Asghar Ali Engineer
(Secular Perspective, December 16 - 31 2002)
The results of Gujarat election were surprise for everyone including of course the BJP. No one expected more than two-third majority for the BJP. All surveys except that of India Today (which predicted two-third majority for BJP) had predicted marginal victory for BJP and some even gave the Congress a chance. The exit poles also proved to be quite deceptive.
This sweeping victory for the BJP in Gujarat has lessons for all including the secularists and above all for the Congress. In fact it is the moment of truth for the Congress. The Congress must deeply reflect on the causes if its defeat. Let it learn the lesson that hard Hindutva cannot be fought with soft Hindutva. One should not follow - even to a limited extent - the agenda set by extremists. The Congress decided not to raise the question of communal carnage in Gujarat fearing strong reaction from the Hindu electorate. They decided to talk only about development and governance issues.
This also did not help the Congress. If it had to loose it could have lost by fighting for principles. It could have denounced the Hindutva extremism and killing of more than two thousand innocent Muslims. How can one talk of development and governance when such massacre is taking place in the state? It should have strongly taken up the case of such unparalleled violence against minority. It would have greatly enthused those committed to secularism. Not that there are no more secularists in Gujarat. But the Congress certainly betrayed them.
The Muslims of course had no alternative but to vote for the Congress as a lesser evil. The Congress again gave the Muslims only three seats to contest again for fear of reaction from the Hindu extremists. A national party, which projects itself as inheritor of the Gandhi, Nehru and Maulana Azad cant be seen to be so weak on secular ideology. It is such weakness, which has brought the nation to such a plight today.
Gandhi, Nehru and Azad were stalwarts of secular nationalism. After Nehru, Patel and Azad secularism began to be sidelined by other leaders of the Congress. Mrs. Gandhi who devised the slogan of 'quit poverty' and was seen as champion of downtrodden for the time being in late sixties, was not emphasising secularism like her father Nehru. Nehru clearly and unambiguously championed both the causes i.e. of socialism and secularism. Nehru had courage to publicly attack communalists and their ideology. He always called spade a spade.
However, Mrs. Gandhi proved to be more power-oriented than ideologically-oriented. After emergency she almost bade good bye to her ideological commitments. She even tried to take advantage of VHP campaign against the conversion of some dalit families in Meenakshipuram to Islam in early eighties. It is on record that she encouraged VHP to launch a campaign against Meenakshipuram conversions. The VHP came on political scene with a bang due to this subtle encouragement from top Congress leadership. Mrs. Gandhi perceived loss of Muslim votes due to excesses committed against Muslims during emergency and wanted to compensate for it by winning over Hindus on her side. This had far reaching consequences. She also pampered Bhindranwale and gave rise to Khalistan movement of which she ultimately became victim.
When she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguard a reprisal against Sikhs followed and more than 4000 Sikhs were killed. The Congress exploited it to the hilt for winning 1984 parliamentary elections and won with two-third majority. All such victories won by targeting another community prove quite fragile. There is a lesson for the BJP also here. The Congress was soon faced with serious challenges and ignominiously lost next general elections held in 1989.
It should be born in mind that in a composite nation like India with its proud record of pluralism for centuries nothing can work better than secularism as far as modern democracy is concerned. The politicians eager to come to power without doing anything concrete for the masses often resort to communal short cuts and incite hatred in one caste or community against the other to capture power thus seriously destabilising very social and political foundations of the country.
The extremists of Sangh Parivar like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal may not realise it that they are doing great harm to the unity and integrity of the country and pushing it to the brink of civil war but the senior leaders of the BJP should understand it. It is interesting to note that as the hard Hindutva of Sangh parivar marginalises the soft Hindutva of the Congress, the extremists of the Sangh Parivar marginalises the moderates of that parivar. It is Narendra Modi and Togadia who are emerging heroes today and are calling the shots. Likes of Vajpayee are getting marginalised.
The success in Gujarat is giving more impetus to likes of Modis and Togadias. But let us not forget it is temporary success. The BJP will not at all gain in long terms. But in politics who cares for long term effects. What is valued is temporary success. It immediately goes to the head. The BJP may be under pressure to adopt hard Hindutva as a strategy to win coming elections next year but it is likely to do great deal of harm not only to the country as a whole but also to the BJP interests itself.
One must keep the plight of the Congress in view. After 1984 elections in which it won two third majority it soon suffered such set back that it has not been able to recover from it. Still its chances of winning power at the Centre are not very bright unless it makes amends for its acts of commissions and omissions sincerely and rediscovers its own ideology of secularism and creates much needed balance of forces among various communities.
The NDA partners who apparently swear by 'secularism' also have to learn a lot and have to reflect seriously on their alliance with BJP. When the hot heads like Modis and Togadias are marginalising moderates like Vajpayee what of leaders like Chandrababu Naidu, Nitish Kumar and others. All such leaders will be thrown out after their utility is over. These leaders are doing nothing but strengthening the hands of BJP and extremists in its fold. Their loosening grip over the issues of governance will push the BJP leaders towards extremism to retain their hold over power. Shri L.K.Advani fuelled this extremism through his rath yatra in 1990. When the BJP could not come to power with its narrow political base among the upper caste Hindus in urban areas it invoked highly emotional issue of Ram mandir and ultimately captured power in alliance with some so called secular parties in 1999 elections. The rath yatra was first major step towards extremism. The Narsimha Rao Government showed its calculated inaction and allowed extremist elements in the BJP to grow for its own short term interest of survival in power and ultimately lost out to BJP.
There is also a lesson to learn for socialists of the Janata Dal variety. They, in their hatred of the Congress always preferred to support the BJP rather than any secular formation. The Janta Dal consisted more of leaders than followers and went on fighting among themselves. Their government thus could not last for more than a couple of years. Neither they had any ideology to bind them together nor did they have interest of governance over their own selfish interests. They did not allow Devegowda or Gujral to rule for respectable length of time.
It is also important for all secularists to note that it is easier for unemployed dalits and tirbals to be won over by extremists and hard Hindutvawadis than by those talking of developmental issues without really delivering. In highly emotional campaigns like the one in Gujarat developmental issues or issues of governance are ignored by the people. Hatred, if worked to its extreme as the Modi did in his election campaign, can prove, temporarily of course, much more powerful than ones material interests. Thus incumbency factor did not work in Gujarat election. The BJP had totally failed to govern but still could win by inciting hatred against Muslims and against the Congress as 'protector' of Muslims.
But, and it is a lesson for the moderates in the BJP to learn, there is hardly anything to celebrate the Gujarat victory. Soon the party will have to face hard realities. The hot heads will not allow it to govern and deliver. They are enamoured of their own extremism and would like to repeat it. They are blinded by their own emotions. As revolution eats its own children so does extremism and fanaticism.
The Congress also has to learn a lesson from what happened in Gujarat. It should, as pointed out above, abandon its policy of soft Hindutva and revive the spirit of secularism and togetherness of all communities. It should not allow Indian diversity to become victim of majoritarianism. It is dangerous omen for Indian pluralism. Secularism is the life-line of Indian polity. Nehruvian vision must be rediscovered by the Congress leadership.
The Congress should also realise the importance of secular alliances. It cannot govern India alone. Those days are over. It should take lead to form an alliance with all secular forces opposed to BJP's variety of communalism and politics of hate. There never was more urgency for such an alliance led by the Congress. India and people of India are above any political party. And India's diversity is above any single community be it in majority or minority.
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Posted 1 January 2003
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