Dolores Chew


On Sunday 25th May, CERAS, the Montreal-based forum on South Asia, held a very well-attended discussion forum “India Has Voted” on the recent elections in India.  The participants were of different ages and from a variety of backgrounds, including veterans of diasporic support work for several decades, and those who have worked in solidarity with CERAS over many years.  Some participants   attended a CERAS event for the first time. Everyone it seemed came because of concern, curiosity and a greatly-felt need to discuss and understand the recent elections.


Very comprehensive opening comments were made by Jooneed Khan, CERAS member and until his retirement a  few years ago, international correspondent and foreign news editor for the Montreal daily, La Presse.  Jooneed had recently returned from spending several months in India where he travelled around the country and witnessed first-hand the intense election campaign.


The topics covered were wide-ranging.  There was a lot of discussion on the actual campaign and the use of the media; the media blitz by the BJP to the point where, for example, every available advertising surface in the Delhi metro was plastered with Narendra Modi.  In the face of this media barrage the presence of other political parties were woefully sparse.   Possible reasons for the woeful showing by the parliamentary left was also touched on. The discussion also went into the ‘surprises’ of the campaign, especially in Uttar Pradesh where in the past Dalit and OBC strategizing had been able to bring groups to power that had historically been excluded;  the careful wooing and work by the BJP and Sangh Parivar affiliates,  among these sections of society, formerly shunned,  vote-splitting and lack of unity.  But there was also a sense, like there is all over the world, of entrenched political parties being ousted because of pathetic political, economic and corruption-based track records.  It was also noted that the increased voter participation (compared to 2009 elections) reflected the changing demographic and the very large number of youth who were voting for the first time, a generation not familiar with India’s history, who are ideologically attracted to neoliberalism and individual advancement at whatever cost.


Though it was recognized that this was still early days to make projections, concerns were raised about the future of Muslims, religious, ethnic and caste minorities and women,  in a BJP-governed India.  ‘Soft’ Hindutva initiatives, such as the re-writing of history textbooks were seen as possible, (though some participants roundly critiqued this as ‘soft’ Hindutva).


Towards the end of the discussion some ideas were brought forward about work in the diaspora – re-connecting with individuals and organizations who have concerns about the pull to the right in India and the consequences for minorities and the marginalized majority and working in tandem with them; also that we should not lose sight of the sub-continenental nature of our work, and especially now, since India is the regional superpower.  It was also recognized that new and creative initiatives were needed. One lesson of the recent elections has been the use and manipulation of the media.  Possibilities for creative and positive contributions that can be made were brought forward.  But clearly there is need for much work discussion in this regard.


At the forum, some participants had more information, knowledge and insights than others, but overall, it was an impressive sharing and everyone who attended were very grateful that CERAS had organized this forum and look forward to similar initiatives in future.

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