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Charm offensive

The stridency being shown on the Ram Setu issue is yet another component of this ‘return to basics’ strategy, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2007 22:36 IST

Much has been written about the BJP’s fourth and Narendra Modi’s second consecutive win in the elections to the Gujarat state assembly. Much more will surely be written, analysing various tangible and imaginary factors. This does not excite me. The CPI(M)-led Left Front has won seven consecutive elections in West Bengal with two-thirds to three-fourths majority.

The following, however, concerns me. Last fortnight, we noted that as the campaign was reaching its culmination, the BJP had more or less abandoned its initial ‘development plank’ in favour of its time-tested hardcore Hindutva agenda. Clearly, the factors we had noted — viz., a stronger index of Opposition unity and an apparently weaker index of internal unity of the BJP and other RSS affiliates — could not be adequately marshalled to produce a different result. Why? We shall return to it later.

This victory bolsters the tendency of an aggressive return to the Hindutva agenda. The anointment of LK Advani as the BJP’s future PM (ie, if the party ever wins the next general elections) is an obvious effort to recreate the atmosphere of communal frenzy that was roused during the rath yatra preceding the demolition of Babri masjid in order to consolidate the Hindu vote-bank.

Advani now describes this Gujarat result as a “turning point” signalling the BJP’s “comeback” into national politics. It is not only the memory of the ‘masses’ that can be short. Some leaders too, it appears, suffer a similar predilection. Recall the euphoria after the 2003 Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh elections leading the BJP-led NDA to advance the 2004 general elections. The result is there for all to see.

Nevertheless, the stridency being shown on the Ram Setu issue is yet another component of this ‘return to basics’ strategy.

As we noted in this column many fortnights ago, it was the BJP-led NDA government that had cleared this project and had begun making the required financial allocations. Yet, today, its opposition, negating its own stand when in government, means only one thing: rousing communal passions to sharpen communal polarisation.

Add to this the latest item on this agenda. At the recent National Development Council (NDC) meeting to finalise the Eleventh Five-Year Plan, the BJP mounted a strident attack on the Prime Minister’s new 15-point programme for the welfare of the minorities, dubbing this as “communal budgeting”. The record needs to be set right. This programme was adopted by the Union cabinet way back on June 22, 2006. Further, this is not the first time that such a programme is being outlined. In May 1983, Indira Gandhi had addressed a letter to all the chief ministers containing, again, 15 points. These were reiterated in August 1985 by Rajiv Gandhi.

The Sachar Committee report, apart from comprehensively nailing the lie of the BJP’s clamour against ‘minority appeasement’, has thoroughly exposed how none of these earlier directions resulted in any appreciable improvement. On the contrary, the situation of the minorities worsened. Responding to the growing demands for the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations, the UPA government has outlined this new programme. While the points relating to prevention of communal riots and provision of relief to the victims of such riots find an important place, the focus is on issues intimately connected with the social, educational and economic uplift of the minorities.

Many of us have been demanding that the UPA government implement a sub-plan for the minorities on the lines of the existing sub-plan for the tribals. Though the word ‘sub-plan’ is not used, this programme ends with the following: “Care shall be taken to ensure that wherever applicable, there is separate earmarking of the physical and financial targets for the minority communities under each of the programmes/schemes, preferably in the ratio of the all-India population of each minority community. Thereafter, these targets shall be further split state-wise for each minority community in the ratio of the population of the minority community in each state. This will ensure that the benefit necessarily reaches the target group in the proportion of the population of the group in each state.”

At the NDC meeting, Modi, vehemently opposing this plan, said that such a programme is not “in the interests of maintaining the social fabric of the nation”. He further said that such a programme will not help in taking the people of India “on the path of development”. Given the fact that the BJP is the political arm of the RSS, he is essentially articulating the RSS ideology of equating India’s ‘social fabric’ exclusively with the majority Hindu community. If communalism is to be effectively combated, then this ideological challenge has to be squarely met.

India’s social fabric is distinguished by its vast plurality and rich diversity. The interests of our country can be protected and strengthened only when this fact is not merely recognised but accepted. It is precisely this that the BJP refuses to accept. Further, the strength of any country lies in how well and competently the interests of the minorities are protected. The measure of the success of democracy is the rising index of the welfare of the minorities.

Only when these concerns are addressed in right earnest can India move ahead on ‘the path of development’ that is both inclusive and comprehensive.

Rejecting these realities, as the next general elections draw closer, such aggressive communal polarisation will be on the rise. The façade of ‘coalition dharma’, advanced periodically by Vajpayee, will increasingly take a back seat. Apart from the fact that the BJP’s allies in the NDA would be thrown into a state of high discomfort, this aggressive return to the basics by the RSS/BJP does not auger well for the future of India’s secular, democratic, republican foundations.

Let us now return to our initial question. The failure to marshal all positive factors lies in the inability to move beyond mere manoeuvres and tactics at election time. Communalism, like fascism, can never be defeated on either its own terms or its own agenda. A paradigm shift needs to be brought about by a sustained ideological campaign against communalism, on the lines argued above, that rejects the living vibrancy of India — celebration of its diversity.

Further, the only way to prevent the BJP from exploiting popular discontent for electoral gains is through a right-earnest effort to improve people’s welfare. The UPA government must make a redoubled effort to implement the pro-people provisions of the Common Minimum Programme in the remaining part of its tenure. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme suffers serious inadequacies in its implementation, thus depriving crores of people of benefits that ought to flow to them.

Though the Tribal Rights Bill has been enacted, its implementation has been on hold. The Public Distribution System is in shambles and unless immediate corrective measures are taken, neither availability of foodgrains can be ensured nor can the rising prices be contained.

The communal onslaught can be contained only by improving the economic conditions of the people, while drawing them in the battle for the defence of secular democracy. The failure to do so, in the first place, is the reason for not being able to favourably marshal the factors noted at the outset. A repetition of this failure can only be at the UPA’s — worse, the country’s — peril.

(Sitaram Yechury, MP, Rajya Sabha and Member, CPI(M) Politburo)