The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The growing communalization of politics in India and the absence of viable forces to combat it do not provide grounds for optimism in 2003

Helplessness and its consequent frustration have a tendency to lapse into cynicism and apathy. That is the danger inherent in the political possibilities that lie ahead in the year 2003. It will be stupid to deny that communal politics and mobilization along religious lines have come to stay in the body politic in India. How the republic of India, its intelligentsia and political parties combat, cope with or adapt to this growing phenomenon will be the critical questions in the immediate future. There are two faces to the growing communalization of Indian society. One is the Islamic face which has global links and connections. Sections of Muslims in India, feeling beleaguered and falling back on the more fundamentalist aspects of their faith, are taking to violence. The other face relates to majoritarian communalism in India. This is represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the other bodies owing allegiance to the ideological family, the sangh parivar, to which the BJP also belongs. There is the argument that ostracism of the sangh parivar will only serve to make it more extremist and irresponsible. This argument proposes to accommodate the BJP within the mainstream of Indian politics to make it pursue a middle-of-the-road political line. There is a danger in this. The historical precedent of Nazi Germany shows how devastating such an experiment can be. The playing out of this process, somewhat outside the control of the immediate actors, will determine the nature of Indian politics and thus the character of the nation.

If the growing importance of the BJP and Hindutva is undeniable then so is the absence of any effective force to combat them and to reinstate secularism in its rightful place in Indian life. The Congress, in the past, has been the principal champion of secularism. The Congress now is in ideological and even perhaps in organizational disarray. It has no ideological direction. Witness its decision to pursue a soft Hindutva line in its election campaign in Gujarat. The other political force committed to secularism is the left which has no presence in national politics. The Samajwadi Party is a bulwark against the BJP in Uttar Pradesh but its advocacy of secularism is somewhat ersatz because of its strong caste orientation. It has become a feature of Indian politics that modern political parties use pre-modern aspects of Indian life, like caste and religion, for their political mobilization. This has facilitated the growth of the politics of hatred and has made the establishment of the secular project appear half-cocked.

Cynicism can only aid this process. But there exists no ground for optimism. The grand vision of building a modern India: powerful, democratic , tolerant and dynamic, increasingly seems like a chimera. The coming year might re- define the Indian republic but that by itself may not provide a basis for hope for those who are still inspired by that grand vision.

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