Presidential Polls & Ethnic Cards

Ironically, the alacrity with which ethnic and caste cards are played during elections at practically all levels, one is forced to question their usage. Is politics of this nature leading to polarization of vote-banks or not? Sadly, even elections to the so-called apolitical offices of the President and even the Vice-President are not above politicking of this nature.

The ethnic cards’ association with Indian political scenario extends from the stage of melodrama, lobbying, campaigning to that of rhetoric. Where elections for offices of President and Vice-President are concerned, when religious card is not opted for, usually regional card is played.

The outgoing President Pratibha Patil hails from Maharashtra in western India. Interestingly, both candidates in the race to be her successor, Pranab Mukherjee and P.A. Sangma are from the east. As Patil was preceded by a Muslim, APJ Abdul Kalam from South India, politically the time was not yet appropriate to nominate a Muslim as her successor on religious and regional grounds. It may be recalled, religious card was given greater importance when Kalam was selected as the presidential candidate by the then Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Certainly, critics of BJP’s communal and anti-Muslim stand were fairly stunned at Kalam being nominated as the presidential candidate. But then BJP was desperate to keep its secular allies together and also impress upon the country about its “secular” stance.

Religious card by the present Congress-led government has already been exercised in selection of a Muslim, Mohammed Hamid Ansari as the Vice-President. His term ends this year on August 10.  Nevertheless, aspirants hopeful for the Muslim-card being played again for this post are trying their best to win the approval of the Congress supremo, Sonia Gandhi. Saifudeen Soz, a senior Congress leader and Farooq Abdullah from Kashmir’s National Conference are lobbying hard for this position.

Politically, it may not be wise of Congress to repeat usage of religious card in favour of a Muslim candidate, without any break. Chances are that in a bid to counter presidential candidate Sangma’s claims for support on ground of his being from a tribal region, the Congress may nominate a tribal candidate for the post of Vice President.

 Interestingly, the regional card in Mukherjee’s favour as Congress candidate for presidential post may not have worked if everything gave the impression of going in the right direction during his stint as the finance minister. Political gossip indicates that rather than blame Mukherjee for inflation and other economic problems, which is also fair as he is not totally and absolutely responsible for the same, the Congress high command opted for a safer course. Elevate his political stature to constitutionally the highest office in the country and thus pave the way for his graceful retirement from active politics.

 Sadly, politicking indulged in by Sangma and his supporters in the race for President’s post gives the impression of their abusing the ethical codes of conduct. The case would have been different if Sangma had presented his case before the people on ground of his being a seasoned politician, a tribal and a Christian. Quite a few Christians have taken strong objection to his reaching out to extremely communal elements for the sake of an office. In fact, there are reports of a Christian organization planning to write to Pope to excommunicate Sangma as he appears to have shed all considerations while seeking political support of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The Christian group is also angry at Sangma having reportedly decided to absolve and exonerate the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh from “Odisha pogroms” of 2008 when Catholics priests and nuns were brutally killed and thousands of Christians made to flee their homes and lands. In the opinion of this Christian organization’s representative Abraham Mathai, Sangma does not have community interests at heart “but would rather fraternize with the communal elements who are maliciously targeting the community.” Referring to Sangma reaching out to Modi, he stated that it was extremely disturbing to see him “stoop so low by compromising his principles to warm up to Modi, the main perpetrator of the 2002 Gujarat genocide in lieu of his support for his candidature.”

 In the case of Sangma, the ironic tragedy lies in his abusing his own political priorities ostensibly based on the ground of his being a tribal and a Christian. Both these ethnic cards have been virtually ignored in his reaching out (for political support) to the same communal, extremist elements who have brutally targeted minorities, including Muslims and Christians.

 Herein lies the big question, true Sangma has erred politically as well as ethically, but in essence, why? Isn’t this linked with the degree to which ethnic cards are played and exploited during electoral season?  Yet, it cannot be forgotten that BJP went overboard by selecting a Muslim candidate for President’s office, all for the sake of donning a secular mask. Sangma has “stooped” by being extra-warm towards communal elements, which is certainly not expected of one desiring to hold country’s highest constitutional office.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 July 2012 on page no. 11

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