Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Aug 25, 2004
Uma gives BJP a new political tool
The former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Ms Uma Bharti... Another episode in the political theatre of the absurd. A. M. Faruqi
And so we have Ms Uma Bharti, an icon of the Sangh Parivar, all set to become a larger icon for a cause that is stated differently, and obviously, by the BJP and the Congress-led opposition to it.
But the facts first. Ms Uma Bharti was forced to resign as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh because of a non-bailable warrant issued against her in a 10-year-old case.
The charges pertain to defiance of curfew orders to hoist the national flag at the Idgah maidan in Hubli on August 15, 1994, as a result of which there was rioting and police firing in which several people died. Ms Bharti has been formally charged by the Hubli court for rioting, arson, assault on public servants and attempt to murder.
It appears that as many as 18 arrest warrants have been issued against her, and if she managed to escape arrest despite these, it is obvious that there was no serious intent to arrest her. In fact the S. M. Krishna government in Karnataka had even filed a revision petition in the Hubli court to withdraw the charges and wind up the case. But the court dismissed that petition.
Those who might not follow political developments keenly might be confounded to know that, hardly a week ago, Ms Uma Bharti, as the MP Chief Minister, was in Bangalore. Leave alone get arrested, she called upon her Karnataka counterpart in the State capital and must have been accorded a suitable reception befitting her office.
Now that Ms Bharti has stepped down from office obviously, the BJP, which had demanded the Union Minister Shibu Soren's resignation once an arrest warrant against him had surfaced last month, could not allow its own leader to hold on to her chair when an arrest warrant against her was pending the BJP and the rest of the Sangh Parivar are all set to make her a national hero.
Ms Bharti has announced that she will launch a tiranga yatra all over the country, to inform ordinary citizens like you and me how she is being penalised for being a nationalist.
Anyway, that will be in the realm of the immediate future and the BJP leaders are perhaps rubbing their hands in glee because the party has finally got an agenda to take to the streets. On its part, the Congress(I) has been pooh-poohing Ms Bharti and her partymen's claim that she was being penalised for hoisting the national flag. Its spokesman, Mr Anand Sharma has said she was facing arrest not for hoisting the national flag but on charges like rioting and violating curfew orders. He blamed the BJP for giving the whole issue a "political twist and projecting her as a martyr".
So, where does the truth lie? As in all political intrigues oh yes, this is a political issue more than anything else, make no mistake about it it lies somewhere in between. For the BJP and Ms Bharti herself, this may be an honourable way of giving up the perhaps tedious duties of chief minister.
It is one thing to be a rabble-rouser and join choruses like: Ek dhakka aur do, Babri masjid tod do, (give it one more shove and bring the Babri mosque down) as she did in December 1992, or take on the mis-governance of the 10-year Congress regime in MP, and quite another to settle down to the mundane and tedious task of day-to-day administration.
The two require two different skill-sets and BJP insiders admit she is a "very good agitator but an indifferent chief minister".
So, the BJP will now direct the talent of its ace "agitator" to conducting yet another yatra.
While this development appears like the political theatre of the absurd, and can raise a few laughs, what lies at its core is much more serious. It has given the Sangh Parivar the opportunity to dig out an old issue and hit out at muslims who have objections to the tricolour being hoisted from their Idgah. Lost in the din will be the fact that the Anjuman-e-Islam, which controls the Idgah maidan, has itself started hoisting the national flag in the last three years or so!
Here is a brief history of the Idgah maidan which, as its name implies, is used twice a year for offering Idd prayers. This land was acquired by the Hubli corporation from the Basel Mission, a Christian organisation, for developing Hubli town.
A PUCL fact-finding mission went into the violence that erupted in Hubli in September 2001, when VHP chief Ashok Singhal decided to celebrate his 75th birthday in this communally sensitive town. Its report of March 2002 stated that the city survey had originally included this maidan in the corporation area, but without consulting Muslims who "have been using this place for their prayers for 200 years."
Earlier, this maidan was outside the city, but as the city developed, all kinds of buildings came up around it, and the Anjuman, finding the sanctity of the place defiled by various activities, sought permission from the city council to raise a compound wall at its own expense, because "sometimes during prayers, children living in the nearby houses stand naked before the congregation, which, according to the rules of Islam, renders the prayer useless."
Ultimately the Municipal Commissioner agreed to lease the maidan to the Anjuman for a period of 99 years on a nominal rent of Re 1 per year. "The lease deed was executed on 17/05/1930, in accordance with the GRGD No 1499, dated 11-01-1922, of the Government of Bombay on the sanction being accorded by the Commissioner dated 6th February 1922," says the PUCL report.
In 1960, the Anjuman sought permission to construct a shopping complex on the land, which was given on the condition that the income would be used only for educational purposes and that too for all communities. Since then, obviously there have been attempts to construct more shops, and the case is pending in the courts. But economic reasons seem to be at the heart of the problem, with land sharks, perhaps in both the communities, sensing huge economic potential in commercially exploiting the Idgah land.
Over the years, Hubli has been transformed from a relatively peaceful town to a cauldron of communal tension, for reasons both political and economic. From the early 1990s, the BJP has scented political opportunities in Karnataka and the Sangh Parivar has been active in the State.
Hubli has been a popular commercial destination due to its industrial and trading circuit, business opportunities and proximity to Mahrashtra. But the communal tension is also due to the almost equal number of Hindus and Muslims in the population which, in turn, creates its own dynamics. But, anyway, the BJP had managed to get 22 seats in the Hubli Municipal Corporation by 2002, against nil seats barely 10 years earlier.
On August 15, 1993 the BJP cadres wanted to hoist the national flag at the Idgah maidan, which was opposed to by the Muslims who argued that this was a religious place. Next year, they roped in the fiery sanyasin to do the job for them. Of course, the BJP's mission was more than hoisting the flag; it was to prove that this land does not belong to the Anjuman or the Muslims but to the entire population something that the Anjuman disputes, and apparently, with some legal sanction vis-à-vis the 99-year lease it had acquired.
What baffles understanding is why did the Anjuman allow things to come to such a boil? What was the harm in hoisting the tricolour, not by the Bhartis or the Singhals, but by one of its own people? The initial argument, as we have seen from the PUCL fact-finding report, was that this was a religious place. But, surely, the national flag has no religion of its own; it belongs to all Indians, irrespective of their religious ideology.
This is a perfect example of how non-issues, allowed to simmer over long years, boil over and end up in riots where innocent lives are lost. To me, this is akin to some Muslims refusing to sing the Vande Mataram... without bothering to sit down and reason that all it means is saluting the nation as a mother. How can there be any argument against this? And, more important, is there not some merit in choosing what battles one would like to fight, rather than take a tilt at mere windmills?
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