The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Much of the political discussion in India after the Godhra carnage in 2002, centred around the event. It is possible that Gujarat will continue to dominate the political discourse in 2003 also. The belligerence of the saffronites and the lament of secularists however leaves several questions concerning the Indian polity and society unstated and unanswered. We need to put the political process and civic life in India under microscope again for the answers.

The answers are likely to be confusing given the ambiguity of the discourse itself. Take for example Gujarat. Notwithstanding the violence, one has to remember that the election results there are supposed to mirror the political mood of the electorate which exercised their franchise on the day of voting. Debates over what percentage of the population actually support the Hindutva agenda and who cut into which vote bank can be of academic interest only. The Congress argument that it would have been able to defeat had the “secularist forces” united, is futile. The history of the Indian political process since independence suggests that such brittle unity has neither been achieved, nor has the electoral process been cleansed enough to seek a judicial redress.

The matter that will have a real, long-term political impact is that in the run up to the fateful elections in Gujarat, and following it, the communal flare-up has been justified and legitimized not only by members of the sangh parivar, but the Bharatiya Janata Party, a political party competing for legitimate democratic political power under the Constitution of India. Tragically, the parivar’s position has been endorsed in silence by the allies of the National Democratic Alliance so that they can enjoy two more years in office. The Congress, whose soft Hindutva since the Eighties legitimized the sangh brand of politics, had played the same game once and now it simply refuses to learn from that past.

That justification, defence and endorsement of the Gujarat riot have come from such constitutional functionaries as the chief minister of the state, the prime minister and the deputy prime minister is of equally grave consequence. The anguish expressed by these politicians for the consumption of the international audience, is tarnished by qualifying phrases like “if Godhra had not happened” or “had Godhra been sufficiently condemned”. As if these certifications were not enough, the prime minister and his deputy even travelled to Gandhinagar for Narendra Modi’s swearing in, an avoidable extravaganza at public cost. Impartiality of political institutions and rule of law that ensures equality before law — the two crucial pillars on which a democratic polity rests, have been severely damaged. The sectarian politics of the prime minister, his deputy, the chief minister and even the governor of Gujarat have communalized the state machinery shamelessly.

Several commissions of inquiry have already indicted the police for its partisan role during the communal riots. Obviously, when such behaviour is sanctioned by explicit instructions from the constitutional authority, the abuse of power would certainly be frequent and indiscriminate. Political pronouncements during the riots and during and after the elections have sent the strong message that the forces of Hindutva have to be aided and protected. On the other hand, the Ayodhya movement has already resulted in distortions of the judicial process. Given the circumstances can we expect the political process to remain truly democratic'

The assertion of the prime minister that the BJP represents “genuine” secularism, bears an ominous portent for the future. Politically it legitimizes hate and violence, not only against the minorities and dissenters, but also as a part of the Indian political culture. The Bal Thackerays and Praveen Togadias can now preach violence and pronounce death sentences against citizens of democratic India in the print and visual media and get away with it. Never mind if that means undermining the Constitution and giving the violent a free run.

This leads us to the critical question — what is the social impact of this policy' A democratic society is an essential prerequisite of a democratic polity. The Indian democracy, as conceived by the Constitution of India and as pieced together during the next couple of decades, strove to build a society that gave universal rights to citizens irrespective of their sex, race, religion, community or status. It also tried to create special opportunities for the socially and economically disadvantaged, and by encouraging widespread political participation.

But the parivar’s notion of the Hindu rashtra, with its second-class status for the religious minorities, can only scuttle the process of democratization of the society and aggravate the friction inside. The cultural policing resorted to by the lumpen elements in the parivar on various occasions has never been condemned by any senior leader of the party. Yet the trend is pernicious.

The BJP’s victory in Gujarat on a communal plank has caused widespread unease and anxiety among the liberals and leftists, especially because it has talked of replicating its experiment elsewhere in the country. Does that mean the party will resort to communal violence each time before the elections'

The confusing signals emanating from the BJP have added to the controversy. It is quite clear that Vajpayee, despite his ritual annual musings, is unlikely to change the sectarian agenda of his party. For his ambiguous “Gandhian socialism” has failed to give the BJP the success it craved for. L.K. Advani’s Ayodhya movement changed all that. And now Advani’s aggressive Hindutva has put the modernism of Rajiv Gandhi on the defensive and stumped the Mandalism of V.P. Singh in little over a decade. It is quite natural that the BJP should hold onto its Hindutva plank.

Since most non-left national parties have aligned with the BJP, the Congress remains the main political rival of the saffron wing. The Congress has three definite disadvantages — ideological, given that its soft Hindutva does not sell well; organizational, and at the leadership level. The Gujarat elections have proved to be an eyeopener with respect to all these shortcomings. The Congress has no option but to rebuild itself to take on emerging political challenges and re-establish its credibility.

The major initiative, however, lies with the society and the civil institutions. The Indian society has to resolve the dilemma that has evolved from the saffronites’ hardselling of sectarianism together with nationalism. The disarray in the political system has been exploited to the hilt by the parivar. Social institutions thus have to work really hard to convince people of the dangers that sangh politics pose to civil society.

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