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Jinnah revisited - The Times of India

M D Nalpat ()
February 26, 1998

Title: Jinnah revisited
Author: M D Nalpat
Publication: The Times of India
Date: February 26, 1998

Sometimes, the nature of the fight so destroys the prize that it
is not worth winning. Several prosperous businesses have been
ruined by litigation, leaving the "victor" only a shell. While
elections are, by their nature, contests, there are limits beyond
which a healthy campaign should not go. The style and substance
of the current campaign has been such that it could be at the
cost of stability in India.

During the 1940s, M A Jinnah argued that Congress rule would
imply the subjugation of the minorities. This created a fear
psychosis among the Muslim intelligentsia' After 1947, Muslims
have neither been subjugated in India, nor have they been
protected in Pakistan. Jinnah's sectarian logic has penetrated
deeper into the Pakistan polity, separating Baluch from Pashtun
and Sindhi from Punjabi. Today, in India, there is once again an
organised effort to create a polarisation between different
religions. A message is being disseminated that the BJP's coming
to office will cripple minority rights. The "secularists" are
thus using Jinnah's language to score points in the battle
against the BJP.

Crippling Burden

This election has been caused by the Congress' attempt to
dominate the next government. Should its tally fall below 160,
the gamble will have failed. Apart from the Rs 950 crore direct
cost of the election campaign and the (estimated) Rs 750 crore
spent by political parties, there is the cost of the policy
vacuum till a new government is sworn in. A modest estimate for
such losses would be approximately Rs 5,000 crore. Thus, the
direct cost of the 1998 elections to taxpayers is in the region
of Rs 6,700 crore.

More has been lost as a consequence of the legislative gridlock
created by MPs during the last Lok Sabha session. The hopes for a
more Indian-friendly regulatory structure vanished. Will such
behaviour continue into the 12th Lok Sabha? The campaign signals
are not encouraging for those who are looking forward to a time
when politicians will deliver results rather than abuse.

Today, the Congress has restricted its all-India campaign to
three individuals: Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka. Thus the
credit for the Congress' performance will flow to Mrs Gandhi and
her children alone. This is unexceptionable. What is not is the
message of the party's star campaigner: that the very future of
India is at risk if her party's principal opponent comes to
power. Vote BJP and risk civil war, is the message. This has
been amplified by reminding voters that Mahatma Gandhi was shot
by an RSS sympathiser. This is similar to blaming an entire
community for the murder of Indira Gandhi.

Historical Wrongs

Today, many "secular" campaigners are trying to create the same
insecurity in the Muslim mind as was created by the League during
the 1940s, after the British began helping Jinnah as a
consequence of Congress non-cooperation in the war effort. The
harm done by such divisive messages will linger long after the
votes have been counted.

True, the BJP has a lunatic fringe that believes in correcting
historical wrongs by the kind of vandalism evident on December 6,
1992. However, within the saffron fold, opinion appears to be
growing that only a country where minority rights are protected
is safe for the majority. Instead of seeking to integrate the BJP
firmly within the secular mainstream, its rivals are trying to
perpetuate the distrust between that party and the minorities.
While this may bring in some extra votes, it is likely to
undermine social harmony. The experience in BJP-ruled states
indicates that power has tempered the saffron brigade's sectarian
impulses. National office may further moderate the BJP and its
allies into (for example) effectively abandoning moves to
introduce a (largely western) uniform civil code, or to abrogate
Article 370.

By seeking to restrict the BJP to the sectarian space that it is
seeking to escape from, the "secular" groups are, in fact,
harming their cause. Fanning insecurity among the minorities will
retard progress towards a fully integrated society. Just as
economic populism goes against public interest, so does political
populism of the kind now being used against the BJP. Tomorrow,
the very parties trashing the BJP may need the help of the
saffron brigade in getting crucial legislation passed. Polarising
the Indian political spectrum and through this the voters into
mutually exclusive and hostile segments can only promote a
separatist agenda.

A country cannot flourish unless its basic interests are kept
above party politics. If these are sacrificed so as to get a few
extra seats, then "victory" will lose its charm. Communal hatreds
and caste prejudices are the enemies of a just society and all
political parties need to work against rather than exploit such
tendencies. Similarly, terrorism affects every citizen. The bomb
that takes only the life of a Hindu while sparing a Muslim has
not been invented yet. Thus, it was distasteful to watch even
terrorist acts being viewed through political eyeglasses. Should
evidence be secured further linking the Coimbatore blasts to the
ISI, that organisation can claim - on the authority of the
Congress President - that it is innocent.

Gujral Style

If the extremists in the sangh parivar need to be condemned for
their efforts at dividing citizens on sectarian grounds, so
should those "secularists" who follow Jinnah's policy of creating
insecurity in the minorities. Democracy implies coexistence and
consensus. In the past, any tactic was acceptable to beat a
political rival, be it helping Bhindranwale in Punjab or Ghising
in Darjeeling. Today Mufti Mohammed Sayeed has become almost a
front for the Pakistan-centric Hurriyat in condemning Mr Farooq
Abdullah, while Nagaland's Mr S C Jamir has ensured his
continuance by means as questionable as those used in Kashmir in
the past. Campaign 1998's high-decibel "secular" campaign, which
effectively places the BJP as worse than the ISI in the list of
India's enemies, reflects this trend.

After the campaign, the BJP and the Congress Party will need to
cooperate on issues of national concern, be they economic or
security-related. Hopefully, in such a situation, the current
exclusivist rhetoric will be replaced by attitudes better suited
to a democracy. For this, we need Mr I K Gujral's style rather
than that of Mr Sitaram Kesri.

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