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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 50, New Delhi, November 28, 2020

Shrinking Democratic Space and Electoral Choices | Ram Puniyani

Saturday 28 November 2020

by Ram Puniyani

From last three decades or so the debate comes up intermittently as to whether Congress and BJP are two sides of the same coin. Many political parties; time and over again; have been taking up this formulation as a justification for Third front, which is away from BJP and Congress both. In previous Bengal elections, Congress-Left coalition did come up but could not muster a victory against Trinmool Congress. Currently such a choice is posed by many Dalit parties and lately such a formulation is being proffered by AIMIM, Asaduddin Owaisi’s party.

After the Bihar Assembly elections, where the Mahagathbandhan, with RJD, 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 lockdown’, how could BJP led NDA win the elections. Most of the analysts have been pointing finger to AIMIM for the victory of NDA. Though exact analysis of seats shows that it might have directly benefitted on couple of seats for BJP, the deeper argument is that its entry into the electoral arena polarises the Hindu votes leading to BJP’s strength. While Asaduddin Owaisi raises the issues of the minority community in the language of 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 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 polarization, which RSS combine has built up through the issues like Ram Temple, Cow Protection, Love Jihad, Corona jihad and what have you. Asaduddin Owaisi correctly laments the marginalization 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 the parliament by Owassi, backed up by his media projection. He also most of the times; articulates the pain and anguish of Muslim community and his emotive responses like that on ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. His party men, who merrily make Hate speeches, are generally not so much grilled by large section of media. And third, this party is in a 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 condition has massively deteriorated. At superficial level Congress can be blamed, more riots took place in their rule, Babri mosque was demolished during their rule, they have been unable to halt the juggernaut of Modi-BJP-RSS. Shahbano verdict was overturned by Congress rule, Babri mosque locks were also opened during Congress rule is the stock criticism of 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 JP movement, and after Advani launched Ram Temple campaign, BJP got the platform which it needed to polarise and communalise. It is the communalisation by RSS combine which surely is the dominating factor of Indian politics from last few decades. It is this pressure due to which Rahul Gandhi declares himself as a janeu wearing Shiva Bahkt etc.

The other parties have also buckled by the massive communalization created by the emotive issues created through the vast network of organizations, pracharkas and swayamasevaks placed in different locations in civil, social and political spaces. Through a well knit organizational manoeuvre it has also erected and electoral machine which can pull its victory despite the massive sufferings wrought on poor people due to the policies of ruling BJP like the demonetization, Corona lockdown, selling of public sector to its favourite corporate sector among others.

A section of 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 the 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 Communal Violence Bill but could not succeed mainly due to it being opposed in National Integration Council and then in Parliament.

So today while blaming the formations like UPA, Congress etc., what is being put under the carpet is the rising tide of religious nationalism, which has been dividing the 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 Akbarudding Owaisi and Waris Pathan stop forthwith.

Just analysing matters at 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 Justice Sachar Committee report. The voices which think of 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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