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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 8, February 15, 2014

Communalism will be the Poll Plank

Monday 17 February 2014, by Kuldip Nayar

The Congress is a late starter. It firmed up its campaign for the April-May parliamentary elections only two months ago. The party was complacent till it was woken up by the dismal defeats in four of the five States during the Assembly polls.

The surveys conducted by different media hands confirm the drubbing which the Congress is all set to receive in the 2014 general elections. The predictions are that it may not even reach three-digit figures. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, appointed as the head of the election strategy, was a disaster in a television interview. He made little difference because he repeated the clichés that the Congress has been harping on endlessly. He has unnecessarily revived the controversy of the 1984 massacre.

It looked from some of his recent speeches that as if he has changed in tone and tenor, tearing a leaf out of the Aam Aadmi Party’s book and talking about the participatory democratic state. He has very little time between now and the polls. Even otherwise, he could not revive the sagging fortunes of the Congress, first in UP and Bihar and, more recently, in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and, finally, in Delhi.

It would not be fair to put the blame entirely on Rahul Gandhi. The fault is the non-performance of the Congress-led government at the Centre. A decade is a long enough period to make a dent into the country’s chronic problems of poverty, unemployment and disparities. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a well-known economist, has turned out to be an astute politician. His forte does not seem to be economics but political manoeuvres. History may be charitable and infer Manmohan Singh as only the stalking horse. He should have quit in protest against the imposition of certain decisions on him. Yet, not even once did he offer his resignation. The real power was concen-trated at 10 Janpath, where Sonia Gandhi and her son lived. She could have become the Prime Minister in the Congress’ second term in 2009 but Sonia Gandhi did not want to revive the controversy of being Indian. Moreover, she wanted Rahul Gandhi to occupy the chair. Her thinking was that it would be taken as a dynastic succession. Rahul Gandhi has built up the young cadre in the party. This was his plus point.

The biggest problem that the Congress faces is to explain the scams which took place during its regime. Corruption is palpable in the Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum regarding mobiles and the allotment of coal blocks. The Prime Minister cannot shrug his shoulders and say that he did not know about them because the PMO had approved all the deals.

The Congress cadres are belatedly beginning to become active, yet their predicament is how to rationalise the corrupt deeds and non-gover-nance. No doubt, Rahul, a young face, is at the helm of party’s affairs. But the declaration that he was the party’s candidate for the prime ministerial position could have helped to some extent. However, it would have been undemo-cratic to name him before the elected candidates chose their parliamentary party leader.

In contrast, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) straightaway nominated Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the office of the Prime Minister. The RSS, the party’s mentor, insisted on it. Whatever the compulsions, the BJP has imposed Modi on the MPs who are yet to be elected. They have no other choice. Probably, the BJP high command believes that Modi’s nomination itself will get it more seats. The calculation may turn out to be correct. Yet there is no running away from the fact that the procedure adopted to name the prime ministerial candidate smacks of autocracy.

Indeed, Modi has drawn crowds even in the South where the BJP has very little base. His appeal in the Hindi-speaking States has been astounding. Still the argument that he has peaked too early has a ring of truth. Modi has had thin crowds when he visited a State for the second time. His slogan of development does not hide his saffron plan to polarise the society.

The analysis of the last six speeches by Modi and Rahul shows that both are playing with the emotions of people in the name of the country’s unity. The two are targeting corruption without realising that they are making no impact on the voters who believe that both are hiding corruption of their respective parties. The difference between the two is on secularism. Modi avoids discussions on the subject and says that the development is inclusive. Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, underlines that secularism is the country’s ethos.

Modi is invoking the name of Sardar Patel and Rahul both Jawaharlal Nehru and Mrs Indira Gandhi, staying within the dynasty. If Rahul was serious on corruption he should have taken up some of the scams with the Prime Minister. Coming back to Patel, he was a strong personality but his image was that of being anti-Muslim. By installing a tall statute of Sardar Patel in Ahmedabad, Modi is only playing the communal card. Both Nehru and Patel were Mahatma Gandhi’s lieutenants and the picture of those days shows them on either side of the Mahatma.

Why the Mahatma named Nehru as his successor was the image the latter projected of being a national and international figure. Nehru never deviated from the path of secularism which the Mahatma infused in the nation. Patel did say during the migration following partition that the Muslims will be pushed out of India in proportion to the Hindus ousted from Pakistan.

There is no doubt that the BJP will emerge as the single largest party. Even then Modi’s ambition to become the Prime Minister may elude him. Imagining that his party on its own gets 200 seats, it still will have to muster another 72 to give him an absolute majority. Then a more acceptable face to placate the supporting parties may become inevitable. The federal front which is being riveted by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar may become relevant at that time.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com