The largest democracy in the world is at work again. Over 845 million voters are exercising their right of franchise one more time. The electoral exercise will continue till May 9. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Indian National Congress, and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are the major contenders for power. Congress has been in power many times since India gained independence. Over this period it lost some popular support and leaned on regional parties to help rule the country. When support from regional parties plummeted in 1998, a coalition led by the BJP emerged as the stronger and came to power in New Delhi that year. Its victory sparked a wave of anxiety amongst Muslims in India. Neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan and Bangladesh, felt concerned about their bilateral relations with India. The BJP is now poised to come to power again.
Why is the BJP creating anxiety at home and in neighbouring countries? No party or coalition of parties can govern a democratic country without the mandate of the people. From that perspective one wonders how a party with a convoluted record of intolerance to a 200 million strong minority population can secure a mandate from the electorate. The BJP came to prominence by whipping up religious sentiments among the population. It listed about 22 mosques that, according to its narrative, were built on the premises of temples. The Babri mosque was at the top of the list and the BJP resolved to demolish them. In December 1992, the BJP mobilised acolytes of its affiliated organisations, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Hindu Mahashaba and Shiv Sena in Ajodhya, and destroyed the Babri mosque. A few years prior to the demolition, the BJP led a long march towards the mosque but the coalition government led by Prime Minister (PM) V P Singh barred the mob from approaching the site. The BJP, in protest, moved a no-confidence motion in parliament. Congress, instead of extending support to the beleaguered government, played a squalid game of revenge against V P Singh and voted against the government. The BJP gained a moral victory.
The Babri mosque was demolished when Congress was in power in New Delhi. The major political parties extended full support to the government and authorised Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to take any measure deemed essential to protect the historic mosque, but they trusted a person with an ulterior motive. On the day of the demolition, Rao told his staff not to disturb him as he was engrossed in prayer. Reportedly, his prayers ended when someone whispered in his ears, “The job has been finished.” The nation was taken by surprise. President Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, in defiance of protocol, condemned the demolition of the mosque and said the nation had been betrayed. The government promised a new mosque would be built on the same premises very soon. However, today, 22 years after the demolition of the mosque, the temple remains and the promised mosque has not been built. Allegedly, BJP heavyweights, including L K Advani, Morli Monohor Joshi, Kalyan Singh and Narendra Modi orchestrated and oversaw the destruction of the mosque while Atal Behari Vajpayee was aware of the plan and PM Narasimha Rao of Congress was fully cognizant of it. Ten years later communal riots in Gujarat took place. Muslims were accused of setting fire to railway compartments packed with Hindu devotees returning from a religious site. Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat, incited the riot and ensured that the local administration provide all support. Thousands of Muslims were killed and thousands became homeless. Modi never apologised for the crime committed nor did he face judicial recourse. He is now projected as the prime minister to succeed Dr Manmohan Singh, an economist of international repute. What a travesty of justice and what beauty of secularism!
There are about 75 constituencies in India where Muslim electorates will play a decisive role in the election and the BJP seems worried on that score. Amit Shah, a confidant of Narendra Modi, declared in a public meeting in Uttar Pradesh (UP) that Muslims would be made to ‘pay a price’ for the outcome of the election. Giri Raj, another BJP stalwart, pointed a finger at the Muslim voters, stating that those who do not want Modi as PM should move to Pakistan. The BJP’s election manifesto emphasises rebuilding the Ram temple at the Ajodhya site. Poverty reduction, women’s empowerment, income inequality, human rights and global warming have not found prominence in the manifesto. While India hosts one third of the world’s poor, the BJP’s focus remains ‘temples over mosques’. The BJP’s manifesto and the conduct of its heavyweights underscore that the party does not believe in secularism. Instead, the party is committed to Hindutva, an absurd doctrine seeking the supremacy of Hinduism in socio-cultural and political philosophy. The BJP, in political terms, is not a political organisation; it is a socio-religious platform devoted to the promotion of Hindu culture and religion as opposed to Indian culture, literature and traditions.
Moderate Indians who believe in secularism, democracy and social justice are bound to feel embarrassed at the likely victory of the BJP. Indians have made great inroads in societies in North America and Europe. Hardly a university or a major seat of learning is found in the US, Canada or Europe where Indians do not serve with distinction. Their talents, commitment and modesty have earned them enough respect that many Indian scholars are employed by foreign governments in senior positions. After independence, highly educated persons with post-doctoral degrees were active in public life and some of them ascended to the highest positions in the country. In neighbouring countries, the highest positions were taken either by army generals or puppet politicians with little contribution to public service.
Veteran Journalist Kuldip Nayar, in a recent article, expressed concerns that Muslims in India feel insecure at the possible rise of the BJP to power. Statements by BJP heavyweights have made them concerned about their safety but the BJP is not the only outfit to blame for the neglect of Muslims. For a long time Muslims placed confidence in Congress who, in turn, drew dividends from the Muslim vote-bank but Congress never made serious attempts to enhance Muslim participation in public services or representation in the central and provincial legislatures. Muslims were let down by successive governments in New Delhi. Though they constitute 15 percent of the total population, their representation in government services remains disproportionately low. Their poor record in public services has disadvantaged them in their stand against the perpetrators of communal violence and in making demands for justice. Fundamentalism has made powerful inroads in Indian politics through the BJP. Secularism, once nurtured by Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and Maulana Azad, stands severely wounded in India today. Indians at home and abroad are visibly disconcerted at the resurgence of non-secular, backward looking and anachronistic political forces in the country.
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