Policemen clear the way for the police van in which Varun Gandhi, great-grandson of Indiaâ€™s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and scion of a family dynasty, is sitting after he was arrested in Pilibhit, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 28, 2009. Police in northern India on Saturday arrested Gandhi over allegations he made inflammatory comments against Muslims.
NEW DELHI: Political drama and media-hype raised over highly communal and inflammatory remarks allegedly made by Varun Gandhi while campaigning in Pilibhit as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate for Lok Sabha polls carry a far more significant message than apparent. Undeniably, a primary motive behind the entire drama staged by Varun and his political patrons is to push him and the party into political limelight. Besides, Varun allegedly made provocative comments targeting the minority communities (including Muslims and Sikhs) to create a polarization of votes along religious lines in Pilibhit to attract the majority Hindu community to BJPâ€™s side. Clearly, Varun tried his hand at the old-tainted communal card, which had incited public to the stage of riots over Ayodhya-issue, pushing BJP to the center stage as a national party from late 1980s onwards. The political novice apparently remained oblivious of the hard reality that the Indian voter has matured a lot over the past two decades. It cannot be ignored that 2002 Gujarat-carnage played a major role in pushing the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government out of power in 2004 elections. The anti-incumbency factor played a key role in helping Congress return to power, leading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Varun has also given little importance to the hard reality that BJP does not have as strong base in UP as it did earlier, which is responsible for Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati winning the state assembly elections in 2007 with a sweeping majority.
The situation would have been different were the national and/or UP government led by BJP. There is no denying that with her eye on capturing the prime ministerial position, UP Chief Minister Mayawati has no intention to agitate the minority community in UP and elsewhere. Hype raised by Varunâ€™s political colleagues over his arrest and charges framed against him have ironically not played the part they probably aimed for. Nothing else can be a stronger indicator of this than the fact that neither Varunâ€™s comments nor the subsequent developments aroused any communal frenzy to the stage of riots in Pilibhit. Yes, law and order in Pilibhit was put to risk when Varun allegedly made the inflammatory comments and when he courted arrest. The clash, the day he courted arrest (March 28) was between the saffron brigade activists and the police. This certainly defeats the logic exercised by Varun and his supporters to try inciting communal frenzy in Pilibhit.
If Varun assumed that by courting arrest for a few hours or days, he would return to the political field as a hero for his radical supporters, he has been proved wrong. This is marked by UP government slapping the stringent National Security Act (NSA) against Varun, which can keep him behind bars till elections are over. Thus, dismissal of the case filed against him on violating model code of conduct and grant of bails on other charges slapped on him spelt only a minor relief for him (March 30). He was granted bail on sureties of Rs 20,000 each in two cases â€“ one related to allegedly causing breach of peace through inflammatory speeches and the other on charge of violating prohibitory order. The NSA was invoked against him the preceding day (March 29) for making inflammatory speeches at public meetings at Dalganj and Barkhera in Pilibhit on March 7 and 8 and for giving an aggressive speech at the court gate on March 28, because of which his supporters turned violent and clashed with the police. The decision to charge him under NSA was taken at a high level meeting, presided by Mayawati. Clearly, this move signals that BJPâ€™s rivals in UP seem prepared to counter attempts made by Varun and his supporters to incite communal frenzy for gaining political mileage by polarization of votes along religious lines.
A three-member advisory committee, comprising of one acting High Court judge and two retired judges, has been set up by Allahabad High Court to examine whether the NSA imposed on Varun is correct or not. The committee is expected to submit its report in three weeks. Till then, Varun cannot appeal against the NSA, which means that the political novice may have to contest polls from behind the bars.
While BJP leaders, including Varunâ€™s mother Maneka have strongly criticized invoking of NSA, majority of other party leaders think otherwise. Blaming Congress and BSP for conspiring against Varun, Maneka said: â€œMisuse of such powerful laws is unjust to Varun and to the country. The BSP and Congress are desperate for votes. They put pressure on the authorities.â€ BSPâ€™s key rival in UP, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav considers the NSA against Varun as a â€œtacticâ€ of BJP and BSP to â€œgenerate sympathyâ€ towards him. â€œIf the BJP-BSP are not having any sort of tacit understanding, then why was Varun not arrested before the road-show?â€ he asked.
In the opinion of left bloc and the Congress, NSA against Varun is justified. â€œA very strong, tough message needed to be sent that no hate speech will be tolerated against any community and it has been sent,â€ Brinda Karat (Communist Party of India-Marxist) said.
â€œThose who break law to get votes, do divisive politics with open eyes…. They should have courage to face the law if they break it,â€ Congress party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said. On whether invoking NSA in Varunâ€™s case was correct, he replied: â€œIf the state government is of the opinion that there is a threat to public order, it (NSA) can be used…. Can there be more threat to public order?â€