New year’s greetings reflect people’s innate desire for fresh beginnings and an end to what is painful. Yet it is impossible to divide time other than on calendars and dials of watches: the past invariably shadows the future. Ghosts we think we laid to rest, return to torment us.
So it was that as 2012 ended last year, India’s capital erupted over the gang rape of a physiotherapy intern on a bus. It persuaded us into believing the nation had turned the corner on gender justice as anti-rape laws were made stringent. Yet, within weeks of new laws being enacted, a five-year-old was raped in Delhi. Is our society impervious to change? Or does the outrage indicate we are no longer indifferent to the plight of women in the public domain?
Later in 2013, a legal intern went public with her allegation of harassment against a former Supreme Court judge, AK Ganguly. Then a journalist took on her editor, Tarun Tejpal
, for sexually assaulting her. Societal change or not, the glare of the media spotlight ensured that neither accused slipped behind the armour of privileges that bestows immunity from intense legal scrutiny for the powerful in India.
Hurrah, then? Not really, for the past returned wearing a new guise in December, through the suicide of Khurshid Anwar, executive director of the Delhi-based Institute for Social Democracy. Months earlier, an activist had accused Anwar of raping her. She did not file a police complaint. Instead, she videotaped her statement about the incident to academician Madhu Kishwar and disappeared from the city. The video found its way to two tv channels, which triggered a virulent campaign against Anwar. Deemed guilty, he committed suicide, prompting many, including women, to condemn the culture of trial by media.
The suicide of Anwar challenges the manner in which our increasingly sensitised society responds to allegations of rape. Are we to presume all such charges are true and the media justified in pillorying the accused? Then again, is it not possible that anti-rape laws can be misused, as anti-dowry laws have sometimes been?
Such questions will continue to haunt us in 2014, even as sexual predators will discover their victims rising laudably against them. The religious riots in Muzaffarnagar will go off the headlines in 2014. Yet, the town in the state of Uttar Pradesh will become the petri-dish to grow and multiply the virus of communal hatred, to drive a wedge among communities, and attempt at consolidating the Hindus against ‘the other’: the Muslims. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
will try to harness this divide as it did through its public felicitation of the accused, to bolster its chances in the 2014 General Elections.
No doubt, the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, will go for broke in 2014, hoping to exploit the discredited Congress. However, contrary to popular belief, the BJP will not forget its Hindutva past: it will be presented to the electorate in the glossy wrappings of development.
The past will return in 2014, the year of elections. For Modi to become the prime minister, it is vital that the BJP dramatically improves upon its 2009 performance in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the Congress isn’t even in the hunt. It must, for one, wean away the middle and lower caste supporters of a clutch of regional leaders – Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, and Nitish Kumar – to enhance its strength. What better way to achieve this than to harp on the Hindu-ness of these castes, for which the rhetoric of riot is a proven tool.
For Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, 2014 will be severe, voted out of power as they probably will be. The Congress might even see its seat tally in the Lok Sabha dip to its lowest ever and confront a spell in oblivion. Rahul, too, will have to return to the past, to fathom the process underlying the emasculation of the grand old party and discover a new mantra to appease the ghost haunting his party.
In India’s political firmament, it is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, for whom the year 2014 heralds a fresh beginning – it rose out of nowhere to become the country’s great hope. He has captured the nation’s imagination through the audacity of adhering to his promise of fighting and winning election on meagre resources collected with transparency. The AAP and Kejriwal are fortunate to have begun the new year without a past.
Ajaz Ashraf was for the last 12 years deputy editor at Outlook magazine in India. He contributes this weekly column, Look Out, to Nepali Times.
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