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Here is the latest edition of the Political Line newsletter curated by Varghese K. George

Here is the latest edition of the Political Line newsletter curated by Varghese K. George

(The Political Line newsletter is India’s political landscape explained every week by Varghese K. George, senior editor at The Hindu   . You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox every Friday.)

The Arab veto on BJP politics

Many observers have pointed out the contradiction between the BJP’s refusal to heed the clamour of Indians – Muslims and others alike -­ and its action against spokespersons who made insulting comments about Prophet Mohammad following severe backlash from Gulf countries.

Only a few days earlier India had rejected concerns raised by a U. S. report about religious freedoms in India, calling them “vote bank politics,” a term borrowed from the BJP lexicon for its domestic Opposition. In diplomatic efforts to assuage the anger of the Islamic world, Indian officials appeared indistinguishable from the BJP. But then this is in line with the conflation of the identities of the country and the party.

BJP functionaries would explain the party’s attitude towards Muslims as one of ‘no appeasement and no discrimination’ and argue that the community used to hold a veto in Indian politics. There may be some truth to that. However, subsequently, saying increasingly incendiary and provocative things about Muslims has become the easiest calling card to success, fame, and money for ambitious followers of the party. In their game of one-upmanship, they began targeting the most sacred of all Muslim symbols – the Prophet himself. And then they faced the reckoning.

But the story has not ended here. The episode has set off a churn in the BJP and the Hindutva universe. Any perceived concession to Muslims, even a good wish, offends the Hindtuva brigade so much that they would even abuse their current idol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on that count. Mr. Modi has himself faced the charge of being a Muslim appeaser in earlier years.

A distinction between the Indian Muslims and Arab Muslims, and the favouring of the latter has happened earlier too in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s term. He ignored an invitation to visit the oldest mosque in India; however, he visited the Grand Mosque in UAE around the same time. I had explained the politics of this here, years ago.

The action taken against the spokespersons who insulted the Prophet may have calmed tempers in the short term, but social media warriors will not let it pass.

Sedition law – who needs it anyway?

NEW DELHI, 09/04/2013: Supreme Court of India in New Delhi on April 10, 2013. Photo: S. Subramanium

NEW DELHI, 09/04/2013: Supreme Court of India in New Delhi on April 10, 2013. Photo: S. Subramanium
| Photo Credit: SUBRAMANIUM S

When the Supreme Court put a freeze on sedition proceedings under the colonial Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, there was widespread celebration. One should have wondered why the Centre shifted its position abruptly, from stoutly defending the law to expressing willingness to give it up. As it turns out, the police do not need the sedition law to keep anyone in prison. In fact, there are nastier laws available, and topping the list is the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967, with its numerous amendments introduced by the Congress.

Federalism Tract

Counting the Muslims – now district-wise?

Minorities are counted State-wise, as per existing law. But the anomaly of declaring some communities minorities at a national level, while they may be in a majority in certain areas has become increasingly controversial. There is a demand to consider Hindus a minority in States or UT such as Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has taken the debate to a different level, by raising the prospect of identifying minorities at the district level – which will mean that Muslims will cease to be considered a minority in many districts, while Hindus will be. According to an answer given by the government in Parliament in 2014, there are 19 districts in the country that have a Muslim population above 50 per cent. Most of them are in J&K, but also included are six districts in Assam, Murshidabad in West Bengal, Kishanganj in Bihar and Malappuram in Kerala.

Meanwhile, on the question of counting people caste-wise, the Bihar unit of the BJP has taken a position markedly different from the party’s national position. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has seized on the initiative by getting cabinet clearance for the same, forcing the hands of ally BJP. Cornered by the OBC-driven politics of Bihar yet again, the BJP’s State unit chief has now said special care should be taken to ensure that Rohingya and Bangladeshi Muslims do not enter the caste count lists. He also fears that undeserving Muslims will claim OBC status in the census.

Happy Brahmins, unhappy rest put the BJP in a fix in Karnataka

Congress leaders and supporters staging a protest against the revision of textbooks, in Bengaluru on Thursday. SUDHAKARA JAIN SUDHAKARA JAIN

Congress leaders and supporters staging a protest against the revision of textbooks, in Bengaluru on Thursday. SUDHAKARA JAIN SUDHAKARA JAIN
| Photo Credit: The Hindu

The ongoing textbook controversy in Karnataka began after a section of Brahmins felt that the community was being portrayed in bad light. A review committee set up by the BJP government made additions and deletions in text books, and by the end of it all, it appears that only the Brahmins are happy. Dalits and Ambdekarites are unhappy that the history of their heroes and struggles has been ignored, the Vokkaliga community is unhappy about a perceived slight to literary light Kuvempu and the Lingayats are unhappy about content relating to Basaveshwara — all powerful political constituencies.

The unrest has thrown a spanner in the works for the BJP’s political plans in Karnataka. While caste identities and their symbols are powerful determinants of politics in the State, animus towards Muslims continues to have a unifying resonance for them all. This commentary gives a wholistic view of Karnataka’s conflicts over its past and what the future might bring.

Sikh leader calls for arms training

Giani Harpreet Singh, the Jathedar of the Akal Takht – the highest Sikh temporal seat — exhorted members of the community to bear arms, saying that  they were confronting several challenges.

‘No language is any less than Hindi or English’

Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan sought to dispel concerns that the BJP government at the Centre was privileging Hindi over other languages, at a conference of Education Ministers from across the country. The actual question is slightly different though – does the government want to promote Hindi as the administrative language, replacing the current use of English?

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