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India: What are the secular credentials of different political parties?

by Ram Puniyani, 1 April 2009

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Electoral Parties and Secular Values

In our secular democracy how to we choose whom to vote for. What are the
secular credentials of different political parties in the electoral arena?
The lead party of ruling coalition, UPA, Congress is no clean body as its
hands are also full of blood of Sikhs in the 1984. Large numbers of communal riots have taken place during Congress regimes. BJP is the ally of
organizations which spew poison against minorities and its role in Babri
demolition, Gujarat carnage, anti Christian violence and many other riots is
very obvious. Not to be left behind now the left, CPM in particular, with
its role in Nadigram massacre in toe, has made many of the radical elements to equate it with BJP and its communal agenda. At minor level Samajavadi Party, has stood by minorities but there are occasions when it has compromised and let the communal organizations make merry. Mayawati of BSP is on record to have campaigned for Narendra Modi and put the blame of Gujarat carnage on Godhra train burning by Muslims.

How do we weigh these parties on the scale of secularism? Are BJP, Congress and CPM comparable in this regard? One can dismiss BSP as being too opportunist to be considered as secular. Amongst the major one’s, we will focus on Congress, Communists and the BJP. A tough situation has been created due to the weak policies of Congress and the arrogance of CPM in Nandigram. Are all these parties in the same league or is there a shade of difference which is worth recognizing in order to save the democratic ethos, which has been weakened due to the happenings of the current times.

Congress began as a secular party with the inclusion of people of all
religions, and their continued association with this party during freedom
movement. At the same time many a communalists formed the part of its
leadership Madan Mohan Malaviya and Dr. Moonje etc. Even the founder of RSS, K.B. Hedgewar was associated with it till 1934. At medium and grass root level many a Hindu communalists in particular remained and are part of this party. It is this which made Nehru to warn that Congress should be cautious of those members who sound secular but are communal in the real sense. At the level of policies Congress took quite a principled secular path till the demise of Pundit Nehru, after which it has compromised regularly. The problem became apparent with Indira Gandhi’s election speeches in Jammu, Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘when a big tree falls’; Shah Bano issue, shilaynyas, and Narsimha Rao’s afternoon siesta when the Babri was being razed to the ground. Many a riots took place during its regime when the ruling Government either acted as the silent witness or colluded with the rioters.

While evaluating riots it has to be kept in mind that the riots take place
due to three major factors, the instigator and conductor, which according
the inquiry commissions, (Jagmohan Reddy, Justice Madon, Vithayathil,
Shrikrishna and Venugopal)mostly has been some organization which is a
offshoot of RSS. The second factor is those who are supposed to control it,
the political leadership. In this case the Congress when in power has been
weak and ineffectual at places and actively colluding at other. Mostly it
has been lacking the political will to control riots most of the times. The
third force is the police and bureaucracy, which has been regularly
communalized and has been the umbrella to the rioters or been the active
participant in the execution of the pogroms. Communalism is not the program of Congress, but its execution of secular values has been lacking in will power.

Left and CPM, has come in this arena of discussion after Nandigram, when in order to execute the global economic agenda, they used their cadres to
settle the score by ‘paying its opponents back in the same coin.’ Its
program remains essentially secular, while the proactive will to counter the
communal issues is not visible at all, be it the plight of minorities or the
worsening ‘hate’ against minorities in the states ruled by the left parties.
The communalism prevalent in the minds has not been tackled at all.

BJP is the political child of RSS, which has the agenda of Hindu nation. It
resorts to the ‘Hate minorities’ mind set at the drop of the hat. It has the
patriarch RSS and associates; VHP, Bajrang Dal, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram,
Bajrang Dal etc, who have been communalizing the mind set, which is the base of communal violence. This Sangh Parivar has been actively initiating
situations which bring in violence. It has led many a carnages and with the
help of certain elements of Congress and the helpful state machinery, has
been polarizing the communities along religious lines. The scholars of
communal violence have made the observation that in the aftermath of most of the communal violence Sangh Parivar becomes stronger in those areas, where the violence has taken place. Its agenda is Hindu nation. Though using democratic space this party in the long term aims at Hindu nation Its communalism is programmatic.

We can classify the secular formations, individuals in to four broad
categories on the scale of secularism. The first category belongs to the
party/individual who proactively strive to bring in caste and gender
equality and affirmative action for minorities in a substantive way. A
synthesis of values of Bhagat Singh, Gandhi and Ambedkar can best describe this group, which today is not there as a strong voice.

The formations like Left are genuinely secular but they have ignored the
proactive measures to pursue this. Congress is mired by too many power
seekers to be able to stand firmly to oppose the communal elements and lands up being the accomplice, in part or in full, of the phenomenon of
communalism at times. BJP as a part of Sangh Parivar, is the aggressive,
intimidating opponent of pluralism, democracy and secularism, whatever its
contingent language be. It along with other members of Sangh Parivar is
effectively using the electoral space to do away with democratic values. It
is the Indian face of fascism.

The anti Sikh violence was a sort of single go phenomenon, which had more to do with the ethno-regional factors. The Nadigram carnage is more of economic massacre, while the BJP led pogroms are targeted at the minorities as minorities, to consolidate their political hegemony. To be sure none of the violence can be condoned. The subtleties of these differences point out that while we do not have the real good choice for electoral arena, we will have to keep putting the civic pressure for bringing in better and better political policies through the grass root campaigns. All the same to compare BJP with other electoral formations will be undermining the threat of the agenda of RSS, which seeks to abolish democratic space and build a society in the image of ‘glorious’ Hindu past.

One can very well say, today in electoral arena we do not have a choice
between Good Better and the Best. We are riddled with bad, worse, worst and BJP!