By Joseph Gathia
Regular readers of newspapers need no reminder that 2007 was another terrible year for the cause of religious freedom.
In 2004, Indians voted for a change in direction, and got a change in parties by bringing the Congress led UPA to power. But by the end of 2007 this changed.
Nearly three out of four Indians feel that the country is heading in the wrong direction. It’s not hard to see why: looming large are job loss for millions of people, rising prices of eatable items , more people than ever without access to health coverage, persistent threat to farmers and continued federal inaction in cases of violence against innocent minorities and privatization which threatened livelihood sources of ordinary citizens. These calamities detonated in 2007 but were years in the making.
The year was not entirely bereft of hope. The nation’s sensex continuously rose .The UPA Govt. announced special economic package for the minorities and grant in aid for low income students. Private companies made their operations more environmentally sustainable as well. Many Multi National Corporations pledged to social responsibility policy.
Yet several important policy announcements grounded to a halt in 2007, short of finding solutions that would actually benefit Indians. The push for investment in retail business collapsed amidst fear and hateful rhetoric. An overwhelmingly popular effort to enter into nuclear pact with USA failed to overcome a bitterly ideological veto. Rather than seeking a new direction on trade consistent with our new vision and the Man Mohan Singh Government yielded to the pressure of the Left.
Meanwhile, we had the first Dalit, K. G. Balakrishnan, elected Chief Justice of India. Middle of January was the Ardh Kumbh; almost one million devotees washed their sins in the Sangam at Allahabad.
The beginning of the year was plagued by the Nithari case of Moninder Singh Pandher which made headlines as skeletons of girls and children whom he and his servant allegedly raped and murdered emerged from his house in Noida adjacent to the capital of India.
With nationalist parties re-asserting themselves a new phenomenon emerged. Shiv Sena with Bal Thackeray’s son Udhav, instead of the recalcitrant nephew Raj, won the Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections. More significant was the Akali-BJP alliance defeating the Congress-led government by Captain Amarinder Singh and forming government in Punjab under Prakash Singh Badal. In Uttranchal the BJP-led by General Khanduri ousted the Congress from power. Of the three states that went to the polls only Mizoram stayed with the Congress.
March saw resurgence of Naxalite and Maoist in Central India. Violence also erupted in Nandigram (West Bengal) 11 farmers protesting against acquisition of their lands were shot by the police.
On April 1, Laurie Baker (90) who designed homes for the poor and had made India his home died at Thiruvananthapuram. Three days later Jagjit Singh Chauhan (80) founder of the Khalistan Movement died in his village Tanda. Anyone who thought BJP was a spent force was proved wrong; it swept the Delhi Municipal polls.
May was eventful. India’s biggest state was won by Mayavati’s Bahujan Samaj Party ousting Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi, with BJP in the third position and Congress in the last. Dalit leader and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati forged a rainbow electoral coalition that embraced upper and lower castes and Muslims in one magic formula that brought her to power in India’s most populous state.
In Punjab, Sikhs were up in arms against the head of Dera Sacha Sauda for having imitated Guru Gobind Singh in dress and ritual. More sinister was an explosion in Hyderabad Makka Masjid, killing 12 worshippers. Police remained clueless about the culprits.
Large-scale protests by the Gujjars of Rajasthan demanding scheduled tribe status privileges as granted to Meenas and Jats. They started their agitation at the end of May in Rajasthan when six people lost their lives, and spread to Haryana ending in Delhi bandh.
In all those turmoil environment India got first woman President Pratibha Patil.
In July, the monsoons flood revealed chinks in the armour. The financial capital Mumbai was water logged.
August started with cheerful news for Congress party. Renowned scholar Dr. Hamid Ansari of the Congress defeated Najma Heptullah of the BJP to become Vice President of India.
In September the country witnessed two bombing episodes: one in the Chisti dargah in Ajmer and the other in a Ludhiana cinema. The biggest sensation of October was a sting operation carried out by Tehelka on perpetrators of atrocities on Muslims in Gujarat following the arson in Sabarmati Express at Godhra. Chief Minister Narendra Modi, was explicitly named as giving them permission to do what they liked.
Mumbai Christians got some good news in Oct 2007. The Archbishop of Mumbai Oswald Gracias, head of the almost 600,000-strong Catholic community in the city -became a cardinal , the only Asian in the latest list announced in Rome.
In November significant development was the erosion of power and integrity of the CPI (M) government in West Bengal. It started in Nandigram, predominantly a Muslim area. They resisted taking over their farmlands for industrialization. It led to clashes between the police and peasants in which some lives were lost. The CM apologized for the excesses by his police.
On 21 November, 2007, a political pressure group, dominated by religious Muslims, demonstrated against Ms Nasreen’s books in Kolkata (where she had been based for some months) and the protest turned violent. Soon afterwards, Ms Nasreen left Kolkata (Calcutta), the capital of the left-run state, Bengal, for Rajasthan, a northern state near Delhi, dominated by the rightist-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
December was marked by electoral battles in Himachal and Gujarat, Congress versus the BJP. The Bharatiya Janata Party registered spectacular victory in both the states.
The Gujarat election results have sent tremors across the political spectrum, thrilling the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and unnerving its opponents. Modi’s success showed, his developmental efforts, which made Gujarat attain a 10.6 percent growth in the Tenth Plan period, played a considerable part in boosting his prospects along with the combative pro-Hindu subtext of his campaign. Whether one likes it or not the Modi brand of middle class Hindu youth power is like to stay. During the Gujarat election several analysts made mountain out of mole by stating that the BJP suddenly brought Shri L.K. Advani fearing that Modi’s stature was growing. This was no where near to the truth. Those of us who were in Gujarat hearing the echoes with out ears to the ground could feel that the masses to know who the strong man at the center leadership level is ?
The year 2007 threw two possibilities before India: one, which of Sushri Bahan Mayawati who is defining aspects of affirmative actions in deeply caste divided Indian society and second Shri Narendra bhai Modi. Whatever the critics say, it’s likely that this is not the last time that the BJP will attempt to mix politics and the past.
The third alternative of Congress – Rahul baba – would have to await the results of ten assembly elections scheduled in 2008. But Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are crucial for the congress. The signs of the Congress’s weakening hold on the ruling coalition at the centre can already be seen in the meeting which took place between two erstwhile inveterate adversaries in Maharashtra – the Shiv Sena’s Bal Thackeray and union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
If the Congress has hit a low patch in its fortunes, the Left remains embroiled in its own troubles. There has been a rupture in the Left unity in its stronghold of West Bengal following political and administrative miscalculations during Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee’s industrialisation drive.
The Christmas was overshadowed by the violence against Christians in Orissa.
After every instance of turmoil and trauma, “dialogue” offers itself up as a panacea. The word is everywhere, especially now. The desire to transcend differences through discussion and peaceful communication is a powerful one, but by itself, dialogue means nothing. The tenor of the conversation—its richness, its nuance, its integration of the personal and the factual—is as important as the effort toward dialogue itself; perhaps more important. Though this review is not a direct response to events in Orissa and Gujarat, it is an attempt to take ourselves—and our thoughts—seriously. I hope that you’ll agree that our leaders need to enter into dialogue, and that they pay attention to what they say and how they say it. But whether you agree or not, I urge you to start dialogue with the people of other faiths.
With that, dear reader, I must leave you, so that 2008 can take its course. Happy New Year to you all. Who among us can predict the future? (END)
Joseph Gathia is senior media and human rights analyst and can be reached via e mail: email@example.com Mobile 09810270489