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The vexed question of representation-I
By M. Zeyaul Haque

Does a BJP-led government represent the minorities? Here are some points to ponder

When Union Home Minister L K Advani made his well-publicized pilgrimage to Ajmer in December 2000, the Milli Gazette noted tongue-in-cheek that he seemed to have realized that he was the Home Minister for ‘all Indians’. The dargah at Ajmer is largely non-denominational in character, and one does not have to belong to a particular faith or sect to visit it. Yet the question remains whether the Central government leaders from the Sangh background really think that they represent ‘all Indians’. The answer is not always clear.

For instance, L K Advani represents only Hindus in, and on, Ayodhya. That much is quite clear and unambiguous. However, he represents all Indians, including the minorities, when he is in Kashmir, and while dealing with the issues of the valley sitting in his office, parliament, addressing a public meeting, or talking to a foreign dignitary. On Kashmir he has to take a ‘secular’ stance as any other position would be untenable.

There is yet another angle to this: When Advani and Jaswant Singh visit Tel Aviv, they put on quite different persona, the persona of great crusaders against Muslims and what the West euphemistically calls political Islam. There they declare (violating all norms of diplomatic decency and national self respect) that India and Israel would have had far more cordial relations and established full diplomatic ties quite early had it not been for the Muslim Indians. In Tel Aviv they send the oblique message that they have nothing to do with the Muslim segment of the country's population, except of course, for trying to subdue them. There they not only distance themselves from them, but point at them as the dangerous ‘other’, to be subdued and crushed in course of the great global anti-Islamic crusade.

Incidentally, VHP's Ashok Singhal has already declared that Hindus would support the West in its great civilizational Armageddon against Islam. Such sentiments have often been expressed from different platforms of the Sangh, whose ideologues swear by Professor Huntington's theory of clash of civilizations propounded in an influential article in Foreign Affairs, and later elaborated in a book with the same title. The Sangh already takes the clash of the West and Muslim world as an inevitability, although men like Professor John Esposito, Jimmy Carter and several other Western leaders have cautioned against such mischievous ideas which have the potential of being self-fulfilling prophesies. Yet the Sangh takes the clash of civilizations theory as a mantra and is preparing for the day when there would be a massive global conflict between the West and Islam and it would fight on the side of the West (with Israel as another Western ally).

The question is whether it is possible of Sangh leaders like L K Advani and Jaswant Singh to shed this deeply ingrained illwill against Muslims and act like responsible leaders of all Indians, including Muslims. These people are bound by the Constitution to act as representatives of all Indians rather than the way they did in Tel Aviv. Can anybody imagine Madeline Albright going to Riyadh and telling the Saudis, ‘See, we would have far better ties, had the Jewish lobby not been there back in America’?

It is amusing to note that the same Jaswant Singh, who distanced himself from Muslim Indians in Tel Aviv, was in Riyadh at the time of writing this piece. Did he distance himself from us there also? Did he say he did not have anything to do with Muslim Indians and he was the Foreign Minister of India despite Muslims, who were a hindrance in the way of developing ties with Israel? Did he tell the Saudis that Muslims were a nuisance? The chances are he did not do that and acted like our representative, which he really is.

The Sangh's obsession with Huntington does not seem to wane despite the observations of some leading Western intellectuals that the NATO bombing of Serbia and protection of Kosovo goes against the grain of Huntington's argument of new political faultlines passing along religious and cultural boundaries. (However, to be fair to Huntington, he does make a distinction between Western Christian civilization and East European Orthodoxy.)

Look at the same question from another angle: the Prime Minister's announcement in the heat of Babri Masjid demolition anniversary that the construction of Ram Mandir (at the site of Babri Masjid) is a matter of ‘national’ will that has to be implemented. Do the less than 30 percent voters who vote for BJP constitute the nation? Then who are the 70 percent others who don't vote for it? The non-nation? Does the PM represent only his voters? If it is not the resurrection of the old Two-Nation theory, then one wonders what other interpretation to put on it: the ‘nation’ that wants the temple versus the ‘non-nation’ that opposes demolition of the mosque and its replacement with a temple.

It is yet another matter that the PM took a diametrically opposite position during his year-end retreat, realizing that he represents not only the mosque breaking Indians but all of them. Also, that nation cannot be defined in such narrow terms. The PM's musing constituted one of the Sangh's regular balancing acts: while Advani was putting on a pan-Indian garb at Ajmer, the PM sported his Swayamsevak khaki shorts and announced the ‘national’ will on Ayodhya. When the anniversary heat dissipated, he was back to putting on his liberal mask. Amid the sea-saw the question remains: can such people be trusted with the reins of power to rule even-handedly? Can the leopard change its spots? Can they be ever able to run the state impartially and even-handedly? Can they ever represent all Indians? 

Consider the same issue from a different angle: as people in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh are forced to starve, thousands of tonnes of grain is going to be dumped by Indian government in the ocean. Can those starving people claim that the governments in the states and at the Centre represent them?

Now look at it from another angle: Forty percent of the world's poor live in South Asia. Instead of addressing the problem of poverty, the rulers in the region spend astronomical sums of money on acquiring sophisticated weapons. The South Asia Human Development Report of 1997 noted that the region spent 14 billion dollars annually on the military: ‘While foreign exchange budgets are tight, the region still manages to spend twice as much as Saudi Arabia on the procurement of modern arms from abroad, although Saudi Arabia has a per capita income which is 25 times higher than that of South Asia.’

Why are our rulers so insensitive to our situation? Why it is that when it comes to making a choice between fulfilling our basic needs for food, shelter, education, clean water and health on one hand, and arms on the other, our rulers always prefer arms? The choices are quite simple, says the report:
» A battle tank normally costs $4 million. Immunizing a child against deadly diseases costs only one dollar. For the purchase of each tank 4 million children can be immunised.
» A Mirage 2000-5 reportedly costs $ 90 million. It costs $ 30 a year to keep a child in primary school. If one Mirage 2000-5 is not purchased, it would be possible to extend primary education to 3 million children.
» A modern submarine with all the support programmes costs around $ 300 million. It costs roughly $ 5 to supply safe drinking water to one person for a year. Each submarine purchased means denying the provision of safe drinking water to 60 million people.

Yet, the ruling elite chooses arms rather than people's welfare. If South Asia foregoes a year's military hardware purchases, it can finance all its social services and, if it effects 25 to 30 percent cuts in military spending, it can overcome the grinding poverty that is a shame for the region. However, what has happened is just the opposite: over the last decade (87-97), the world's defence expenditure fell by 10 percent while South Asia's (mainly India and Pakistan's) military spending increased, the report noted.

It proposed: ‘It will be an interesting experiment if people in these countries were offered a free choice in a national refrendum on whether they would feel more secure with the proposed purchase of arms, or, alternatively, with the supply of basic social services’. The answer is quite clear: people will prefer a better quality of life to flashy weapons. But, why is it not clear to our leaders? Because they do not represent our hopes and aspirations. 
(To be continued)

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