Daya Varma


The decisive  victory of  Narendra Modi-led BJP in the December 2007 Assembly elections  in Gujarat may well be a harbinger for India unless democratic forces unite to demonstrate that a Hindu Rashtra is not only dangerous to Muslims but to Hindus as well.


The victory of the Narendra Modi-led BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) in the December 2007 Assembly elections  in Gujarat has been analyzed by various observers. These analyses  fall  into two categories. According to one, the Congress lost because of the spoiler role by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Mayawati, its failure to project its Chief Ministerial candidate and inner squabbles. The second view is that  Congress lost because Gujarat is unique, that Modi benefited from  the 2002 carnage and his virulent Hindu communalism and evoked Gujarat chauvinistic sub-nationalism which Congress failed  or chose to not counteract. While the first view has been highlighted by traditional politicians like Ram Bilas Paswan, the second explanation has been offered by progressive circles such as by Asghar Ali Engineer, Praful Bidwai and Prakash Karat (General Secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist or CPM).


It is important to understand the reasons for Modi’s victory for that alone can provide ammunition to prevent India becoming Gujarat. While there is some substance in all these explanations, there is more to the victory of Modi and defeat of Congress than electoral tactics and the unique nature of Gujarat within the India. 


In the current election, BJP polled 49.12% of total votes against 38% by the Congress. The combined percentage of Congress,  BSP (2.62%) and Nationalist Congress Party (1.05%) totals 41.67%, well short of the votes polled by BJP. While it is true that Congress could have won in many places had BSP not fielded its candidate and may even have formed a majority government if it had  contested Gujarat elections with BSP, the fact remains that the percentage of the population voting for Congress-BSP is far short of that voting for BJP. The hypothetical formation of a Congress-BSP  government would have duplicated the American paradox of a President being elected with minority popular  and majority electoral votes. In any case,  the issue is not merely the defeat of the Congress but rather the support by nearly one-half the electorate (and by implication the population) of Gujarat for BJP and its overall policy of Hindu Rashtra.


The challenges posed by Narendra Modi through his virulent Hindu communalism, appeal to Gujarati hubris via a chauvinistic sub-nationalism masquerading as Gujarati asmita (self-respect), and an authoritarian personality cult need to be analyzed and understood. The accuracy of Asghar Ali Engineer’s argument that “(Modi) could not have won 2002 election without organizing that carnage nor the 2007 election could he have won without it”  cannot be verified. His contention that it is unique to Gujarat needs more justification.  It is more likely that Modi won because he could combine the 2002 carnage with a projection of Gujarat as a  modern prosperous state. He could show that pride in Hinduism goes hand-in-hand with progress. The fallacy in Modi’s claim that Gujarat is shining, as pointed out by Bidwai,  is of little consequence because people do not expect everything to be ideal. Moreover what matters to the middleclass seems to overweigh what happens to the marginalized sections as long as the latter is  not an overwhelming fraction of the  population.


How should one look at the 2002 Gujarat carnage? Can it be reduced to the Godhra train fire followed by the brutalization of the Muslim community with direct complicity of Narendra Modi as the Tehelka tapes prove? If so, obviously it cannot be duplicated. However,  it is not true that the same thing cannot be repeated with some variation elsewhere. Gujarat carnage cannot be separated from the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid nor from the ensuing attack on Muslims in Mumbai and a string of other anti-Muslim violence with or without the direct involvement of BJP. What all these events do is mobilize the ordinary Hindu citizens of all castes, Dalits and Adivasis alike, as something distinct from and superior to non-Hindus, especially Muslims who are more numerous than Christians. This in turn leads to their sectarian assertion in the Hindu ownership of India.


Democracy in India has only reached the level of an institution of political assertion, a method of acquisition of political power. In all other ways, Indian society is not democratic and it can be witnessed day in and day out in the manner Dalits, workers, marginalized sections and minorities are treated. It remains a society where it is acceptable with pride to not share food with another citizen. Neither Muslims nor Dalits observe this practice but OBC’s and Hindus above that caste ladder do. Therefore if political power can be grabbed more easily by invoking unity as proud Hindus against the historic legacy of India “adulterated by intruders” as the communalists claim, so much the better. There are many Hindus who would not like Muslims to be butchered but there are fewer who are appalled when they are and even fewer still who would make it a condition for rejecting BJP.


 It would take a mammoth effort to transform India into a democratic society even coming close to bourgeois democratic society. Gandhi and Congress were able to suppress the simmering Hindu superiority but they needed such alternate programs as India’s independence movement.  How to do it in the absence of any such universally accepted problem? The only alternative is to show that a Hindu Rashtra is not only bad for Muslims but for India and for Hindus as well. Fundamentalism does not necessarily manifest as hostility against people of different religion. Indeed the main target of fundamentalism is the majority community. The Taliban in Afghanistan, for example, asked Hindu women to wear identification marks because they did not wish their “Hindu sisters” to be subjected to rules applying to Muslim women. Why would not various wings of Sangh Parivar harass Hindus who do not abide by their codes?


Obviously this requires efforts on the part of all secular formations, not only the Congress. But this does not seem to be the preoccupation of any other political party and left intellectuals with the exception of  the Communist Party of India (CPI) and a few individuals like Asghar Ali Engineer, Ram Punyani and a handful of NGOs like Communalism Combat and ANHAD. Unfortunately CPI is stuck with the belief  that BJP would die of its own internal squabbles. But no organization dies of internal bickering because no organization can be or has been free from it. Throughout its history Congress had internal squabbles but that did not prevent it from becoming the major organized movement in India. Internal squabbles within BJP are also not new but have not weakened it. All other parties have secularism tucked away in their statutes and documents but not as a recurring theme in their programs and activities; even CPM is guilty of this omission. As far as some of the left intellectuals of India are concerned, their recent preoccupations seem to indicate they would rather see the demise of CPM than of BJP. After all Gujarat elections did not come as a surprise. If Congress is not taking Hindutva head on, what prevented others from doing it?


What had kept RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) in oblivion from its founding in 1926 till the independence of India in 1947? It was Gandhi, the Congress, the power of  independence movement and CPI. Things have changed since and especially since  the mid-1970’s, and more particularly  since the 1990’s. One aspect of this is the organizational weakening of Congress because of the dynamic personality of Indira Gandhi. The other is the lack of or rather a weak comprehensive  program of the Congress for the “Aam Aadmi”. The development strategy of India has given rise to a significant well-to-do middle class, who form the base of Hindutva. It is no accident that BJP came to power in Delhi first. Sooner rather than later the middleclass would dominate the politics of other states. Even in relatively poor states like Bihar which has witnessed one of the fiercest peasant movements first under the leadership of CPI and then the Marxist-Leninists, the winner at present is the Samata Party, the closest ally of BJP. The movements for the creation of Jharkhand and Uttarakhand were initiated by left parties but has been ruled by BJP. The same thing happened earlier to the Samyukta Maharashtra movement a half-century ago which was spearheaded by the left but whose beneficiaries were the upper and middle peasant castes led by Congress.


Of course there was the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat and not in other states which are ruled by or were ruled by BJP. But the 2002 pogrom was executed as a target of opportunity; there is no evidence that it was pre-planned like the recent attack on Christians in Orissa nor is there evidence that it will be repeated. Therefore identifying certain incidents, no matter how horrendous, should not lead one to conclude that India is any safer under BJP rule elsewhere than it is in Gujarat. Singling out Gujarat ignores the reality that BJP is in power  alone or with its allies in  more states of India than any other single party. It is prudent to devise strategy to prevent continuing rule of BJP in all Indian states and in Delhi than make Gujarat a unique scenario, which it is not.  

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