Mainstream, VOL LII, No 17, April 19, 2014
Hate, Desperation Vitiated Our Campaigning: We Need to Worry about Our Tomorrows
Sunday 20 April 2014, by
By all accounts this election campaign has been shriller, more aggressive and more hate-filled than previous campaigns. There were excesses on all sides. All players seemed driven by a newfound desperation. The BJP, emboldened by popular disgust with the Congress as well as by the impact of a dramatic public speaker, was on a now-or-never drive. The Congress, saddled with a singularly undramatic leader-ship, was fighting with its back to the wall.
Provincial leaders, frantically seeking ways to convert their localised strength into national relevance, were straining to catch every straw in the wind. Where will these passions take us after the results are known? Despondency leading to adventurism among those who missed the bus? Brazenness among those who got past the post? Our tomorrows have never been more uncertain.
The hatreds that marked the campaign were the most worrying. For a while it looked as though the animosities would be confined to the Andhra region where opportunist politicians set brother against brother. But it did not take long for the familiar threat, communalism, to raise its head. Scholars tell us that communalism is not native to India, that co-existence and cooperation among communities were the norm in the land, visible to this day in sacred centres like Varanasi, Ajmer and Sabarimala. Wrote historian Bipin Chandra in his Communalism: A Primer: “Communalism was the false consciousness of the historical process of the last 150 years because, objectively, no real conflict between the interests of Hindus and Muslims existed.”
Don’t say that in UP which saw what was this season’s worst eruption of communalism. The Muzaffarnagar riot of August-September was an instigated one, as always. The embers of that fire never really died down because the State Government was seen as an instigator, not a healer. The ugliness of the confrontation peaked in the final stages of the campaign when the BJP’s flag-bearer in UP, Amit Shah, called upon Jats to “avenge” the humiliation they had suffered. It was an irresponsible statement by a politician known as a communalist and the Election Commission was forced to take cognisance of his violation of the code.
Other displays of the communal card seemed innocuous by comparison. Sonia Gandhi visiting the Shahi Imam was “rabid communalism”, as Narendra Modi put it. The rabidity no doubt increased as the Imam issued a public call to the faithful to vote for the Congress and ensure that secular votes were not divided. Narendra Modi, for his part, filled his Varanasi rally with symbolisms of the unmistakable kind. The backdrop on the dais was decorated with pictures of temples and the revered Dashash-wamedh Ghat. Three replicas of Kashi Vishwanath Temple stood out. Auspicious conch-shells blew as Modi climbed the steps to the stage and he began with words calculated to stir devotional sentiments: “I have come from the land of Somnath to seek the blessings of Baba Vishwanath.” Bollywood’s best screenplay- writer could not have put it better.
After such a show, the BJP’s manifesto proclamation to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya looked like an anticlimax. Even Acharya Satyendra Das, head priest of the makeshift Ram Janmabhoomi temple, said it was wrong to link the Ram Mandir to elections. Mahant Damodar Das, priest of the Hanuman-garhi temple, said politicians were fuelling an old issue “just for political gain”. Obviously Ayodhya is not meant for Ayodhyans; it is a tool of politics.
Like God himself. Nineteenth century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous proclamation that “God is dead. God remains dead” only applied to Europe. In our parts God was ever on the ascendance. But let’s not forget that Nietzsche had seen the Catholic Church’s dictatorial political rule in Europe. That gave him a perspective that was universal.
“Those who once filled the ranks of the totalitarian clergy would become totalitarian politicians. The will to power would produce a new kind of messiah, uninhibited by any religious sanctions whatever, and with an unappeasable appetite for controlling mankind. The end of the old order... was a summons to such gangster-statesman to emerge”.
How did he know so much about us?