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5 February 2016 Editorial



Mehbooba Mufti must take a call

Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti finally sent out a clear message to the BharatiyaJanata Party this week. The Centre, she said, must initiate Jammu and Kashmir-specific confidence building measures to “create an atmosphere congenial for [the] formation of the new government”, and announce a timeline to implement the Agenda  for Alliance that the BJP signed on to when it joined the PDP-led government headed by her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. His death a month ago created a political vacuum that Ms. Mufti appeared reluctant to fill in a hurry. She was not just mourning the death of a father who was a mentor and a comrade,  but like her party colleagues, she too was  not keen to continue with the alliance. In the 10 months that the Mufti government held office, the PDP saw a steady erosion in its support base, with the advantage perceived to be going to the National Conference and the Congress. This was largely because the BJP had used the time to promote the SanghParivar’s agenda. When Mr.Sayeed agreed last year to a political arrangement with the BJP, it was based as much on his reading of the election results as it was on an agreement to honour the Agenda of Alliance that eschewed controversial issues. The expectation was that aligning the PDP with the BJP would lead the Centre  to cast an indulgent eye on Jammu and Kashmir’s developmental needs.

However, the BJP’s national leadership allowed its State unit to foment trouble, instigated controversies on sensitive issues ranging from  consumption of beef to  flying the State flag alongside the national tricolour, thereby unsettling the atmosphere needed for good governance. Mr.Sayeed’s death has provided the PDP the opportunity to hit the pause button to remind the BJP of its obligations and, from a partisan perspective, recover lost political ground. The BJP has sought time to consider its options: its State unit is eager to form a government again, but  the national leadership has not demonstrated any eagerness in this direction. While it is not clear how much should be read into the fact that Prime Minister NarendraModi did not visit Mr.Sayeed when he was being treated in a Delhi hospital, it is evident that there has been no visible overture from any senior BJP leader after his death either. But differences between alliance partners cannot be sufficient reason for any brinkmanship that could jeopardise  governance. Indeed, it is only after Governor N.N. Vohra took the initiative to communicate the requirement that there has been any movement. As constitutional expert A.G. Noorani argues, the PDP-BJP government has not lost its majority in the House, and  the creation of “a political deadlock for political reasons” should not be permitted. It is clearly time that Ms. Mufti bit the bullet and accepted the responsibility of providing the troubled State with a government — or stepped up to the situation and  said that her party is out of the reckoning in the government-formation process.

A racist turn in Bengaluru

Less than four months after an Australian man was violently harassed for sporting a tattoo of an Indian goddess, Bengaluru is in the news again, for sinking to new lows of bigotry and vigilantism. This time it was a Tanzanian woman at the receiving end of mob fury. It all reportedly began with an accident in which a Sudanese national drove his car over a 35-year-old woman, killing her. A mob quickly gathered, determined to mete out instant justice. When he managed to flee, his car was burnt down. Half an hour later, a Tanzanian student who happened to be passing by with her friends stopped by to inquire what was going on. The mob turned its ire on her and her three friends even though they were in no way connected to the Sudanese man involved in the accident — other than being, in the eyes of the mob, of the same race as the Sudanese, African. She was chased, assaulted, and had her clothes torn by the mob before being rescued. Her car, too, was torched. The incident occurred on Sunday, but the police did not register a complaint until Tuesday. The lackadaisical response of the law and order machinery prompted the Tanzanian High Commission  to register a protest with the Indian government. This, in turn, prompted External Affairs Minister SushmaSwaraj to write to Karnataka Chief Minister K. Siddaramaiah. By Thursday, four suspects had been arrested and investigations are currently on.

The entire episode raises a disturbing question: is it any longer possible, or even plausible, to express shock at what has happened? Such acts of violence are not peculiar to Bengaluru alone. Indeed, something like this did happen, not too long ago, in Delhi. Under the  controversial guidance of a Law Minister of the State, African women were branded as ‘prostitutes’ and molested in a ‘midnight raid’. The Bengaluru mob, too, seems to have given free rein to racism. The repeated targeting of Africans suggests a case of pathological colourism — discrimination and hostility directed against dark-skinned people. Indians’ cultural preference for fair skin is well known, and amply attested by the vast market for fairness creams. It is quite common to find people remark admiringly on how ‘fair’ a newborn baby is. And  matrimonial advertisements are notorious for seeking ‘fair’  brides. However, to reduce the depressing message from this episide  to skin colour alone would be to underestimate the discrimination and violence in India against those who are visibly ‘different’. Some years ago, Bengaluru saw an exodus of young people from northeastern India residing in the city after rumours spread of violence targeting them. In the national capital, even as the megalopolis becomes more cosmopolitan, the periodicity of assaults on residents from the northeast is such that there appears to be a pattern. Certainly, both the citizenry and the law and order machinery need to be sensitised to the prejudices. But the task can only be achieved if strong political expression is given to the essential value of diversity and tolerance.

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