In the week since the CBI court’s verdict on Babri Masjid demolition, the opposition has been speaking up. But, on Hathras. Because it is easier to speak on the Hathras case rather than stand up for the Muslim voter in the BJP era. On Babri, there has been stone silence.
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have done just what is expected of political leaders with their very visible and powerful questioning of the Yogi Adityanath government in the grisly Hathras alleged gang-rape case. Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Ministers Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav have lent their voice as well, for good measure. But the hallmark of a good and astute leader is standing up for her political and electoral constituency for all causes. And with the opposition’s deafening silence on the Babri Masjid demolition verdict when the special court ruled out any conspiracy in the disgraceful 1992 incident, Rahul, Priyanka, Mayawati and Akhilesh have shown their weakness and opportunism.
Hathras, in that sense, is a low-hanging fruit. It is not a divisive or contested issue. The right and wrong is clear, and the Uttar Pradesh administration’s high-handed, brazen and shameful handling of the sensitive issue has only made matters easier for the opposition.
The Babri Masjid verdict, however, is a different ball game altogether. It is far more delicate, politically and electorally tricky and has the potential to cost votes to whoever questions it. Why risk losing votes just to stand up for Muslims whom you have often claimed to protect and whose votes you have relied on? Why should Rahul, Priyanka, Akhilesh or Mayawati speak up for them when it is far less of a gamble to attack the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the alleged gang-rape of a Dalit woman in Hathras and grab headlines as well as social media space?
This is not an either/or fight. If one fight is about giving voice to women and Dalits, the other is about fighting the cause of the Muslims. And by not taking up the latter, the Gandhi siblings and UP’s top opposition leaders have betrayed their constituents. Sure, it is a court verdict and hence, criticising it is a slippery slope. But political parties are astute enough to know how to do their bit while not managing to invite the court’s wrath.
The important, but easier fight
The alleged gang-rape and fatal torture of a Dalit woman by upper-caste Thakur men in Hathras and the beyond-reprehensible and shoddy handling of the case by the Yogi Adityanath government, including the midnight cremation, is a cause any political leader worth her or his salt would take up.
The image of Rahul Gandhi falling on the ground last week, or that of a police officer grabbing Priyanka by her kurta this weekend should haunt the Yogi government for some time to come and give the opposition adequate ammunition against it.
This, however, is a battle that is unlikely to cost those fighting it. Whether the Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP) or the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will gain political ground because of it is something that is too early to predict. But none of them are likely to lose anything. Nobody can fault you for taking up women’s causes, and such a soul-shattering one at that. The caste angle, meanwhile, is crucial. The BSP’s entire politics is based on Dalit empowerment and the SP’s vote base has never been about upper castes either. For the Congress, upper-caste voters were a focus area but it is gradually shifting towards a more Dalit-Muslim-OBC approach in the state. Its state chief Ajay Lallu is an OBC leader, and his pick emphasised this decisive shift in the Congress’ Uttar Pradesh strategy.
And Rahul, Priyanka, Mayawati and Akhilesh are well aware of the win-win in this case. Just as they are aware of the possible political consequences of questioning what really happened on 6 December 1992, when the mosque in Ayodhya was demolished.
The tricky terrain
The special CBI court last week acquitted all the 32 accused, and essentially, told us that while the mosque was pulled down, it wasn’t a well-laid out conspiracy and was a ‘spur of the moment’ incident — hence, nobody needs to be punished for it.
The BJP built its polarising and toxic Hindutva politics on the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, and 28 years later, Muslims across the country have been told it did no wrong. The Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have all wooed and relied on the minority vote bank — to different degrees — and yet, none of them has shown the decency, let alone courage, to stand up for it.
Yes, the Congress did release an official statement in which it said the ruling “runs counter to Supreme Court judgement as also the Constitutional spirit”. The Supreme Court, in its November verdict, had called the demolition “illegal”. But the ever-Twitter-friendly and ‘street warrior’ Gandhi siblings are yet to utter a word. It is tricky for them, it is after all, their father and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who in 1989 promised ‘Ram rajya’ and allowed shilanyas near the disputed site. Decades later, his son became the good ‘janeudhaari Brahmin’. Soft-Hindutva is something the Congress has been flirting with, and it is obviously afraid that speaking up on the ruling will damage its prospects with Hindus. And it’s not just now, the Congress had welcomed the bhoomi pujan at Ayodhya in August. Priyanka Gandhi had tweeted: “Ram sabke hain.”
The SP and BSP, meanwhile, have built coalitions of Yadav-Muslim, and Jatav-Muslim votes respectively. But on Babri, not just the silence of its leaders, but also the parties’ reluctance to issue any statement is jarring. In fact, when the Supreme Court paved the way for the construction of the temple at the disputed site in November last year, both the SP and BSP had welcomed it.
Everybody wants the Muslim vote, but they are way too scared of the BJP’s aggressive Hindutva and of what it means for them to speak up for the minorities. Three big opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh have zero courage to question a system that allows the demolition of a mosque and the violence it unleashed on Muslims to just pass. Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati’s silences show the BJP’s Hindutva has won. It shows how the BJP and especially Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s shrill majoritarian politics has forced the opposition to retreat into a quiet corner, from where it can speak on all issues that it finds convenient to take up cudgels for, but not even dare to squeak when it comes to the voter the BJP has anyway tried to render irrelevant — the Muslims.
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