Moment of reckoning for Congress - Aijaz Zaka Syed - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

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They say nothing succeeds like success. A case in point is the lionisation of the Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav following the stupefying performance of his party in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. And the Muslims have been the loudest in cheering for the SP. Their jubilation is doubly justified because the Muslim vote is seen to have played a critical role in the decisive SP victory. A fact that doesn’t seem to have gone down too well with the television pundits as well as the Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party leaders.

Indeed, with their concentration in nearly 150 assembly constituencies and significant presence in numerous others, the Muslim vote may have played a decisive role in tilting the scales in the largest and most crucial state of the country in terms of population and influence.

These elections are historic also because for the first time since Independence the UP assembly – or for that matter any assembly – has 68 Muslims on its roll, most of them from the SP. In another first, the Muslim representation ratio is in direct proportion to their population share. Frustrated with the callous indifference of the BSP and fearful of the BJP’s resurgence, the community overwhelmingly voted for the SP. The Muslims had once been very close to the party. Mulayam was derided as ‘Maulana Mulayam’ by the media. This was in the crucial years before and after the Babri Masjid watershed.

Unlike the Congress, which unleashed the Ayodhya demons and always spoke from both sides of its mouth, Mulayam stood his ground as the UP chief minister, repeatedly confronting the mob that the VHP-BJP-RSS combine had amassed in the temple town to attack the mosque.

The Mulayam-Muslim love affair lost its fervour with the rise of fixers like Amar Singh. The SP’s embracing of BJP leader Kalyan Singh, who had presided over the mosque destruction in 1992, proved the final straw on the camel’s back. It’s no coincidence that power eluded Mulayam as long as the Muslims shunned him.

But to be fair, more than an endorsement of the SP, this had been a firm rejection of chief minister Mayawati’s arrogance and the smug insincerity of the Congress. While Mayawati’s elephantine delusions of grandeur, seen in those obscene monuments to her glory and her poll symbol, elephant, certainly didn’t help the BSP’s case, what really ticked off the Muslims was the arrogance of the Congress party and its assumption that the community would be forever dancing to its tunes in return for the promise of some pathetic crumbs in an indefinite future.

Clearly, the more ground realities change, the more they remain the same for the Congress. Given Rahul Gandhi’s background and his alleged aversion to power, many thought the so-called prime minister-in-waiting would bring a refreshing change to the grand ol’ party. But it was not to be. The Congress is incapable of mending its ways no matter who is in charge.

The Muslim disillusionment – and that of the rest of the population – with Sonia Gandhi’s party is so complete that it has been totally routed in constituencies that were its traditional, ‘safe’ strongholds. Poor Salman Khurshid! The law minister bent over backwards to push his wife past the post, including waving the lollipop of quota for Muslim at her poll rally. But Louise Khurshid couldn’t even save her deposit in the family fortress of Farrukhabad. In Rae Bareilly, Sonia Gandhi’s parliamentary constituency and an old Congress bastion, the party lost all five assembly seats. Apparently, all that gruelling campaigning by the ‘Prince’ and his endless visits to Dalit and Muslim homes were of no use.

One is not too comfortable with this Muslim tendency to take credit for changing the political landscape in a state that has given India eight of its 14 prime ministers and often determines who gets to rule the country. If things have dramatically changed in Lucknow signalling an imminent change in Delhi, the credit goes to the people of UP who had had enough of Mayawati’s maya. The Muslims merely voted with the rest of them.

However, there’s no mistaking the Muslim rage against the Congress and it’s not limited to the Hindi heartland. While the community, disturbed over the 2002 Gujarat genocide under the BJP, went out of its way to decisively vote for the Congress-led UPA, all they have received in turn is empty promises and pointless academic pursuits like the Sachar Committee and Ranganath Mishra Commission reports.

Instead of implementing the recommendations of his own appointed commissions that paint a very disturbing and shameful picture of the condition of Muslims, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has dithered and looked the other way while a silent witch-hunt of the community gathered pace across the country.

Over the past few years, hundreds of innocent Muslims have been routinely picked up as the operatives of the ubiquitous Lashkar-e-Taiba or the terrorists of the Indian Mujahideen, an organisation that, as veteran journalist Saeed Naqvi puts it, simply doesn’t exist and is more like a figment of intelligence agencies’ imagination.

The recently reported case of a Delhi boy, Mohammed Aamir, who was arrested at 18 and wasted 14 years of his life behind the bars without a trial and without ever discovering his crime, maybe the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are many such Aamirs out there – picked up from the Hindutva haven in the west to the Congress-ruled states in the south and UP and Bihar in the north.

The detention this month of eminent journalist Syed Mohammed Kazmi on the charges of masterminding the recent attack on an Israeli embassy car is the latest in this concerted campaign targeting the country’s largest minority. The arrest of Kazmi, a newsreader working for the Doordarshan, hasn’t just added to the Muslim anger, it has outraged the media community sparking spontaneous protests. To quote Naqvi again, the Indian establishment has hopelessly been infected by ‘the war on terror’ syndrome, creating an almost unbridgeable chasm with the minorities.

All this of course may not be the official policy of the UPA government led by the soft-spoken Singh. But what Muslims cannot forget and forgive is the fact that this constant victimisation of the community by police and security agencies has happened on the watch of Dr Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.

If the general elections were to be held tomorrow, which now looks an increasing possibility what with the antics of allies like Mamata Banerjee, Muslims would give the party of Gandhi and Nehru, already on the ropes thanks to all those scams, a piece of their mind. The moment of reckoning for the Congress is nigh.


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