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Published in the 16-31 Jan 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Communalism 2004

Electoral setbacks for Trident Politics

By Ram Puniyani

etback for one can be a respite for others. Nothing proved it more than the general elections of 2004 (April-May). These elections had taken place in the backdrop of BJP electoral wins in Gujarat, MP, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. BJP was upbeat and most of the pollsters gave the NDA coalition a majority. While BJP itself claimed that it will be gaining majority on its own and the 2/3rd majority for its coalition. As the events unfolded, it employed a subtle combination of emotional issues with the veneer of issues of the people. Its major plank was that it is during BJP regime that India’s reputation in the world has gone up tremendously, it is being looked at with respect by all the nations in the world, it has put the country on the rails of progress and its electoral mascot Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been a great and unmatched leader. It came up with a Shining India campaign. This multi million rupee campaigns projected that with BJP coming to power the problems of India are over and its people are shining in the newfound rays of comforts. Through the newspapers ads and TV ads the ordinary person was bombarded with the achievements of Atalji. It sounded as if the countrys tide has really turned with this Government. Its allies silently toed its line, endorsing BJPs policies.

Just before the country was to go to polls two significant events happened. In the constituency of Mr. Vajpayee a Saree distribution program was organized and in the attempt to get the cheap saree, in the melee, which resulted thereby, over twenty-three women lost their lives. Shining Indias dark side negated a good deal of BJP media blitzkrieg. At the same time Supreme court transferred the Best Bakery case away from the BJP ruled, RSS controlled, Hindu Rashtra of Gujarat to the neighboring Maharashtra. The process of justice deliverance in BJP ruled Gujarat lay exposed as this shattered its image beyond repair and its Chief Minister Narendra Modi, stood naked in his barbaric worst. It seems the Shining India campaign was looked at by the large section of people of India as an insult to the rising toil in their lives. Along with this the Best bakery case showed the concept of justice of Hindutva.

The expectations of BJP coming to power were so strong that the weathercocks and those trying to be on the right side of powers that be started clinging to the ship of BJP. Foremost amongst them were people like Arif Mohammad Khan, who at one point of time shot to fame for resigning on Shah Bano issue. Now the argument was cooked up, look Congress is no better, it did that, and it did that while BJP is so forthright, look at glorious Vajpayee. Interestingly Shahi Imam of Delhi who has been on the receiving end of VHP propaganda most of the times issued a fatwa to support the BJP in coming elections, and some other prominent Muslim intellectuals also toed the line to support it.

Defying all the predictions of psephologists the people of India, threw away the claims of BJP and its controller RSS into the dustbin and its voting percentage and number of seats declined drastically. The NDA seats declined to such an extent that even trying to buy some small regional party to grab power was not possible. BJP got the boot and change of guard at the center took place to the relief of many.

The electoral results were another interesting phenomenon. Congress emerged as the single largest party, and headed the UPA alliance. As the head of Congress, Sonia Gandhi was the natural choice for the post of Prime Minister. As it started becoming clear that she is likely to be the next Prime minister, the sections amongst BJP started beating the breast of Nationalism, self pride etc. Sushma Swaraj led this pack with the threat that if Sonia becomes the Prime minister she will shave off her head live the life of Bhikshuni (female monk) and will sleep on the floor etc. Not to be left behind her rival for the top slot in the BJP leadership Uma Bharati came up with her own set of threats and Govindacharya floated an instant Self Pride Forum to oppose her becoming the Prime minister. It was an ironical situation. Sonias disqualification was not as per Indian Constitution. It was as per the rules being imposed by the self-assigned custodians of Indian (Hindu) nationalism. Also a valid citizen was being called as foreigner, also a person who was born somewhere else and chose to be Indian was being threatened by those whose ideology has neither contributed to making of the Indian state nor to its freedom.

At this point a rumor mill was activated by the Sangh combine. The rumor was spread as to how Indian army chiefs can reveal the secrets of Indian defense to foreigner, i. e. Sonia Gandhi. The construction of this rumor revealed that for RSS the Indian Constitution does not matter, for it military is the top authority over the elected person. A person who chose to be Indian was being challenged by small coterie of those who are Indians by the accident of their birth. Anyway in one of the brilliant political moves ever, Sonia decided to decline the post of Prime minister and decided to continue as the party president. It was in a way the real blow to the plans of BJP; it took away a potentially emotive issue a la Ayodhya in earlier times. BJP is yet to recover from this deprivation of the issue and is stumbling from one to the other, searching for one.

No doubt just the throwing away of BJP led coalition has been no guarantee for defense of secularism and democracy, but it was becoming clear that if BJP/RSS continue to call the shots, the process of communalization will be greatly intensified. The removal of the BJP from the central power was welcomed as it gave time to the concerned citizens to build up the democratic and secular values. It is no solution to the rising tide of communal tsunami was clear to many of those striving for preservation of democratic space. The electoral defeat could not be swallowed by BJP. It was sure of forming the Govt. again, but as matters turned out it was nowhere in the chessboard of politics. It adopted a negative attitude to the parliamentary system and kept disrupting the parliament at each and every available pretext.

Uma Bharati had been the real person in the news most of the time for right or wrong reasons. Before being shunted out from the Chief ministership of MP she did convert Chief ministers residence into a cowshed. Also she came up with cow-based economy, also converting some already existing holy places into vegetarian zones, enhancing the spiritual status in the process!

Having bitten the dust it had to face the Maharashtra Assembly elections, in September. Maharashtra was being ruled by Congress-NCP combine and there was a heavy anti-incumbency factor against the ruling coalition. It gave a chance for return of BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. Keeping to its deeper agenda it seriously took up the issue of Savarkar, tiranga (tricolor) and the tomb of Afzal Khan. Mani Shanker Aiyar got the plaque of Savarkar removed in Andmans and replaced it the by one of Mahatma Gandhi. Seeing that Savarkar has image' of a revolutionary in Mahatrashtra, Shiv Sena went hammers and tongs on the issue. Uma Bharati by then had been issued summons by Hubli court in the case of Idgah maidan. It was a place where she tried to unfurl tricolor in order to create problem at local level. She took this opportunity to resign her chief ministership and took out tiranga yatra. It was ironical again that a leader whose parent organization RSS never hoisted tricolor on its building till lately tried to arouse people on the issue of tricolor hoisting on Idgah ground. It is another matter that BJP itself had wanted to get rid of her for her weir ways as CM. The issue of Afzal Khans tomb was brought up to replicate the process of Ayodhya. People realized in this case the tomb was built by none other than Shivaji himself. Overall all these failed to click and BJP- Shiv Sena combine floundered on the electoral battle and its hope for romping to power collapsed.
Lost in this wilderness, BJP started looking for issues, which can be used to rouse emotions. Ayodhya has stopped paying dividends. Savarkar, Afzal Khan, Bhojshala may not give the expected result. In the process of hunting for an attractive slogan it also came up with the once forgotten, Integral Humanism, a word for status quo, a subtle defense of the prevalent caste and gender hierarchy, to the fore. It remains there unattended as one more issue came up its way in the course of time.

Somewhere along the Census commissioner committed a serious goof, one does not know whether it was motivated or it reflected the professional caliber of the people in chagre. While releasing the data of 2001 census, it forgot to take into consideration the fact that in previous figures Kashmir and earlier Assam were left out. So the present figures were compared with the 1991 data, which did not have the data of Kashmir, so it sounded as if the Muslim population is increasing and that the plot to convert India into a Muslim nation is finally coming close to fruition. As it turned out the rate of rise of Muslim population is on the decline, though overall it remains higher than that of Hindu population. This time around in the census figures Jains, Adivasis and Lingayats also did not register as Hindus so its that much decline again was not as real. But it did the trick of reinforcing the communal biases in the large section of people. Meanwhile many a people realized that Muslim population in Kerala and Southern states shows a lower rise than in the poorer Northern states. Interpretation of demographics has to be done more with socio economic parameters rather than the ones related to religious identity of population.

Shankaracharyas arrest by Tamil Nadu Government of Jayalalitha, one of the then allies of BJP, came as a big chance for BJP to wear its Hindutva on its sleeves. Shakarcharya, who apparently is presiding over an empire of Rs. 5000 crores, has been the major accused in murder of Shankar Raman, a mutt official who opposed the pontiffs ways and also the mismanagement of funds. It also came to surface that the pontiffs liaison with some women has more to it than meets the spiritual eyes, also that his junior spends nights watching the films of dubious nature and so on and so forth. The sangh combine swooped over the arrest issue. Raising various questions. One of them though close to idiocy cannot be ignored. Dr. Pravin Togadia the most visible and verbally aggressive face of Hindutva said that it is meant to appease the Muslims. Can this Govt. arrest Shahi Imam on the day of Id (Shankracharya was arrested on the night of Divali festival). In a clever move undermining the nature and seriousness of the crime, the issue was tried to focus around the manner of arrest. Ignoring the fact that Jayalalitha has been BJP ally, all the criticism was directed on the central government and finally on Sonia Gandhi.

Many a Muslim clerics came to the defense of the Seer. The chiefs of many mutts issued the warnings, projecting the event as an insult to Hindu religion. Protests were organized, but most of them drew a blank. Seems, there is a large section of Hindus who know that what Shakracharya might have been involved has nothing to do with religion, it is the world of crime, plain and simple. While the seer is cooling his heels in the prison, the BJP leadership seems to have lost one more issue, which could have come handy for its political agenda. Seems law will take its own course despite the Hindutva discourse of BJP.

The process of justice in Gujarat is turning out to be more painful than the justice process after riots as such. One is aware that the fate of inquiry commissions has not been so bright. That most of these have not been implemented. But till now the recognition and a hope that justice will be done had not been sniffed off so much as in the case of Gujarat. Gujarat as such has turned into a sort of Hindu Rajya in one state. The grass root and other mechanisms have been severely jolted. The process of Ghettoisation has gone up at unprecedented scale. The interference of Sangh combine at social and political level is immense. Any talk of freedom and democracy is futile. The activists of human rights have everything to fear in the state. The civic actions have become difficult. Though in this phenomenon also there is a light of hope as many a community actions are focusing on education and self-employment schemes. As the intimidation of state machinery under Narendra Modi goes up, the frustration of section of farmers is also going up.

The cases, which were transferred to Maharashtra, started taking a new unexpected turn. In Best Bakery case the prime accused Zahira Sheikh turned hostile once again, this time accusing the social activist, Teesta Setalvad, who has been the pivot of the Best Bakery case. Tehelka sting operation showed that money has changed hands and that is the reason for Zahira turning against the social activist. While at one level one feels like having sympathies with a twenty-year old Zahira, who has lost her close relatives, at other one also feels dismayed that if culprits can buy off the witnesses, what happens to the process of law. Talk is going on in the society about having laws for protection of victims and also about having laws to combat the communal violence. How the loopholes in the existing laws can be plugged is a serious issue. Hopefully the UPA govt. will be able to take steps in that direction.

International situation is supplementing the biases against Islam and Muslims. World is witness to one of the worst aggression on the people of Iraq, with over ten thousand Iraqis dead and many more maimed and insulted. Abu Graib prison photographs may be the tip of proverbial iceberg. The butchery in Falluja unleashed by US troops has not many parallels in history. With this US administration emerges the biggest violators of Human rights anywhere in the World. We do not have to look at the dictatorial tyrants as the only violators of Human rights. US has left them far behind in its savagery and cruelty. The process of bringing in of democracy on the Islamic state is the language being used to cover the designs on the oil wells. In the process the demonization of Islam and Muslims is marching unabated, world over. This very much boosts the similar process going on at home.

With electoral defeat also came the inner bickering amongst the second rung leadership. The party with a difference has been having too many internal squabbles to project a unified image. Uma Bharatis walk out from the National executive of BJP said it all. She accused many of her colleagues of various derogatory things, but has been taken back after the suspension. Another star of BJP Tulsi (her screen name), Smirit Irani demanded the ouster of Modi for his handling of situation in Gujarat. But she was quick to eat back her words for the sake of political compulsions. Despite all this inner core of BJP remins intact, well guarded by the patriarch, RSS.

Today Sangh combine is caught in a strange dilemma. While it has lost its power at the central government and central resources, at the level of the grass root its march is going on unabated. During the period of BJP led NDA it was flush with the NRI and central government funds to spread the area of its operation. This area of operation goes on at the level of cities as before so far and has picked up more so in the Adiviasi areas. 

The electoral setback may hamper the speed of its spread but it is not going to affect the core level work being carried by RSS and its progeny. The cultural manipulation assisted by the global processes is on the rise. While Gujarat is more or less a Hindu Rashtra, there are others in the line, Rajasthan, MP, Orissa and Kerala to name the few. The communalization of the mindset, which was on earlier as well, got intensified due to the communalization of History books by BJP, is very much there. While those textbooks have been withdrawn the social level spread of communal ideas is very much there in most of the states. What of others, even in a state like West Bengal where the CPM led coalition is ruling, the average common sense is fairly communal. It may not have witnessed riots, the govt. may be able to control the riots, but the mindset which can give rise to riots in the future is very much there. And this is the best scenario. One can imagine of the situation at other places.

In the dark scenario there had been positive subjective elements earlier also. Last three years is witnessing the rise of social and political groups, which are taking up the issue of fighting against communalism more seriously. There is a quantum jump in the efforts to combat communalism during last few years. These efforts may be scattered at the moment but they have all the promise of coming together as a creative forum and a platform for defense of democratic values, secular ethos and human rights.

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