A Wakeup Call for Plural Bharat

To the principal minority of India, that is Bharat, the December 23 win of Mr. Narendra Modi in the 2007 Gujarat Assembly Elections is a victory of intolerance tempered with insolence. In the House of 182, 117 against the adversary’s 62, this,

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To the principal minority of India, that is Bharat, the December 23 win of Mr. Narendra Modi in the 2007 Gujarat Assembly Elections is a victory of intolerance tempered with insolence. In the House of 182, 117 against the adversary’s 62, this, by all accounts a comprehensive victory of the Saffron, is a tight slap across the wrinkled face of the confused and spineless Congress. This is the victory of evil over virtue, the victory of the proverbial Goliath over the proverbial David.
The “Nero,” to quote an observation of the Supreme Court, presided over the allegedly planned massacre of 790 Muslims and 254 non-Muslims. Several NGOs differ with this figure of the Union Home Ministry and claim the Muslim casualty figures to be between 2,500 and 3,000. About 4,300 Muslim families or between 22,000 and 33,000 individuals, remain internally displaced. The last Annual Report of the US Department of the State on religious freedom once again quoted the Justice Banerjee Commission’s Report on the Godhra Train fire in 2006, affirming that the fire was accidental, and not a planned one. The “merchant of death,” to quote the Congress President, had justified the riot as a “reaction” of the train fire. About 150 Muslim youth remain under detention under POTA, mainly in connection with the sad, train tragedy. Many, around 22,000 Muslim families, out of fear, are not returning to their hearths and homes in villages as they fear pressure shall be mounted upon them to withdraw cases of complaints they filed against the rioters during the upheaval.
It goes without saying that among the “victors” in the ranks of Mr. Modi, 49 have criminal cases against them while 18 of them face murder charges. TADA cases are faced by one of them. Among the Congress winners, two face criminal proceedings. Much significance should not be attached to this fact because after each and every election, criminal characters emerge on the horizon as law-breakers, donning the robes of law-makers.
In this pogrom, unborn were ripped open from the pregnant Muslim women. Several were raped, in front of their elders. Many were roasted alive. Loot of Muslim establishments was meticulously planned. The thugs remained in touch with each other on cell phones. They were assured of 3-day protection, allegedly by the gentleman, who has now, for the third time taken oath of office as the chief Minister of Gujarat.
It is in this macabre backdrop, almost each and every member of the 150- million strong Muslim segment of over-a-billion strong multi-religious Bharat is of the considered opinion, that the Gujarat Chief Minister’s victory is a victory of callousness, bigotry and degradation.
Nowhere the State Assembly polls matter that much. But it was Mr. Modi’s 2002 essay in genocide that has had been giving importance to elections in Gujarat. Although his latest victory constitutes a watershed in our national politics, the truth is, it was not an election as such. It was a plebiscite, a referendum on Mr. Modi. It was poverty of thought on the part of the Congress that this poll also assumed the form of Sonia vs. Modi.
The election was not fought by the Saffron parties as a consolidated bloc. Because of Mr. Modi’s abrasive attitude, barbed tongue, arrogant style of functioning, coupled with brazenness, neither the RSS, nor the BJP nor the VHP nor other satellites of the “mother of evil” were with him fully. When these parties, particularly the RSS, realised that although Mr. Modi was dismissive of even the relevance of the Saffron parivar, at least they needed him. Because in his defeat they would gain nothing. Post-haste the message was sent to Mr. Pravin Togadia and a few regional RSS pracharaks to stop “negative” attitude towards him. Mr. Shishir Gupta of the Indian Express (December 24) sheds light: Modi had personally sought Sudershan’s support before the Gujarat elections, but the Sangh Parivar was non-committal at best. Matters took a turn for the worse when the RSS asked Modi to pay obeisance to 14 pracharaks at the peak of the first-phase election campaign in case he wanted Sangh cadres to be active in campaigning. Modi refused to toe the line.
Now the RSS, the truth is, has to do a reality check with regard to its political importance, nay of Gujarat relevance. A new brand of Saffron, called “Moditva” is now calling the shots. It is a heady wine, consisting of total hate for Muslims plus muscular sub-nationalism of Gujarat plus development plus downright arrogance. The ambitious youth, aspiring for political power and big money constitute the backbone of this too dangerous cult.
Do not think for a moment that this cult, Mr. Modi has been diluted or washed away by the tears shed in a planned manner by him after the victory followed by a solemn assurance that respects the Saffron fraternity or considers the Sangh as his mother. This public demonstration of cosmetic humility was his strategic necessity, a part of which was a call on his angry BJP antagonists like Mr. Keshubhai Patel. This self proposed rather propelled Gujarati purush knows which side of the toast has to be buttered and when. To prove what dividends this studied-humility has paid, count the number of the Sadhus, his sworn enemies, seen in the front rows of his reception.
This potion with the help of women voters has worked wonders in Gujarat. Following its successful experiment in the first laboratory of Hindutva, now everybody in the Saffron family feels inclined to experiment with it during the upcoming Assembly Elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Add to it the fact that the non-serious Congress has made no effort to dust off the Gandhian or the Nehruvian values.
Mr. Modi wanted the world to believe it was reference to the development done by him in Gujarat that he sought votes. He cunningly wanted his audience to minus the role of the geographic location, both as a border region and a maritime one, that has been played by them in the State’s development.
Ahyut Yagnik and Suchitra Sheth, in their book The Shaping of Modern Gujarat, observe, “For almost a thousand years now, merchant communities – Hindus, Jains, Muslims, and later, Parsis – not only dominated the economic sphere but also wielded influence in Gujarati society and power in political affairs.” Much before they had their own state, Gujarati traders played a decisive role in creating Bombay’s share bazaar. Once the state of Gujarat came into being, it saw both the Green and White revolutions. Today, to quote Pamela Philipose, Gujarat calls itself a ‘mini China’; in the early eighties, it was considered a ‘mini Japan’ – both claims of course coming at great environmental cost, but that’s another story. Between 1993 and 2000 – before Modi represented Gandhinagar – Gujarat’s manufacturing grew by 94 per cent. So we can safely assume that regardless of which party controls it, Gujarat will remain a high growth state. Those who argue that India’s future economic well-being would need a Modi are merely turning on the lights.
Mr. Modi also concealed the fact that Gujarat is one of the most indebted states in the country. Its public debt to GDP ratio is a whopping 28.5 per cent. According to official figures (widely believed to be a gross understatement), over 500 farmers in the state have committed suicide. This is primarily due to rural indebtedness, which, according to the NSS’ 55th round data, is, at around 40 per cent, widely higher than the national average of 25 per cent. Irrigated area declined by 25 per cent and agricultural production fell by 4.6 per cent during the last five years.
It did not occur to the Congress to apprise the electorate of the fact that a UN University study reveals that poverty rose to 17 per cent from 12 per cent during this period. Its Human Development Report, 2004, states, “Gujarat has reached only 48 per cent of the goals set for human development.” On the health front, 74.3 per cent of women and 46.3 per cent of children are anaemic. In social sector spending (as a proportion of total expenditure), Gujarat ranks a lowly 19 among 21 major states. On minimum wages, it ranks 8th. Despite the fact that large tracts of the state face a drinking water crisis, the Modi administration diverted $ 255 million to supply water to industries (read: vibrant Gujarat), according to a CAG report. Further, nearly 22,000 of the one-and-a-half lakh people rendered homeless by the communal carnage of 2002 continue to remain internal refugees, unable to return to their homes.
Whether the major minority of the country likes Mr. Modi or not, whether the oldest political party, the Congress likes him or not, whether his entire Saffron Brotherhood feels comfortable with him or not, whether the NDA allies can sup with him or not, the fact of Mr. Modi, the most divisive and controversial figure stares right across our faces. Stare right across our crest-fallen faces are those also who now feel inspired by the Maverick in each and every party including the Congress and the main Opposition as well as their respective regional, political allies.
Soon after the electoral verdict he said to his admirers: “You have made me the mani (jewel) of Maninagar, which makes me the mani of the whole state and if Gujarat is the mukut (crown) of the country, you have made me the mani of the entire country”. This ‘jewel of the entire country’ now aims at superseding Mr. L.K. Advani, nominated by the BJP in indecent haste as the Shadow Prime Minister of India. Mr. Venkaiah Naidu’s reassertion on December 27 that there is no rethink in the BJP on the issue speaks volumes. Now his Moditva or Hindutva 2.0 awaits a nation-wide launch in different ways: His philosophy “Hindus alone can bring development in Bharat” has the capacity to wreck India. This thesis has its roots in the literature of Mr. M.S. Golwalkar who had propounded the theory, “The Hindus alone, who are sons of the soil, can safeguard Bharat”: Mr. Modi uses words like “Gujarati” or the “Gujarati Hindus”. Obviously the “others” are who have “over-stayed the hospitality”. This is a wakeup call not for the Congress alone, not for the Muslim minority alone, but for entire plural nation.
The Congress, in its own longer interest, could do well to remember that incumbency is not always a defeat factor. Inefficiency and corruption lengthen the shadows. Development appeals every voter. If water, electricity, education and health care facilities are provided even by a devil, people would vote the devil to power. Caste does tilt the electoral balance in Bharat. But not always as we see in Gujarat.
The Congress should confidently accept the Moditva challenge in right earnest. It should be up now and doing. It should revive its cadre de novo, enthuse it and dispatch it to rural areas where the elections are due sooner or later. This cadre should strictly keep in mind all the moral scruples.
Secondly, the compulsions of politics demand it should postpone the idea of one-party rule, as articulated once again by Ms. Sonia Gandhi recently. There is a grain of Truth in the criticism that picture would have been different if the allies of the UPA had also campaigned in Gujarat. There should have been joint poll campaign as Me-alone-ism would not work.
Thirdly, its propensity for welcoming the rebels should be checked by the Congress leadership. Banking upon the popularity of the opponents of Mr. Modi was a mistake. In principle, the policy of “soft Hindutva” should be given up, once and for all. It is unethical and counter-productive. Fourthly, as hard line pays rich dividends, the Saffron parties may feel inclined to emulate their model Chief Minister example in the non-Congress States, the various minorities would be the direct target. The UPA-led Government should take note of the volatile nature of the events that may take place.
Fifthly and finally, the natural ally of the secular and socialist Congress is not, and cannot be, any Saffron party. Its natural ally is the Left or those who are avowedly non-sectarian. The Congress should not shirk its ideological and administrative responsibility by not launching a sustained struggle against the majority community people, involve in anti-Muslim pogroms, or by not punishing the criminals in such cases as we see in Maharashtra. For political support on various non-Left issue the Left should be taken into durable confidence. Now it is not only a political compulsion but a “must” for survival that all the secular parties come together and, without losing their respective identities, work together to keep the communal Frankenstein at a safer distance.