In polls, don’t disturb social harmony | HT Editorial
This year’s elections for legislative assemblies are important not just in terms of determining the political balance of power nationally and the power configuration in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. The polls are also important because they will shape social relations between Hindus and Muslims in key geographical regions, where both communities coexist but also have a history of volatile relations.
In three states in particular, the religious dimension is important. Muslims constitute around a third of the population in Assam, and at least a fourth of the population in West Bengal and Kerala (which also has close to 20% Christians). In all three states, but particularly in the eastern states, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hoping to consolidate the Hindu vote. Its campaign, in characteristic fashion, has elements of dog-whistle politics against minorities. At the same time, in all three states, there is a range of smaller Muslim formations, and bigger “secular” formations, which hope to consolidate the Muslim vote. Their campaign, too, in a characteristic manner, has elements which may deepen the already existing fears among the community about the rise of majoritarianism.
It is tempting in an electoral democracy to leverage group identities, particularly on the contested axis of religion. But a polarised campaign which deepens the Hindu-Muslim divide goes against the spirit of the Constitution, leaves long-lasting political scars, creates conflicts, and makes the task of governance — irrespective of who wins — more challenging. The BJP, as well as parties which claim to be secular or represent minority interests, must exercise responsibility in their campaign, for Hindu-Muslim harmony is essential for national unity.