In four years, standby to greet Prime Minister Narendra Modi
By Jawed Naqvi | Crosspost from Dawn, 29 Mar, 2010
A big race, probably the biggest that India is mandated to hold, was kicked off last week. It could usher Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi as prime minister in 2014 when elections are due, if not before. And since Modi has the unqualified support of major industrialists who know the art, shall we say, of financing parties, lobbying for MPs, and influencing key policies, there is little reason to doubt who the corporate media would be backing when push comes to shove.
Gandhi, with his limited experience of NGOs in Amethi and Rae Bareli might find himself as the back-up. He is untested. Modi, on the other hand, has shown his worth to those who run democracy in India.
In any case no one is required to win a majority in parliament any longer and nobody probably ever will in the increasingly disparate polity called India. The last time a single party had a clear majority it was the largest majority ever. In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi got more than three fourths of the Lok Sabha seats but that was in the wake of his mother’s assassination and the communal wave which came with sympathy. No party has got a clear majority ever since. The task to make up for the shortages is left to post-electoral “arrangements” to be managed by veteran specialists with the needed wherewithal to make the right offer to get the arithmetic right. This has been the pattern since 1991.
That was when a handful of MPs representing the tribespeople of Jharkhand – the kind who are rallying the war against Maoists today – accepted a small bribe to save the trust vote for Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s minority Congress government. Only after his five-year term was complete and over were they jailed. He escaped of course by some legal callisthenics to hand over the reins of power to the Congress’ most preferred upper caste alternative – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), albeit for 13 days to begin with.
Without going into deep history, suffice it to say that just last week, the legislative assembly in the border state of Assam sent two Congress candidates to the Rajya Sabha by indulging in “cross-voting”, euphemism for shady deals. The BJP suspended its MLAs for betraying its whip, but the deputies may yet remain members of the house because the majority and the presiding officer belong to the Congress who may reward the men, not punish them. This incidentally is the same assembly that has consistently elected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as Rajya Sabha MP since 1992. After the Supreme Court changed the rules, he is no longer required to give an affidavit of being a permanent resident of Assam! He needed to do so in the past.
The coordination – (an alliance would look unconvincing among make-believe rivals) – between the Congress and the BJP involves brisk floor crossing. Many a Congress leader has joined the BJP and so many more left the BJP to join the Congress that it’s often confusing to tell one from the other. This bonding peaked recently when they came together to create the illusion of women’s empowerment by seeking to corner 33 per cent safe parliamentary constituencies for primarily upper caste women behind the cloak of gender equality. The bill is expected to struggle to pass the Lok Sabha. Barring the semantics there is complete understanding between the two parties on a range of vital issues – from the neo-liberal shepherding of foreign and economic policies to their alliance at home which is rock solid in the militarist prescriptions towards the tribespeople and their coveted natural resources. The use of vigilante groups backed by paramilitary or even the army to break up resistance groups in crucial states is a method they both pursue assiduously.
So what was the big race that began last week and how did it get kicked off? It began when the Congress and the corporate media feigned to attack the BJP. It was a race triggered by the Congress in order to revive the foundering rightwing party as its main challenger. BJP leader Lal Kishan Advani who was mothballed after his party failed to win last year’s parliamentary elections was thus catapulted onto the centre-stage. Suddenly, out of the blue, a court case that was dragging on against him since the 1992 demolition of the Babri mosque became the subject of screaming headlines. A woman police officer who was present at the site on 6th December 1992 declared (not for the first time) that she saw the BJP leaders including Advani making inflammatory speeches, which set off the destruction of the mosque. Will he and his cohorts be jailed, if so to what avail?
Adolf Hitler too was jailed for leading the Beer Hall Putsch against the government in Bavaria in 1923. He was sentenced to five years in prison by a friendly judge, but was released in nine months during which he wrote Mein Kampf. The implications in this for a pusillanimous government that the Congress runs are horrific. But this is not the end of the matter. A special investigating team (SIT) was ordered by the Supreme Court to interview Narendra Modi for his role – which should have been an open and shut case really – in the anti-Muslim pogroms of 2002. Where the SIT will take the tragic story of Zakia Jafri, the brave and lonely widow of the brutally murdered former MP Ahsan Jafri, who has been chasing the case against Modi in every possible court, is implicit in the nameplate that hangs outside the SIT office in Gujarat. It is looking into “Godhra Riots”, announces the placard, so-called after the death of scores of Hindu passengers for which Modi’s government arrested and jailed local Muslims. It was a trigger to the pogroms, not a riot.
There is nothing essentially wrong about seeking legal remedies against injustices of the state. We should not belittle the efforts of Teesta Setalvad, Zakia Jafri and many others for keeping faith in the judicial process. However, we have to be realistic about what the state can or would do to arrest its own rightward slide. In this regard, the Congress and the BJP flaunt their own set of injustices to make spurious populist appeals. The BJP plays up the Delhi massacre of Sikhs by Congress hoodlums. The Congress blames the BJP for its criminal role in Ayodhya and for the carnage of Muslims in Gujarat among other outrages. Both sides had their chance to right the wrongs that they were so worked up about, with political and judicial remedies. They didn’t.
Meanwhile, a real winner for communal polarisation was let loose last week. The Supreme Court said it would allow the state of Andhra Pradesh to reserve job quotas for low caste Muslims. The BJP will pounce on it. It badly needs to go to the four corners of the country with its unique street fighting capability. Communal polarisation helps the Congress take the secular high ground and the BJP finds in it much needed nutrition to galvanise a Hindu revivalist agenda. It thus helps cut the ground from under the feet of the middle of the road parties such as the Left and assorted backward caste-based socialists like Laloo and Mulayam Yadav.
In August 1993, addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Mughal-built Red Fort, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao promised to rebuild the demolished mosque in Ayodhya. It was a foolish and dangerous statement to make. Moreover it lacked sincerity, which was not such a bad thing, given the lethal consequences had he been earnest. Job reservations for low caste Muslims may be a logical thing to do, provided there is a consensus in the country, and there are jobs to be handed out. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a manner of speaking that Muslims had the first right on the state’s resources, he was roundly criticised by the BJP and other rightwing parties for appeasing Muslims. No appeasement is happening. Muslims like a majority of other Indians will continue to be marginalised and ghettoised if a spurious two-party system is enforced to keep the status quo. The system works well for the big business and Narendra Modi is a better bet for them than anybody on the horizon. All he has to do is to pretend to be mellow as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani did after causing untold harm to Indian secularism. Prime Minister Modi will thus have exemplary role models to emulate. Does Rahul Gandhi have an ace up his sleeve to trump him? Yes, perhaps, by becoming more like the BJP.