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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 14 New Delhi March 23, 2019

Elections 2019: India at Crossroads

Saturday 23 March 2019

by Ram Puniyani

Elections in a democracy can rightly be called a festival of the masses. They determine the course of the country in times to come. That is generally the case and Indian democracy has been steering this path, deepening the democratic process so far. It is not that there are no problems. Many issues related to money power, muscle power, EVM machines’ reliability have marred the objectivity of the process. A newer dimension to the hindrance in the march towards a substantive democratic society has been intensified during the last close to five years. That factor relates to the division of society along religious lines, undermining the democratic process by blatant abuse of power to browbeat the religious minorities. The guardian of democracy, the Indian Constitution, has been challenged and opposed bluntly by the forces which resort to politics in the name of religious identity, namely, by using identity issues related to Hinduism. In last five years the Modi regime has alerted, frightened and shaken various sections of society for different reasons.

The large section of population—which voted for him in the hope of Acche Din (good days), Rs 15 lakhs in accounts of everyone, end of corruption, control over price rise, strengthening of the rupee vis-a-vis the dollar, creation of employment, and minimum support price for farmers—has been totally disillusioned and is suffering the pangs of joblessness and agrarian crisis. Rising prices have broken the back of the average sections of society. The fragmented Opposition has realised the folly of disunity and serious, though not totally successful efforts, are going on to forge Opposition unity. The Opposition has realised the major reason for Modi’s victory, apart from the massive propaganda and corporate funding, has been the fragmented Opposition. While a lot more is expected from the Opposition to forge a minimum programme, sharpening the focus of people’s issues, whatever little has been achieved so far is likely to become stronger as the elections come knocking on our doors.

Modi and company have driven a serious wedge in the unity of the country. The issue of Ram temple, ghar wapasi,love-Jihad and finally cow-beef have seriously affected the fraternity of Indians, which is the foundation of our secular democracy. The pluralism, which had been the backbone of the Indian freedom struggle and the underlining point of our Constitution has been attacked recklessly by the ruling government. While the BJP has driven its agenda hard, its allies, enjoying the perks of power have quietly acquiesced in the BJP agenda.

Modi’s rise to power began after the Godhra train burning issue was politicised, communalised and made the pretext of unleashing a carnage in the State. This polarisation gave bigger electoral support to the BJP in the elections that followed. After this Modi switched the language and started talking of Vikas (development). For him Vikas is synonymous with giving blank chits to his capitalist hangers-on. Capitalists reaped rich dividends and started asserting that Modi should be the next Prime Minster. The RSS, the BJP’s parent organisation, played its card with deftness and put in lakhs of its swayamsevaks/pracharaks to ensure the victory of Modi. This was the first time that the BJP crossed the Rubicon of simple majority and along with pliant power-hungry associates unleashed the agenda of the RSS combine, the agenda of Hindu nationalism. Kashmir became a real estate issue more than before. The so-called fringe elements, the essential part of ‘division of labour’ of the RSS combine, started ruling the streets and lynching became the dominant part of the politics of the Modi combine. The intimidation of religious minorities did get accompanied by the attacks on Dalits and the insecurity of women increased. The farmers, totally neglected by the corporate-oriented politics of the BJP, started protesting time and again, but to no avail of course. Their dissatisfaction is simmering and adding on to the disquiet among other sections of society. With all this put together the electoral surveys started revealing the defeat of the BJP.

Here comes in the terrorist attack in Pulwama, which is being milked by the ruling regime to gain electoral advantage. The BJP is projecting the actions of the Army as the achievement of Modi-BJP. The BJP, which came to power last time on the slogan of Achhe Din, is now out to project that Modi is a majboot (strong) leader. This media blitz is dominating the scene. The Opposition, which asked questions about the claims of the ruling government, is being defamed as if they doubt the claims of Army! What a twist and convoluted way to criticise the Opposition parties! Will this work favour Modi’s electoral prospects?

As such today the countrymen are facing the choice between the ‘idea of India’, which emerged from the freedom movement, the idea which saw people of all religions as being equal partners in the enterprise of nation-building, equal before law and equal in all matters of citizenship and the competing narrative of Modi-BJP, where the Hindu elite are the pivot of politics, where the problems of average people are put on the margins, where Dalits are subjected to Una-type beatings or Rohith Vemula type institutional murders, where the women face the situation like Kathua and Unnao, and religious minorities are relegated to second class citizenship.

Despite the mighty propaganda machine of Modi, what is clear is that you can’t fool the people all the time. The Achhe Din could delude the masses for once. The hyper-patriotism, muscular nationalism may put the masses in trance for a temporary time, but that can’t last beyond a point. The pangs of problems will surely assert themselves this time around and the moderate language of the Opposition, the cry for addressing the problems or issues will surely prevail and those standing for the idea of India of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Sardar Patel will surely triumph this time around. The hope is that wisdom of the masses will realise what is best for the country in times to come, and that’s what will come to the rescue of Indian democracy, that’s what will thwart the danger of sectarian nationalism.  

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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