Make Owaisi irrelevant
What a news week! The fatal heart attack that former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam suffered seemed to have intruded into the broadcast time which anchors in their wisdom seemed to have exclusively reserved for the drama surrounding the last-gasp efforts of Yakub Memon to avoid meeting his Maker for his proven role in the barbaric Mumbai blasts. Memon eventually failed, but not before he had unwittingly established yet again the majesty of the rule of law and due process.
Both the higher judiciary and the political executive handled the Memon matter with becoming restraint and propriety. Even the lawyers who mounted a desperate effort to buy him time were worthy of praise. Such interventions ought to reassure the aggrieved and the alienated that regardless of the oddballs and crazies, we are still an open, liberal society where there is room for all shades of opinion.
That may be why the likes of Asaduddin Owaisi sound so jarring whenever they try and paint themselves as the messiahs of their community. Indeed, the air invariably smells foul whenever Owaisi opens his mouth. It is notable that he had very little to say about the former role-model President. For Kalam, his religious faith was important, but strictly private. He conducted himself as a model Indian, a man who inspired all regardless of their caste or creed, region or religion.
Kalam was born in poverty. He had a difficult childhood, but sheer hard work and determination helped him first become India's Missile Man and, later, Peoples' President. Why wouldn't Owaisi do a favour for a change and exhort his supporters to follow the route taken by Kalam?
Why would he defend the killers of innocent Indians and, by implication, if not directly, virtually hold them up as role models for the community? Kalam was a great Muslim, a great son of India. Memon was neither. This much at least Owaisi should be ready to concede from a public platform. But if we know him, he would not, for his politics is all about fanning the fires of separatism and extremism. Does he want more Memons and hardly any Kalams? This is something that should worry all of us.
Therefore, the real challenge is how to make people like Owaisi irrelevant. It is a challenge, especially for the mainstream parties which must join hands to erect a suitable memorial for the former President. The Kalam memorial will inspire the nation in these troubled times when the social fabric is torn asunder by the provocative antics of the Owaisis and the counter-rants of the Hindu extremists. It needs to be remembered that the path of moderation can lead to Rashtrapati Bhawan, while the path of extremism points towards self-destruction and ruination. The choice is stark.
The Kalam way offers emphasis on education, which will bridge the wide gap between communities and make society cohesive and peaceful. Education is the best antidote against extremism of any kind. But the kind of education some maulvis impart in the madrasas cannot be a unifying force. They need in tens of thousands of madrasas to take the trouble to acquaint themselves with a modern curriculum à la Kalam, so that their wards are able to compete in the wider education market that exists outside the confines of spirit-stifling intellectual walls.
Of sandalwood and snake
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was in the news for all the wrong reasons this past week. First, he likened himself to a sandalwood tree, which does not lose its qualities even if a snake is wrapped around it. This was a clear reference to his ally-in-distress Lalu Yadav, who had agreed to help him try and repulse the challenge of the BJP in the coming Assembly elections.
Yadav had initiated the public recriminations, commenting that he was gulping down poison against his will, only in order to defeat the BJP. Kumar responded a few weeks later. Lalu was not amused. Kumar now maintained that the reference about snake was to the BJP, a lie since the BJP was not sticking to Kumar, but it was he who had chosen to cling to Yadav.
To damage-control, Kumar paid Lalu a visit late in the evening, hoping that it would stay unnoticed by the media. But Lalu was clever. Soon photographers were at his door. Kumar's secret visit to placate Lalu was all over the media. Kumar wanted Yadav to help him win, but did not want to share a public platform with him for fear that it might antagonise "his" voters who may then cross over to the BJP.
Nitish might want to know what the late Dhirubhai Ambani had told a leading politician who wanted his money but did not want to be seen with him. The founder of the Reliance empire reportedly told the politician that he was not a "prostitute who you feel obliged to visit but only in the night. If you want my money, meet me openly."
Now, if Kumar covets the Chief Minister's post so desperately that he must make common cause with the very man whom he had condemned as the proponent of jungle raj, he must be ready to share the stage with Yadav openly.
The betrayal streak in Nitish Kumar
More on the beleaguered Bihar Chief Minister. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a public rally in Bihar said that betrayal was in Kumar's DNA, and went on to list some of the names of senior leaders whom he had used and dumped, Kumar protested. Like King Louis XIV of France, he equated himself with the State and claimed that Modi had insulted Bihar. That was not true. All that the PM had done was to remind his audience how Kumar had a long history of betraying people — from George Fernandes to Jitan Ram Manjhi, with Lalu Yadav and a host of others thrown in. These were the very people who had helped Kumar grow in politics, but whom he had no compunction in dumping once he had exploited them for his selfish ends.
Indeed, what Kumar did to Fernandes, his one-time hero and mentor, was unpardonable. As the boss of the JD(U), Kumar denied him the Lok Sabha ticket in the 2009 elections. Fernandes, also the convener of the NDA, was forced to contest from his traditional seat, Muzaffarpur, Bihar, as an Independent. He lost. But Kumar's betrayal streak stood exposed to the whole world. Small wonder, then, Lalu is unwilling to trust his ally.
Now that we are on Kumar, we might as well remind you how he had continued as Railway Minister long after the Gujarat riots and how he had shared a platform with Modi and complimented him for the latter's handsome victory in the Gujarat Assembly polls, saying that the voters had vindicated him and that the riots were no longer a relevant issue. That was in 2007. But seven years later, because it suited Kumar's ambitions, he sought to make the same riots a big issue. Opportunism, then, has a name. It is Nitish Kumar.
The AAP formula
We might have finally figured out the Arvind Kejriwal mantra of governance. In one sentence, it reads: A tantrum a day, keeps accountability at bay.