The season’s greeting of Happy New Year, uttered with utmost enthusiasm and boundless hope, reflects man’s innate desire for fresh beginnings and a sudden end to what is humdrum or painful. Yet it is impossible to divide time other than on calendars and dials of watches; the past invariably shadows the future, often in ways we do not anticipate, and ghosts we think have been laid to rest return to torment us.
Gender Justice: Ghosts of Misogynistic Past
So it was at the fag-end of 2012, when Delhi erupted over the gang-rape of a physiotherapy intern, persuading us into believing the nation had turned the corner on gender justice. Anti-rape laws were made stringent. Yet, within weeks of new laws being enacted, the rape of a five-year-old rocked Delhi, as did that of a journalist in the city of Mumbai months later. Do such incidents suggest our society is impervious to change? Or does the expression of outrage indicate that we are no longer indifferent to the plight of women in the public domain?
From either of these perspectives, we can view the decision of a legal intern to go public with her allegation of harassment against former Supreme Court judge AK Ganguly, as also the resolve of the journalist who took on her editor, Tarun Tejpal, for sexually assaulting her. Societal change or not, the glare of media spotlight ensured the accused- both, powerful- did not slip behind their armor of privileges that bestows immunity from intense legal and public scrutiny.
Misusing the Law
Hurrah, then? Not really, for the past returned wearing a new guise, ironically, around the time India was commemorating the first death anniversary of the physiotherapist. On a chilly December day, Khurshid Anwar, executive director of the Delhi-based Institute for Social Democracy, an NGO, jumped from the fourth floor of his apartment building to die instantaneously. Months earlier, an activist had accused Anwar of raping her. She did not file a police complaint. Instead, she video-taped her statement about the incident to academician Madhu Kishwar and disappeared from the city. The video found its way to two TV channels, which promptly set to telecast parts of it, triggering a virulent campaign against Anwar on social media. Deemed guilty without getting a chance to defend himself, he committed suicide. His death belatedly prompted many, including women, to condemn the culture of trial by media, harping on the need to observe the due legal process.
The suicide of Anwar challenges the manner in which the society, increasingly sensitized to violence against women, responds to allegations of rape. Are we to presume all such charges are true and credible and the media justified in pillorying the accused? Is it possible the anti-rape laws could be misused, as the anti-Dowry Act is in many instances? Such questions will continue to haunt us in 2014, even as sexual predators will discover their victims rising laudably against them.
Communal Violence: A thing of the past?
The riots in Muzaffarnagar will go off the headlines in 2014, leaving the survivors of violence and rape to relive repeatedly the horrors they experienced. Yet, Muzaffarnagar will become the petri-dish for the virus of communal hatred to grow and multiply, to drive a schism among communities living together, and attempt at consolidating the Hindus against ‘the other’, the Muslims. This divide the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will harness, as it has done through its public felicitation of the accused, to bolster its chances in the electorally-crucial state of Uttar Pradesh in the General Elections.
No doubt, the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, will go for broke in 2014, hoping to exploit the debilitated and discredited Congress to emerge as the leading party in the General Election. However, contrary to the popular belief, the BJP will not forget its Hindutva past: it will be presented to the electorate in the glossy wrappings of development.
Indeed, all those who believe Modi merely symbolises development and decisiveness have drawn their conclusion from his campaign as showcased in 2013, when Modi did not have to hark back to Hindutva for three reasons. One, the popular anger against the Congress had turned into a tide, and the BJP chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh had governed reasonably well to ensure anti-incumbency did not stump them. Two, these two states and Rajasthan witness a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP, and the raging disaffection against one translates into gains for the other. Three, the Muslim factor in these three states is not as significant as it is in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
2014 Prediction for the BJP and Narendra Modi
As India inches closer to the General Elections, we will witness the past returning. For Modi to become the Prime Minister, it is vital the BJP dramatically improves upon its 2009 performance in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the Congress isn’t even in the hunt. It must, for one, wean away the middle and lower caste supporters from regional leaders – Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar – to enhance its strength. What better way to achieve this than to harp on the Hindu-ness of these castes, for which the rhetoric of riot is a proven tool.
The past will dog not only the BJP but also Modi, unraveling his attempts to create a new liberal persona for himself. Indeed, the past can’t be wished away until it has been exorcised of its ghosts. He may now speak of his “agony” over the “inhuman” killings of 2002, but there would be voices – not just of Congressmen – reminding us about the palpable absence of remorse in his conduct since then, as he strutted around Gujarat campaigning on an anti-Muslim plank, invoking images to reinforce popular stereotypes about the minority community. For Modi, the past will also hound him through Snoopgate, a term coined to describe his administration’s illegitimate order to tap a woman’s phone.
2014 Prediction for the Congress and Rahul Gandhi
For Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, 2014 will be severe, voted out of power as they will be. The Congress might even see its seat tally in the Lok Sabha dip to its lowest ever, and confront a spell in oblivion, comrades rising in rebellion, and alarm bells ringing the demise of the party. He, too, will have to return to the past, to fathom the process underlying the emasculation of the grand old party, its inability to meet the aspirations and demands of a new India. The ghosts of the past will torment him and the party until he discovers a new mantra to appease them.
Prediction for the AAP
In India’s political firmament, it is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, for whom the year 2014 heralds a fresh beginning, for it rose out of nowhere to become the country’s great hope. His was a challenge neither the BJP nor the Congress had anticipated, a challenge which aims to transform our contemporary political culture, perceived to be corrupt and callous. He has captured the country’s imagination through the audacity of adhering to his promise of fighting and winning Delhi state elections on meager resources collected with transparency. In 2014, the AAP and Kejriwal will play a role which none in 2012 had imagined or thought possible, unless they turn out to be abject failures, overnight, in providing clean, effective and responsive governance. Fortunate are they to have begun the New Year without a past.
By Ajaz Ashraf
Featured Image Source: New Year 2014@Facebook