The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Counter-offensive begins, on a melodious note

Ahmedabad, Dec. 6:Ab to mazhab ko aisa chalaya jaye, insaan ko insaan banaaya jaye….” Subha Mudgal’s melodious voice carries poet Gopal Neeraj’s lines — practise religion in such a manner that it makes humans out of humans — into the cool night as hundreds of listeners throng the town hall here.

Obviously, the majority of people at the town hall have come to listen to Mudgal.

However, this is not an ordinary concert, which highlights the singer’s talent and the skills of those who accompany her on various instruments. It is as much about politics and political messages as it is about music.

Between Mudgal’s renderings, which include poems of Kabir and revolutionary Pakistani poet Habib Javed, all emphasising the irrelevance of ethnic and communal hatred and the importance of communal harmony, there are repeated references to the carnage in Gujarat during February-March and the need to defeat political ideologies that cause such bloodshed.

There is no overt call to vote for one party or the other but the message that comes out of the programme is clear.

It goes against the forces of Hindutva, represented in the Gujarat polls this time by the Narendra Modis and Praveen Togadias.

Mudgal’s performance was part of a series of cultural programmes organised under the banner of Aman Biradri (Peace Community), supported by a clutch of non government organisations such as Ahmedabad Community Foundation, Darshan, Insaf, Oxfam, Prashant and Sahmat.

The group carries out activities in spheres as varied as empowerment of women, Dalits and other socially-oppressed groups as also in the field of culture.

Mudgal is not alone in supporting Aman Biradri.

Other Hindustani musicians such as the Gundecha brothers, Amarendra Dhaneshwar, theatre and film personality Farooq Sheikh and many others associated with the National School of Drama are to perform at various places in Gujarat over the next few days to spread its message.

There are many other initiatives from nearly a 100 NGOs during this election in Gujarat. Sahmat is carrying out a statewide leaflet and poster campaign.

It focuses on the “darkness that engulfs the state” not merely in its social atmosphere ravaged by communal riots but also in other sectors such as economy, agriculture and power supply.

The leaflets that reach households across the state along with the morning newspaper also do not make a call to vote for any party or candidate.

However, a refrain that runs through these leaflets is: “Yeh public hai, yeh sab jaanti hai (The public knows everything).”

This NGO campaign has drawn the participation of two former Prime Ministers — V.P. Singh and Inder Kumar Gujral.

The two former Janata Dal Prime Ministers, whose party does not have a significant presence in the state, came to attend the inauguration of a cultural organisation, Saanchi Viraasat (Plural Society).

Here again, the political message against “Hindutva communalism” and its efforts to create a “fascist, monolithic society” was aired loud and clear.

According to social activist Hanif Lakadawala, who is the managing trustee of Sanchetana, one of the organisations involved in promoting Saanchi Viraasat, it is for the first time that NGOs have adopted such a role.

Lakadawala admits that the audience that is influenced by such a campaign is mostly middle class.

But this, the activist added, is significant because this is a group that has, by and large, stayed away from the electoral process, saying politics is not their cup of tea.

“Our aim is to motivate this section to take a political position on polling day and there are indications that we might well succeed.”

If this observation by the activist turns out to be correct, the NGO initiative is bound to make a telling impact on the electoral fortunes of the BJP, particularly in the party’s urban strongholds.

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