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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 1 New Delhi December 26, 2015

Primary Task Today

Saturday 26 December 2015, by SC

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As the year comes to an end with Mainstream entering its fiftyfourth year, one is reminded of what was written in these very columns a year ago.

Surveying the political scenario of the nation at the end of 2014, it was noted in this journal’s Annual Number last year:

Seven months ago the outcome of the 16th Lok Sabha elections resulted in a political earthquake the tremors of which are still being felt even if the intensity of those tremors has lessened with the passage of time. The coming to power at the Centre of the BJP in a decisive mandate with one party securing absolute majority in the Lower House of Parliament found many among the middle classes hailing the unfractured verdict especially when the newly elected ruling party was headed by a leader as strong, powerful and focussed as Narendra Modi who had sought public support during his election campaign on the twin planks of ‘development’ and ‘governance’ in order to build what he called a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. However, those with foresight and endowed with the capacity to analyse the BJP/RSS’ motivations and objectives were certain that these planks were actually intended to deceive the gullible and hoodwink the bulk of the electorate.

It would be unfair to make a comprehensive assessment of the Narendra Modi Government since it has been in power for just seven months. Yet the symptoms are already there—the spate of communal riots in UP owe their origin largely to BJP President Amit Shah’s policy of effecting communal polarisation in order to garner votes for the party in the elecitons; the project of saffronisation of education has begun in right earnest with pro-Sangh scholars expressing their preposterous views while assailing distinguished academics of international eminence not prepared to accept the former’s opinins bordering on the absurd; the concerted drives against love Jihad in the first instance and subsequently for reconversion of minorities to Hinduism in the name of the so-called gharwapsi that has incensed the Opposition reflecting the public outrage outside Parliament (the Upper House of the national legislature has been rocked and continually disrupted in the winter session on this vital issue as the PM was not forthcoming in issuing a firm assurance that such incidents won’t recur in the short or long run).

The year, that is, 2015, that has gone by bears testimony to the reinforcement of the trend manifest in 2014. Several incidents took place strengthening the view that with Narendra Modi’s assumption to power majoritarian communalism has definitely gone on the offensive with the hapless minorities being the worst victims. This was best manifest in the brutal lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq at Dadri, near the national Capital, merely on the suspicion that he had stored beef in the fridge at his residence. This was not a stray incident. The murder of eminent rationalists—Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi—constituted a vile attempt by the majoritarian fascists to silence the voice of such personalities who were not prepared to submit to the whims of the irrational obscurantists steeped in dogmatism of the religious brand. These killings clearly pointed to these elements having drawn sustenance and received encouragement from leading figures of the Narendra Modi dispensation.

The natural outcome of such developments (as also the anti-minority riots as in UP) was a growing sense of insecurity among the minorities in general. This was effectively articulated by superstar Aamir Khan at a gathering of the elite in Mumbai: he confessed, in utter frankness, that his wife had asked him some days ago if it would not be worthwhile to at least think of migrating to some other place, in the wake of the recent incidents of intolerance and violence against minorities, for the sake of their son. Instead of trying to understand and comprehend the pain of the actor inherent in his candid statement and seeking to soothe his hurt sentiments, the BJP-RSS stalwarts now in power trageted him for his utterances which, in their view, would tarnish the image of India in the comity of nations.

Against such a backdrop prominent writers, artists, scholars, scientists, film-makers—recipients of awards for their creative work and acheivements—have come forward to return those awards as a token of their protest against acts of intolerance and violence as mirrored in the Dadri mob-lynching episode as well as the wanton killing of renowned rationalists. They have been subjected to vicious verbal assauts by the Sangh Parivar constituents with the RSS taking the lead in such onslaughts.

All these developments, which have punctuated the political scene of 2015, pose a distinct threat to the idea of India as all of us have known it since the dawn of our independence.

However, this is not the only feature of this year.

One of the most striking events of 2015 was the outcome of the Bihar elections. These elections saw the total rout of the BJP-led NDA coalition which was literally humiliated in the State despite PM Narendra Modi having undertaken a whirlwind tour of Bihar and addressed a record number of election rallies which were largely attended. Whereas the mahagathbandhan (or ‘grand alliance’) of the JD(U), RJD and Congress won the lion’s share of 178 of the 243 seats in the State Assembly, the NDA had to be content with a paltry 58 while the others (including the Left) bagged only seven seats. It was indeed a moral defeat for the PM (which somenow he did not acknowledge in so many words). Actually this was the second major setback for the ruling coalition at the Centre, especially the BJP, the first having been in February this year at Delhi where the BJP could bag a mere three seats in the State Assembly having conceded defeat in all the remaining 67 seats to the Aam Aadmi Party notwithstanding Modi’s personal campaign. But politically Bihar is far more important than Delhi and here the BJP had won a thumping victory in the Lok Sabha polls only in May 2014. In that sense it can be stated that the electorate of Bihar, under CM Nitish Kumar’s dynamic leadership (with the unstinted support of former CM Laloo Prasad Yadav and the Congress acting as the cohesive force in the mahagathbandhan), has been able to halt the Modi juggernaut. This is of phenomenal significance because if the reverse, that is, the BJP-led alliance’s triumph, had happened in Bihar, that would have made Modi and the majoritarian communalists enjoying his patronage unstoppable.

Even if he did not publicly concede his humiliation in the State, since the Bihar election results Modi’s utterances have undergone a perceptible change both at home and abroad and he is now bending over backwards to convey that he is not what his detractors are attempting to show him to be. But this is just a tactical move on his part. At least that is the dominant impression of secular democrats of all hues.

However, there is no gainsaying that the Bihar results have also forced Modi to change his policy-course with regard to Pakistan. This is evident from the latest positive turn in India-Pakistan ties. This is doubtless a welcome sign that merits wholehearted acclaim.

Nevertheless, what is undeniable is the fact that Bihar has established that if all the secular parties unite in the electoral battlefield, they can defeat the Modi-Shah duo that is in no way invincible. The Bihar victory of the Nitish-led combination is all the more noteworthy as there was a deliberate move by the SP and its allies (including the NCP), MIM leader Owaisi as also the Left consolidation [of the CPI-ML (Liberation), CPI and CPM] to split the secular votes. Thankfully the disruptors’ attempt in this regard has been thwarted by the enlightened voters of Bihar who have shown them their place. In future one hopes that all the them would be able to draw proper lessons from the Bihar verdict.

Precisely this is what was underlined in these columns a year ago:

... it is increasingly becoming as clear as daylight that if the juggernaut of the BJP/RSS dispensation headed by Narendra Modi and his Sancho Panza, Amit Shah, is to be halted in its tracks there is no alternative but for the secular democratic forces across the nation (including those of the Left) to unite to save the country from the depredations of the Sangh Parivar which now claims to control the levers of power in governance. This effort doesn’t brook the slightest delay. And as in the past, Mainstream reaffirms its resolve to extend full support and help to this endeavour to the best of its ability.

In the first issue of this journal (which came out in September 1, 1962) it was pointed out in the editorial that “it shall be our endeavour to try relentlessly to demolish the wall of misundersanding, mutual suspicion and even personal pique that divides progressive sections in the country from one another”.

That remains the policy-perspective of this periodical even today.

In fact when dark clouds of uncertainty and chaos are hovering over the Indian horizon with the setting turning ominous as never before, that policy-perspective assumes greater significance than at any time in the past.

At the end of 2015, with the import of the Bihar election results fresh in our minds, we can only reaffirm the pledge to defeat the fissiparous forces unleashed by the Modi dispensation by repeating those lines.

Let it be abundantly clear: the primary task today is to defend, protect and preserve with all our strength the idea of India still under threat from the majoritarian offensive of those in power.

December 21 S.C.