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Year 2002, No 5
A Decade of Reaction
By Prabhat Patnaik
Gujarat Elections: The Larger Picture
By Nalini Taneja
The making of a Fanatic
By Jeremy Seabrook
Diversity in South Asian Islam
By Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Limits of Tolerance
Prospects of Secularism in India after Gujarat
By Dipankar Gupta
No Honour in These Killings
By Kalpana Sharma
Communalisation of Public Discourse
By KN Panikkar
Pakistan Varsity Teachers Against Proposed 'Reforms'
By Riaz Ahmed
A Plea for New Politics
On Aijaz Ahmad's new book 'Communalism and Globalization'
By Yoginder Sikand
Bangladesh and Its Nationalism
Ranabir Samaddar's new book
By Mubarak Ali
BJP is Subverting India's Constitution
By Nilotpal Basu
On the Tenth Anniversary of Ayodhya
By Vijay Prashad
After Gujarat
By Radhika Desai
Doubly Alienated Muslims
By Anand Chakravarti
Gujarat Violence
By Alaknanda Patel
Togadia of VHP in His Own Words
By Neena Vyas
Of Two Manifestos in Gujarat
By Anjali Mody
Of Two Manifestos in Gujarat

This piece, written before the elections in Gujarat, tells the story of the Great Dilemma of the Congressman and of the battle between the deep saffron of BJP-VHP and the light saffron of the Congress.

The Congress' man in Maninagar is Yatin Oza, who not very long ago was with the BJP and twice sat in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly as a BJP MLA. Mr. Oza, whose roots were (are?) firmly in the RSS, is seeking election claiming the mantle of Hindu leader for himself and his new party. The BJP's inability to build a Ram temple at Ayodhya is his favourite example of their inability to deliver on election promises. And yet, in the unlikely event that he defeats the BJP's candidate from Maninagar, Narendra Modi, Mr. Oza will be a hero to many and the cause of celebration inside and outside the State.

This is one of the ironies of democratic politics in India, where ideological lines are fuzzy, political memory short and the liberal intelligentsia, crowded out by a relentless right wing juggernaut, is content to clutch at straws. The Assembly election in Gujarat, many believe, is a battle for the soul of India. It is no such thing. It is a just a battle for political power. The BJP is fighting to keep a hold on the only state it still controls and the Congress is fighting to confirm its claim of regional domination.

Nothing puts this in clearer perspective than the two men leading the charge from either side. Narendra Modi and Shankarsinh Waghela are drawn from the same pool. Mr. Waghela is in the Congress because he was squeezed out by the BJP. For him this battle is not about souls, but about seats. In fact, Waghela's Congress has had its eye on the election from the moment the violence began, just as Modi's BJP did. The Congress in Gujarat accepted the principle that communal violence was good for the BJP's electoral prospects and chose to lie low. Even as the violence continued into the second and third months it gave no hint of political courage. Its strategy was to not be seen supporting the victims of violence. After all, the majority of voters in Gujarat are Hindu. And the Congress' strategy of silence would also lead us to believe that they are all Hindus from the Sangh Parivar's laboratory < violent, bigoted and Muslim hating.

So the Congress did very little relief work among the victims of violence and what little it did was done under cover. Congress MLAs resisted visiting relief camps and when they did visit they did their best to keep it from the media. Any acts of political decency were left to the party's central leadership. Sonia Gandhi visited relief camps, spoke to the victims and even petitioned the Prime Minister on their behalf. Mr. Waghela, however, only met with them many months later in New Delhi and only after they had met the President. The same division of labour was visible in the election campaign. Ms. Gandhi addresses election rallies talking of the culture of compassion and service. In New Delhi, her stature as a national leader grows. But in the bylanes of Rajkot and Ahmedabad, the likes of Yatin Oza talk of building a Ram temple, and closing down madrassas. And to ensure that its image as a pro-Hindu party is not in question, the Congress nominated just four Muslims as candidates in this election; one in a Muslim majority area and at least two in constituencies the Congress is unlikely to win.

The party's two election manifestos (yes, it has two) complete the picture. The one in English is full of high-sounding words about secularism and the soul of India. It promises a white paper on the Godhra episode and the role of the BJP Government in it. It describes the Assembly election as a battle for the soul of India with the "forces of narrow-minded communalism" ranged on one side and the "forces of secularism" on the other. It says that secularism is the "bedrock of our nationhood" and that what is being fought over in Gujarat is the "nationhood of India" and "preservation of a heritage to which all communities of India have contributed." The manifesto says that the Congress is the inheritor of Mohandas Gandhi's mantle and the BJP that of his assassins.

But the Gujarati version of the manifesto has no space for secularism, the ideas of nationhood or even for denunciations of the Congress' chief opponent that the English one has. This seems to suggest that Waghela's Congress have accepted the BJP's formulation that concern for India's secular Constitution is restricted to a rump of English speakers, some, no doubt, among its party members. What is terrifying about this hamhanded piece of political cynicism is the assumption that the English speaking/English reading class can be silenced with words. And, that the Congress' claim to inheriting the legacy of independence can be sustained through a linguistically targeted text.

It would be facile to suggest that the Congress and the BJP are the same creature. But, while the BJP actively pursues an ideological agenda, the Congress has reduced its own to context-free slogans. If those whose hopes are riding on a Congress victory expect justice, and through it the restitution of the constitutionally guaranteed rights life and liberty of all Indians, then they will be disappointed. For, there is nothing in the Congress' record to suggest that once in power it will make such a course of action a priority.

In Mumbai, ten years after the 1992-93 riots in which over 1,700 people were killed, the policemen, political leaders and thugs involved in the violence are still free. The Congress fought an election promising, among other things, justice for the victims of the riots. It said that it would act on the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice B.N. Srikrishna. The Commission's report was published in 1998. Two and half years after it came to power the Congress-led government in Maharashtra has shown that the only use it has for the Commission's report is as a weapon against its political opponents.

Eighteen years after the massacre of nearly 3,000 Sikhs in New Delhi, the Congress politicians who led the mobs are still free. The Congress, in fact, took more than 10 years to even consider keeping these men out of mainstream electoral politics, and then only in order to deny their political opponents a stick to beat them with. Senior Congress leaders have shown that truth and conviction do not count in the electoral fray. Even Manmohan Singh, in his one abortive election effort, claimed that the Congress nothing to do with the massacre of 1984.

And so, we weigh what we stand to win or lose on December 12. A BJP victory will mean a victory for the politics of hate and for a political party which has set itself up as a challenge to the principles of nationhood laid down in the Constitution. A Congress win will offer respite. An absence of violence. But hardly much more than that. The fact is that after six months of violence Gujarat needs a respite. India also needs a chance to prove to itself and the world that a Government complicit in the murder of its citizens can democratically be evicted from power. But all that Gujarat has to choose between is a party that peddles hates as an ideological weapon and another that offers no challenge to it.

Courtesy: The Hindu

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