Yogi's 'Abba Jaan'remark
The Pew Research Center had recently estimated that our beloved country is now, after 45 years, in a position to earn back its name as "a country of mass poverty". At a time when India is in economic and youth unemployment doldrums and the government today will do well to foreground Indira Gandhi's 1971 'Garibi Hatao' slogan more than any other, trust Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to recalibrate the Uttar Pradesh poll tenor back to communal passions with his "Abba Jaan" remark.
At the Kushi Nagar rally, he had said: "Before 2017, in Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav's time, who stole your rations? The ones who use the term Abba Jaan." 'Abba Jaan' is the term used by Muslims to address their father with love and respect.
The UP chief minister has indeed more than suggested to Hindu voters to regard Muslims as the stealers of their rations and jobs, to vote for the BJP and not for any "Muslim appeasement" party in the upcoming UP polls.
In New India, availing government benefits such as pensions, senior citizen benefits, primary health care and rations have become a snarled struggle for the masses. However, we see elected leaders spring to life and action with hate speeches when state elections looming around the corner.
Fragrance and relevance of Bapu
Although within the country's borders, we see the dominant Hindutva ideologues sounding the dog whistle against "Abba jaans", Prime Minister Modi cannot bury or evade the fragrance attached to the name of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, when he goes to international fora.
At last week's meeting between PM Modi and US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly that happened in New York, PM Modi would sideline Gandhi to the role of a climate warrior, saying Gandhi spoke of trusteeship of Planet Earth. While that is true and important, the US President spotlighted the rightful place and resurgent relevance of Gandhian ideals in today's world. He said: "Mahatma's message of non-violence, respect, tolerance matters today maybe more than it ever has."
United States Vice President Kamala Harris, born of the legacy of the US Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s which brought about the union of her parents, also spoke in no uncertain terms. "It is incumbent on our nations to protect our democracies in the best interests of the people of our countries," Harris stated in her joint press address with Prime Minister Modi.
The one who within India positions himself as the 'Hindu Hriday Samrat', out to avenge the 'wrongs' of history and divide the country's citizens into different tiers, could not evade the name of his worst ideological enemy, Mahatma Gandhi, this time either. When Modi speaks of India as the "mother of all democracies" in front of the General Assembly, the history of India's freedom struggle and Gandhi's place in it is inextricably linked to that statement.
It will be a long, long time(and never) before the Prime Minister can recommend himself to international audiences by taking the name of Godse, Gandhi's murderer, who is, unfortunately, being feted today by Hindutva zealots within India's borders.
#Humari Abba Jaan and memory of a riot
In the wake of Yogi Adityanath's Abba Jaan comments, #Humari Abba Jaan trended on Twitter with people of all communities posting pictures of their fathers. On her Facebook page, Nishrin JafriHussain too posted the picture of her Abba Jaan, then ex-Member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri.
He is remembered as an upright and ethical Indian, a true nationalist who refused to flee Ahmedabad's Gulbarg Society, even when he got a chance, on the fateful day of February 28, 2002. Ehsan Jafri was set on fire by a 300-400 strong-armed communal hate mob, that had gathered inside the housing society. Sixty-nine people of Gulbarg Society were killed that day by the hate mob.
Ehsan Jafri's life's work was to help the downtrodden of the labour colony around the Gulbarg Society. Even in a place like Ahmedabad, where sporadic communal disturbances used to happen every now and then, Ehsan Jafri refused to consider his personal safety and shift to a Muslim-dominated area like Juhapura. This was because he staunchly believed that it would compromise his ideals of a plural, democratic India. Ex-MP and deceased journalist Kuldip Nayar describe Ehsan Jafri's murder as the event that marked the erosion of India's secular origins.
It is to be noted that even after a petition was filed by Zakia Jafri, the ex-MP's wife, challenging the Supreme Court Special Investigation Team's clean chit given to the role of the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 riots, the BJP has not been able to trace even a single instance of corruption that could be levelled against Ehsan Jafri in order to vilify his memory.
In 1969, 1985 and 1992, there were days of communal unrest in the state of Gujarat but the government of the times would step in and stop the "anti-social elements" who caused it. The riots then were thus quickly brought under control. But it is a whole new dynamic when elected leaders themselves set out to trigger communal passions in a 'democratic' nation.
(Leena Mariam Koshy is an independent writer from Kozhikode, Kerala.)