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Rohit Dhankar

Few days back I was in my village in rural Rajasthan. Four youngsters of our family and one cousin gheraod me and pelted me with questions regarding whom to vote for. The youngsters were highly educated—a engineer, working as assistant Bank Manager, a dentist waiting to setup practice, an MBA struggling businessman – and all supporters of Modi. The 40+ years old cousin working in the gulf is also a Modi supporter. I could not convince them that Modi is a bad omen for the country, mainly because I could not provide them with an alternative.

I said that I will vote for no one, which seriously damaged my reputation among them as having a strong commitment to democracy. They charged me with not being a responsible citizen of democratic India.

This set me thinking. I don’t understand development and economics very well. So my considerations turned to wellbeing of India as a democracy. In a very quick analysis I decided to think over ‘in my mind’ about BJP, Congress and AAP on the basis of three cardinal values of democracy in India: equality, secularism and freedom. I did not consider justice because it seems to me that consideration of justice will refer back to equality and in a short piece I can afford to limit myself to equality. I also ignored ‘fraternity’ or concern for others’ wellbeing because it will make me repeat what I say on secularism and equality. This being tentative thinking I can afford to temporarily leave it out.

The following is the result of my tentative personal thinking. May not be very rigorous and all encompassing, it is more at the level of musings.

BJP UNDER NARENDRA MODI

I am taking BJP under Narendra Modi first because all serves predict them to be the single biggest party.

Their history

Torch bearers of Janasangha and Hindu Mahasabha, and guided (controlled, some say) by RSS. This trio certainly is divisive and wants Hindus to dominate Indian politics, and every aspect of national life. They are particularly inimical to Muslims. They have been giving calls of “Bharateeya karan” and then in the name of opposing appeasement been attacking Muslims. Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajarang Dal are certainly fundamentalist organisations and creations of the RSS.

Equality of status and opportunity

The whole Sangha Parivar wants India to run on Hindu ethos and want others to accept their secondary status as far as ‘foundational’, ‘cultural’ ethos of India go. However, as citizens they are ambivalent and willy-nilly accept equal status and rights for all.

But their ‘equality’ has several problems. They are against all affirmative action that goes in favour of status quo where higher caste Hindus dominate the scene. They are not really concerned about righting the historical wrong visited on Dalits for centuries. Deep down they seem to be governed by caste stereotypes and want everyone to accept the supremacy of brahminical values where kshatriyas have a status equal to Brahmins but the rest have to be ‘sankritised’.

Women are not ‘equal’ in their equality; they need to be safeguarded, guided, controlled, if need be by force. They may not say all this in words, but they certainly show it in their deeds. The Bharatiya Nari still seems to be their preferred ideal, though they do not say that openly and often.

I personally do not think they really want to dominate Muslims in stark terms. But they want to Hinduise their ethos, they want them to have their punyabhoomi in India, which is historically impossible. They suspect Muslims’ loyalty to the country; and are actually scared of them. They have deep down animosity for Muslims, and often blame what they call eight hundred years of “Muslim rule” for many of the ills in Hinduism.

Secularism

No they are not secular by any stretch of imagination. Secularism has to do with the attitude of the state to religions. The BJP and Sangha Parivar certainly wants Hindu ethos to dominate every sphere of life. So they cannot be secular in the ‘equal distance from all religions’ sense of the term. Their manifesto proves that without a shred of doubt. Ram mandir, Ram Setu, Ganga as spiritual lifeline, and cow as a holy animal nail it.

I have mentioned their attitude to Islam and Muslims above and that certainly is not secular. Their imagination of India is an upper caste Hindu imagination.

Freedom of speech and expression

They are departing from Hindu ethos in this respect. It seems to me that the Hindus traditionally have been tolerant to expression of ideas they did not agree with. But only tolerant. Hindus – upper caste – have never considered others as good as themselves; the other often was ‘mlachchhya’. But speaking against orthodoxy from within as well as from without was tolerated. This perhaps came from the idea that ‘the truth is one but wise-ones express it in many ways’. BJP and Sangha are now becoming more and more intolerant to that. One cannot any longer speak against their dharma, gods and even leaders. Actually, in this respect they are eroding traditional Hindu ethos.

Therefore, BJP under Modi certainly does not fare well in the light of values like equality, secularism and freedom of expression; and one cannot vote for them.

INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS UNDER NEHRU-GANDHI FAMILY

As BJP has declared itself under Modi, Congress has been an unambiguous fiefdom of the Nehru-Gandhi family. So one has to consider it that way.

Their history

The Congress of today is a continuation in some ways and is very different in some others from the Congress that fought and won the freedom struggle for India. But since 1920 congress has been under dictatorship of people at the helm. Its ethos was not of open discussion and democratic decision making. Gandhi completely destroyed that and then handed it over to Nehru. Nehru had an historic opportunity to work for dismantling the feudal and totalitarian character of the party. He did build institutions and infuse democratic decision making in the nation, but was always very careful about his own power and did not believe that others can be as good democrats as he considered himself. The Congress remained a dictatorship under him. After Nehru and a brief struggle of power it completely went into Indira Gandhi’s hands; who destroyed all democratic institutions and became a virtual dictator. Since then it is nothing more than a family fiefdom populated by power hungry, dishonest sycophants.

Equality of status and opportunity

Certainly not. The Gandhis are ‘more equal than others’. Even a nincompoop born in Gandhi family is considered as natural leader by all spineless Congressis. This is the height of hypocrisy when congress leaders like Rahul and Sonia Gandhi talk of power sharing and not being concentrated in a few hands. One wonders how they can make such proclamations! The only explanation seems to be that they think people are really stupid. Congress is a feudal party with mindless loyalty (Manmohan Singh being the paragon) as its strength. They seem to genuinely believe that the Gandhi family has some sort of divine right. This dynastic politics has a good understanding of mentality of Indian masses, who are actually feudal in thinking.

Congress is the reason why we have so many political dynasties today. They showed the way, and made it acceptable under a democratic constitution. Their ‘equality’ is very nuanced. Gandhis are the ‘most equal’, and that cannot be questioned; as we know even Priyanka Gandhi is a more important leader than their biggest political stalwarts. Other political dynasties (be they Sindhias, Yadava, or what ever) are ‘more equal’ than the commoners without a dynasty to flaunt. The commoners are ‘equal’ among themselves of course; but: one, they all are to be ‘ruled’, and two, their respective value (equality?) depends upon how they can be used at any given time for consolidating the power for Gandhis. Gandhis are the masters, rest are the subjects.

Their proclamations for benefit of dalits, Muslims and tribals are directed at keeping the flock together, and not for any love for equality.

I am surprised that people fail to notice that Modi as the mascot of BJP is modelled on the Congress. Congress does not proclaim a Prime Ministerial candidate, its Prime Ministerial candidate has always been known to all, since Nehru era. When was there any doubt that a scion of Nehru-Gandhi family, chosen by the family itself, will be the prime minister? They did not need to declare it. BJP learnt that this clarity gives dividends, so they adopted it from Congress. The BJP could not perform the trick of ‘declaring without declaring’; so they had to openly declare.

Secularism

They do not seem to have any overt animosity to any particular religious group. But their politics is far from being secular, it always has been sectarian and casteist. They are the most adept at playing religious communities against each other. Actually, to my mind, if the congress did not play the politics of religion, BJP would have been a dismal failure. Congress policies and hypocrisy have nurtured the BJP and Sangh parivar. Congress has been historically adept at using religion for political gains. Gandhi’s use of Muslim sentiment against abolition of Caliphate is the biggest example of non-secular religious politics. And it came from a man who preached sanctity of means nd ends both! In the Khilafat movement both Hindus and Muslims were cheated. The failure of Khilafat movement in its proclaimed objectives (swarajya and reinstating the Caliphate) created a backlash. The Muslims saw Gandhi’s (the original one) withdrawal of the movement as a betrayal, not only by Gandhi himself but by Hindus in large. The RSS came into being in the aftermath of this failure.

Congress’s stand on Shah Bano case, opening the doors of Babri Masjid, and numerous other issues can hardly be called secular, they are example of sectarian politics. They were designed to appease one community at one time and another at another time, and, therefore, playing communities against each other. This certainly is not secularism.

People fail to notice that today Congress is talking of communal and divisive language more than BJP, though to proclaim that they are the guardians of unity and minorities. The real point in their talk is creating distrust and fear. BJP is talking development. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and all of Congress is talking actually communalism, and its fear. BJP can afford not to talk of Hindutva for a while, because it has established its credentials of Hindu communalism where it matters, among middle class Hindu population, they need not always talk about it. Now they can afford to talk development. This has forced Congress to come in the open.

Freedom of speech and expression

Congress has never came out as a protector of citizens’ right to free speech. India was the first country to ban Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, their record of protecting Taslima Nasreen has been dismal. In the case of Danish cartoons of Muhammad was even worse. They are also very touchy about the Gandhi family, no adverse comment on any family member is tolerated.

Therefore, as far as the issue of these three values go, one cannot vote for Congress either.

AAM AADMI PARTY UNDER KEJRIWAL

Kejriwal is the undisputed leader, nay icon, of AAP.

Well, they have been in the arena for a very short time. One does not really have enough information on their position on equality, secularism and freedom of speech. They seem to be similar to the Congress on secularism, if one goes by Kejriwal’s overtures to Muslim clerics. But their position on equality and freedom of speech is not clear.

They, however, seem to have other problems that are even more scary than the BJP and Congress. In a multicultural democracy procedural norms are absolutely essential to function properly. Ideas on justice, equality, freedom of speech, moral values, behaviour with others, boundaries of legal action, etc. all are understood in multiple ways. Many of these concepts are essentially contested; meaning that their interpretations will always remain open and a clear single accepted definition will never be available. In such a scenario, if you want to live together with harmony setting procedural norms for public behaviour is the only way. Yes, procedural norms can be manipulated, can be unjust, principles can be adhered to ‘in letter’ and be ‘violated in spirit’. And in such situations one needs to oppose the people who are violating the principles. But even that has to be done within the procedural norms. AAP in general and Kejriwal in particular does not accept that.

So what do they want to replace procedural norms with? Their own self-righteousness. They have to be accepted as just, true and absolutely reliable messiahs. This is not democracy. They are actually a ‘CULT’ with Kejriwal the originator and head.

In reality Kejriwal—in spite of his aam aadmi penchant—is behaving like a very ‘khaas aadmi’. Whatever he says is right, he does not need arguments, evidence or any other justification. His word is enough. That makes him a bold and honest person in eyes of many. But he turns out to be a joker and a self-centred egoist in many others’ eyes. I belong to the second group. I don’t consider him bold at all. Boldness involves risk taking. He has nothing to lose, so no risk.

People like Yogendra yadav and Medha Patkar have a huge reputation as upholders of democratic rights and thinking people. But they have already started looking like jokers in that AAP cap.

One can hardly contemplate voting for AAP then.

SO WHAT DOES ONE DO THEN?

I have heard (have not read) that there will be an option of “None Of The Above” (NOTA) in the voting machines. I will go for that. It seems to me, tentatively, that if a large number of people vote for NOTA, then the message will be conveyed to all that the public is not stupid, they are thinking and something in the minds of ordinary silent Indians is brewing. This might get an expression in the coming years. Till then we have to keep our fingers crossed for the country and live with bated breath.

ONE MORE THING

Congress is making a lot of noise that Modi will turn the country into a fascist one. Many Indian intellectuals are making the same point. This exaggerated paranoia is helping Modi. It cannot happen in India, at least I believe that. It cannot happen not because Indians are any more democratic people etc. or for the want of BJP and Modi. But because of the range of diversity and acceptance of multiplicity of values in India. The Gandhi family on the helms could not turn India into a monarchy, Modi cannot turn it into a fascist one. One is crediting them with too much of power when claims that the country can be turned into a fascist Hindu rashtra or a monarchy. There are several reasons to believe that it will not happen, but I cannot go into them here. Let us remember that unbelievable exaggeration obscures the genuine problems, and arguments become unacceptable. We will do much better if we keep arguments in a sane intellectual space. Then they will influence people’s thinking; fantastic claims fell on deaf years.

Modi coming to power will harm India. It will further damage equality, secularism and freedom; but he will not be able to destroy them. Congress coming to power will also further damage them, but again cannot totally destroy them. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, even if I sound superstitious.

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