If I were to ask you what preoccupies people at the national level at the moment, I am almost certain that you would say it is the ever downward sliding economy. The prime minister may have breathed fire and brimstone but things on the economic front are so bad that the rupee and its fate are consuming us like never before. And in this case, what would we expect our elected representatives to do? Pull us out of the darkening hole, of course.
If you thought that, you are the ultimate optimist. Instead of putting their collective heads together, all political parties are busy tripping each other up. True some major legislation has got through, but we need a concerted effort to come up with a solution to the economy. No other subject must be allowed to dominate the political discourse at the moment, even though we have seen all sorts of tangential and inconsequential issues being raised. There cannot be any buck passing any more.
Which is why I find it comical that the once prominent but now fringe elements of Hindutva seem to be labouring under the illusion that they can raise a dead and buried issue as they tried to do recently.
Chanakya was reminded of the situation of the early 1990s in a different context also last week, when the VHP tried to take out yet another yatra in Uttar Pradesh around the holy town of Ayodhya. As in the past, this time too, the purpose of the VHP yatra was less than holy. The yatra fizzled out, but the question remains — is there a concerted effort to polarise the Hindus and Muslims of India at a time when all attempts should be on trying to revive the economy?
Yes, it is alarmist, but the facts are scary — in the last month alone, communal clashes of a serious nature were reported from Bethia and Nawada in Bihar and Indore in Madhya Pradesh. Around 150 clashes have been reported in Uttar Pradesh since the Akhilesh Yadav government came to power in March 2012. Ever since the BJP and the JDU parted ways in Bihar, the average number of reported communal clashes per month has gone up by six times. There seems to be an increasing schism between the Hindus and Muslims of India, and reportage from Uttar Pradesh elsewhere in this paper today brings out this fact. We simply cannot afford this at this juncture.
That said, I believe that the majority of Indians are not swayed by appeals to their religious and caste identities, in normal situations. After all, the VHP yatra did not find many takers. The aspirations of a young India are not defined in terms of religion or caste.
Yes, there was an era in which such things were the determining factor of politics. The fact that both ruling parties in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are rainbow social coalitions — of all castes and religious groups — is testimony to the fact that sectarian politics is no longer effective. Or, at least, not as effective as two decades ago. But when abnormal situations are deliberately created by interested parties, one can never be sure of how it plays out.
The majority of Indians may not understand capital controls and exchange rates, but they do know that the prices of onions and tomatoes are pinching; that a job is difficult to come by. They are in substantial measures unhappy with the current government, and justifiably so. They feel leaderless and helpless. Consequently, they are also prone to deviant social behaviour.
The instant popularity achieved by Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign two years ago demonstrated not his vision or sense of purpose, but the helplessness and vulnerability of the Indian public. It is in such an environment of uncertainty that India is moving towards the next election, which is due in May 2014. The bugle has already been sounded. My point is simply — stick to the point. No party should get sidetracked by any other issue. It may stick in their throats to come to some sort of consensus on the economy but that has to be done.
The BJP will declare Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate in a matter of weeks, as this newspaper reported recently. Modi has already become the central point of politics as everyone, including Modi himself, appears to make it a referendum on him. The Congress has found it a convenient distraction from its governance deficiencies.
It is remarkable how the entire debate on corruption has been relegated to the backburner ever since Modi emerged as the face of the BJP. At least obliquely, the scare over Modi seems to be the key campaign point for the Congress. Modi, who had started off with showcasing his development record in Gujarat, confused his constituency with a reference to him being a “Hindu nationalist,” and similar statements.
All attempts to create social friction — such as the VHP yatra — must be avoided. The next election campaign must be a spirited debate on the India that we want to build for our next generation. And the first thing we need for that is a strong economy, not the mandir or masjid.