Shrinking Democratic Space and Electoral Choices

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Though an exact analysis of seats shows that it might have directly benefited BJP on a couple of seats, the deeper argument is that its entry into the electoral arena polarises the Hindu votes leading to BJP’s strength

PROF RAM PUNIYANI | Clarion India

FOR the last three decades or so, the debate has come up intermittently as to whether the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are two sides of the same coin. Many political parties, time and again, have been taking up this formulation as a justification for a Third Front, which is away from both BJP and the Congress.

In previous West Bengal assembly elections, the Congress-Left coalition did come up but could not muster a victory against the Trinmool Congress. Currently, such a choice is posed by many Dalit parties and, lately, such a formulation is being proffered by the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), Asaduddin Owaisi’s party.

After the Bihar assembly elections, where the Mahagathbandhan, with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress in the lead, was defeated by a narrow margin, the analysts are trying to grapple as to how, despite massive rallies of RJD and despite the horrendous suffering of average people due to the ‘four-hour notice corona lock-down’, BJP could lead NDA to victory in the elections.

Most of the analysts have been pointing fingers to AIMIM for the victory of NDA. Though an exact analysis of seats shows that it might have directly benefited BJP on a couple of seats, the deeper argument is that its entry into the electoral arena polarises the Hindu votes leading to BJP’s strength. While Asaduddin raises the issues of the minority community in the language of the Constitution, his younger brother and others from his party make statements which are divisive and communal.

The infamous speech of Akbaruddin Owaisi about the minority Muslims being able to deal with the majority if the police force is removed from the scene, is one example. This speech was widely circulated through social media, and RSS combine forces used it extensively to build their vote banks. This polarization supplements the polarisation which the RSS combine has built up through the issues like the Ram Temple, cow protection, love jihadcorona jihad and what have you.

Owaisi correctly laments the marginalisation of Muslims in the political sphere of the country; he outlines the declining social situation of the community. In an upright manner, he is able to woo over the sections of the community with these arguments supplemented by the provocative statement that even if a sword is put on his neck, he will not utter ‘Bharat mata Ki Jai’. One of his MLAs refused to utter the word Hindustan.

There are three-layer operations by this party. First is the significant presence in Parliament by Owaisi, backed up by his media projection. He also most of the times articulates the pain and anguish of Muslim community and his emotive responses are like that on ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. 

His partymen, who merrily make hate speeches, are generally not so much grilled by large sections of the media. And the third, this party is in continuous attempt, from Maharashtra (with Prakash Ambedkar), in Jharkhand, and in Bihar (with Mayawati and Kushwaha), where focus is mainly on constituencies where Congress allies can be weakened by splitting of votes.

One has to concede that the Muslims’ political and social conditions have massively deteriorated. At the superficial level, the Congress can be blamed; more riots took place in its rule, the Babri mosque was demolished during its rule; the party has been unable to halt the juggernaut of Modi-BJP-RSS. The Shah Bano verdict was overturned by the Congress rule, Babri mosque locks were also opened during the Congress rule, so on and so forth is the stock criticism of the Congress to assert that what BJP does during the day Congress does during the night.

This is as superficial as it can get. After RSS gained legitimacy by joining the JP movement, and after L K Advani launched the Ram Temple campaign, BJP got the platform which it needed to polarise and communalise. It is the communalisation by the RSS combine which surely is the dominating factor of Indian politics for the last few decades. It is this pressure due to which Rahul Gandhi declares himself as a janeu (sacred thread)-wearing Shiva Bhakt, etc.

The other parties have also buckled by the massive communalisation created by the emotive issues created through the vast network of organisations, pracharaks and swayamsevaks placed in different locations in civil, social and political spaces. Through a well-knit organisational manoeuvre, it has also erected an electoral machine which can pull its victory despite the massive sufferings wrought on poor people due to the policies of the ruling BJP like demonetisation, corona lockdown, selling of public sector to its favourite corporate sector, among others.

A section of the Muslim community does tend to support orthodox elements due to the insecurity created by communal violence. This violence has been orchestrated due to the deliberate spread of misconceptions and hate against Muslims and lately against Christians. It is in this background of deep influence of sectarian nationalism that we need to evaluate the likes of UPA.

UPA did appoint Sachar Committee but could not implement it mainly due to massive opposition to it. UPA wanted to bring in the Communal violence Bill but could not succeed mainly due to it being opposed in the National Integration Council and then in Parliament.

So, today, while blaming the formations like UPA, the Congress etc., what is being put under the carpet is the rising tide of religious nationalism which has been dividing society along religious lines. The need is to articulate the problems of religious minorities without emotive provocations. The need is that the communal utterances from the likes of Akbaruddin Owaisi and Waris Pathan stop forthwith.

Just analysing matters at the obvious level is not going to change the situation. We need to see the tide of communalism which cannot be shaken easily. We need to strengthen the voices which uphold pluralism and which think of the Justice Sachar Committee report.

The voices which think of a Bill against communal violence need to be strengthened. Any step which increases the electoral strength of BJP and its allies in NDA harms the interests of democracy. If BJP cannot be defeated by party A or B, an alliance based on pluralism and democracy has the potential to do so. While strengthening one’s political hold, if BJP gets strengthened, it is against the interests of democracy. 

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Ram Puniyani is an eminent author, activist and former professor of IIT Mumbai. The views are personal and Clarion India does not necessarily share or subscribe to them.

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