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Sant yatra or election yatra?
By Asghar Ali Engineer

Come elections and Ayodhya issue is right on agenda again. The BJP had promised its bhakts (Ram bhakts or BJP bhakts?) to construct a grand Ram temple at the site of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya once it came to power. However, it came to power with the support of NDA (National Democratic Alliance) and had to pay the price by renouncing the Ram Mandir issue to be in power. Since BJP’s main objective was to come to power and not to construct Ram Mandir, it gladly agreed to renounce the issue to the great disappointment of its bhakts.

However, it could not wash its hands off the issue completely. Not only the RSS and VHP it has to please the Sants also who supported BJP during election campaigns from time to time in return for promise for a grand Ram temple. Even the Prime Minister Shri Vajpayee kept on obfuscating over the issue – sometimes saying it is in the national spirit to construct the temple and sometimes musing that it best be forgotten in the spirit of communal harmony in the country. Shri L.K. Advani, however, persisted in his view in favour of Ram temple though, as Home Minister, he could not obviously insist on constructing it, like the VHP Sants (and not Ram Sants), right away.

But whenever any election is near at hand the BJP and VHP leaders spend sleepless nights as the hard core BJP supporters demand concrete proof of BJP’s sincerity to fulfill its promise to construct the promised temple. The U.P. elections were expected near about February-March and hence the VHP sants announced their intention to take out a chetawani yatra (i.e. a warning march) from Ayodhya to Delhi for expediting the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya. And when the Election Commission announced the dates of U.P. election the VHP immediately organised the Yatra ahead of election schedule. This is to please its hard core voters. It is another story that it did not evoke any enthusiasm among those it was meant for.

There are two things that we should be mainly concerned with. Though it is true that the Yatra failed to arouse any enthusiasm (so much so that one paper editorially said that it is chetawani to sants themselves rather than to the Government that people are no more interested in such ‘road shows’) still we, the people of India, should be warned that such gross misuse of religion for electoral purposes amounts to a corrupt practice. The BJP uses cover of VHP to raise this issue again and again for the Hindu votes as VHP is supposedly not a political party. But this is only a technical cover. The Election Commission should take note of the fact that the BJP and VHP are closely related and BJP cannot disown responsibility for what the VHP does.

The involvement of the BJP MP from Faizabad Mr. Vinay Katyar also shows that the BJP approves of such Sant Yatras for electoral benefits. The U.P. Chief Minister Shri Rajnath Singh also said that individual BJP MPs are free to take part in the Chetawani Yatra, if they so desire. How can a party MP take part in obviously a political move like construction of a Ram temple albeit as an individual. Will BJP allow its MPs to vote as individuals on any important national issue? Obviously not. How can then it allow its MPs to take part in the Chetawani Yatra of VHP Sants as individuals. After the end of the Yatra the BJP has also announced that no action will be taken against those MPs who participated in the Yatra. Mr. Vinay Katyar went to the extent of saying that those who believed that the BJP had abandoned the temple issue did not understand the gravity of the matter. He said the temple was a matter of national pride and faith, and there was no question of ignoring it. Can there be greater proof of involvement of BJP or at least its approval in the matter? According to the news paper reports from Lucknow not only the RSS-VHP combine is putting in all its energies into yatra, the BJP-headquarters too indicate the level of excitement sporting banners asking people to attend the Sadhus' conference in Lucknow on Monday. The Dharam Sansad called upon the sadhus to fight for the temple.

Election Commission should take notice 
Use of religion is obviously a corrupt practice as per the Representation of the People’s Act. When the Maharashtra State Election Commissioner did not allow even the Mumbai Mayor to hoist the tricolour on 26th January on the eve of Mumbai Municipal Corporation election (though ultimately he relaxed) which is comparatively a minor matter and does not leave any impact on voters’ mind, should its U.P. counterpart act on such a major issue? It is strange that it has not. In the interest of free and fair election, which is a must in a democracy the Election Commission should be highly vigilant and misuse of religion cannot be condoned in any case.

The second major concern in this connection is protection and promotion of our secular democracy. Our country is united thanks to our secularism. The neighbouring Pakistan did not stay united even for 25 years despite the Islamic bond, and disintegrated in 1971. Thus it proves that religious unity is not sufficient condition to ensure political unity. Secular democracy does provide a better alternative to ensure political unity. The Kashmiri Muslims in 1947 had also decided to throw their lot with India because it had opted for secular democracy. Kashmiri Muslims also felt alienated subsequently as we did not fulfill their aspirations as real secular democracy ought to have. Thus non-implementation of the political ideals associated with secular democracy caused discontent in Kashmir, and our constituency there was considerably weakened. 

The case of Babri Masjid-Ramjanam-bhoomi controversy is even worse. It did bring BJP to power (though not to absolute power) but at what cost? It not only weakened our secular democracy but also spilled lot of innocent people’s blood. Thousands of people died during the campaign. Religious fundamentalism or fanaticism is not healthy event or a religious society, much less for a secular democracy. 

The BJP swore by patriotism 
The RSS even talks of what it calls akhand Bharat. But what it has been doing in practice? It is polarising India on communal lines and weakening its unity. How can it be construed as genuine patriotism. One must distinguish between national chauvinism and genuine patriotism. In fact the former is antidote of latter. The RSS Sar -Sanghchalaks right from Guru Golwalkar to Shri Sudershan idealise Hitler as the role model of true nationalism whereas whole world has rejected Hitler including Germany as an evil influence on democracy.

The post-modern west also has embraced diversity, diversity even without shared cultural past. In the western countries diversity is not rooted in history whereas in India it is firmly rooted in our long shared past. In western countries diversity is of very recent origin and is mainly due to migration of people from colonised countries after their liberation from metropolitan countries. Thus diverse people in western countries today have no cultural roots in metropolitan societies and yet western countries have given them all political rights without in anyway insisting that they adopt western culture. Interestingly in Canada while giving citizenship oath to a migrant, he or she is asked to solemnly affirm that he or she will preserve his or her language and culture.

In India ironically the RSS insists that Islam and Christianity are alien religions and doubts their patriotic credentials as they originated outside India and hence their followers, though linguistically and culturally as old as Aryans (and in some cases in South as old as Dravidians) can never be loyal to this country. It keeps on launching tirades against them and making them feel insecure. Recently the RSS has distributed more than a crore pamphlets saying that the Hindus have faced Islamic terrorism for more than a thousand years since Muslim rule was established in India.
The RSS has become much stronger today since the BJP has come to power as leading coalition partner in the NDA. Now it has both political as well as economic resources to carry on powerful propaganda against minorities, particularly targeting the Christians and Muslims. The country’s political health is in danger indeed. The ‘secular’ partners in the NDA have come to power at the Centre but at the cost of political health of the country.

This brings us to another grave concern and that is absolutely power-oriented democratic processes. This has led to complete fragmentation of our society along caste and communal lines. Votes are demanded and given only on the basis of caste and community. There were community-based parties since freedom struggle and now in independent India there are several caste- based parties too. It is interesting to note that the BJP had intensified its Ramjanambhoomi movement to counter the Mandal Commission reservation and it succeeded partially in doing so. But as its nemesis, it is caste factor which is weakening the BJP’s hold in U.P. and elsewhere today. The people in U.P. have become indifferent to the Sangh Parivar’s Ram Mandir movement as caste-based politics or empowerment is more appealing to them than the Hindutva ideology.

But both caste and community-based politics as well as religious chauvinism have done great harm to our secular democracy. The election process must be rid of such influences by reforming our electoral law suitably. One of the suggestions could be to make it obligatory for the winning candidate to obtain at least 51% votes. First past the pole was suitable for a mono-religious and mono-cultural society like that of Britain in 19th century where votes were cast on the basis of issues. In a multi-religious and multi-cultural society like that of India, this system cannot suit as it leads to caste and communal polarisation. If 51% votes for winning an election are made obligatory such sectarian appeals will be avoided as votes of all castes and communities will be needed to win. 

It is argued that it will be a costly affair. Though financially more costly, politically it will be much less. It will restore the political health of the country and strengthen its unity and solidarity. 
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