UP Election 2017: Behind SP-Congress alliance lies the open pursuit of a polarising agenda

The Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, stitched at the last-minute amid familiar dramatics, serves to define the ideology of coalition politics. It is simple. There is no ideology. Just a contract of convenience with power as the underwriter. While that in itself may be little more than ideological bankruptcy, the stated "goal" of the alliance flouts with impunity the Supreme Court ruling against mixing religion and politics. Not surprisingly, the hyperventilating media has found little time to highlight this worrying aspect.

At a joint news conference after sealing the late-night deal on Sunday, both Congress and SP pitched it as a battle of 'secularism versus communalism'. Much has already been written about subversion of the term "secularism" in Indian context and how it is used as a dog whistle to polarise the electorate. The astounding part was the way both parties showed scant regard for the spirit of Supreme Court judgement and set the agenda for an electoral battle along the religious fault lines of India's largest and one of the most volatile states.

In its 2 January ruling, a seven-judge Constitution bench had added a larger interpretation to Section 123 of the Representation of People Act, 1951, to prevent religion and community from being invoked during elections. It held that the candidate will be disqualified if he/she or his/her agent appeals for votes on the grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language. It was held as a landmark judgement and all political parties wasted no time in "welcoming" it.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari had waxed eloquent, telling reporters shortly afterwards that “it is an excellent decision; it is a decision which should be welcomed by everybody. It reaffirms the fundamental values on which this nation was cast by the founders of the Indian Constitution."

And yet on Sunday, Raj Babbar went to town over Congress's "secular alliance" with SP, meant to uproot and keep out "communal forces".

 UP Election 2017: Behind SP-Congress alliance lies the open pursuit of a polarising agenda

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and newly appointed party president Akhilesh Yadav with party leader Azam Khan in Lucknow on Sunday. PTI

While explaining the rationale behind settling for 105 seats instead of their earlier demand of 140, Babbar, Congress UP chief, said: "Congress leadership agreed to strike an alliance to thwart BJP's divisive politics and at the same time to boost secularism and promote communal and social harmony."

Vowing to throw out BJP, the PCC president said alliance between the two youth leaders — Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi — will ensure that politics transcends the narrow boundaries of caste and religion.

Consider the irony.

There is zero focus on development, no mention of pressing issues that some of the poorest voters of India grapple with in their daily lives. The discourse goes nowhere close to promising an upliftment of healthcare, education and economic well-being. Instead, the state's ruling party and India's grand old party while claiming to "transcend the boundaries of caste and religion" went out of their way to ensure that the electoral agenda remains firmly tied to the apron strings of communal polarisation. The impunity was matched only by the astounding hypocrisy. It shows the degree of perversity in Indian political paradigm that allows parties to openly pursue their communal agenda if they are perceived to be on the right side of "secularism".

For its part, the SP, which will field 298 candidates in the 403-seat UP Assembly, said: "for the unity and integrity of India, and following a secular ideology, we will continue our fight under SP National president (and Uttar Pradesh chief minister) Akhilesh Yadav". "The country's secular fabric will become stronger when Akhilesh Yadav becomes the chief minister again," party spokesman Naresh Uttam said on Sunday while announcing the tie-up.

Public memory is short. That of media's even shorter. Else reporters would have sought the SP spokesperson's opinion on the statement that his chief minister had made on the floor of the UP Assembly in March 2013. In a written reply to a question raised by Peace Party and BJP members, Akhilesh Yadav had admitted that 27 incidents of communal violence had occurred since he became the UP chief minister.

According to a report in The Indian Express, three incidents at Mathura, Bareilly and Faizabad were big. Another seven incidents occurred during the period including two at Pratapgarh and one each at Ghaziabad, Bareilly, Sambhal, Bijnore and Allahabad. Also, 17 communal incidents took place during the period in question — thrice at Meerut, twice at Ghaziabad, thrice at Muzaffarnagar, twice at Kushinagar, and once at Lucknow, Bijnore, Sitapur, Bahriach, Sant Ravidas Nagar, Moradabad and Sambhal.

These were over and above the infamous Muzzaffarnagar riots that occurred in August-September 2013 and resulted in the deaths of around 40 people and displacement of another 50,000.

And yet SP finds it suitable to project Akhilesh as the upholder of UP's "secular fabric". The chief minister became the embodiment of bountifulness on Sunday while announcing in the party manifesto one lakh new business opportunities for minorities, participation in every government scheme and ironically, "guaranteed" security.

Once again, no questions were raised why job opportunities will be targeted at only 19 percent of the total UP population (the Muslim vote base) or why other communities might not need security "guarantees". But this is now the standard operating procedure of our "secular" parties. The judiciary can take a hike.

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Updated Date: Jan 23, 2017 15:44:43 IST