Friday, 4 May 2012

Electoral Equations and Secular Values

Ram Puniyani

The UP Assembly elections results (Feb 2012) gave a clear mandate to theSamajvadi Party of Mulayam Singh. Congress was claiming that the results of UPwill be a shocker, meaning a surprisingly better performance of Congress. Asresults came through Congress was nowhere close the claims it made or theresults it expected were nowhere close to the expectation. Prior to theelections the main leaders of UP Congress with Rahul Gandhi in the lead,campaigned vigorously. The carrot of reservations for Muslims was dangled andthe Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s tears on Batla house encounter were ondisplay, but it seems the Muslim voters in particular were notimpressed. So far Congress had a very safe equation with the Muslim voters,also called ‘Muslim vote bank’ by its critics. The understanding was that sinceMuslims know that communal BJP is not the option where will they go exceptvoting for the ‘secular’ Congress.

Where do matters stand? It is true that large section of Muslims realizethe BJP can never be the option for Muslims as BJP is the epitome of Communalpolitics, it is the political child of RSS, which is working for the agenda ofHindu Rashtra through its multiple progeny like VHP, Bajrang Dal, VanvasisKalyan Ashram and myriad other organizations. In communal violence while theCongress has played despicable role in anti Sikh riots of 1984, it has alsobeen the mute witness to the series of anti Muslim riots and pogrom againstMuslims.  The justice to the victims of violence has not been activelypursued by the Congress, wherever it has been the ruling formation, Mumbaiviolence of 1992-93 being the worst example of ignoring and marginalizing thevictims of carnage. The Muslims have also suffered at the hands of Congressruled Governments in the aftermath of acts of terror, particularly those ofMecca Masjid, Malegaon, Ajmer and Samjhauta express blasts. In the aftermath ofthe blasts Muslim youth were arrested, tortured, their carriers as young mencrushed and later they released for the lack of any credible evidencewhatsoever.

Still despite all these lapses Muslim community has realized thatCongress is a lesser evil, more particularly after the Gujarat anti Muslimpogrom under the leadership of Narendra Modi, where the transformation of a democraticset up to a semi fascist Hindu rashtra is more than visible. They have alsoseen that the real culprits of bomb blasts mentioned above belonged to the RSSpantheon, for which BJP made all the efforts to shield them.

This distinction between Congress and BJP seems to be more or less clearand when one reflects on the acts of commission and omission of NDA Governmentat the centre between 1998 and 2004.Having kept aside the BJP as an electoraloption what happens to Congress claim to be a secular party or the onecommitted to interests of minorities. There is a mixed bag here. On one sideCongress has instituted Sachar Committee and Rangnath Misra Commission, whichhave given the true picture of the plight of Muslims. At the same time theimplementation of the recommendations of these reports is too slow, if at all.The intimidated Muslim minority is looking for policies which can lift it upfrom the stifling atmosphere of ghettoes in which they have been forced to livedue to the massive communal violence and the preceding and accompanyingdemonization of the community in the social space. A large section of communitywants quotas, but putting it as an electoral promise cannot fool the community,which is seeing the dismal fate of Sachar Committee and Rangnath MisraCommission.

The Batla House encounter, the refusal of the UPA II Government toinstitute a proper inquiry into it and the accompanying demonization of Muslimyouth was a big blow to the community which is struggling against odds to come outof ghettoization and wishes to embrace modern education and take advantage ofopportunities to the best of its capabilities, which at present are notadequate to pull it out of the morass in which it is trapped. This Batla Houseencounter and the negative attitude of the Congress for a proper inquirycommittee showed that Congress does not have courage to take up the issue ofsecurity of Muslims in the right earnest. Mere tears don’t protect you. Theevent in the neighboring Rajasthan, where the police entered the mosque andopened the fire to kill those inside was also something which cannot bepardoned at all.

Congress seems be a mixed platform and a pragmatic party as far as theprinciples of secularism are concerned. It will go this far and refuse to takethe decisive steps for principled democratic-secular values. One knows that thestate apparatus has also been heavily communalized and it takes a strong willpower to take up principled secular stand and to live up to that. In UP itseems the Muslim voters had the choice between Mulayam Singh and Congress.Mulayam had also temporarily allied with Kalyan Singh, who had presided overthe demolition of Babri mosque, but that was a brief alliance. Riots in Mau andother places had erupted during the Mulayam regime. Here surely Mulayam musthave sounded like the lesser evil vis a vis BJP or Congress.

Is this the same Congress, which had the glorious tradition of MahatmaGandhi and Pundit Nehru, who staked their all for preservation of secularvalues? With the present dithering attitude of the Congress leadership suchclaims are nowhere close to acceptable. Many a Congress youth are also muchcommunalized. One does not know whether this grand old party, is making itsworkers know about what secularism is, what is the truth behind the prevalentbiases against minorities; how Gandhi (Mohandas) had ensured the Hindu-Muslimunity by staking his life and how Jawaharlal stood like a rock supporting theedifice of plural values. A party is made by the workers and their mindset.While leadership dithers on such issues the workers, by and large have no clueas to how to take up the issues of Muslim minorities, battered by the onslaughtof communal violence and communal politics. UP Assembly election results apart fromother things are a pointer for the party to take up the legacy of MahatmaGandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, if it wants to make a positive contribution toIndian democracy.

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