I was in Dhaka a few days ago. Interest in Bangladesh in our Lok Sabha elections is so ardent that it is to be seen and believed. People knew the minutest details about the polls like the palm of their hands. They watch India’s television news channels, which are banned in Pakistan.
People were, of course, indignant over Narendra Modi’s remark that the Bangladeshis should pack up their luggage and leave before May 16, the day when the election results will be announced.
No one wants Modi to be India’s prime minister. His tirade against Muslims makes the Bangladeshis believe that they are in for a rightist Hindu state as their neighbour in place of a secular democratic polity. More than that is their fear that Modi may spoil the proximity the two countries have enjoyed since New Delhi’s assistance in their liberation struggle.
The trip to Dhaka also gave me an opportunity to step back and assess our elections. I see the induction of religion in politics. Modi and the BJP have played the Hindu card to polarise the multi-religious and multicultural country. The harm they have done may be irreparable. The dream of our forefathers that India after independence would be pluralistic in tone and tenor despite its Partition on the basis of religion does not seem to be coming true. Modi has been successful in creating a cleavage between Hindus and Muslims, something which we had successfully thwarted since independence in August 1947.
I have no doubt that the poison injected in the body politic of the country would one day disappear. But in the meanwhile, the nation would have to face an environment of mistrust and estrangement. Liberals — declining in numbers in both the communities — have a serious battle ahead of them. They have to work with more vigour to establish the supremacy of secularism.
Modi and the BJP could not have asked for a more propitious time. People want parivartan (change). The Congress, which has failed them in every field, whether in economic development or governance. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is only a recent phenomenon, confined to urban areas in the north.
Therefore, the vote polled by Modi and the BJP is a negative vote. The sterile 10-year rule by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has cost the Congress its re-election. Various scams which have come to light have harmed the party further.
Modi’s irresponsible speeches have helped the Congress to retrieve some ground. But its stand, spelled out by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, has put cold water on the possibility of an alternative with the regional parties. He has voiced strong opposition to the Congress leading the third front or supporting it.
The national Election Commission (EC), no doubt independent, has been soft towards those who have violated the poll code. Modi, for one, has even challenged the EC to try him for the speeches he has been making. By any yardstick, they evoke hatred for Muslims. The Commission’s reaction has been only legalistic even though it had the powers to disqualify him. This attitude of the commission tells upon the transparency of the polls.
The real bad news about election results is the demise of leftist forces. They could have kept a check on the fundamentalists and enhanced the chances of secular elements. In fact, that is the tragedy of political activity in the entire subcontinent. During my college days in the forties, it was said: if you are not a leftist by the age of 25, you should consult a doctor. This assumption got diluted as years went by. The rightists did not remain isolated. They worked hard and influenced the minds of the youth who are today dazzled by money and whatever promotes their career. Karl Marx is seldom read, much less discussed.
I am not surprised that the ideology of the Left did not figure in the poll campaigns. Even the avowed leftists did not talk of socialism or egalitarianism. They, too, have come to believe that in the environment of free economy and individual entrepreneurship, buttressed by the Manmohan Singh government during its 10-year regime, there is little room for the Left. The surprising part is the silence of the committed Marxists.
Still, the fact remains that the first general election in 1952 saw the Communists’ victory in Kerala. Later, West Bengal and Tripura in the northeast returned the red governments. Today, the Left is confined only to Tripura. Their number in the Lok Sabha has been coming down steadily. Apparently, their hold has gone down drastically.
My reading is that the leftists in India were so dependent on Moscow that they felt orphaned when the citadel of communism, the Soviet Union, caved in. The ideology of the Left received a heavy blow. The supporters in India were so disheartened that they practically withdrew from the fold, leaving the entire field to the capitalists.
In fact, the entire effort of the Communist Party of India and that of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was directed towards stopping the BJP from coming to power. Knowing their own limitations, they were hoping to constitute a federal front of sorts by bringing the non-Congress and non-BJP parties on the same platform.
This is not a bad idea because both the Congress and the BJP are so immersed in corruption and communalism that their defeat is in the interest of India. Maybe, that is the reason why Rahul Gandhi has assailed the formation of the third front but that now is now longer an option.
Defeating communal and corrupt forces is essential, but no less important is the positive approach to push egalitarianism — the promise made during the freedom struggle. At present, both communist parties are distant from the basic philosophy of equality. For some reasons, they have come to believe that secularism will ultimately lead to socialism. How incorrect their assessment is can be seen from the call of chauvinism, which the regional parties have articulated. And most of them are so close to the corporate sector that they have not spelled out the role of public sector in the country if and when they share power. The scenario, indeed, is dismal.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2014.
Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ