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archive: 1999 : Election of the Hindu vote

1999 : Election of the Hindu vote

Sandhya Jain
The Pioneer
August 31, 1999.

    Title: 1999 : Election of the Hindu vote 
    Author: Sandhya Jain
    Publication: The Pioneer
    Date: August 31, 1999.
    For most political analysts and social scientists, Bellary is simply
    the constituency where an uncharacteristically aggressive BJP hopes to
    make Sonia Gandhi eat humble pie. Certainly Sushma Swaraj's wholesome
    Hindu appeal and passionate declamation of the Congress president's
    non-native origins have sufficiently underscored her 'outsider' status
    to cause profound unease in Congress. 
    Bellary, however, is much more than a high profile electoral contest.
    Thanks to Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde's sagacity, Bellary has
    become the virtual capstone of the National Democratic Alliance,
    cementing the reluctant ties between the BJP and the Janata Dal
    (United), and confirming the projection of Prime Minister Atal Bihari
    Vajpayee as Chakravarti Samrat. 
    I  use the term with deliberation. Most analysts feel that the NDA's
    exclusive focus on Mr. Vajpayee is a gimmick to 'encash' his
    popularity post-Kargil, but this is only superficially true. In
    previous columns I have argued that fundamental shifts are taking
    place in Hindu consciousness, of which the spectacular political
    re-alignments that are taking place are a manifestation. This
    election, to my mind, marks a crucial stage in India's search for her
    own truth. It reflects India's attempt to put its ancient spirit and
    native ethos into modern forms and structures of governance. 
    In such a scheme, the exclusive projection of Mr Vajpayee is not a
    convenience or a coincidence. Rather, Mr Vajpayee is the symbol for
    transposing the Hindu concept of kingship (ie. rulership) in which a
    meritorious leader presides over a circle of rulers, onto the
    Westminster model of government. Both the BJP and its allies have
    instinctively endorsed the Chakravarti Samrat model of governance -
    the BJP by declaring that it will form a coalition government even if
    it secures a majority, and the allies by wholeheartedly accepting Mr
    Vajpayee's leadership. 
    Before I am accused of using 'Hindu' and 'India' interchangeably, I
    must state that when we speak of India's ancient native genius, we
    mean its rich Hindu heritage, and we cannot, and need not, shy away
    from this fact. Hindus are the natural community of India, and by the
    fact of being the majority community, they will determine its
    structure and ethos. This is the natural order all over the world, and
    there is nothing intrinsically anti-minority about it. Unfortunately,
    Jawaharlal Nehru's cruel and unfair hounding of the Hindu ethos from
    the public square has de-legitimized it so thoroughly that even today,
    intellectuals are unable to accept the fact that the Hindu spirit will
    no longer be denied its rightful space. 
    To my mind, the 1999 election is the election of the Hindu vote. A
    number of factors substantiate this view. To begin with, there is the
    character of the ruling NDA itself. Far from falling apart after the
    fall of the government in April, the alliance headed by the 'communal'
    BJP has only added to its strength with formal poll arrangements with
    the DMK, Telegu Desam, Indian National Lok Dal, and even the breakaway
    Janata Dal (United). In fact, the alliance was in serious trouble
    recently precisely because the BJP was squeamish about letting all
    manner of JD leaders into the fold, a far cry from the 1996 days when
    it still ranked as the country's number one political pariah! 
    Since it would be incorrect to say that the BJP has changed, we must
    look for the transformation elsewhere. In the past, all major NDA
    partners, such as Mamata Banerjee, Chandrababu Naidu, M. Karunanidhi,
    Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav, have relied heavily on the Muslim
    vote. Today, if they are willing to forego an assured percentage of
    Muslim votes for the sake of the BJP, there must be a very compelling
    electoral arithmetic and political chemistry behind their move. At the
    grassroots level where ordinary men and women lives their daily lives,
    the growing menace of ISI-sponsored terrorism in state after state
    could be one powerful reason for the switch. 
    The hard truth is that the Muslim vote has declined in significance to
    the point where it is almost irrelevant to the electoral fortunes of a
    winning candidate. It still counts statistically, in the sense that it
    can help a party retain Election Commission recognition at the
    national or state level. But a party or alliance commanding the
    allegiance of the majority community need not solicit minority votes. 
    This is not a new phenomenon. It has been building up for at least a
    decade, from the time the BJP plucked the tune of Hindu self-respect
    and took up the Ram Janmabhoomi cause as its symbol. While Muslim
    leaders and academics have been alarmed at the fall in Muslim
    representation in all political parties in terms of nominations
    secured and seats won in Parliament and the state legislatures, they
    have failed to draw the necessary lessons from the debacle. Encouraged
    by their secular friends and leftist intellectuals, the Muslims have
    failed to come to terms with the awakening Hindu ethos, and continue
    to hark after a defunct secular-socialist order in which their votes
    had disproportionate weight. That order is well and truly dead, and if
    Muslims continue to perceive the natural Hindu affirmation as a
    threat, or as a phenomenon that is intrinsically illegitimate and
    undesirable, they will work themselves into a blind alley.  
    They can begin by breaking out of old sterile thought-forms, and
    divorcing themselves from their secular friends and well wishers.
    There is no justice in the Muslim belief that they are secure only in
    a political environment in which the Hindu ethos is demeaned and
    minimized. Nor is it necessary for them to be insensitive to Hindu
    sentiments, particularly at moments like the recent Kargil conflict. 
    Whatever the merits of Bal Thakeray's demand that popular cine star
    Dilip Kumar return the Pakistan government's highest civilian award in
    the wake of Kargil, only a fool or knave will believe that the actor
    carried the day by keeping the prize. By ranting over Thakeray's
    'demand' in a plethora of newspaper interviews, and meeting the Prime
    Minister and President to air his grief, Kumar enabled the Shiv Sena
    supremo to make the crucial decision to go in for simultaneous
    Assembly elections in Maharashtra. Contrary to media projection, the
    Prime Minister did not bail out Dilip Kumar; he simply refused to be
    drawn into the controversy by telling the actor to go by the dictates
    of his own conscience. As Kumar's conscience told him to keep the
    award, the Shiv Sena laughed all the way to the Election Commission. 
    In a scenario in which the Muslim vote is both superfluous and
    vacillating, the Congress is at a natural disadvantage. The rising
    Hindu consciousness, bolstered by Pokhran, Agni and Kargil, has
    inevitably translated the elections into a contest between basic
    nationalism and a non-Indian ethos, symbolized by the Italian-born
    Sonia Gandhi. Howsoever valiantly her spin doctors may try to project
    Sushma Swaraj's candidature in Bellary as an act of desperation by the
    BJP, the fact is that both Congress and Sonia are on the run. Indeed,
    it is difficult to comment on Sonia without observing how irrelevant
    she looks, pathetically using her children as electoral bait when even
    the most cynical observer can see that this dynasty at least no longer
    cuts any ice. Dwivendranath Dwivedi's caustic critique that (Indian)
    citizenship creates "eligibility, not entitlement and suitability,"
    remains pungently valid to this day.

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