After tiptoeing around it in the warm-up rounds, the BJP and the Congress are back to their communal war play in Gujarat. Two leaders signalled that polarisation is the name of the game
after all in the ongoing assembly poll campaign. One, of course, was Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. He finally discarded his benign ‘Mr Development’ mask to ratchet up the fear factor among Hindus by raising the spectre of a Muslim heading the next government if the Congress won.
“Behind the curtain, the Congress is hatching a plan to make Ahmedmian Patel its chief minister,” he declared, not just once but at three different places at least. If the idea of Sonia Gandhi’s chief aide and always a backroom boy moving upfront to head a state government was ludicrous, Modi had no compunctions about spinning a yarn to consolidate his votebank. The other, surprisingly, was the mild-mannered Union home minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, who crowed that the Congress had appointed a Muslim as the next director of the Intelligence Bureau. “I am a Dalit and the Congress made me a minister. Similarly, the Congress has made a person whose name is Ibrahim the IB chief,” he boasted at an election rally in Baroda.
Shinde’s crude bid to win brownie points for his party with its traditional voter constituency was not just offensive but downright dangerous on several counts. One, it belittled the fine and proficient officer who will head this important arm of the government from January 2013. Two, it made a mockery of the carefully crafted balance of power between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi by reinforcing the perception that the latter holds the remote control in the present dispensation. But worst of all, it communalised a highly sensitive appointment.
Shinde’s remarks cannot be dismissed as the ramblings of a bumbling former sub-inspector with poor powers of articulation. There was an echo of the same polarisation ploy in Manmohan’s speech at an election rally in Gujarat. “We have been getting regular complaints that minorities and other segments of society are feeling insecure in the state,” he said. The Congress strategy was too clumsy to miss. It let Shinde and Manmohan Singh woo the Muslim vote to insulate Sonia and Rahul Gandhi from the communal versus pseudo-secular debate that Modi was itching to revive.
It has often been said that the BJP and the Congress are opposite sides of the same coin. One is insidiously communal, the other overtly secular in a pseudo sort of way. Essentially, both pander to voter blocs defined by religious identities, quite oblivious of the fact that there are human beings on both sides of the divide with similar hopes, aspirations and dreams. Ordinary Muslims surely want the same things as common Hindus: education, jobs, houses, security and opportunities to get ahead. When the Congress unveiled a low-cost housing scheme for the poor as a pre-election bonanza for votes in Gujarat, there was a furious rush to sign up among Hindus as well as Muslims. There was no divide here.
Yet, both the Congress and the BJP dabble in emotive politics with impunity. It is so much easier to whip up communal passions in the hope of polarising votes than it is to win elections by delivering on promises. Demonising Modi is as much lazy politics as cocking a snook at “Maulana Congress”. It has been ten years since Gujarat was ravaged by communal fires that changed its social dynamics forever. If its people cannot put the 2002 violence behind them, it’s because political parties have a vested interest in keeping those painful memories alive. Muslims cannot be allowed to forgive and Hindus must continue to hate. The litany plays out in every election campaign.
What is frightening is the prospect that the fault-lines in Gujarat are being sought to be imposed on the entire nation in the next general election in a Modi versus Rahul Gandhi contest. The chatter in the Congress and the BJP is disturbingly similar. A section of the BJP believes that projecting Modi as its prime ministerial candidate will electrify its Hindu vote across the nation while the Congress is convinced that the possibility of Modi as prime minister will send Muslims scurrying to Rahul Gandhi for cover. It’s a diabolical thought that the media is assiduously fanning for higher TRPs. One can only hope that voters are more discerning and will deliver, as they always have in the past, a mature mandate that will teach politicians a thing or two about this complex and diverse nation.
The British colonialists crafted the divide-and-rule policy to subjugate a feudal society after the 1857 uprising in which Hindus and Muslims fought together to throw the foreigners out. There is absolutely no justification for our political parties to continue the policy in independent India.