OUR leaders refuse to learn from past mistakes. When V.P. Singh formed the National Front government in 1989, he allocated the coveted Home Ministry portfolio to Mufti Mohammad Syed. V.P. Singh, the great champion of secularism, obviously believed that a representative of the minorities in the sensitive ministry would send out the right signals. Never mind if the biggest problem facing the country was Kashmir, and Mufti as a past player in the state's politics was particularly vulnerable on that count. It was hardly surprising therefore that the ministry's handling of Kashmir during the National Front regime bordered on the disastrous.
And once again, a representative of India's largest minority community, Mohammad Taslimuddin, has been placed in the Home Ministry, albeit only as a minister of state. One cannot be sure whether Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda was motivated by the same reasons as V.P. Singh in inducting Taslimuddin, but the move has certainly not done the secular cause any good. For Taslimuddin, the honourable MP from Kishanganj, is a known history-sheeter, the charges against him ranging from dacoities to extortion. His inclusion in the sensitive ministry has provided opponents like the Bharatiya Janata Party with just the right ammunition to attack the Government, their charge being that it can go to any extreme in its bid for minority appeasement. The irony is that there really was no rationale for handing Taslimuddin the job. If it was a question of sending out the right signals to the minority community, surely a better representative could have been chosen.
Indeed, there has been little to cheer about in the UF Government's month-long performance in so far as secularism is concerned. Battle against communal forces like the BJP, it must be remembered, was the main rationale for the formation of the UF and its government with outside support of Congress. Neither the UF nor the Congress have done anything worthwhile on this frontsince Deve Gowda assumed power at the Centre.
First, consider the Congress role during this period. From the day Deve Gowda was sworn in as Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao has been saying that the Congress support could not be taken for granted. Rao has actually gone on record saying he did not think the Government would last long and has asked his party workers to start preparing for the next polls. All his utterances, barring what he said during the confidence motion debate in Parliament, have been calculated to undermine people's confidence in the Government which his own party has propped up in the name of secularism. Could there be a better scenario for the BJP?
And if at all evidence was needed on Rao's lack of commitment to building a secular bulwark against right-wing reactionaries in the Sangh parivar, it has been amply provided in his alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, a tie-up he now plans to extend to Madhya Pradesh. His argument being that the BSP got about 20 per cent popular votes in the recent Lok sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, which the Congress with its own 8 per cent or so could use to mount a realistic challenge against the BJP in the upcoming assembly polls. But the question is, can Kanshi Ram be trusted as an ally against communal forces? For less than a year ago, it was he who pulled the rug from under Mulayam Yadav's feet to topple his government and install protege Mayawati as chief minister with the BJP's support. If at all Rao was serious about cobbling together a force in Uttar Pradesh to counter the growth of the BJP, he could have well sought an alliance with the Samajwadi Party. The fact remains that Rao's tie-up with Kanshi Ram has little to do with fighting communal forces. It is related much more to his own struggle for survival within the Congress, and his disdain for the Government at the Centre his party finds itself forced to support.
As for the UF, despite its success in producing a combination which at present provides a more viable government than the BJP, it continues to be thoroughly confused in its approach. The commitment to refer the Ayodhya dispute to the Supreme Court under Article 138(2) of the Constitution was made without discussions with Muslim leaders, with the result that organisations like the Babri Masjid Action Committee are opposing the move. It has also sown seeds of discord within the Front with the Samajwadi Party now trying to revert the decision. Almost out of nowhere, the UF has managed to bring the Ayodhya issue back on centrestage, and may have to pay a heavy price in the next assembly elections.
Meanwhile the saffron juggernaut threatens to roll with greater vigour. The party's national executive in its recent Bhopal meeting showed signs of honest stocktaking. The decision to try and expand its social base support by wooing Dalits and tribals, and huntfor regional allies in places where the party is virtually non-existent, if implemented, will enable the BJP to have a more realistic crack at grabbing power at the Centre in the next general elections. And if the assortment of secular parties does not wake up to the situation and act cohesively, they may find themselves out on a limb. For, let's face it. The threat of the Sangh parivar is very real and cannot be countered by confused posturings or cynical manoeuvrings of self-survival. But is anyone listening?