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Published in the 16-31 Dec 2003 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Is it a curtain raiser?
By Saeed Suhrawardy

The success of Bhartiya Janata Party in three out of four Hindi-belt states has been ‘disappointing’ to those who expected Congress to do better. It has pleased ‘Sangh Parivar’, who see that as a ladder to their higher political ambitions. Followed by their grand success in the elections to the Gujarat Assembly, the success is certainly to cause anxiety among the minorities as well as liberal secularists. The leaders of BJP have appropriated the victory of Mizo National Front also as victory of National Democratic Alliance. Their failure to wrest Delhi, another former stronghold from Congress has certainly irked the Parivar. 

The law granting reservation for women in the Parliament and state assemblies, remains blocked in the Parliament. However, Indian women are likely to head three state governments -Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the fourth already being Tamilnadu. The feminine face of India has one black spot. The results have been disappointing for the Leader of Opposition, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, leader of Indian National Congress.

Muslims did not have great expectations from the results of recent elections. However, the sweeping victory of BJP in three states has come to them as a shock. The onward march of the Sangh Parivar is ominous for them. Trishul-rattling Togadia continues spitting fire. The activities of rabble-raising Bajrang Dal continue unabated. That does not augur well for the future of the country, particularly minorities. The political scenario cannot change according to the wishes of Muslims. They have to study the political situation as it has emerged for devising a strategy accordingly.

In an interview with ETV-Urdu, a group of Imams and Muezzins boasted that their boycott has brought about the downfall of Congress. Their contention was that the Chief Minister, Digvijay Singh did not keep his promise of paying them pay and allowances as directed by the Supreme Court of India. They have voted for BJP because the Party has assured them that they shall implement the Supreme Court directive. 

It is true that Imams and Muezzins get salaries that may be described as ‘pittance.’ But groups and elements have emerged from their ranks, who are willing to act as ‘fixers’ or ‘brokers’ for different political parties. Indian National Congress initiated the trend during the tenure of Mr. P.V.Narsimha Rao, as Prime Ministerof the country. The shahadat of Babari Mosque had alienated Congress from all representative sections of Muslims throughout the country. For building bridges with the community, he fell back on any section that could oblige him. The organization of Imams was a child of such opportunist alliances. The prospect of better remuneration and living conditions attracted a horde of low paid Muslims to such gatherings. It cannot be said with certainty that such political moves benefited the rank and file. 

If Imams and Muezzins are under the delusion that they can influence the political mood of the community, they should correct their stand as early as possible. Muslim community is mature and politically conscious. They shall not take political cues from the section that subsists on their support. Imams and muezzins have reposed their faith in the credentials of BJP leaders, who do not have great reputation for keeping promises. Those who rely on short cuts for getting support of Muslims also should revise their views. Mere verbal repetition of ‘secularism’ shall not serve as a mantra to mesmerize Muslims. They are no longer prepared to function as the ‘vote bank’ of a particular political section.

Mr. Shahnawaz Husain, Union Minister for Textiles too has claimed that the minorities, particularly Muslims of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have openly voted for BJP. However, the fact is that Muslims form less than five per cent in all the aforementioned states. They were hardly in a position to affect the political fortunes of contending parties.

Even from the viewpoint of Indian Muslims, certain positive features of recent elections should not be missed. The truth about Godhara arson has yet to come out. But one major change was there was not provocation of that type. Anti-Pakistan rhetoric was not there. Terrorism did not figure much, because the three states have been free from terrorist activity. The Naxalite threat falls in a different category.

During the initial phase of campaigning, the Parivar tried to whip up passions for making ‘Hindutva’ as a major plank of electioneering. But that did not work. Congress had relied on the implicit support of Bahujan Samaj Party. However a different kind of BSP turned the tables against them. Their dismal record of providing bijli (power), sadak (road) and pani (water) was their undoing. 

All these years, Congress projected itself as the party of stability and development. They claim that the country’s growth was entirely the result of the vision and determination of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Now it must be conceded that the election results must be read as powerful verdict against functioning of Congress under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. It has dealt a brutal, possibly fatal blow to the ambitions of the Congress to form the next Government at the Centre.

There is a major question troubling the people all over the country. What shall be the impact of the result of recent elections on the forthcoming 2004 general elections? It cannot be denied that BJP’s victories in the so-called mini-general election shall provide it with a certain comfort level in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections due next year. These gains will go a long way to dispel the general impression that the party is losing ground in its core constituency- ‘the Hindi heartland’. At the national level, the prospect of unequal contest between Atal Bihari Vajpayee versus Sonia Gandhi is likely to spread nervousness and despondency among Congress supporters. Gone with the wind is the hope that Congress shall be able to take the country back on the track of secular democracy. So far Sangh Parivar has not been able to undermine the basic features of the Indian Constitution. However they have never concealed their intentions to do so. 

There is another aspect of the political development. The results are likely to bring greater cohesion among the constituents of National Democratic Alliance. Those harbouring idea of dissociating themselves with Bhartiya Janata Party shall think twice before taking such a hasty step.

There were hopes of that the recent swing in its favour would tempt the BJP to consider advancing the Lok Sabha election to early 2004. In the case of Andhra Pradesh the Election Commission has indicated that it will not be rushed into polls, so the prospects of early elections do not hold ground. The leaders of BJP also have contradicted such speculations.

It is not advisable to have only a pessimistic view of results of recent elections. Too much should not be read in the success of BJP in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Chhattisgarh has been a part of Madhya Pradesh till its separation from the state. BJP has been in power in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan till Congress wrested reins of power from them. It was the weakness of Congress that it could not retain what it had gained from the adversaries. That weakness has enabled the BJP to regain what it had lost earlier. Though similar effort has not been successful in Delhi. What could be achieved in Delhi was certainly possible in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh also. Muslims should not grieve over the setback suffered by Congress. They gained nothing when Congress was in power. If BJP in power can assure security of life, law and order, they should not worry. However, they should do everything to safeguard their own constitutional rights.

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