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PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
- Modiís approach is a recipe for the disintegration of civil society

The author is former foreign secretary of India

Over-analytical speculations ó giving the assessment that the Congress party may win the Gujarat elections and will lose by a narrow margin, if it loses ó have proved to be an exercise in irrelevant hope which ignored both logic and reality. That Narendra Modi and his ilk won the elections, is and should be a matter of sadness for and concern to Indian civil society in general. Modi proved the point ó the assertions which he kept repeating after the Godhra incident and the post-Godhra riots ó that he will win a landslide victory in Gujarat. Though he has won an overwhelming majority in the Gujarat assembly, he acknowledged the inevitable possibility of common sense and reasonableness reducing his prospects of victory, when he kept complaining about the Election Commission delaying the elections.

He felt that with the passage of time, the pernicious emotions which he encouraged in the electorate in Gujarat will fade away, that the abiding and resilient values of tolerance and harmony will re-assert themselves, thereby robbing him of the benefits which he anticipated from an angry Hindu populace. In the event, he did not lose anything at all. It is worth examining why this happened.

The nexus between the Mumbai- and Dubai-based criminal mafia and a small segment of the Muslim population in Gujarat had affected peace and a sense of security of civil society in Gujarat. The burning of the railway compartments at Godhra was in a manner a culminating catalyst. Modi, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, took full advantage of the incident to further their agenda, to perpetuate themselves in power, on the basis of the resentment and anger generated by the Godhra incident. Instead of trying to bring the culprits of the Godhra arson to book, Modi on all counts connived at and encouraged a state-wide pogrom against Muslims, which proved to be a successful exercise in polarizing civil society in Gujarat along Hindu-Muslim lines.

The political discourse in Gujarat from March till December was characterized by provocative and violent rhetoric on the part of the leaders of the Gujarat Bharatiya Janata Party, VHP and Bajrang Dal. The rhetoric was not only anti-Muslim but also directed against political parties which emphasized the importance of commitment to secular ideals of the Indian polity. A new pejorative term was introduced in the political jargon, ďpseudo-secularistsĒ. It was applied with equal disdain to the Congress and all other political parties which opposed the BJP.

An external factor which compounded this situation must be noted. The Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan took full advantage of the orientations of BJP politics in Gujarat and fomented Hindu-Muslim antagonisms which found a critical and macro-level expression in the terrorist attack master-minded by Muslim terrorists on the Akshardham temple. Resentment generated by the attack on the temple beautifully served the political objectives of Modi and the leadership of the VHP and Bajrang Dal. Modiís electoral campaign focussed on the Pakistani terrorist threat and by implication a threat from the Muslim community in Gujarat, arousing the emotions, apprehensions and resentment of Hindus. Modi did not have to refer to the tragedy of Godhra specifically to advocate his cause.

These were the negative factors which contributed to the BJPís victory in Gujarat. But one must also acknowledge the creative and positive side of the BJPís pre-election activities spread over several months. The BJP and its allies engaged themselves in a systematic political campaign to woo the rural and adivasi voters. There are reliable reports that the VHP cadre undertook a lot of voluntary social and developmental work amongst the rural population, particularly the adivasis, who reportedly were subject to some exploitative activities by the urban entrepreneurial community which included some Muslims. Reminiscent of the National Socialist Movement in Germany in the early Thirties, Muslim exploitation was alleged as a factor affecting the well-being of the adivasis, an accusation which is not entirely accurate. Exploitative activities originated in the urban economic classes transcending communal or religious identities. But then electoral politics are not a matter of logic or truth.

In contrast, the main challenge to these narrow communal orientations obviously did not get its act together. The Congress did not have a cadre of workers who matched the performance of the VHP and Bajrang Dal cadre. With the benefit of hindsight, there is an emerging consensus that the nomination of Shankersinh Vaghela, a recent defector from the BJP, as president of the Gujarat Congress unit, did not go down well with the older Congress cadre. Vaghela did not have much credibility with the average Gujarati voter who viewed him as a political opportunist.

The voter also viewed the decision of the Congress high command as a purely tactical move without any ideological solidity. The distribution of tickets to Congress candidates was not considered fair by the grassroots members of the Gujarat Congress. Vagh- elaís recommendations for granting tickets to his nominees and these recommendations being accepted generated internal contradictions in the Congressís grassroots electoral campaign. It is significant that a majority of seats won by the Congress went to established members of the Congress and not to the new converts to the party who joined the electoral fray under Vaghela.

There is a general consensus that the Congress might have got even lesser number of seats but for the personal participation in the campaign by Sonia Gandhi and some other Congress leaders who came from outside Gujarat. Even here the Congress leaders responsible for managing the Gujarat elections unimaginatively prevented some effective Congress leaders from campaigning for the party.

The Congressís defeat does not have implications only in Gujarat but in other parts of the country as shown in the defeat of Congress candidates in the by-elections in Rajasthan. Modiís victory will have negative implications in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The Congress would have to be methodical, systematic and politically sensitive to counter the pernicious implications of the election results in Gujarat. The Congress high command should rely on local leaders in each electoral area; though the time is short and there is a lack of permanent cadre, Congress workers at the field level should be systematically utilized for the campaign.

The campaign itself should in substance be rooted in an assessment of local concerns, issues and aspirations, and not on ambiguous and general assessments given by party figures who may not really know about local conditions, interests and expectations. Both in speech and organizational events, the Congress should re-acquire its original ideological integrity as conceived by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Most important, in the short term, the Congress should seriously examine coming to understandings and alliances with like-minded political parties for forthcoming state elections and the next general election which are not too far away. There is, of course, the necessity of either revamping or establishing institutional arrangements to organize the partyís election campaign.

Modi would try to re-establish his credibility as a moderate and impartial chief minister which he is not. The likes of Praveen Togadia who have been talking about giving the same facilities and status to Muslims in India which Hindus have in Pakistan, are not going to help matters. This approach is a recipe for disintegration of our civil society, as our Muslim compatriots constitute more than 10 per cent of our population.

Modi has asserted that his victory has redeemed Gujaratís pride. He has not spelt out the constituent elements of this pride. To me, Gujarat has much to be proud of óNarsi Mehta, Gandhi, Bhulabhai Desai, Vithalbhai and Vallabhbhai Patel. Gujaratís pride is in the land-marks of our freedom struggle at Kheda, at Bardoli and in the Dandi March. Gujaratís pride lies in its incontrovertible credentials as one of the foremost entrepreneurial states in India. This pride does not lie in spurious Hindutva or the misrepresentation of its pristine values. Modiís electoral victory in Gujarat is not the victory of pride but irrational prejudices.

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