Asghar Ali Engineer

(Secular Perspective June 1-15, 2009)


The election results of the Loksabha came as a surprise to all including the congress itself. The secularists were holding their breath. This time around if BJP had won secular forces would have suffered a serious setback. People of India, as always, and as after emergency, showed great wisdom in decisively rejecting authoritarian and communal forces.

After emergency the Congress was decisively routed, especially in the North where most of the excesses were committed. In 2004 and now it taught a lesson to communal forces. The Gujarat carnage of 2002 had shocked the people of India and so they rejected BJP in 2004 elections though for BJP India was shining but people thought they were suffering. Thus post-emergency as well as post-2004 elections show people of India reject both authoritarianism as well as communalism.

What is important to note this time is that percentage of vote got by the congress and that by BJP is much more decisive: ten per cent. In 2004 it was mere 4 per cent. It can be seen as a vote for stability for secular forces so that secular forces may get an opportunity to concentrate on development. However, it is difficult to say, as many analysts maintain that it is decisive vote against regional parties. Both Congress and BJP together got 47% votes whereas regional parties together got 50 per cent including the left parties.

There is one good lesson for all parties, regional or national. It does not pay to field candidates on the basis of caste, sub-caste and communities as all parties do. The voters have voted on the basis of secularism and development. Thus it is proved once again that identity politics has its own limitations though it may have some utility for the weaker sections of society and minorities. But it should never be a sole criteria.

Another important thing to be noted in the context of this election is that Muslims have come back to the Congress, especially in U.P. Muslims were angry with the Congress for long for its failure to protect Babri Masjid. Congress suffered in election after election since 1989 elections. The Muslims in U.P. voted for the Congress and it could get 21 seats which would not have been possible without Muslim support.

The BJP got great shock as Shri L.K.Advani was all prepared to assume role of Prime Minister of India, a dream which now could never be fulfilled. The BJP leaders themselves have realized that extremism does not pay. Arun Jaitley, a BJP election strategist and spokesman, himself has admitted that voters have voted for moderation. He has described election results as triumph of moderation. He wrote, “There are important lessons, the political class can gleam from the results. Sober government helps, shrillness does not. Moderation and understatements are virtues.”

Same Jaitley had supported Narendra Modi to the hilt after Gujarat riots when Mr. Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, wanted to take action against him. It is after losing two elections that Mr. Modi has realized extremism does not pay.  What he is hinting at is that BJP should not have supported Mr. Varun Gandhi for his provocative speech in his constituency Piliphit.

But it is becoming wiser only after the event. At that time BJP leaders including its President Rajnathsingh and Prime Ministerial candidate L.K.Advani thought we must seize this opportunity and exploit Hindu sentiments for winning elections. But they fell in the ditch they dug for others, to use a Hindi proverb.

Apart from U.P. in other states too Muslims voted wisely to get secular candidates elected irrespective of the party. This clearly proves Muslim vote is not in any party’s pocket. The Ulama council formed in Azamgarh district should also learn a lesson of the same kind. Religious extremism does not pay. They contested seats and used extremist rhetoric which only helped BJP win those seats. Thus it should be remembered extremism does not pay on either side.

It also should be noted that many so called Ulama become active at the time of election and are hired on behalf of many parties to appeal to Muslims on their behalf to vote. These parties must note that Muslim masses do not listen to these seasonal ulama and make their own decision. Politicians like Lalu Prasad should also learn that only secular rhetoric cannot always win Muslim votes.

Nitish Kumar of JD (U) could get Muslim votes though he was aligned with BJP because he not only prevented communal riots a la Lalu Prasad but also worked for political representation and uplift of Muslims of Bihar and he also got riot victims of Bhagalpur punished which Lalu Prasad had failed to do. Nitish could also checkmate BJP extremism in Bihar. Thus mere secular rhetoric, like identity politics, has its limits.

Mayawati too has to learn a lesson or two. Initially she benefited by using dalit rhetoric but always aligned with BJP for coming to power. Then she went for what was called social engineering and aligned with higher castes in search for absolute power at the state level and subsequently at central level. But she never delivered in terms of development. She only spent public money to install dalit icons’ statues and grand parks in their name.

So Muslims of U.P. and a section of dalits shifted to Congress and she practically drew blank in other states. She was hoping to grab number of seats in other states too through her social engineering.

The left also has to seriously contemplate the causes of their failure. Firstly, Sachar Committee report showed they had hardly done anything for Muslims in West Bengal. Muslims in West Bengal had fallen behind even Gujarat Muslims. Secondly their mishandling of Nandigram and infighting in Kerala cost them dearly. In West Bengal they had undoubtedly achieved a great deal by way of land reforms but they could not have won eternally through it alone. Land acquisition in Nandigram accompanied by high handedness proved to be an Achilles heel.

On the whole one can say democracy has not only acquired deep roots in India unlike other countries of Africa and Asia, but largely poor and illiterate masses have displayed great wisdom in exercising their right to vote. Had voting right been left only to educated identity politics would have been greatly strengthened and communal and casteist forces would have acquired upper hand. In fact it is educated people who try to benefit through identity politics.

Now a word or two for the Congress leaders, especially for Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. Victory at hustings should not make them smug as often happens. It should make them more humble and deliver to the nation in general and, for weaker sections and minorities in particular. Their victory is mainly due to these sections of society. Now time has come for them to sincerely implement Sachar Committee Report going beyond mere rhetoric. Much remains to be done in this regard.

Also let Congress party strategist understand its victory is due mainly to its secular ideology and people have voted for it to defeat communal and sectarian forces. Congress will only strengthen itself by strengthening secularism and secular forces. It is our serious suggestion that National Integration Council should not be merely ornamental but an effective instrument of spreading and consolidating secular forces.

Its meetings are called only after serious communal crisis and serves hardly more than a ritualistic purpose. We have to put more flesh and bones in NIC and make it an effective instrument of fighting communalism. It should not only meet more than once a year but should also set up sub-committees to tackle communalism, sub-committees like one devising means to de-communalize bureaucracy, police forces etc. by devising refresher courses on secularism. Police force in the country has been thoroughly communalized.

There is also need to thoroughly examine text books, not only of various states which inject communalism in the minds of students but also of those run by RSS which do much more damage. The NIC could set up committees and deliberate on measures to secularise education. School education, in fact, lays foundation for secular or communal outlook. It is unfortunate that even after sixty years of independence school textbooks are as communal as they were on the eve of independence.

It is a fact that RSS trained persons have been joining crucial categories of government services like teachers, police people and lower levels of bureaucracy and these categories play important role in communalizing society and controlling communal violence. The police also hesitates in applying section 153-A of Criminal Procedure Code to checkmate communal provocation through speeches and writings either because of its own communal outlook or because of political pressure.

The NIC can become an effective tool for pushing through these measures if government is sincere about it. If these measures are taken our polity and society can become truly secularized and it will only benefit Congress and other secular parties. But important question is, will congress show political courage?


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