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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 47 New Delhi, November 14, 2015

A Victory For Secularism

Monday 16 November 2015, by Bharat Dogra

Trust the Indian voters to protect the basic constitutional principles whenever these are most threatened. This time it was the turn of the politically alert Bihar voter to intervene on behalf of the cherished heritage of social harmony and based on it the constitutional principles of equality for all religious communities as well as secularism.

Certainly other issues, including those related to development, issues were also important and the Nitish Government has a good record on this. But compared to most State Assembly elections, this time national issues got more importance in Bihar—and at the national level it is the damage being done to the basic constitutional precept of secularism and the heritage of harmony which is the most important issue just now.

So while Bihar’s politically alert voters exercised their vote in favour of the development record of the Nitish Government, they also gave a protest vote against the sectarianism and communalism of the Union Government and the Sangh Parivar.

Actually the verdict in favour of the Grand Secular Alliance and against the NDA is much higher than what is indicated by the actual count of votes. Firstly, the votes which went to the Left Front alliance and some marginal players are also basically anti-BJP votes. Secondly, the NDA had been able to rope in pro-minent Dalit leaders who were able to provide the Alliance a part of the Dalit vote which normally would have gone to the Grand Secular Alliance. The Congress made a good contribution by playing its role in keeping with its national priorities—a role of strengthening the opposition to an assault on the secular fabric which binds the nation and its many diversities.

The BJP refused to learn some clear practical lessons which had emerged from its earlier debacle in the Delhi Assembly elections. One lesson was that the people do not like the dignity of the Prime Minister of India to be marred by street-level election fights and offensive rhetoric. Secondly, what the Delhi elections had revealed was that when a leader is genuinely popular (like Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi and Nitish Kumar in Bihar) people are very upset if huge money is squandered on high-voltage campaigns against such popular leaders. People are hurt and their determination to support the leader they like is strengthened and not weakened by such unsavoury campaigns. Thus campaigns, which were launched by the BJP in very poor taste against first Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi and more recently against Nitish Kumar in Bihar, backfired and ended up harming the BJP.

One hopes that the BJP learns its most important lesson from this election—which is to respect the essential secular principles of the Constitution and its Preamble and to take action against those of its foot-soldiers who insist on violating the principles of secularism and social harmony endlessly. One sincerely hopes that this lesson will be learnt in the larger national interest and even the larger interests of humanity.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.