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Secular enough to be divisive - The Indian Express

Sultan Shahin ()
January 5, 1998

Title: Secular enough to be divisive
Author: Sultan Shahin
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: January 5, 1998

So the secular balloon has finally burst. When Naresh Aggarwal
split the ecular UP Congress legislative Party and took away
more than half of its members to help the 'communal' BJP form a
government, it was dismissed by many a secularist as a flash in
the pan. But the same pattern has been repeated in the length and
breadth of the country, from Assam, West Bengal, Bihar and
Karnataka to Orissa. The myth of BJP's untouchability has thus
been exposed for what it was: a myth.

Clearly neither the Congress nor the UF constituent parties
consider the BJP, in their heart of hearts, untouchable. When
the Congress Party, defeated in the last general elections,
decided to stop the virtual winner, the BJP, from coming to
power, it simply employed this. myth to sustain an unnatural and
unwarranted alliance in power till the time it could set its own
house in order and gear up for another battle at the hustings, in
its desperation to come back to power.

The last 18 months of the Congress-supported UF government have
been a harrowing experience for the country. Not so much because
of the UF leaders' relative inexperience at governance. But
because the Congress, as a part of its power games, kept the
country on tenterhooks, by not allowing the government to settle
down even for a day. Apparently the Congress wanted to convey a
clear message to the country - let us govern or you will have no
governance at all. The secular-communal divide was created merely
to camouflage and in some ways reinforce this message. What the
Congress doesn't seem to realise is that if the choice is between
a 'communal' government and a secular non-government, the country
would without any hesitation plump for the former, sick as it is
with the latter.

It is nobody's case that the BJP does not have a communal agenda.
In fact the BJP itself would not like to be branded secular,
except, of course, nominally, to fulfill the constitutional
requirement. Its apparent role in the demolition of Babri masjid
does remain a black spot on its face. Its government in UP did
not bat an eyelid in committing contempt of the highest court in
order to further its communal agenda.

But it should also be remembered that the BJP has shown the
capacity to rise to the occasion and responsibility once in
power. Indeed the Congress record on the secular front is nothing
to be proud of In its 45-year rule, the Congress has tried to
systematically emasculate the Muslims economically and
culturally. One device used was the encouragement of the
obscurantist elements and their appeasement with backward-looking
laws. Another method used was police action against Muslims
wherever they showed signs of joining the national mainstream and
as a result getting somewhat prosperous. As far as the Babri
episode is concerned. the Congress culpability from the beginning
to the end simply cannot be denied.

The Muslims are looking forward to a period of peace and communal
amity in most parts of the country where the Congress is not in
power. In Congress ruled Maharashtra, of course, Muslims were
systematically disenfranchised and harassed, while an attempt was
made to blame the forces of Hindutva for this harassment. In any
case it is futile to blame the Hindutva mobs for large-scale
killings of Muslims. Why did these killings take place, by and
large, only when and where the Congress was in power? There must
be something really sick about this secular, liberal, enlightened
party. The Hindutva mobs, of course, play their part. But they
cease to be effective when the Congress is out of power.

If an outright secessionist outfit like the DMK can turn into a
responsible political party once entrusted with power, there is
no reason why the BJP would not govern the country effectively
and responsibly if allowed to come to power. Treating it as
untouchable is making a joke of democracy. Its attempt to join
the national mainstream should be respected. This is the message
that the Congress rank and file itself is giving to the party. A
number of UF constituents, too, are trying to convey the same
message. Let us hope the Congress-UF leadership listens to the
message and interprets it correctly. Let the 1998 elections be an
occasion for a grand reconciliation rather than further division
of the country.

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