The controversial affidavit on the Sethusamudram project filed by the Centre in the Supreme Court is a classic case of the UPA handing over an issue to the BJP on a platter. And that, too, prior to what seems like a virtually imminent mid-term parliamentary poll. The affidavit, inspired by a DMK minister in the cabinet and endorsed by a senior legal functionary of the government, would have caused incalculable harm in the politically-surcharged atmosphere but for the intervention of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
Nonetheless, the manner in which the issue threatened to erupt into a major political debate should serve as a wake-up call for the government. Common perception is that the UPA government is partisan and concerned only with matters relating to minority communities. This needs to change. In fact, the need of the hour is to use Indira Gandhi’s political strategy, and move the focus from caste and community to weaker sections and the downtrodden.
The Congress and its allies need to understand that being secular is no different from addressing the concerns of all communities, including Hindus. This would have the added advantage of preventing the BJP from projecting itself as the voice of the majority community.
While the UPA may claim that it is already following this course, the fact is that the general public sees it as pursuing the minority agenda at the expense of the majority community. At the same time, though, in most elections, the Muslims seem to abandon the Congress and throw their weight behind leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav or Mayawati.
It is nobody’s case that the minority communities should be ignored and allowed to lead a life of neglect and deprivation. It is the duty of any government in power to look into the welfare of all citizens. A government has to treat all citizens as equals, irrespective of caste and community. In doing so, the emotions and religious sentiments of all must be respected and their rights protected.
There are several instances when disrespect shown to a religious leader has led to a major furore within the same community. For instance, when the Dera Sacha Sauda chief reportedly tried to wear a robe similar to the one worn by the tenth Sikh guru, it evoked strong protests from the Sikhs. Any attempt to show Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammad in a controversial manner has often resulted in serious protests from Christians and Muslims respectively. So the protests across the country on the Centre’s controversial affidavit is no surprise.
Nonetheless, the matter has also been contained because of the maturity shown by all sections of our people. All important Muslim leaders supported the move to withdraw the affidavit as it hurt the sentiments of the Hindus. In the Congress, Mohsina Kidwai also raised the demand for instituting an inquiry panel on how such an affidavit happened to be filed. The Left issued a strong statement and attacked the BJP for trying to draw political capital out of it. The BJP’s hypocrisy was in full public glare since it was its own government at the Centre that had initiated the Sethusamudram project.
The irony is that L.K. Advani, who perhaps wanted to lead the agitation, does not know how to get past the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which has been agitating on the issue for some time. The VHP has been allergic to Advani ever since his pro-Jinnah remarks and will never allow him to take the lead in the agitation unless the RSS intervenes and makes it possible. Both Ashok Singhal and Pravin Togadia have very strong views on this. Otherwise the agitation will be led by others who are acceptable to the VHP. Within the BJP, it was Murli Manohar Joshi who had initially been asked to look into this.
What could also be worrying the BJP leaders despite all the noise being made on the subject is that the issue may not make much material difference in UP, the state where Lord Rama is said to have been born. Its fortunes in the state continue to plummet in the absence of a strong leadership. The late Ram Manohar Lohia, the socialist leader, had stated that Rama, Krishna and Shiva have the most profound impact on the souls of Indian people. But the issue as of now does not seem to have much impact either in Ayodhya (Rama’s birthplace), Mathura (Krishna’s birth place) and Kashi (associated with Shiva). It could perhaps have a possible impact in Gujarat, where there is polarisation between the Hindus and the Muslims. The RSS, too, would never want the Ram Setu issue to lead to a political confrontation between members of the same community.
The UPA has done well to correct its folly. Sonia Gandhi also deserves full marks for her timely intervention. The UPA must now ensure that while looking into the issues of all sections of society, it does not allow the feeling that the government does not support the majority community to persist. Between us.