By Beena Sarwar
17 May, 2004
journalist friend in the UK dashed off an email in the wake of the BJPs
electoral defeat, quoting West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya:
Im feeling good - 100 per cent! Hailing from West
Bengal, he follows events there closely: "The left front has totally
driven out the BJP from West Bengal and has registered its best ever
performance in a general election (59 seats in Parliament).... That
loud sigh of relief you hear comes all the way from London..."
a New Delhi-based activist who has been at the forefront of the fight
against the BJP is "too happy to write". I can imagine her
practically speechless with joy at the defeat of the communal forces
that have for the last so many years held India hostage to their bigotry
The rise in spirits
was felt all the way here in Karachi, starting Wednesday afternoon with
a cell phone text-message from womens rights activist Tahira Abdullah
in Islamabad: "BJP LOSING; VAJPAYEE RESIGNING. MUBARAK".
The news perked
up my father, a semi-retired doctor and he immediately switched on the
television. We were greeted by scenes of jubilant Congress supporters
going wild as reporters struggled to explain away this unexpected and
stunning defeat. "The first thing the new government
should do," proclaimed my father, "is to establish a judicial
commission of inquiry into the Gujarat massacres."
There are lessons
to be learnt from the results of the Indian elections. Outgoing Prime
Minister Vajpayee is reported to have wept on learning of the carnage
- but he did nothing to contain Chief Minister Narender Modi, who has
been accused of direct involvement in the massacres. The voters, Hindu
and Muslim, have rejected their policies of divisiveness along communal
with Pakistan, Vajpayee did certainly initiate the famous bus
diplomacy and even visited the Minar-e-Pakistan as a symbol of
Indias acceptance of Pakistan but it was also he who ordered
sparked off fresh tensions by ordering the nuclear tests of 1998 soon
after assuming power.
Leaders - self-styled
or elected - must accept responsibility for the actions of those they
lead. Vajpayees television address was a model of restraint and
dignity, an example of how a statesman should behave in defeat. Pakistanis
look forward to the day when they too are allowed the satisfaction of
voting out those they elected, without the army stepping in.
Secondly, a government
is responsible to all its citizens and not just a privileged few. The
"India Shining" campaign included the much-hyped information
technology sector that employs less than a million people. One of the
consequences of massive industrialization is the diversion of electricity
from residential areas, as is happening in Bangalore, the home of the
IT revolution. At a meeting in Kathmandu recently, Bangalore-based activist
and journalist Sakuntala Narasimhan talked about the difficulties of
frequent, unannounced power breakdowns and cuts as electricity is diverted
for the multinational companies.
Shakuntala and millions
of others refused to be fooled by the India Shining campaigns.
Pritam Rohila, who runs the USA-based postings list Association for
Communal Harmony in Asia (ACHA) comments: "The increasing number
of luxury products in a few million urban rich and middle class homes
has not made the rural-poor feel good." Not in India, and not in
Pakistan either, where material goods are being hawked by lower interest
rates and leasing options.
globalisation has led to reforms that dont
benefit the majority. Instead, growing privatisation and a corresponding
reduction in jobs is leading to more unemployment and poverty. In addition,
two-thirds of Indians and Pakistanis depend upon agriculture but find
themselves at the receiving end of hostile government policies. In a
democracy, this has consequences. "There is almost no government
in the country that has ill-treated its farmers and not paid the price,"
notes the well-known journalist P Sainath, commenting on the increase
in farmers suicides in India over the past six to eight years
(Mass media vs mass reality, The Hindu, May 14, 2004).
In Pakistan too,
farmers suicides and suicides by the unemployed have been on the
rise. In some cases, parents have killed themselves along with their
children in order to escape poverty and hunger. While many such cases
go unreported, at least nine such cases were reported around the country
last year in which 20 children died, according to a compilation by the
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
While the Indian
media by and large chose to overlook such factors and predicted a BJP
victory, at least some had their nose to the ground. Bharat Bhushan,
Editor of the Telegraphs Delhi edition has won "a couple
of bottles of scotch, a dinner and an apology from several friends who
insisted that Vajpayee would somehow come back." At a media party
in New Delhi last Saturday, his view was supported by a bureaucrat,
who predicted that the National Democratic Alliance would get about
184 seats it got 187. Feeling good!
The writer is a