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Bismillah Khan, the shehnai maestro whom Bihar forgot

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Dumraon (Bihar): Bharat Ratna shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan’s birth place in this Bihar town is crumbling despite politicians making promises over the years. In this election, it is barely a talking point for candidates.

Politicians have repeatedly made promises to develop Bismillah Khan’s birthplace. But, over nine years after his death, local residents are disappointed with state and the central government’s failure to take concrete steps.

Murli Manohar Srivastava, who has written a book on Bismillah Khan, said it was an irony that promises made to develop the maestro’s birth place remained unfulfilled and were not an issue in the polls.

Bihar is in the midst of staggered five-phased elections. The votes will be counted on November 8.

Bismillah Khan was born Qamruddin at Bhirung Raut Ki Gali in Dumraon, about 15 km from Buxar town. According to locals, Bismillah Khan’s ancestors were court musicians and used to play in Naqqar khana in the princely state of Dumraon. His father was a shehnai player in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh of Dumraon.

When he was barely six or seven, Bismillah moved to his maternal grandfather’s home in Varanasi. His uncle, Ali Baksh ‘Vilayatu’, a shehnai player attached to Varanasi’s Kashi Vishwanath Temple, was his guru.

Two Bihar chief ministers and a host of politicians have promised to develop Bismillah Khan’s birthplace in the Dumraon assembly constituency in Buxur district, about 130 km from Patna, but beyond tokenism, there has been nothing concrete on the ground.

Polls campaigning is hotting up in Dumraon, but development of Bismillah Khan’s birthplace is not an election issue for politicians.

“Neither the grand alliance of JD-U, RJD and Congress nor the BJP-led NDA are keen to talk about it…,” said Shailendra Kumar, a local resident.

Lalu Prasad, when he was chief minister, had in 1994 laid the foundation stone of a town hall-cum-library in Bismillah Khan’s memory. In 2006 Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced construction of a museum and installation of a life-size statue after the shehnai masetro’s death in August of that year.

“But nothing has happened so far. It is a pity for all of us,” rued another local resident Sultan Alam.

Even the marble foundation stone that Lalu Prasad laid has been gathering dust at the Dumraon police station for several years.

“As construction was not started due to one reason or the other, the marble plaque was brought here as it could have been stolen or damaged by anti-social elements,” a district police officer said.

BJP legislator and former culture minister Sukhda Pandey, who was denied ticket to contest assembly polls this time, has also left the local residents disappointed.

Alam said: “She had promised to develop Bismillah Khan’s birthplace but forgot about it.”

Lal Muni Choubey of the BJP, who represented Buxar four times before being defeated in 2009 by Jagdanand Singh of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), reluctantly admitted he had done nothing to develop the memorial.

“I have told you earlier and again (I reiterate) that I am sad that Bismillah Khan was not given respect in his home town,” said Choubey, who was denied a BJP ticket to contest the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.

Present BJP MP from Buxar Ashwani Kumar Choubey said that Bismillah Khan’s birth place will be developed as a tourist place if the BJP-led NDA comes to power in Bihar after state assembly polls.

Brahmin-dominated Buxar is witnessing a four-cornered contest among incumbent Jagdanand Singh, the BJP’s Ashwani Kumar Choubey, the Janata Dal-United’s Shyam Lal Kushwaha and the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Dadan Yadav.

Some Muslims living near the ancestral house of Bisimillah, where he was born, expressed their unhappiness over its neglect and the double standards of politicians.

“We cannot do anything except express anger and frustration time and again. If Bismillah Khan was born in any other place outside Bihar, it would have developed the house but here, there’s no one to care for it,” said Salim Ansari, who stays near Bismillah Khan’s birthplace.

Another resident, Rahul Mishra, said there is a road named after Bismillah Khan in Varanasi, where he died, but there is nothing in his name at his birthplace. “It is unbelievable but true. Politicians have no interest in developing anything in his memory,” he said.

Daud Ali, who represented Dumraon in the Bihar assembly but was denied the ticket to contest polls from Dumraon by the ruling JU-U, said he had tried his level best to develop it but didn’t succeed.

“We are demanding that land be allotted to build a memorial for Bismillah Khan but it is yet to happen due to the delay on the part of the officials concerned,” he said.

Dadan Yadav, who is contesting as a JD-U candidate from Dumaraon, said he will change the face of Bismillah’s birthplace.

“It is not my promise, it is my resolve. Whether I win or lose the polls,” said Yadav, a former minister.

(IANS)

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Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy

The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977

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Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy
Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy. Pixabay

An all-out war of words broke out last week between the BJP and the Congress on the 1975 Emergency. Observing June 26 as a ‘black day’, several BJP leaders targeted the Congress at events held across the country to highlight the Emergency’s excesses. Leading the charge with a sharp attack on the Congress was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Addressing BJP workers in Mumbai last Tuesday, the prime minster said the country still refers to June 26 as a ‘dark period during which every institution was subverted and an atmosphere of fear was created’.

Without naming the Nehru-Gandhi family, Modi said the Constitution was misused at the behest of one family. He further went on to say that the mentality of the family had not changed even now after 43 years of the Emergency. ‘Whenever the family feared loss of power, it keeps shouting that the country is in crisis,’ the prime minister added. Expectedly, the Congress hit back with equally sharp criticism of the Modi government, equating Modi to Aurangzeb. It alleged that the prime minister was even crueller than the Mughal emperor as Modi has “enslaved democracy” in the country for the past 49 months with an “undeclared emergency”.

The 21-month period from 1975 to 1977, when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had declared Emergency, was indeed a dark chapter in India’s democratic history. This was the third national Emergency – the first one was in 1962 when China invaded India and the second was in 1971 during the war with Pakistan – and the only one to be declared citing the “internal disturbances”.  During the 1975 Emergency, opposition leaders were arrested, civil rights curbed, elections postponed, anti-government protests crushed and press censored. It shook India to its core as the freedom to liberty, dissent and express ceased to exist. All this is well-known and in public domain. Therefore, what was so special about the 43rd anniversary of Emergency that the BJP observed as ‘black day’?

Bringing back memories of the Emergency days was clearly aimed at striking at the Congress’s weak spot. It was also meant to neutralise Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s frequent ‘murder of democracy’ gibes directed at the Modi government. This was not entirely unexpected in a pre-election year; neither was the Congress’s equally sharp response by likening Modi to Aurangzeb. As 2019 general elections approach, not only the political exchange between the two parties will gather momentum, but over the next 10 months, election-driven rhetoric, name-calling, inane allegations and historical debates will increase. Reminding Congress of the Emergency is just the beginning.

Congress on Friday promised to create one crore jobs across the southern state
Congress- wikimedia commons

While terming the Emergency as an ‘aberration’, the Congress has never expressed any remorse about the dark chapter in its history or condemned it. Claiming that during Emergency, Mrs Gandhi targeted the rich, black marketers, hoarders and zamindars is no justification for curbing civil liberties and press freedom and neutralising the opposition. The hesitation to admit Emergency as a major mistake has denied the Congress an opportunity to reassert its commitment to democratic values, though it was the primary builder of democracy in India after independence.

The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977. Since then, the Congress has ruled at the Centre several times without resorting to emergency measures. On the contrary, it has shown its commitment to democratic order and liberal values far better than the current BJP-led government. The Emergency of 1975 and the violations of civil liberties and press freedom were all real. But its parallels can be drawn with the contemporary situation, which is marked by erosion of institutional independence and integrity, rising intolerance and increasing mob violence which stems from the ideological support of the ruling party.

The right-wing assaults on constitutional institution and individuals’ democratic rights are for real, though there is no Emergency in force in India today. While conventional opposition leaders and parties have the liberty to become more than conventional Opposition and there is also the rising wave of resistance to right-wing assaults on individual rights and institutions, it is also true that there are whiffs of Emergency sentiments in the air and the strains of the Emergency doctrine and pulsations of fear are quite obvious. The Congress is not entirely off the mark when it accuses the Modi government of ‘undeclared emergency’ as the freedom of the media, people’s freedom of expression and their right to live without fear have come under new kinds of threats.

There is no overt press censorship but the government has tried to muzzle and manipulate the media through various means. A section of the media has either caved in to the fear of administrative power or fallen for the lure of money-power. Apart from the media, there have been sustained attempts to weaken and misuse other constitutional and non-constitutional institutions, including the judiciary. Interestingly, all this is happening when the BJP is in power and questioning the Congress’s commitment to the principles and practice of democracy, while the BJP has diluted its own commitment to the philosophy of parliamentary democracy, liberal values and press freedom.

This is quite surprising because while the taint of Emergency continues to haunt the Congress, the BJP, despite its proud status of a party whose leaders were at the forefront of the struggle against the Emergency 43 years ago, is not deterred to misuse the levers of power against its political opponents, ‘difficult’ sections of the media, and independent or ‘inconvenient’ voices that question the government on various issues. With scant regard for critical debate and plurality of views under the current ruling dispensation, what we are seeing now is some kind of a role reversal. Mrs Gandhi subverted institutions to retain power. The BJP is trying to do the same by weakening the same institutions.

Also read: India sends Emergency Fuel Supplies to Sri Lanka

The Emergency should serve as a warning to political parties: threats to democracy and people’s constitutional rights – either directly or indirectly – create resentment and negative public opinion against government. The Emergency created a unity among opposition parties that never existed before and became the cause of Mrs Gandhi’s defeat. It is too early to say whether the Modi government’s attempts to misuse democratic institutions for his party’s narrow interests and the right wing attacks on institutions and rights of citizens will help create similar kind of opposition unity, which will determine the outcome of 2019 elections. (IANS)