Uttar Pradesh

A rock and a hard place: Congress leaders divided on tying up with Samajwadi Party in UP

While an alliance may be the party's best shot at coming to power in Uttar Pradesh it would also mean playing second-fiddle in a crucial state.

Should the Congress tie up with Samajwadi Party for the Uttar Pradesh polls next year for a more realistic shot at coming to power and somewhat salvage Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s reputation? Or should it contest alone and instead concentrate on its long-term plan of reviving the party in the politically crucial state where it has been out of power for 28 years?

This is the dilemma that faces the Congress as the Uttar Pradesh elections near and murmurs of a possible alliance between the two parties grow, with even Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav hinting at this.

“We face a tough choice. Do we focus on protecting our leader or should we concentrate on reviving the party?” said an Uttar Pradesh Congress leader. “Either way, we lose.”

Take a shot

One section in the Congress is strongly pitching for an alliance with the Samajwadi Party as the Grand Old Party is on a weak footing in Uttar Pradesh. They believe that Congress could hope to win a respectable number of seats by piggybacking on the ruling Samajwadi Party’s support base – as was the case in Bihar, when the Grand Alliance of Congress, Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal swept the 2015 state polls.

This camp argues that such an alliance has the potential to arrest the Bharatiya Janata Party’s growth in Uttar Pradesh, which is the Congress top priority, as the outcome of these elections will lay the ground for the 2019 Parliamentary polls.

More importantly, pulling off a Bihar-like win in Uttar Pradesh will also help salvage Rahul Gandhi’s reputation, a section of leaders feel.

The Congress has suffered a series of electoral defeats ever since the vice president practically took over the reins of the party in 2014, including setbacks in Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Kolkata this year. A victory, even as a junior partner, will consolidate Rahul Gandhi’s hold over the party and pave the way for his formal anointment as Congress chief, taking over the position from his mother, Sonia Gandhi.

Risky gamble

On the flip side, however, is the lurking fear that if the Congress goes ahead with a pre-poll alliance with the Samajwadi Party, it will seal its fate as a bit player in Uttar Pradesh. This would be a big setback to the Congress’ grand plans of strengthening the party organisation in the state, galvanising grassroots workers and building a strong local leadership.

If the alliance does come through, the Congress is not expected to contest in more than 90 out of 404 seats as the Samajwadi Party is certain to be the senior partner. This will put the Grand Old Party at a distinct disadvantage in the 2019 general elections as it will not have effective state leaders to prop up as Lok Sabha candidates. Uttar Pradesh alone contributes 80 Parliamentary seats (of 543 in the Lok Sabha), the highest for any state.

Congress leaders who are not in favour of such an alliance point to the party’s situation in Bihar, where it had to cede ground to regional players like Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD. Though the Congress won 27 of the 41 seats it contested in last year’s Bihar assembly polls (its best performance in 20 years), it is the junior-most ally in the Mahagathbandan, as the JD(U) has 71 seats in the state assembly and the RJD has 80.

These leaders fear that a similar fate awaits the party in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, where it will have to resign to playing second-fiddle. Moreover, the victory of such an alliance is not a given, as Samajwadi Party is facing strong anti-incumbency and the family feud between Akhilesh Yadav and uncle Shivpal Yadav that played out in the open, dividing the party into two rival camps, has also hurt its reputation in the state.

That Akhilesh Yadav has frequently indicated he is open to such an tie-up – for instance, on December 13, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister said that if the party contested the state polls with the Congress, the alliance would win more than 300 seats – is a clear sign that the Samajwadi Party is not confident of its electoral prospects.

Further, the tie up could boomerang – instead of containing the BJP, the electoral pact may end up working to its advantage. It could give the saffron party an opportunity to play the communal card by accusing the Congress and the Samajwadi Party of coming together only to consolidate the Muslim vote. The Muslim-Yadav combine is the core support base of the Samajwadi Party, but Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati is working hard to consolidate the Dalit and Muslim vote. The Samajwadi Party hopes that by tying up with the Congress, it could prevent the minority vote from slipping away.

However, those who support the alliance point out that the surgical strikes conducted by the Indian army across the Line of Control on September 29 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to demonetise high-value currency notes in November has changed the political discourse in favour of the BJP, projecting it as a party ready to take tough decisions. “Going alone is not going to help us…we will be wiped out,” said a former minister from the Congress.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.