islamic Development Bank Chief, Sheikh Abdul Qadir, a Saudi and Palestine supporter, Sheikh Kabbali, Imam of the Holy Mosque in Mecca, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Secretary General of the OIC, and many others.
What do these meetings tell us? One, this can refute the Malaysian government’s accusation that Anwar is a friend and ally of Israel. Two, these meetings are telling Malaysian people that Anwar is still an Islamic leader committed to the Palestinian cause and other Islamic movements throughout the worlds. With the Arab Spring success in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and also Islamic movements’ successes in Turkey, Morocco and Jordan, one can conclude that even though Anwar is a ‘liberal’ and leader of a party not considered as an Islamic party, to Muslims, Anwar can be relied on as their leader to reach their aspiration: a country governed with at least Islamic values and principles such as rule of law, justice, transparency and accountability.
Malaysian people also should not be worried as these values are global values that all communities throughout the worlds are fighting for. They transcend races, ethnic background and gender. And for Malaysian Muslims who have doubts about Anwar, they should be reminded that this is the trend of the Islamic movements throughout the worlds nowadays – promotion of human rights and justice. They should not bogged down with the erroneous view that Islam is Malay and Malay is Islam.
The EC has written to the President – complaining against Khurshid – maybe because it believes it’s a relatively small issue. Had it felt that the issue was more serious, it could have taken any number of harsher measures. It could have countermanded the elections in the constituency in which Khurshid’s wife is the candidate (where he apparently made the remark about 9% sub-quota for Muslims even after the EC asked him to stop doing so). It could have debarred the Congress alone from this poll if it wanted to be really harsh. But whatever it wanted to do, the Constitution – and apparently several SC judgments – give it enough power to do what it thinks is the right thing to do to ensure smooth and fair elections. Also, the CEC is headed by a strong man – one who won’t take anyone’s rubbish for an answer. The CEC also doesn’t need anyone’s help…..but there are many helping hands nonetheless. The way the matter is being discussed in media, it would like it was the biggest challenge facing the country.
As is always the case, the accused has a different story to tell. Khurshid’s point – as reported in some newspapers – is that he never repeated the 9% demand after the EC “censured” (not censored!) him. All that he’s been saying after the EC’s censure is that he will fight for Muslim quota all the time. That much is there in the Congress manifesto for UP and is a politically valid strategy. The 9% was not mentioned in the manifesto and that is what the EC had objected to. As long as Khurshid doesn’t mention specific numbers, he would be right. And the EC would not be able to object to Khurshid’s speech.
The EC may have got taken in by the melodrama in Khurshid’s speech. “Hang me if you want to” is the kind of thing that politicians love to say all the time. No one gives them much importance. Politicians also lie at political rallies. That’s the unfortunate part of the game called Elections. The EC cannot possibly get peeved by such acts of drama. The EC has to focus on the larger picture – is any candidate saying or doing anything that violates the code of conduct. In this case it is clear: if Khurshid mentioned the 9% after the warning, he violated the code of conduct; if he didn’t, then he didn’t.
I myself don’t support the policy of reservations beyond a point. I do support reservations – as a form of Affirmative Action – but with conditions. It has been my view that reservations should have a finite life. That life could be 50 years or even 100 years. But as the beneficiary class takes advantage of reservations and progresses, the % of reservations must come down gradually. I am also not in favor of reservations based on religion. Chetan Bhagat once wrote why religion-based reservation is not a good idea. He rightly pointed out that it’s easy to change one’s religion to get the advantage of reservations. It’s almost impossible to change one’s caste. Reservations based on caste cannot be misued. Those based on religion can be. But this controversy is not about whether such politics is good or bad. Religion is a clear dividing line between Congress supporters and BJP supporters. And that is fine. It’s a political strategy of the Congress. Some call it “appeasing the minorities”; others call it “secularism”. The controversy today is about whether Khurshid repeated the 9% claim or not.
If Khurshid stuck to 4.5% reservations for Muslims, he would be within the code of conduct, since that claim was made well before the code kicked in. Samajwadi Party also keeps making the claim with respect to Muslim reservations. The other parties also keep making random claims – but that’s fine because its part of their poll manifesto or was first voiced before the code came in. The issue isn’t about the reservations at all. It’s about breaching the code of conduct and the EC is right in flagging the issue off.
I also think what Arun Jaitley said was correct. His view was that this was a well orchestrated strategy of the Congress – the good cop, bad cop strategy. Expectedly, the PM has now stepped in as the good cop, admonishing his fellow Congressmen to strictly follow the law book. But the purpose of Khurshid’s speeches would have been served anyways. Well, my only response to Jaitley is that this is not an innovative poll strategy. Every political party uses this same strategy. The BJP admonishes Kushwaha at the center; likewise its central leaders pan the Porngate MLAs. But at the state level, it’s business as usual. Over a period of time, such controversies die down – but the gains at the state level stay.
Will Khurshid’s strategy of raising the pitch for Muslim reservations work? I don’t know. There are varying reports about the way the Muslims vote. All that can be said about their voting pattern is that they won’t vote for the BJP. After all, why should they? Here is a party that openly stands against any sort of Muslim gratification. The Muslims may not vote for BSP either since that party is so clearly positioned in favor of dalits. Any reservation for Muslims means that much is taken away from dalits. But whether the Muslims vote for SP or Congress or the Peace Party of JD (U) or some independent is unpredictable. Each of these parties is making an attempt to woo the community – which again is fair political strategy. But which way the community votes is anyone’s guess. I am writing this because there is a belief amongst some that the Muslims vote en-masse – and that’s why Khurshid is going so far…..that is certainly a cause of nervousness for the BJP. I don’t think that is true at all.
On a ligher note, it is such controversies that make elections so much fun. It also makes India India. You go on a holiday abroad, scan the media, and find it really boring. It is very true indeed that for us, even news is entertainment!
The real truth is that this EC-Khurshid controversy is also an unnecessary one. It looks more like a media strategy than a political strategy – a way for media to keep the citizens engaged with it. If such controversies didn’t arise, so many square cms of newspaper space and so many hours of TV time would go unfilled. So many blogs would not be written (!). Even this controversy will fade away. No one should worry about the country – it’s protected strongly enough by its Constitution!
The BJP seems caught in a bit of bind. It is beginning to look like the punter who lost a flutter on the football match and then a fortune on the action replay. Its original mistake was a misconception; its contemporary error is a misperception. 

The historic flaw is its belief, at some gut level, that India is a secular country because the minorities want secularism. Indian Muslims do have a vested interest in secularism, since it ensures equality and democratic power, but that is less than half the story.

In 1947, a politicized Indian Muslim elite partitioned India to create Pakistan. Over the last six decades Pakistan has been unable to live with fellow-Muslims who happened to be Bengalis, driving them into a separate nation; marginalized minorities and turned the country into the Islamic Republic of Bloodistan. The obverse does not work in India, however much Rama Sene-style zealots might salivate at the prospect. The reason is quite simple. India is a secular country because Indian Hindus, who constitute the majority, and therefore have a proportional impact upon the political ethos, have created and defended a Constitution that is a remarkable triumph of reason over the temptations of sectarian passion. India is secular not because Muslims need it, but because Hindus want it. There is nothing new about it. The Hindu Mahasabha did not win a single Hindu seat in 1937, even in an age of separate electorates, and did not do much better in 1946 despite the fact that Muslim League swept the Muslim seats in an environment darkened by raging communal storms.

Logic suggests, therefore, that if the BJP wants to define itself as a “Hindu” party, it should tread the middle road of coexistence rather than the extreme path of discord. Harmony requires more courage, commitment and moral consistency than conflict.

The misperception arises out of a peculiar inability to comprehend the dimensions of an extraordinary Indian cultural revolution that has seeped across divisions of caste and community, with its epicenter located in Hindu society. The new Indian woman is all around us, seeking a place on a college campus, en route to the workplace; participating in television as activist, audience and artiste; on the sports field; on the street; she is everywhere you look — most of all, at home.

The revolution is not limited to the urban rich. A week ago we were forced, by that inedible curse called the traffic jam, to take a secondary road through villages from Dehradun airport to the academy in Mussoorie. Women, compelled by circumstance and male prejudice, were carrying large utensils of water on their head from source to home. The younger women were in jeans, or some variation of it. Women everywhere share the common aspiration for modernity and economic success.

The more ardent flag-wavers have missed this pervasive and continuing emancipation, which started tentatively in the 1980s but has acquired an unstoppable momentum now. There is change wherever the eye falls, in whatever the senses pick up: dress, public icons, shifting sexual mores — and examination results, where women are asserting their will to be future leaders. The new Indian woman has claimed the mantle of independence as the means of empowerment. She wants freedom, to choose, at a life-changing level; career above marriage if she so desires; or, at an incidental level, a pub over the confines of home. She is demanding the prerogatives of men.

Cinema, that persistent barometer of behaviour, has long abandoned the image of a sati savitri naari at the feet of her pati parmeshwar. The new Indian woman is increasingly contemptuous of any cage, gilded with gold or paste, in the name of tradition or any spurious ism. She barely bothers to hide her contempt. Fear, or trepidation, might make her hesitate occasionally, but this is a circumstantial restraint. Check her inner will.

One is not suggesting that this is true of everyone; but this is the role model that is influencing attitudes of decisive numbers. You cannot chase this generation out of a pub without sending a nationwide signal advertising your gender bias. The girls in the Mangalore pub did not go to drink senselessly; they went there to exercise the right to go there. Those who attacked the pub, incidentally, had the full support of conservative reactionaries from all religions. While reactionary politics might persist among some ethnic groups, it is becoming malodorous to the young. Religion remains an important aspect of Indian life; the Hindu young celebrate Durga Puja, Holi and Diwali with as much joy as their elders. But their faith, regrettable exceptions apart, is socially inclusive, not aggressively exclusive.

As India becomes an increasingly younger country, it is this culture that will tip power towards one party or another. If the BJP cannot get the vote of the young, modern Hindu woman, it has no future.


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