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Published in the 16-30 Jun 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Indian Elections 2004
Implications for democratic polity
By Ram  Punyani

The verdict of 2004 elections has come as an utter surprise to most of the people of the country. All those individuals and groups who perceived the threat from the rising tide of communalism during last few years have felt great relief. The major setbacks suffered by the country during last six years of BJP rule had been multiple. The erosion of democratic institutions has been one of the main. The riots of Gujarat, on the pretext of Godhra train burning had been too shocking for words, and the post violence handling of issues had been worse than the pogrom itself. Added on to this was the issue of communalization of textbooks, blatant violation of the autonomy of centers of learning and the introduction of obscurantist courses like astrology and Karmakand in the universities. The pro US-Israel tilt of the foreign policy was very visible and India bending its knees in front of the US Empire was a big shame. Add on to this the appointment of key personnel in the positions that matter, the grip on the different wings of state apparatus by pro Hindutva individuals made the picture gruesome. This did stifle the liberal and democratic space to no end. The scar of these policies, the Gujarat riots and the formation of 'two nations' within Gujarat, on the minority psyche has been too deep for words. 

Steps are being taken by the Government to undo some of the damage done by the RSS's political arm, the BJP. Various ministries are chalking out programs to put the things back on rails. Various civil rights groups are drafting the petitions and appeals to ensure that the violations of democratic norms and human rights indulged in by BJP are negated at the earliest. While it is too early to comment on the outcome of these attempts, it is sure that more the pressure from civic groups more is the possibility of democratic norms and practices being restored. 

Is that the end of the threat from intimidating Hindutva/Fascist threat to Indian democracy? We have to realize that the defeat of BJP has not been comprehensive. BJP has been able to do good showing in MP, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. It has registered its presence in Kerala and come up in Karnataka. Despite erosion, it has retained good bit of strength in Gujarat. Its voting share has gone down by mere two percent. BJP is not alone in this game. 

The problem lies in other direction also. It has the support from VHP, Bajrang Dal, Vanvasi Kalyan Ahsram and myriad other organizations which are manned by RSS volunteers. The threat to Indian democracy is from various directions and BJP is merely the political angle of the story. RSS's role in subjugating culture, and other arenas of life cannot be underestimated. One can say that it is precisely due to the activities of BJP affiliates that BJP can make its impact. It is due to the mass indoctrination and doctoring of mass consciousness that communal violence breaks out and it is the communal violence, which lays the base for the politics of BJP. Who can take on this foundational work of RSS? Can the Government machinery counter this onslaught on our society? The best it can do is to undo the damage to curricula, the farthest it can go is to ensure that the heads of controlling bodies like ICHR and others are appointed on the grounds of their competence, professionalism and not due to their loyalty to Hindutva as has been happening during last six years. But that's just the small subset of the problem, which one can see in the most visible manner.
The problem has been created due to the RSS ideology being percolated through thousands of Shakhas, the RSS swayamsevaks infiltrating in different wings of our state machinery. And surely the vehemence of other wings of Sangh combine had reached very dangerous proportions under the political umbrella provided by BJP rule. It is true that the very fact of BJP not grabbing power again has demoralized many of these outfits. One is also puzzled by the eclipse of Dr. Togadia. His 'quiet' period is being extended and one is wondering about the future of this 'poison spewing' machine. Is he on way out like his predecessor Sadhvi Ritambhara or is he recuperating after too many of outpourings. 
One has to wait and watch as to what is up the sleeve of RSS. What course it adopts now. After having said that BJP defeat is due to underplaying the Hindutva agenda, even RSS is at loss to find another emotive issue, which can put it, back into offensive track? They really must be cursing Sonia Gandhi for taking away the usable emotive issue of Sonia Janmbhumi from their gambit. Ram Janmbhumi may not deliver the desired results any longer and the Kashi, Mathura is also unlikely to enthuse the gullible now. 

While one awaits the future strategy of RSS and its progeny one does realize that some of the damages done to democratic polity done by the acts of commission of this multi headed hydra cannot be undone by the state or the Government all by itself. The two pressing problems of the day relate to the influence of 'Hate Other' propaganda ceaselessly done by this outfit. Lately the impact of this propaganda has been boosted by the international events in which the likes of Osama bin Laden and Talibans have added fuel to the fire of Hatred generated against Muslims in particular, from last nearly eigth decades. The other major problem is the creation of divides amongst communities on the grounds of religion. While Gujarat is the worst example of this, other states are also not spared and one finds dime a dozen examples where one cannot buy a house in a particular locality because one happens to belong to the 'wrong religion'.

It is here that efforts of civic groups, social movements are most crucial to deepen the democratic ethos in the country. The Hate propaganda generated against minorities has to be undone in a most humane and effective method. The projections of History, the communal viewpoint of history introduced by British, are the ruling viewpoints in popular minds in the sub continent. The community divides are on the increase. The teachings of Bhakti saints and Sufi saints have been dumped in to the backyard. The efforts of Mahatma Gandhi in building the modern India on the ground of Citizenship cutting across religions are being challenged by the notions of religion based nationalism of Jinnah, Savarkar-Golwalkar variety. Can the government efforts reach the nook and corners of society to re-cultivate the concepts of composite nationalism? Sure, merely the correction in the school curricula, though an essential prerequisite, are not adequate enough. New programs are to be designed by the Government to propagate the values, which were the foundation of freedom movement, the values that guided our Indian constitution, in a way that all and sundry re-imbibe these values in their psyche? 

How can the hurt minority psyche be soothed and how can they be made to feel secure in this country? One fears that the threat of bringing back Hindutva agenda may mean more violence and more bloodshed. One fears that the 'defeated' BJP, RSS combine may resort to any method to deepen the divisive agenda in the society. The present 'feel good' of the democratic secular-democratic groups may not last much once RSS combine hits back with its usual 'tools'. One is aware that preservation and strengthening of Human rights is the need of the hour. One is aware that the social groups whose human rights have suffered adversely during last two decades are dalits, women, workers, adivasis and minorities. One is also aware that it is precisely to suppress these issues that Hindutva wants to bring in emotional issues. 

Social movements will be faulting in their commitment to social issues if the divisive politics is not combated at social level. And this government must feel duty bound to morally uphold these initiatives for harmony and the efforts in the directions, which strengthen the grass root bonding and amicable atmosphere.

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