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Mangal Pandey: The New symbol of Non-BJP cultural Politics

30th June Mangal Pandey Statue installation in Lucknow marks the opening shot of non-BJP forces in the realm of CULTURAL POLITICS!

By and large, politics in India has revolved around socio-economic issues. Since 1952, the year of our first general elections, political parties have been concerned with poverty eradication, agriculture, industrialisation, employment, price rise etc. A second template has been the share of different social groups and castes in power. A third platform, now almost defunct, centred on class struggles both in the city and the countryside. 

CONGRESS AND DR. LOHIA

If Congress offered 'mixed economy' and rapid, heavy industrialisation by the State as India's way forward, the principal opposition led by Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, represented today by SP, reflected a different economic model based on incentives to the peasantry, light, small-scale and rural industries that generate employment. Dr. Lohia also talked about giving OBCs a share in the resources of the country, including reservations in jobs. Communist parties spoke of the issues faced by the common man, land reforms and economic/political rights of urban and rural labour.  Other streams such as Swatantra Party, Congress (O) etc represented pro-business conservative interests. Their politics, too, remained entrenched firmly in the socio-economic realm. 

BHARTIYA JAN SANGH

Back then, the RSS-backed Bhartiya Jan Sangh (BJS), BJP's early avataar, raised some issues linked with culture and identity. But anti-Congressism was their main thrust. Religious issues, like cow protection, raised by outfits like Ram Rajya Parishad, remained at the periphery. 

So, till the 1980s, politics is India, whether of the ruling party or the opposition was issue-based and quotidian. The Emergency and its aftermath focussed on democratic rights and civil liberties. Even the invocation of Ram Rajya by Rajiv Gandhi in the late 1980s appeared more like a passing reference. Bofors and corruption were the main planks of the 1989 elections. 

It was, however, BJP that started raising issues of a different nature: Common Civil Code, Article 370 and Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. Earlier, such matters used to be discussed in parliamentary committees or judicial bodies. They were never part of mass politics. 

WHAT IS CULTURAL POLITICS? 

BJP introduced a new paradigm. Suddenly, 'non-issues' like why 'such a temple doesn't exist', why is a 'street named thus', why 'MF Hussain is painting particular images', became popular. This was a step further than politics around language and cultural pride seen during the Dravidian agitation or regional identity politics of the Shiv Sena. 

Politics nuzzling around regional pride/identity, language or a personality cult, or insecurity of an erstwhile majority against the rising minority (Assam agitation of the 1980s) worked within a broad, socio-economic diagram. Shiv Sena's rise, also, was not just because of 'politics of Shivaji', but its anti-working class, strike-breaker role. 

Issues that BJP started raising had no precedence. All parties were caught off-guard. Though not well-known or used in India, there is a term for what BJP was doing: CULTURAL POLITICS! 

RSS carried a platform of 'cultural nationalism'. But RSS made it a point to stress that it was a cultural, not a political, organization. 

Formed in 1980 after the dissolution of BJS, BJP remained 'normal' for 10 odd years. Then suddenly, political vocabulary of the nation began changing. Purely cultural and emotive issues -- Mandir-Masjid-Shamshaan-Kabristaan-Dargaah-Taj Mahal-Jinnah-Muslim-Hindu-Christian-cow -- started hogging the limelight. 

Secular parties, including late entrants like BSP, remained clueless. They had no answer to questions like 'Why did Nehru not visit Bhagat Singh' etc--wasn't it obvious he did? And, in any case, these were issues of the intellectual realm of politics, NOT day-to-day politics. 

Congress, SP, BSP--they did make statues of their symbols--and played around with symbology. But they never created a movement around why a statue of a particular leader did not exist at a particular place! 

This turned out be a fatal flaw. Today, BJP is armed with an army of cultural symbols, which it has managed successfully, to insert in the political sphere. It has mastered the art of appropriating symbols also--BR Ambedkar being a case in point. 

The time has come for non-BJP forces to post their own riposte of CULTURAL POLITICS. Right from booth management to caste equations to clash of issues on socio-economic matters, the opposition is countering BJP. But cultural politics is still an exclusive BJP terrain. 

After forming the “1857 Nationalist Forum” last year, I have been trying to open the CULTURAL POLITICS FRONT for non-BJP political parties. Last year, the Forum raised the issue of graves of cruel British officers in Lucknow and Awadh still carrying laudatory phrases, the neglect of freedom fighters like Begum Hazrat Mahal, the absence of any memorial of Hindu Sadhus and Muslim Maulavis who fought together in 1857 in a place like Ayodhya, today the site of catastrophic religio-political dispute. 

30th JUNE: MANGAL PANDEY STATUE INSTALLATION

On 10th May, 2018 to mark the 161st anniversary of 1857, I announced the installation of a statue of Mangal Pandey, the first freedom fighter of India's first war of Independence, on 30th June, Chinhat Vijay Diwas--in front of UP Vidhan Sabha. On 30th June, 1857, Indian regiments defeated British regiments in the battle of Chinhat and captured Lucknow. 

BJP too is reverential about 1857. Mangal Pandey is a freedom fighter and a martyr. Hanged on 8th April, 1857, his martyrdom inspired one of the greatest anti-Imperialist uprisings of the 19th century. Since all communities and castes fought in 1857, Mangal Pandey narrative includes everyone, especially Muslims. In an environment where BJP is trying to exclude Muslims from each and every narrative, Mangal Pandey story assumes an added significance. 

Mangal Pandey was also a Brahmin. The raising of the issue 'why there is no statue of Mangal Pandey in Lucknow and UP (except one in Meerut)', holds added significance. The issue touches a chord within UP and Hindi-belt Brahmins. Despite voting for BJP in 2014 and 2017, Brahmins are feeling persecuted, both by Modi and Yogi. Passive Brahmin resistance played a major role in BJP's defeat in Phoolpur and Gorakhpur, and to a lesser extent, in Kairana. 

On the Mangal Pandey Statue installation issue, BJP is caught in a Catch 22 situation. Since the 1857 Nationalist Forum is getting the Statue made through donations, not seeking permisssion, steering clear of Govt interference, the UP BJP Govt will find it difficult to support a move that involves the assembly premises. At the same time, it cannot oppose it as that would put a question mark on its nationalist credentials. 

In all countries, statues of their national heroes are erected in front of their Parliaments and assemblies. It is only in India, that freedom fighters 'live' in parks. 

The 30th June Mangal Pandey Statue Installation in Lucknow before UP Vidhan Sabha, will revive progressive politics in UP. The 1857 Nationalist Forum is committed to highlighting Brahmin-Bhumihaar-Rajput-Muslim-Jat-Gujar-Meo-OBC-MBC-Dalit-Adivasi heroes of the 1857 rising. 

THIS IS JUST THE BEGGINNING...

MANGAL PANDEY SENA IS BEING FORMED IN UP DISTRICTS AS A WING OF 1857 NATIONALIST FORUM. 

AFTER 30TH JUNE,  MANGAL PANDEY SENA WILL EVOLVE INTO A FORCE THAT CAN TAKE ON ANTI-NATIONAL/COMMUNAL ELEMENTS OF ALL DENOMINATIONS, AND FIGHT FOR THE RIGHTS OF FARMERS, WOMEN AND THE POOR. 

People are donating money, vehicles, publicity material, rendering help in logistics, for the event.  

Help me in the cause...call me on 9910924012 for details...

REMEMBER: MANGAL PANDEY 30TH JUNE EVENT IS THE ONLY ANSWER TO RSS' MANDIR POLITICS...

Amaresh Misra is Convener, 1857 Nationalist Forum. He may be contacted at misra.amaresh [at] gmail.com

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