Lok Sabha Elections 2009

Divisive Politics is the Mantra

Maj. Gen.  S. C. N. Jatar, Retd

 

Once you hear the details of victory, it is hard to distinguish it from defeat – Jean-Paul Sartre

 

Introduction

I ventured to predict on May 15 to a few close friends that the UPA or the NDA would form the government on their own without going down on their knees before either the Left, TDP, BJD, RJD, etc.  This was in response to a report by IANS,For next five years the country's reins will be in the hands of A K Antony.  He will be a compromise figure for the Congress and Left parties,"[1]   

I based my assessment on the credo of divisive politics, which has now become the strategy for most political parties.  What the Moguls practiced and the English perfected; ‘divide & rule’, is the slogan of the politicians.  Thus originates divisive politics, transforming into vote-bank ‘isms’ – secularism and communalism (includes casteism).  This situation has created a crisis of identity in the Indian voter.  It is difficult to say whether vote-bank politics resulted in the fragmentation of Indian polity based on religion and caste or it was the cause of it. 

‘Youthful image’, ‘admiration for Rahul Gandhi’, ‘hate speech of Varun Gandhi’, ‘Advani a bad choice’, ‘personalised & negative campaign by Modi’, ‘development plank” etc are nebulous, ill-defined and mostly personality based assessments.  Both UPA & NDA played divisive politics nurturing vote-bank secularism & vote-bank communalism.  The NDA, especially BJP, did it most brazenly and audaciously, and lost.  The UPA, especially the Congress, did it subtly and won!  

I must sound a note of caution that the conclusions of my analysis destroy two long-standing myths i.e. (1) Wisdom and the propensity of the Indian voter to know what is good for the country and (2) the Indian politician has national interest at heart.  To put it bluntly, Indian democracy will mature only if the gullible Indian public becomes aware of the games that our politicians play. 

There was a decrease in BJP vote share of 3.32 percent to about 18.  It lost only 22 seats from 2004.  The Congress vote share was 30 %, an increase of only 1.99 percent over 2004.  The combined vote share of the two main national parties was 48.69 %, which decreased by only 1.33 percent.[2]  Equations, therefore, have remained largely the same; small loss for the BJP in the vote-share and seats and disproportionate gains to the Congress vis-ŕ-vis its vote share.  There is no revolutionary change. 

The Raison d’ętre of Political Parties

Our political parties have always used devious ‘means’ to acquire power under the guise of doing good to the nation.  They have no regrets if it divides the country in the bargain.  If the parties have to field criminals to access their vote banks, then too there are no regrets.[3] 

Publicly candidates stress on ‘development’ but one-on-one, they acknowledge that their survival depends primarily on ‘caste equations’, secondarily on ‘religious inclinations’ and lastly on party politics.  As for ‘development’, Daily ‘Sakal’ from Pune reported unusual similarities between the 2004 & 2009 manifestos of the winning candidate! 

The political parties take advantage of lack of political awareness of the common voter, and correctly assess where the weakness of the Indian voter lies.  Generally, Indians are unaware of the nuances of politics and games that the politicians play.  Even educated Indians are not aware of Chinese manipulations to isolate India and that, Advani as Home Minister, instead of taking concrete steps against illegal immigration from Bangladesh, mooted giving work permits to the unwanted aliens![4]  These are sample examples; there are many more in all spheres.

The UPA directed its energies to woo the minority communities (especially the Muslims and the Christians) and its allies exploited caste loyalties.  Both the UPA, led by the Congress, and the BJP-led NDA had precipitated a situation where the Congress mainly projected itself as looking after the interests of the minority communities against the ‘atrocities’ committed by the BJP. 

Towards galvanising this crisis of identity, the UPA established Sachar Commission, gave state-level scholarships to minorities identified at the national-level (for Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Sikhs excluding Hindus and Jains even when in minority in certain states), extended reservations to Muslims, increased the Hajj subsidy, granted subsidy to Christians visiting Bethlehem, etc.  During 2005-06,[5] India received Rs 7,877 Crores as foreign donations, up from Rs 5,105 crore in 2003-04.  The highest foreign donors were Gospel Fellowship Trust USA (Rs 229 Crores), Gospel for Asia (Rs 137 Crores), Foundation Vincent E Ferrer, Spain (Rs 104.23 Crores) and Christian Aid, UK (Rs 80.16 Crores).  World Vision (Rs 256 crore), Caritas India (Rs 193 crore), Rural Development Trust Andhra Pradesh (Rs 127 crore), Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (Rs. 95.88 crores) and Gospel For Asia (Rs. 58.29 crore) received fat amounts.  There is answer to the end-use of these funds.  Most of these ‘reforms’ to appease the minorities appear to violate the provisions of the Constitution because of discrimination on religious grounds.

The worst political ploy was to encourage Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to divide Shiv Sena vote bank, because of which the Congress literally wiped out Shiv Sena and BJP from Mumbai, Nashik and Pune, in spite of losing 4 % of its vote share.  The nation had to pay heavily in terms of destroying the inclusive Indian culture and unity.  Congress ‘high command’, which watched merrily when the MNS beat up and killed ‘North’ Indians in Mumbai and Nashik, engineered this strategy. 

Left’s propensity to ignore illegal migration from Bangladesh in West Bengal is well known and does not need any stress.  The leading votaries of caste politics were RJD’s Laloo Prasad Yadav and LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan with JD’s Nitish Kumar competing fiercely and winning!  BSP’s Mayawati (under the guise of ‘social engineering’) and SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav were leaders in widening the religious and caste disparities. 

The BJP continued its strategy of minority bashing through its proxies, particularly in Orissa and Karnataka.  It appears that the BJP needs a ‘trigger’ e.g. Godhra train burning by Muslims or the killing of a Swami in Orissa, to run amok against the minorities.  BJP unduly converted the Ram Setu and Amarnath shrine issues into religious ones.  The affidavit of the UPA government denying the existence of Lord Ram helped both the UPA and NDA.  The DMK patriarch even said, “Who is this Ram? Which engineering college did he graduate from?”  UPA constituents did not denounce the crude and unsavoury remarks of Karunanidhi. 

What were the Voters looking for & what was Irrelevant?

The common voter faced an acute crisis of identity and was eagerly looking for a party that would provide him or her, an identity while fulfilling fundamental necessities of life (called ‘development’ by most analysts!), which do not exist even after 62 years of independence.  The voter was NOT looking for corruption, security or foreign relations.  Consider a few events on the eve of polling: Letting off Quatrochhi,  siphoning of US $ 120 million in the Indo-Israeli missile deal, bare minimum cooperation from Pakistan on 26/11 investigation,[6] and the Satyam scandal (largest since independence with involvement of politicians & bureaucrats). 

Religion and caste were uppermost in the voters’ minds followed by ‘development’, that is, the fundamental necessities for sustenance; e.g. drinking water, electricity, sanitation and mobility (public transport). 

What was Media or Opinion Makers saying Before the Results?

The media reflected the editorial policy.  The media based its assessments not only on the prejudices that they have carried all along but also on 2004 results.  For instance, everyone took it for granted that the Left would again be the fulcrum on which the next government would revolve. 

Every one criticised Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, National Old Age Pension Scheme, National Maternity Benefit Scheme, Mid-Day Meal and Integrated Children Development Scheme, etc.  The ire was that not even 10 paisa out of the Rupee reached the target group.

Surprisingly, none saw Mamata Bannerjee’s ‘strike’ at ‘development’ (read Nano) overtaking the Left vote-bank of Bangladeshi illegal migrants.  The voters did not take kindly to Karat’s “pursuit of the Third Front chimera, whose defining feature was that all its non-Left constituents had once been the BJP’s allies …”[7]  Vote-bank secularism did matter after all but none saw it! 

Nitish won the mandate quietly, diligently and systematically.  Traditionally, the post-Mandal politics of Bihar favoured the more powerful OBCs like Yadavs and Kurmis, who get reservation under the 'Annexure II' category.  However, 108 smaller caste groups get reservation under the 'Annexure I' category.  Kumar forged this bloc known as "lower backwards".[8]

The media had gone agog criticising everyone including the Indian Navy for failing not only to prevent the 26/11 attack but also disapproving of the response.  There was an outcry against the National Security Advisor Narayanan for his lacklustre response (he did not abandon his dinner appointment even after hearing of the attack), there were TV flashes of Maharashtra Chief Minister Deshmukh visiting the Taj Hotel with his actor-son and a film director.  Crisis Management Group was not in continuous session once there was confirmation about the terrorist attack. 

Everyone played up Modi’s achievement in the ‘development’ of Gujarat.  The media did not condemn the State machinery when MNS went on the rampage in Mumbai, Pune and Nashik. 

The media played down the rank communal statement of Omar Abdullah in Parliament at the time of the vote on the Nuclear Deal with the US and the effect that it would have on the Muslim voter, "I am a Muslim first and I am an Indian and I see no difference in the two.  ...In the case of the Amarnath Shrine Board land lease, it was the question of our land and we will not part with our land".  If a non-Muslim had made a statement on the lines of Omar Abdullah’s, the media would have branded the person ‘communal’ and anti-National! 

What are the Media or Opinion Makers saying now?

After the election results, the media is highlighting the fact that Modi has actually lost the vote share by 3.5 % in Gujarat! 

The print media now say, “Left-goaded policies paid UPA rich dividends”,[9] meaning the very schemes criticised earlier actually contributed to Congress’ success. 

Everyone now seems to have forgotten Nitish Kumar’s ‘lower backward’ policy!

The take on terrorism now is, “Pranab hard line on Pakistan helped steal a march over BJP”![10] 

If the Congress-NCP government had not mollycoddled the MNS, the final tally in Maharashtra would have been 30 for NDA and 18 for UPA because MNS, without winning a single seat, snatched away as many as 12 seats from the NDA.  This was the height of vote-bank secular politics and no one is making the people aware of this phenomenon. 

In Pune, the main candidates were from the Congress (Brahmin), BJP (Maratha), MNS (Maratha) and BSP (Brahmin).  We had the sad spectacle of a division in the electorate on Brahmin-Maratha lines.  While NCP hard core voted for the BJP/MNS Maratha candidate, many of their prominent leaders campaigned for the BSP with the aim of dividing the Brahmin vote against the Congress.  The tussle was between the UPA and the NDA candidates, both working on caste lines.  And the MNS and BSP were the spoilers and they knew it. 

Conclusion

Election Commissioner SY Quraishi told Karan Thapar on CNBC's 'India Tonight' programme, "We believe that exit polls and opinion polls are manipulated.  They do influence free and fair polls …”[11]  We go further and say that the entire pre- and post-poll coverage by the media appears contrived without any attempt to make the masses aware of the true picture.  There is, therefore, no alternative but to educate the masses in the nuances of vote-bank politics.  The public has to rise to defeat the credo of divisive politics. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] 'A K Antony most likely to be the next PM', ExpressBuzz, IANS, 14 May 2009

[2] Vernier, Gilles, “Vote share of national parties actually slipping”, jansamachar.net IANS

[3] The Telegraph, 18/05/09, “Some 150 (28%) MPs face criminal cases, compared to 23 % in 2004. The BJP has 42 such MPs, and Congress 41.” Thus, there is almost one criminal in the Lok Sabha for every lakh of the population. 

[4] Jain, Sandhya, “L K Advani: History to Oblivion”, www.vijayvaani.com, 20/05/09

[5] Website of Union Ministry of Home Affairs

[6] Singh, K. C. “Candle Burning at Three Ends”, Outlook, 25 May 2009

[7] Ganguli, Amulya, “Driven by Dogma”, Times of India, 19/05/09

[8] Naqvi, Saba, “Nitish deploys work and canny caste-blocking against Laloo”, Outlookindia.com, May 11, 2009

[9] (Congress) owes its resurgence to Slew of Social Programmes Taken”, Times of India, Pune 18/05/09

[10] “Pranab hard line on Pakistan helped steal a march over BJP”, Times of India, 18/05/9

[11] “Opinion and Exit Polls Manipulated – EC”, Outlookindia.com, 18 May 2009