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Published in the 16-29 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Periscope
Towards Lok Sabha poll 2004
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Saeed SuhrawardyAddressing the Convocation gathering of Jamia Hamdard, on February 7, 2004, the Chief Guest ex-Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir, a former Union Minister and presently member of Rajya Sabha, Dr. Karan Singh made a very significant remark. As a well-known scholar of inter-faith studies, his views deserve serious attention. He expressed deep concern over the fact that certain elements are engaged in spreading communal hatred on the pretext of the ‘clash of civilizations.’ They are doing that in pursuance of their political agenda. They should not be allowed to succeed. If they are successful in their aims, the existence of India shall be jeopardized. He appealed to the people of India, particularly youth, to stand firmly against the wind of hatred, to save the composite cultural heritage of the country. He particularly stressed the importance of good relations between Hindus and Muslims of India for the strength and stability of the nation.

Addressing a rally near Ayodhya, after a gap of 13 years, on the same day the Prime Minister of the country, Sri Atal Bihar Vajpayee struck a different note. He did not mince words about the political agenda of his political party. What surprised those who see him in a favourable light was that he decided to step in the shoes of his Deputy Mr. L.K. Advani. Mr. L.K. Advani, the Deputy Prime Minster started his rathyatra from Somnath to Ayodhya for construction of Ramjanmabhoomi temple. Perhaps Vajpayee has reversed the process. Starting his election campaign from Ayodhya, immediately after the dissolution of Lok Sabha, perhaps he may end that at Somnath Temple, located in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat.

The seeds of hatred planted by Advani’s rathyatra in a major part of the country, vitiated the relations between the two major communities. He has no feelings of remorse for his conduct, because it has helped him in reaching the second highest post in the country. He shall be justified in feeling that he is on the threshold of the office of the Prime Minister of the country.

The position of Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee as the respected leader of the country, not merely of the majority community has never been in doubt. It is not clear why he decided to follow the footsteps of his No.2, although in the reverse direction, from east to west .The blood bath that took place in various parts of the country before and after December 6, 1992 made the position of his party more suspect in he eyes of Muslims - the second largest community of he country. When Advani moved on his chariot (rath), he was not a member of the government. Unfortunately, Vajpayee has adopted that stance when he continues as caretaker Prime Minister of the government. That is a gross misuse of his office.

Kicking off the BJP’s poll campaign from Ayodhya, the Prime Minister said that his party remained committed to construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya and urged those involved in the dispute to reach an understanding so that the dream should see the light of the day without leaving rancour in its trail. Describing the temple construction as his government’s “unfinished task”, he said: We want the construction is completed and all hurdles in the way are removed. He did not clarify that who is ‘involved in the dispute’. According to facts on record, it is ‘judiciary’ and the parties to the various lawsuits pending in the courts. That is an indirect attempt to influence the judiciary that should be condemned. There is nothing illegal and unconstitutional about the judicial process. The judiciary has been discharging its obligations with a large degree of impartiality in spite of pulls and pressures coming from different quarters. Referring to the cases pending in the court about the demolition of the Babri masjid he said "the path of the judiciary could be a long one. The parties concerned should reach an understandng in a harmonius way to resolve the dispute." He urged the people to give another term to his government for the purpose.

That betrays a distrust of the ‘judicial process’. What Vajpayee aims to achieve is subversion of the judicial process by democratic process. That is a dangerous sign that may lead to the erosion of the secular democratic content of the Constitution of India. The alarm signals have come from Ayodhya. They are sufficient to alert not only Muslims but also all those who perceive a threat to the future of secular democracy, if the present; political combination controlled by Sangh Parivar manages to get back to the seat of power at the Centre.
One thing is very clear. Muslims have nothing to do with the dissolution of 13th Lok Sabha. Naturally, the forthcoming election to 14th Lok Sabha is a decision that has been forced on them. But that does not mean that they should take that lightly. There is a lot that might be at stake due to the results of the forthcoming poll. Muslims have not gained much from the democratic process extending over more than half a century. But that should not be the reason for being indifferent to the political climate of the country. Although the prospects are uncertain, they stand to lose a lot if they adopt ostrich-like approach to the forthcoming elections.

The question arises: What should be their attitude and conduct during the churning of Indian political stream, that is likely to occur shortly. The answer would have been easy if there had been consistency and credibility in the political conduct of Indian political parties, the exception being only left parties. The cause of political decline is that ideology has been replaced by opportunism in political conduct.

The worst opportunists being those committed to a fascist ideology. They are adept in concealing their ideological and political agenda in a very attractive and secular-looking package. They have no qualms in hiding their real face behind colourful masks. Their top leaders have different faces for different occasions. That makes a sensible choice very difficult.

In these circumstances Muslims have to anticipate and judge political alignments that are likely to take place in near future. For better understanding of the present political climate, one has to refer to post-independence history of the country. On the eve of the independence, there were only two rivals in the political arena - Indian National Congress and Muslim League, opposed to each other about partition of the country. After partition of the country, Muslim League opted for Pakistan, claiming credit for the creation of a state for Muslims. That left Indian National Congress as the monarch of all it surveyed. There was no rival in sight. Congress was an omnibus type of political party, accommodating communal and secular as well as socialist and anti-socialist elements. The communists were sent out when they changed their attitude to war in alignment with Soviet Union. Indian National Congress has split so many times that it is difficult to recount the exact number. The party has lost its preeminent position in the politics of the country. It has lost its credibility also. After losing political power they have been playing the game of musical chairs extending support at one time and withdrawing it later.

A conversation, with Muslims of various sections gives the impression that they are confused and without a clear choice in their minds. There is no time for narrow personal or factional adjustments. Although no immediate gain may be in sight, in the long run the loss may not be estimated right now. Muslims should not be passive and indifferent sightseers of the political drama likely to be staged soon. They should emerge as the lead actors to see that the conspiracy to subvert the secular democratic character of the country is crushed in a decisive manner. Every attempt to divide secular vote must be defeated.
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