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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 16, April 4, 2009

Contours of Crack-up

Thursday 9 April 2009, by Nikhil Chakravartty

Tension is mounting day by day as the parties are gearing up for the election campaign. Even before any clear picture of the alignment of parties could emerge, there are ominous signs of violence threatening to break out as the campaign gets going.

On the very same day that Charan Singh had to face repeated disruption of his meetings in Madhya Pradesh, Indira Gandhi had to encounter violent attacks in North Bihar. Both have charged their immediate opponents for the attacks: Charan Singh has blamed the RSS and the Indira Congress has accused the Lok Dal. The very next day the Chief Justice of India was virtually warned by a lawyer against attending court hearing the appeal in the infamous Kissa Kursi case in which Sanjay Gandhi has been convicted: although the Indira Congress circles have been at pains to disown the erring lawyer, most of the evidence points to his being closely connected with the Sanjay mafia.

From the public platform to the Supreme Court, the smell of violence is in the air. Politicians pitchforked into important positions have been dong little to curb this menacing tension. The classic example of this veritable complicity of the politician in promising more violence in the weeks to come is provided by Charan Singh. Enraged in the typical Jat style by the break-up of one of his Madhya Pradesh meetings, Charan Singh threa-tened his hecklers at Ratlam: “If you behave like this, we shall not allow you to hold election meetings in other States such as UP, Haryana and Bihar.” From any responsible politician, not to speak of a Prime Minister, holding out such tit-for-tat threats, one could with good reason take this as provocative. Such a response is not going to bring down electioneering violence: if anything, it would aggravate the danger. This angry outburst is certainly not a testimonial to Charan Singh’s democratic bona fides.

If this episode has to be taken as the pace-setter for the campaign to come, the journey to the ballot box may very well be a frightening prospect. Add to it the unrest in the police force in different States together with the simmerings in the CRPF, and one becomes seriously concerned how the election exercise will come through at all.

Another type of upsetting elements in the present situation is provided by the recent events in Assam, where a chronic problem of infiltration across the border—mainly in search of land from an overpopulated Bangladesh—has by neglect and design been permitted to engulf the State in a frenzy against the “foreigner”; the immediate relevance for the election campaign is the demand, with at least a modicum of justification, for the revision of electoral rolls. The dangerous magnitude of this mass frenzy may be gauged by the fact that anybody from even any other State of India has to bear the brunt of the so-called crusade against the foreigner, a development which at one stage held up the working of the oil refinery in the State. In this case, the responsibility of the Central authorities can hardly be overlooked: warning signals had reached New Delhi months ago but little heed was paid to them at the time—with the result that the prospect of smooth Lok Sabha elections in Assam within the announced time-schedule has been getting dimmer.

Next door, the Mizo question is being left unresolved, with the government by and large depending on military operations—a fruitless exercise as shown from the past experience in Nagaland—while one can hardly perceive any initiative on its part to seek a political solution within the framework of the Indian Union. One is left with the impression that in the prevailing political mess, a clear-headed approach towards tackling developments in the peripheral areas, whether it is Sikkim or Mizoram, Bhutan or the Bangladesh border, is not seriously thought of. What seems to be absent in the mind of the powers-that-be is that one can hardly run this vast country by focusing attention only on the heartland. The hinterland is equally important.

In the heartland itself, overshadowing every-thing, one is faced with the spectre of famine. The grim spectacle of miles upon miles of parched soil where one expects to see green and pleasant fields laden with lush crops, hits anybody crossing the countryside in many of the northern States. The ravages of the drought and its inevitable conse-quence in terms of hunger and cattle mortality, not to speak of rise in prices, have not yet stirred the politician seeking the votes, although the voter in the countryside is himself alarmed by what is in store for him. Neither the government at the Centre nor those in the States, nor even the leaders of political parties, are looking at this imminent tragedy with the seriousness it deserves.

Manifestos of course are being drafted or have already been released—many of them almost promising the proverbial pie in the sky. These will have little impact on the electorate since the performance record of the authors of most of these manifestos can evoke little enthusiasm in the electorate.

In this background, there is nothing surprising that the electoral alliances or adjustments, the tie-ups or gang-ups, whichever way one looks at them, have to be devoid of principles. In fact, principles have become old-fashioned even for a substantial section of the Left. Caste calculations and communal ententes have assumed a measure of importance never seen before, although poor Nehru has
been sought to be resurrected for electioneering: even Charan Singh finds it profitable to pay court to him.

At the same time, there is a general awareness that credibility of each and everyone has suffered grievously—some because of their sins of commission and some for those of omission. In a situation like this, even horse-trading becomes difficult because nobody knows if the other fellow has really the number of horses he claims to have. Under the circumstances, it may very well turn out to be of little consequence in terms of the real interest of the Indian people if Jagjivan Ram stays with the Jana Sangh or Devraraj Urs hangs on to Charan Singh or Indira Gandhi makes the come-hither gesture to Bahuguna. One wonders who will spell whose doom.

Politics minus the people—such a democracy does not last long. Are we heading for this?

(Mainstream, November 17, 1979)

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