Gujarat Elections: The Larger Picture
By Nalini Taneja
This article was written a few days before the declaration of the election results in Gujarat.
Beyond the question of whether Narendra Modi and the BJP manage to hold on to the state or not, whether the Congress defeats the BJP in Gujarat—a matter of more than ordinary significance no doubt, and one that could hearten or dismay us a great deal—are issues that need to be pondered over before the election results are out.
Most newspaper columnists and political commentators, despite acute observations on the election campaign and the varied sounding but complementary motivations of the different sections of the Hindutva brigade, seem to have completely accepted the terms of debate set by these very same Hindutva forces by characterizing these elections as referendum on Hindutva politics. It is an extremely dangerous thing to do.
Should the elections and the outcome of the vote decide whether Modi’s rule is legitimate or not; whether the barbarism and the fascistic policies of the BJP state government were right or wrong? The present elections are being perceived as referendum within the Sangh Parivar in the context of dissensions within them, for example on whether riots and killings pay well enough or would it be in their interest to stick to the issue of mandir, and so on. It would be treading on dangerous ground for us to accept these terms of reference.
What if the BJP wins? Are we then, along with the BJP, to draw a lesson that communalism pays and is a good strategy for mobilizing votes? Are we to accept that communal mobilization is just one other form of legitimate mobilization that can be voted on by the people, and is to be decided on by the numbers? Is democracy only about numbers and electoral wins? Just about every other political grouping in this country except the Left would wean towards majoritarianism, were that to happen.
Besides, if the Congress wins in Gujarat would the scenario be very different at a national level? There is a need to ask that related question as well and on terms other than those set by the Congress itself, as representing secularism in the state. Regardless of who wins the elections, is the hard reality that the Gujarat elections should not have been held at all. Certainly not under the present political dispensation in the state, and in the present circumstances. The Modi government should have been dismissed first, and elections announced only after that, with return of some semblance of normalcy, when people are in a position to vote without fear or pressure. Such a situation does not exist today.
It is abdication of responsibility by the bourgeois parties who call themselves secular-most clearly by the Congress which constitutes the largest Opposition party- the President, and the political leadership of the NDA alliance, that has pushed the burden on the people of Gujarat to accomplish what should ordinarily have been achieved by our representatives in Parliament, or by the Supreme Court. The defenseless Muslims of Gujarat, already victims of a state sponsored genocide, are having to vote, at the risk of their lives, on their own right to life, in a country that boasts of being the world’s largest democracy. This is the real meaning of the elections in Gujarat.
More than 2 lakh of these Muslims remain displaced from the constituencies they are to exercise their vote in; many thousands more are terrorized; and if they vote at all, can only vote on this one point, very minimal, agenda of being allowed to stay alive by the government of the state. It is a measure of the strength of the right wing forces that the meaning of democracy has been reduced, for all practical purposes, to a “referendum” on this one point. But for us as well can the meaning of democracy be reduced to the outcome of an election held in this surcharged atmosphere?
Moreover, the elections are being held in circumstances where the two major competing forces in the state are going to people by resorting to the same majoritarian agenda, with differences merely in tone; one openly fascistic and transgressive of the Constitution, and the other representing a less impatient and more tolerant Hindutva majoritarianism. And it would not be out of place to mention here that before the rise of BJP the Congress too has successfully played the majoritarian card in Gujarat and given it legitimacy. Even during the recent communal killings the role of the Congress in Gujarat has been than disappointing. The Congress leadership in Gujarat did not try even to save its own former Parliamentarian, Ahsan Jaffri, from a murderous mob led by the Hindutva goons despite repeated appeals by him. The demolition of Wali Gujarati’s tomb by similarly affiliated goons was followed by a tractor squad under the leadership of the Congress local Corporator, who actually cleared off the rubble and facilitated the building of a pucca road to wipe out all traces of the tomb-all within the span of a single day. These two events reflect the political tragedy of Gujarat more than anything else.
This election has made the minorities almost invisible. The question being posed by the Congress in Gujarat often is whether the Hindutva strategy has been good for the development of the country, and the crores of loss apart from that suffered by the Muslims is faithfully computed and reproduced. Congress is on record as saying in Gujarat that while the minorities have lost their lives in Gujarat, it is the majority that has had its purse strings hit. The unstated implication is: if fascism does not hurt development it would not be objectionable. The Congress in Gujarat thinks that the ‘majority’ sentiments are inflamed beyond the pale of democratic political reasoning, and people should therefore be persuaded that communal accommodation is good for business and economy, and somehow cajoled into voting for a more sensible Hindu party, which is what it has always been in Gujarat.
It has brought forward in these elections a whole array of Hindu leaders, including hundreds of ‘sadhus’, and deliberately refrained from sending for campaign its important Muslim leaders like Salman Khurshid, Mohsina Kidwai and Margaret Alva. It has not given tickets to Muslims, and has bypassed many of its traditional representatives in favour of those who would make wooing of ‘Hindu’ vote easier. Like the BJP, the Congress too is using Sardar Patel as the main icon in the campaign, rather than Gandhi; and even Sonia, who has been emphasizing our pluralistic heritage elsewhere, is matching the BJP’s anti Pakistan rhetoric in Gujarat by thundering that it was the Congress leadership that gave a real bashing to Pakistan on the war front.
Issues of concern to people, tribals and dalits, the urban poor, the peasants and rural poor, who comprise both Hindus and Muslims, are barely part of this election. Kheda, where once a historic peasant agitation did the national movement proud is asked to choose between communal killings and a soft Hindutva that will allow the ruling class/caste combine to usher in globalisation policies ‘peacefully’. The Ahmedabad textile industry is in shambles, and the trade union movement in Gujarat never really recovered from the setback that the Congress and Gandhi’s opposition gave to it in the early decades of this century. As Mani Shankar Aiyar, an ideologue of the Congress, wrote in a column, the textile mills lie deserted, shut, creating a restless army of unemployed and unemployable, who are easy prey as cadres for Hindutva. With its factories shuttered and its power looms silenced, Ahmedabad wears the exhausted look of the Depression towns of Europe and the US and Japan in the thirties, which created the ground for Hitler and Mussolini, Franco and Tojo, he says. But does his party weave this simple logic into its electoral strategy? The Congress has let immediate tactics become an end in itself (which a whole lot of secular intelligentsia has too) when it looks for a ‘referendum’ that will allow for communal peace without redressal or even acknowledgement of the real causes of this desperate situation. It refuses to address the links between the successes of Hindutva and globalisation processes, and glosses over the threads that bind the ruling elite of Gujarat with divisive politics and a culture that draws from sectarianism rather than the pluralistic heritage of Gujarat.
Therefore, when the Hindutva forces spew rhetoric that links Congress victory with victory of Pakistan and likens Sonia Gandhi to Musharraf, Sonia and her party are not in a position to state that it is part of our foreign policy that we be friends with our neighbours. She says instead that it was Indira Gandhi who taught Pakistan a lesson not them. When Singhal and Togadia create a mix of terrorism, minorities, and threats to national security, the Congress points to BJP government ineffectiveness in ensuring national security. There is little attempt to change the terms of debate. The Congress, very much like the BJP has taken it for granted that the communal killings have brought the entire Muslim community within its fold like never before, and that while the Muslims are anyway voting for Congress, what needs to be wooed is the ‘Hindu’ vote. This represents the Congress strategy in Gujarat more than the stray speeches of Sonia Gandhi; and if things have come to such a pass secular recovery can only be slow, tenuous, painful and an incomplete process. The limits of bourgeois nationalism and bourgeois secularism in the era of globalisation and upsurge of right wing movements the world over have effected our largest secular opposition party as much as the regional bourgeois political groupings who constitute the NDA.
There is also the additional question; can we sanction a referendum on secularism, as long as secularism remains enshrined in our Constitution? Secularism needs to be imposed-- even if the majority votes against it; although whether it actually is or not is a matter of political will and alignment of political forces. That can be the only real meaning of democracy for us. So what exactly do the secular intelligentsia mean when they say that these elections will decide whether India will be ruled in accordance with the Constitution, or at variance with it? Does the Sangh Parivar at all respect the Constitution?
And finally, there is a need to give the Gujarat elections, however important they may be to us, the status of a state level election, which is what they are, if we are really serious about fighting the Hindutva forces not only at the national level, but also in the state. The BJP could just as well lose in Gujarat, as it has in so many other states; ultimately what will decide votes are just what mattered in other states. It lost UP despite mandir campaign, and it could lose Gujarat. It certainly would make a difference to secular forces if it did; but especially in the case of Gujarat electoral gains must not be confused with strategic political gains. This is a battle to make Modi and the Hindutva forces lose face, yet their clout will hardly diminish. Even Hitler claimed tohave arrived at power through the legitimate, electoral process. Therefore, even as we salute the brave people of Gujarat who are fighting Hindutva on the ground, let us not concede even theoretically that secularism is a matter for referendum. It is a constitutional obligation. Full stop
Courtesy: People's Democracy