Perhaps the only link between Pilibhit and Ponnani is the first alphabet in their names. Otherwise, the two Lok Sabha constituencies are like cheese and chalk: One is a forested district near the Nepal border and the other is a coastal town in north Kerala. Both have been in the news for the wrong reasons.
Pilibhit is in news for the inflammatory and utterly poisonous speeches made by Varun Gandhi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader who is trying to enter the Lok Sabha. He is now facing cases under the Indian Penal Code and the Representation of the People Act, 1950. He does not deserve to represent a national party.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Ponnani has been in news, too. The constituency has been at the centre of the tussle between the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, and the Communist Party of India, or CPI. The CPI wanted Ponnani for itself, while the CPM is rooting for an “independent” candidate, one Hussain Randathani. Randathani is being backed by Abdul Nasser Madani, leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a Muslim political party. Madani’s claim to fame, however, is his arrest, incarceration and acquittal in the 1998 Coimbatore bomb blasts case.
What, one may ask, is an avowedly secular party such as the CPM doing as it hobnobs with a clearly communal party such as the PDP? Well, that’s not strictly true: The CPM is only “backing” Randathani, who is an independent candidate. Similarly, he is only being “backed” by Madani.
There is a secret in this politics of winks. What the CPM does is always secular: never mind its history of fomenting and ignoring—in a cyclical fashion—Muslim communalism in Kerala. Is there any difference between the adulterated communalism of the CPM and the unadulterated communalism of the BJP?
Communal politics is what it is, call it by whatever name you want. It does not matter whether the religion in question is Islam or Hinduism or any other for that matter. But in India’s twisted politics, there is a difference: Minority communalism is not communalism. This is the interpretation of the Left parties and those of liberals who believe that minorities have got a raw deal in the republic.
This is a slippery terrain that the Indian Left has failed to negotiate. On the road that begins at the safeguarding of minority rights and ends with minority communalism, there are no markers that separate the two. A Left fighting in a competitive political system has been forced to ignore these two very different things. That is the road that links Pilibhit and Ponnani.
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