(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)
not worth winning. Several prosperous businesses have been
ruined by litigation, leaving the "victor" only a shell. While
elections are, by their nature, contests, there are limits beyond
which a healthy campaign should not go. The style and substance
of the current campaign has been such that it could be at the cost
of stability in India.
During the 1940s, M. A. Jinnah argued that Congress rule
would imply the subjugation of the minorities. This created a
fear psychosis among the Muslim intelligentsia. After 1947,
Muslims have neither been subjugated in India, nor have they
been protected in Pakistan. Jinnah’s sectarian logic has penetrated
deeper into the Pakistan polity, separating Baluch from Pashtun
and Sindhi from Punjabi. Today, in India, there is once again an
organised effort to create a polarisation between different
religions. A message is being disseminated that the BJP's coming
to office will cripple minority rights. The "secularists" are thus
using Jinnah's language to score points in the battle against the
This election has been caused by the Congress' attempt to
dominate the next government. Should its tally fall below 160,
the gamble will have failed. Apart from the Rs. 950 crore direct
cost of the election campaign and the (estimated)
Rs. 750 crore spent by political parties, there is the cost of the
policy vacuum till a new government is sworn in. A modest
estimate for such losses would be approximately Rs. 5,000 crore.
Thus, the direct cost of the 1998 elections to taxpayers is in the
region of Rs. 6,700 crore.
More has been lost as a consequence of the legislative
gridlock created by MPs during the last Lok Sabha session. The
hopes for a more Indian-friendly regulatory structure vanished.
Will such behaviour continue into the l2th Lok Sabha? The
campaign signals are not encouraging for those who are looking
forward to a time when politicians will deliver results rather
Today, the Congress has restricted its all-India campaign to
three individuals: Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka. Thus the
credit for the Congress' performance will flow to Gandhi and her
children alone. This is unexceptionable. What is not is the
message of the party's star campaigner: that the very future of
India is at risk if her party's principal opponent comes to power.
Vote BJP and risk civil war, is the message. This has been
amplified by reminding voters that Mahatma Gandhi was shot
by an RSS sympathiser. This is similar to blaming an entire
community for the murder of Indira Gandhi.
Today, many "secular" campaigners are trying to create the
same insecurity in the Muslim mind as was created by the
League during the 1940s, after the British began helping Jinnah
as a consequence of Congress non-cooperation in the war effort.
The harm done by such divisive messages will linger long after
the votes have been counted.
True, the BJP has a lunatic fringe that believes in correcting
historical wrongs by the kind of vandalism evident on December
6, 1992. However, within the saffron fold, opinion appears to be
growing that only a country where minority rights are protected
is safe for the majority. Instead of seeking to integrate the BJP
firmly within the secular mainstream, its rivals are trying to
perpetuate the distrust between that party and the minorities.
While this may bring in some extra votes, it is likely to undermine
social harmony. The experience in BJP-ruled states indicates that
power has tempered the saffron brigade’s sectarian impulses.
National office may further moderate the BJP and its allies into
(for example) effectively abandoning moves to introduce a
(largely western) uniform civil code, or to abrogate Article 370.
By seeking to restrict the BJP to the sectarian space that it is
seeking to escape from, the "secular" groups are, in fact, harming
their cause. Fanning insecurity among the minorities will retard
progress towards a fully integrated society. Just as economic
populism goes against public interest, so does political populism
of the kind now being used against the BJP. Tomorrow, the very
parties trashing the BJP may need the help of the saffron brigade
in getting crucial legislation passed. Polarising the Indian political
spectrum and through this the voters into mutually exclusive
and hostile segments can only promote a separatist agenda.
A country cannot flourish unless its basic interests are kept
above party politics. If these are sacrificed so as to get a few extra
seats, then "victory" will lose its charm. Communal hatreds and
caste prejudices are the enemies of a just society, and all political
parties need to work against rather than exploit such tendencies.
Similarly, terrorism affects every citizen. The bomb that takes
only the life of a Hindu while sparing a Muslim has not been
invented yet. Thus, it was distasteful to watch even terrorist acts
being viewed through political eyeglasses. Should evidence be
secured further linking the Coimbatore blasts to the ISI, that
organisation can claim- on the authority of the Congress
President—that it is innocent.
If the extremists in the Sangh Parivar need to be condemned for
their efforts at dividing citizens on sectarian grounds, so should
those "secularists" who follow Jinnah's policy of creating
insecurity in the minorities. Democracy implies coexistence and
consensus. In the past, any tactic was acceptable to beat a
political rival, be it helping Bhindranwale in Punjab or Ghising
in Darjeeling. Today Mufti Mohammed Sayeed has become
almost a front for the Pakistan—centric Hurriyat in condemning
Farooq Abdullah, while Nagaland's S. C. Jamir has ensured his
continuance by means as questionable as those used in Kashmir
in the past. Campaign l998’s high—decibel "secular" campaign,
which effectively places the B]P as worse than the ISI in the list
of India’s enemies, reflects this trend.
After the campaign, the BJP and the Congress party will need
to cooperate on issues of national concern, be they economic or
security related. Hopefully, in such a situation, the current
exclusivist rhetoric will be replaced by attitudes better suited to
a democracy. For this, we need I. K. Gujral's style rather than that
of Sitaram Kesri.