This is the 200th column of Left Hand Drive. Many thanks for the readers’ generous indulgence over a hundred full moons and a hundred new moons and to the editor and the editorial staff of this esteemed daily.
It is a remarkable coincidence that this column is being filed on the 196th birthday of Karl Marx. People are often remembered for their contributions to the advance of human civilisation. Men of science are remembered for widening the vistas of our knowledge and understanding.
Marx, however, is unique in this constellation of greats for the simple fact that he is remembered and his work recollected in order to resolve the day-to-day problems of sheer existence apart from a multisided contribution to a heightened awareness of our universal existence. From the need to understand the genesis of the global economic crisis that continues to engulf all of us in its sixth year to grasping the play of a multitude of social contradictions that continue to torment human existence, both materially and spiritually, Marx is inevitably invoked.
In the context of the ongoing elections, where money power has reached bizarre heights, from buying votes to enticing siblings to contest each other, Marx sounds chillingly contemporaneous. In the Communist Manifesto, along with Frederick Engels, he says, “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers. The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”
By now, the media hyperbole of a Modi wave turning into a tsunami devastating the country appears to have considerably mellowed. With every bus stop hoarding in the country carrying his advertisement as the future prime minister for over a year now, a Modi anti-incumbency factor has been set in motion. Field reporters, across the country, are filing reports that show ground realities are far detached from the media packaging that saw every opinion poll predicting an emphatic win for the BJP.
Particularly disturbing for the RSS/BJP are the reports from the Hindi heartland which can be summed up by one caption that says: “Despite Modi, local factors remained key”. In Bihar, the reports are about the contest between Lalu Prasad once again stopping the BJP ‘rath’ and Nitish Kumar reaping the benefits of development. In Uttar Pradesh, media reports are preoccupied with caste polarisation around Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati.
The RSS/BJP, in a desperate bid to break through the grip of local factors, which overwhelmingly influence the lives of the people, is upping the ante of communal polarisation, as expected. The BJP saheb’s right-hand man in Uttar Pradesh is following up his incendiary communal speeches by now hurling accusations that the Samajwadi Party chief’s constituency Azamgarh is a “base of terrorists”.
The worst form of communal vote-bank policies seeking to consolidate the majority Hindu vote is gaining momentum. Narendra Modi is following up his anti-Bangladeshi rhetoric in West Bengal’s Asansol on May 4 by threatening that Bangladeshis should be ready with their bags packed to be deported once he becomes prime minister. He more than clarified that while Hindus are welcome, Muslims are the target.
This is a clear enough signal to foment communal hatred against all bona fide Indian Bengali Muslims. Media allegations suggest that such whipping up of communal passions was responsible, among others, for the recent violence in the Bodoland territories of Assam, leaving at least 31 people dead. Indeed, fundamental human rights, hitherto considered sacrosanct, are today placed on the altar of electoral gain.
In a similar vein, a new version of match-fixing can be seen between the BJP and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. This is the battle for the consolidation of respective vote-banks, widening the communal divide. The war of words between Modi and Mamata Banerjee is designed to consolidate the hardcore Hindutva support base behind the BJP and to prevent the return of the minorities, disillusioned with the Trinamool Congress, to the fold of the Left Front.
On the other hand, conscious of the fact that the BJP will surely need allies to reach the majority mark post elections, the BJP president speaks in terms of a handsome ‘Bengal Package’, cementing post-poll Trinamool support to a BJP government. Such is the characteristic doublespeak of the RSS/BJP.
Amidst all this, the basic issue that overwhelmingly concerns our people is being lost sight of. The common refrain among the people is a cry for relief. Relief from the growing burdens of inflation, unemployment and miseries of day-to-day existence. Such relief can only be provided by an alternative set of policies, alternative to both currently advocated by the BJP and the Congress. In fact, if there is any wave at all in these elections, it is this people’s wave seeking relief.
The victory of the people’s wave will be crucially dependent upon the extent to which a free and fair poll can be conducted and people allowed to vote without extraneous pressures and enticements. The reports of widespread manipulations through terror, intimidation, use of muscle and money power have already come to light in the seventh phase of polling, particularly in West Bengal.
The charges levelled against the ruling party in the state by all others including the Congress and the BJP must be examined by the Election Commission and consequent distortions corrected. Importantly, in the remaining two phases such efforts to distort the democratic process must not be allowed.
Till we meet again. By then, hopefully, the people’s wave will have triumphed.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal