India Insight

from FaithWorld:

Holding back the “religion card” in India’s election campaign

india-election-ayodhyaHindu nationalism, Muslim "vote banks", anti-Christian violence, caste rivalry -- Indian politics has more than enough interfaith tension to offer populist orators all kinds of "religion cards" to play. Coming only months after Islamist militants killed 166 people in a three-day rampage in Mumbai, the campaign for the general election now being held in stages between April 16 and May 13 could have been over- shadowed by communal demagoguery. (Photo:Voters show IDs at a polling station in Ayodhya, 23 April 2009/Pawan Kumar)

But in this election, the "religion card" doesn't seem to be the trump card it once was. It's still being used in some ways, of course, but the main opposition group, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has played down its trademark Hindu nationalism in its drive to oust the secular Congress Party from power in New Delhi. A BJP candidate who lashed out at the Muslim minority saw the tactic backfire. During a recent three-week stay in India, I found religious issues being discussed freely and frequently in the boisterous election campaign. But they were usually not the main issues under debate and not isolated from the pocketbook issues that really concern voters. Click here for the rest of my report quoted above. advani-waves(Photo: BJP leader L.K. Advani, 8 April 2009/Amit Dave)

This is one of those stories where context is king. Thanks to the internet and India's lively English-language media, anyone around the globe can find Indian reports highlighting the religion angle. One of the news magazines, The Week, ran an interesting cover story about the "high priests of hate." On balance, I think it looks a bit overdone -- it was written at the height of the Varun Gandhi controversy -- but it had this classic anecdote:

"A former BJP minister once said that he had won five times in a row using a simple trick: his men would make an issue of a Muslim boy marrying a Hindu girl or the death of a cow in a Muslim area on the eve of elections. He lost the last Assembly election when he campaigned with a development agenda."

But religion isn't just on the politics pages. Outlook, another news weekly, reported that an American investor long associated with the Hare Krishna movement has offered to build a huge Hindu temple in a planned Himalayan ski resort as part of a project previously nixed by religious leaders who feared it would desecrate the mountain home of their gods.

Will Mayawati’s Brahmin card work this time?

Much has been written about Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati’s inventive politics that saw her forging an unlikely alliance between Dalits and Brahmins — from the two ends of the Hindu caste spectrum — to win an election in Uttar Pradesh in 2007.

She did this with a promise to widen the appeal of her party beyond her traditional Dalit voters and bring Brahmins and other upper castes into her programme of all-round development.

As proof, she gave tickets to scores of Brahmins in 2007 and appointed a Brahmin (Satish Misra) as her chief adviser and strategist.

Lalu Prasad’s roller: courting the Muslim vote in Bihar

Muslims are seen as a crucial vote bank in several possible swing states in India’s general election and many politicians are making the right noises to court the community.

In the state of Bihar, which I recently visited, its chief minister Nitish Kumar told me his campaign focused on caste-blind development but also communal harmony:

“Now everybody is happy. There is complete communal harmony,” he said as we sat at night on the veranda at his residence.

Bihar: after the “Jungle Raj”

“The state government is trying to establish the rule of law…however so mighty someone may be, without any discrimination, whatever their clout is, they will still be put on trial.” 

This is what Neelmani, a senior police officer in Bihar, told me in a recent interview.

He said the “Jungle Raj”, which gave the state a reputation for corruption, kidnappings and crime, is coming to an end.

Professionals in politics?

What’s common to a banker, a dancer and a former U.N. under-secretary general?

Answer: they are all contesting the general election in India.

The main battle in the polls from April 16 to May 13 this year, as in years past, is between the centre-left ruling Congress and the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. A loose alliance of smaller regional parties has formed a Third Front, as well.

But Meera Sanyal, the country head of ABN Amro Bank, is not aligning with any of them. She will contest from South Mumbai, an upmarket locality and the main business district, as an independent candidate.

Varun Gandhi – politics of “hate” from politician of tomorrow?

The black sheep of India’s most powerful political dynasty or a young politician making his own way in that family’s most potent political rival?

Call him what you will, Varun Gandhi is grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons in an episode that could embarrass his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party at the start of a general election campaign.

The great-grandson of India’s founding father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was allegedly caught out making inflammatory comments against Muslims at a recent rally.

from Global News Journal:

Giving in to Ali Baba

I once paid a cop 30 ringgit (about $10 then) for making an apparently illegal left-hand turn in Kuala Lumpur. Scores of drivers in front of me were also handing over their "instant fines", discreetly enclosed within the policeman's ticketing folder. It was days ahead of a major holiday and the cops were collecting their holiday bonus from the public.

Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim holds a disc he says contains evidence of judge-fixing in Malaysia 

I felt bad about this, of course. What I was doing was illegal, immoral and perpetuating an insidious culture that goes by many names in the East -- "baksheesh" in India, "Ali Baba" (and his 40 thieves) in Malaysia, "swap" in Indonesia (means "to feed").  But the policeman pointed out I would have to take off the good part of a day to go to court and pay 10 times as much to the judge. So I rationalised: "When in Rome..."

from FaithWorld:

Exercised over yoga in Malaysia

Of all the things to get exercised about, yoga would seem to be an unlikely candidate for controversy. But such has been the case in Malaysia this week.

Malaysia's prime minister declared on Wednesday that Muslims can after all practice the Indian exercise regime, so long as they avoid the meditation and chantings that reflect Hindu philosophy. This came after Malaysia's National Fatwa Council told Muslims to roll up their exercise mats and stop contorting their limbs because yoga could destroy the faith of Muslims.

It has been a tough month for the fatwa council chairman, Abdul Shukor Husin, who in late October issued an edict against young women wearing trousers, saying that was a slippery path to
lesbianism. Gay sex is outlawed in Malaysia.

Anger, agreement at Muslim leaders gathering

jama.jpgSecurity was tight at the entrance to Gate No. 7 of the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, a 17th century mosque built by Mughal kings, and the venue on Tuesday for a gathering of Muslim leaders from across the country to debate the persecution of Muslims.

Police shooed away fruit vendors and cycle rickshaws spilling over from the crowded market nearby, while others stood around the metal detectors at the entrance while their colleagues cased out the giant white shamiana inside with sniffer dogs under the slowly revolving ceiling fans.

 A full half hour after the scheduled time, when only the first few rows of seats were occupied, Maulana Naksh Bandi of the Jama Masjid began the proceedings, inviting various leaders to the dais, and declaring in Urdu: “there is no law, there is no justice for us. It is the rule of the jungle.”

It pays to use an Indian public toilet

rtr1e5ov.jpgLast month, authorities in a southern Indian state fined people caught urinating in public view for a few days.

This week, officials in a remote town started offering people money for using public urinals.

Quite amused reading these news items, I wonder whether we are witnessing the winds of change finally in India or are we just watching another piece of local image-building exercise before elections ?

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