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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 16, April 12, 2014

Communal Polarisation Scales New Heights

Saturday 12 April 2014, by SC

EDITORIAL

Election fever has gripped the country.

Today was the third phase of polling for the 16th Lok Sabha. In this phase, moderate to brisk voting took place in 91 constituencies spread over 11 States (including Delhi) and three Union Territories. The polling was by and large peaceful except some stray incidents.

Meanwhile the day the first phase of voting began, that is, April 7, the BJP came out with its Election Manifesto. The three contentious issues of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, Uniform Civil Code and Article 370 [which were left out of the purview of the NDA’s National Agenda for Governance in order to ensure smooth functioning of the ruling coalition at the Centre for six years (1998-2004) under A.B. Vajpayee] have been predictably included in the manifesto.

As for the rest of the manifesto, there are striking similarities with the Congress manifesto despite some differences (like the BJP’s opposition to FDI in multi-brand retail). As The Indian Express maintains, the manifesto “is the vision of an establishment party, one that shares more with the ruling UPA than either formation would like to acknowledge”. This is buttressed by the enthusiastic welcome to the manifesto from noted corporate honchos.

However, notwithstanding the BJP and its prime ministerial aspirant’s tall talk of development, as exemplified in the manifesto, Narendra Modi’s trusted aide now in charge of organising the party in the elections in UP, Amit Shah, whose role in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom has been under judicial scrutiny (for which reason he was convicted as well), has spilled the beans. He has raised the level of communal polarisation to new heights by calling for “revenge” at a meeting of Jats in Muzaffar-nagar—“We (Hindus) have been treated as second-class citizens... This is the time to avenge the insult meted out to our community... We must seek revenge for the insult heaped on us.” Prominent journalist and commentator Siddharth Varadarajan, now a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, New Delhi, perceptively observes in an article in The Indian Express:

Let us be clear: Shah has indulged in blatant communal politics. His behaviour raises the possibility that Modi’s talk of development is aimed at bringing first-time voters into the BJP’s fold, while hate remains a key message for mobilising its traditional bank. The irony is that in Muzaffarnagar, Shah resorted to some fear-mongering about Hindus being turned into second-class citizens in order to garner support. The core BJP voter has no such concern. “Modi’s appeal lies in the fact that only he can make Muslims second-class citizens,” the president of the Kanyakubj Brahmin Samaj told a national daily on March 12. “That is our primary aim right now.”

All this has generated sharp reactions from the BJP’s political opponents. It is in this context that SP leader Azam Khan’s outbursts on the positive role of Muslim Armymen as compared to the Hindus in the armed forces in ensuring success in the Kargil war of 1999 have evoked strong criticism of dividing the Army on communal lines. Of course Azam Khan’s contentions are unacceptable and condemnable; but the fact is that the BJP, and Amit Shah in particular, must be held responsible for triggering such a division.

Yes, India needs a change but not the kind of ‘change’ that the Amit Shahs of the BJP are trying to bring about. And this is all the more reason why Narendra Modi should not be allowed to assume the office of the PM of such a vast multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation as ours. For, Modi remains the real source of strength for Shah and those of his ilk.

April 10 S.C.