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The Responsibility Of The Voters

By Ganesh S. Iyer

27 April, 2004

Elections 2004 are going to be a defining moment for Indian democracy. This election perhaps may decide whether this country remains secular or it turns theocratic under the Hindutwa fundamentalists. The responsibility of the voters is tremendous.

The period between 1999 & 2004 has witnessed many upheavals in all spheres of life-be it political, cultural or social. If one looks at the nature of the changes and the manner in which they have taken place, it definitely gives cause for concern regarding the future of the Indian state and the survival of the core, cherished values enshrined in our constitution. I am referring to democracy, secularism and our commitment to an equitable distribution of resources. Today, we find a marked erosion of all these values. The Sangh Parivar and its political offspring, the BJP, have played a prominent role in subjecting our institutions and values to hammer blows, the like of which has never been experienced before. Hence it would not be far fetched to state that this election presents the discerning electorate with the choice of arresting this trend and voting for a truly, secular formation or allow the downslide to continue. It is in the interest of a healthy democracy that the electorate exercises the right choice.

A striking feature of this election campaign has been the absence of real issues (commitment to secularism, generation of employment and equitable development). The ruling dispensation, with great fanfare and with the connivance of sections of the media, launched the so called "Shining India "campaign, ostensibly to showcase its achievements of the last five years. This has in effect turned out to be nothing more than a massive publicity exercise for the dominant coalition partner, the BJP and its strenuous efforts to project the Prime Minister as the nation's saviour. With the passage of time, the gloss on this campaign wore thin and the masterminds of the BJP's election campaign realized the futility of overstressing an aspect of development, whose claims could not be authenticated on the ground. Another strategy was therefore required to take the electorate for a ride.
This is where the storm troopers of the Sangh Parivar made their entry. We had the unedifying spectacle of Messers. Pramod Mahajan and Narendra Modi raking up the foreign origins of the Congress President, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. She and her offspring were subjected to vilification and derogatory remarks on their lineage. The masterminds of this strategy were forced to beat a hasty retreat when the Deputy Prime Minister himself became a victim of the issue so enthusiastically raised by his protégés. It was divisive strategy at its worst.

The campaign managers then hit upon the idea of wooing a community most affected by the politics of hate- the Muslims. The Prime Minister's peace initiative with Pakistan was touted as an example of the party's commitment to peace with its neighbors and its concern for its own minorities. So we were treated to the spectacle of the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Delhi and other Muslim leaders exhorting the faithful to cast their lot with the BJP.The track record of the Sangh Parivar being what it is (remember the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the government sponsored pogrom in Gujarat), this new found concern for the wounded community finds few takers. It was cynical, opportunistic politics at its worst.

I have detailed the strategic convolutions of the BJP only to highlight the fact that the party will always be guided by its core agenda of Hindutva and these are short term measures to grab the levers of power.

The elections may very well throw up a hung Parliament, going by the developments of the past few weeks. The need of the hour is to put in place a workable alliance which includes all secular formations. This is easier said than done, given the deep divisions in the opposition camp. Nevertheless, an earnest effort has to be made by all concerned.

Outside the political arena, a glimmer of hope has been provided by the Supreme Court ordering the retrial in the Best Bakery case and its instructions to have the same transferred to Maharashtra. We still have a judiciary that is not compromised by the politics of hate.