DAWN - Opinion; December 12, 2002

Published December 12, 2002

Between relief and reforms

By Sultan Ahmed

PRIME Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali wants prices of essential goods and services to come down to provide relief to the poor and low income groups. He seeks a reduction in the prices of wheat flour and edible oil and the rates for POL, electricity and gas. As a first step the federal cabinet has cut the power tariff by 12 paisa per unit.

He has not specified the extent of cut in the prices of each essential item. Nor has he got the cost to the government of each cut estimated, nor evaluated the extent of loss in revenues to the government or the various autonomous bodies like WAPDA and KESC or to the private sector oil companies. And what will be their final impact on the budget deficit, in the second half of this financial year if all the cuts are given effect, which is otherwise estimated at 4 per cent of the GDP?

Normally the new government should be setting up separate committees of experts to examine the possible extent of the cuts, tonally determine the size of the cut and evaluate its financial cost. The right course would have been to ask for six weeks to eight weeks to set up such committees and for them to come back with their recommendations quick for the cabinet to examine and take the right decisions. But six weeks were wasted before the prime minister could be selected after the elections, and the cabinet of 21 ministers, ministers of state and advisers is only the first instalment of a long list of ministers and ministerial rank officials to come.

Far more relevant is the question: is the Jamali government going to act unilaterally in this regard or will it consult the IMF and other aid-giving agencies and major donors? As far as President Musharraf is concerned he does not want the economic reforms to be reversed or the agreed economic targets to be set aside or ignored. He has been firm on that.

If the revenues could increase in excess of the budgeted Rs 460 billion this year he could come up with more give-aways to the masses easily. But the prospects are the total revenues may be less than the budgeted amount. Nor is he likely to get large grant or aid from donor states this year, like the 600 million dollars budgetary support grant which Pakistan received from the US last year. What does he do in such circumstances to deliver to the people what he has promised without doing serious injury to the budget?

POL prices in Pakistan, which went down during the last two fortnights through the market mechanism, are to be determined by international prices. If the volatile conditions worsen, the world POL prices will go up and the POL prices in Pakistan may have to be increased if the government does not opt for cutting down the heavy surcharge on it which would mean lower budget revenues and a larger deficit.

When it comes to power rates the KESC is already on the auction block as the process of privatization is underway. The units of WAPDA too are to be privatized. If their revenues go down and their liabilities increase, they attract less buyers or get lower prices than otherwise.

In the area of gas the government is committed to raise its price to international levels within three years. In fact another raise in price is overdue. The Sui Southern Gas and Sui Northern are to be privatized soon. If the gas prices are low they may get lower sale prices when they come to the auction block.

Yet Mr Jamali has to bring relief to the people as he has been promising that day after day following his election. As he comes from the least developed province of Pakistan he is conscious of the a cute poverty of the people and wants to bring some relief to them.

The people are not satisfied with the official assertion that the increase in inflation is now as low as 4 to 5 per cent compared to the high double digit inflation of the earlier years. They want real relief in terms of market prices. The Social Policy and Development Centre set up by Dr Hafeez Pasha says the low growth in inflation is the result of extensive unemployment and low wages of the employed and the fall in demand in the market. There is considerable truth in that, although the Eid buying spree seemed to disprove that to an extent.

The informal sector, particularly in the areas of consumption, is quite active, but the wages there are low, in fact lower than in the past when the economy was more buoyant.

In the US President George Bush has done away with his treasury secretary Paul O’Neill and his chief economic adviser Larry Lindsey as the economic recovery has not been picking up fast, and unemployment has touched 6 per cent of the work force. But in Pakistan the regime is committed to continue the economic reforms as they have helped stabilize the macro-economy and it wants that to flower into radical improvements in the micro-economic sectors. And it wants the managers of the economy who were highly praised by Paul O’ Neill recently to continue in office. So Mr Shaukat Aziz will continue as Adviser to the Prime Minister on finance and economic affairs and former Sindh finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh has become Adviser to the PM on privatization and Investment pending their election as Senators after which they will become ministers, as currently planned.

These are times when the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the IMF are keenly interested in combating poverty in Pakistan and are ready to extend financial assistance. If the IMF has its 1.3 billion dollar three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, which will expire by 2004, the Asian Development Bank has a large 2.4 billion dollar poverty reduction programme for a longer period. And the World Bank too is active on the poverty reduction front. In fact, but for the assertions and exhortations of the World Bank president James Wolfensohn and financial assistance, the regime in Pakistan may not be very active in the poverty reduction front. The ADB has also promised to give far more assistance for developing the social sector if we use the funds well. It would reduce the funds if they are misused or the programme goes off the rails.

In such a context Pakistan is well advised to work with the aid agencies earnestly for a period of five to six years to make the best use of the aid available, particularly to prevent it from degenerating into another Afghanistan and become a hotbed of terrorists who can become threat to the world.

Right now the ADB has announced a 266 million dollars assistance programme to help the non-banking financial sector in Pakistan. Last month it had announced a 350 million dollar programme to finance the decentralization plan and for the Sindh Rural Development Project. Such large assistance comes after that had virtually dried up for over two years after 1988 nuclear explosions, and we should try to make the best of that when the world interest rates are low. And the western donors are agreeable to reschedule our large loans after cutting down the interest rates.

The fact is the IMF and other agencies are harsh towards us as Pakistan has a bad record of relations with the IMF. We agree to any kind of conditionalities as we needed the IMF money, but after getting one or two tranches we ignored these commitments or conditionalities. Some feel doubly bound down now. Particularly after adding to our deviations we had an excess of corruption beginning from the top.

Any relief to the people which Mir Jamali may come up with should be on a sustainable basis and should not be discontinued after a short while. That should not be seen to have been done under pressure from the international aid agencies. It would also be imprudent to provide token relief and spread that over too many items. The assistance should be substantial and should reach the people in full measure and not lost midway.

Mr Jamali talks of increasing the subsidies. The subsidies budgeted for the current year are Rs. 20.8 billion, including Rs 4.33 billion as sales tax write-off by WAPDA, Rs 858 million as GST write-off by KESC and Rs 1 billion as wheat export subsidy for Punjab. The total subsidy last year was Rs. 25.58 billion against the budgeted Rs 20.7 billion. Any substantial increase in the subsidy for any new item would increase the budget deficit and the national debt, which we should now try to cut down after reducing the external debt and its annual servicing cost.

There are areas where the elected government can provide relief to the masses without increasing the tax burden. That is if it can cut the heavy electricity theft and loss rate of 42 per cent in KESC and slightly lower in the WAPDA region. But a political government, and that too a fractious one, can hardly succeed where four years of military management of these institutions have failed to achieve success.

Success in another area can be helpful to the government. That is better tax collection, and if most of the money paid by the taxpayers reaches the government instead of a third of that going into the pockets of the tax collectors. Success in this area too is very difficult as the old ways of the bribe takers and bribe givers change too slowly, if they change at all.

As far as the establishment in Pakistan is concerned, the way to fight poverty and get better micro-economic conditions is through making a success of the current macro-economic reforms which would also stimulate economic growth which is to be 5 per cent next year against the targeted 4.5 per cent this year. The Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, Dr Ishrat Husain, has written a series of articles advising the rulers and their backers not to fall prey to populist measures or simply “please-the-people policies” but to stay by the course of reforms which will ultimately bring in real micro-economic welfare for the masses.

There is now the real danger of the government getting lost between two stools. Neither the macro-economic reforms may make major headway nor the populist policies become a real success and be sustained for long. That kind of double failure had happened in the past and the economy was back to square one and the government to the IMF headquarters. That should not happen again.

The fact is our basic economic features are not too helpful for us. We have a population of 145 million of whom two-thirds are illiterate and many of them are unskilled and known for their poor productivity. Barely one-fourth of the people are our real workforce. Changing all that, and quick, is not easy when the waves of globalization are lashing our shores. But change we must lest we be left behind by the world which does not have our kind of handicaps. Slogans will not produce miracles now only real work and quality output will.

What Gujarat means to India

By Kuldip Nayar

SOME fairly authentic reports are now available to indicate that the Election Commission would have suspended the polls in Gujarat if the state government had not stopped the Vijay Yatra.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had planned to lead it nearly three weeks ago with a replica of the charred coach of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra. Whether or not the Supreme Court’s directive not to stall the polls on the ground of law and order would have come in the way of the Election Commission is difficult to say.

After making it the sole arbiter of deciding when to hold the election, the Supreme Court’s order would have been at best a subject for interpretation. But that eventuality never arose. Protection of the constitution does not relate to the law and order problem. In any case, the Gujarat government considered it prudent to arrest some VHP leaders to stall the yatra.

The manner in which the VHP was ticked off and the precautionary measures taken by the state, however reluctantly, should have chastened Chief Minister Narendra Modi. But the Gujarat election campaign shows that he went to the farthest limit to break every rule, written or unwritten, legal or moral. His speeches reflect disdain for the Election Commission or, for that matter, any institution. He is a law unto himself.

The sum total of Modi’s efforts has been to turn the election in the state into an exercise in obscurantism so as to consolidate the Hindu vote. The word ‘mian’, which he has affixed to the name of President Pervez Musharraf, is meant to deride the Indian Muslims and placate the Hindu elements for whom it is a word of contempt. Muslims are hardly a political force in the state. They are not more than 11 per cent of the electorate. But Modi believes that by inculcating anti-Muslim feeling he can ride a pro-Hindu wave.

The Election Commission has stepped in at times to ensure that the polls are free and fair. It has stopped the use of Home Guards for election duties because most of them are RSS camp followers. The commission has also taken adverse note of the wide distribution of computer discs and T- shirts depicting the Godhra train burning for propaganda.

In Ahmedabad, the commission had parts of hoardings pulled down because the text read: “Be it Godhra or Akshardham (temple), we will wipe out terrorism.”

Still, the Election Commission has limitations. Its major source of information is the state. It cannot run the administration that is under Modi. By the time the reports reached Delhi, the damage had already been done.

Even otherwise, the commission can do little when the ruling party in the state and at the centre is bent on communalizing the atmosphere. The Sangh parivar has staked all in the Gujarat election to make it a referendum on Hindutva. If it fails, it may take the parivar many years to recover. But if it succeeds, it may be emboldened to take on the pluralistic society in other parts of the country.

It is a disturbing scenario for the future. To some, it may seem far-fetched. But that’s what emerges when one does a reality check. The VHP, the Taliban arm of the RSS, is calling all the shots. The BJP is toeing the line. The VHP shows the crude and militant side of Hindutva while the BJP, its camouflage. They are two sides of the same coin. The other members of the Sangh parivar are in no way less fanatic and fundamentalist than the so-called deeni (religious) parties in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

The prime minister had said that governance and economic development would be the poll issues, not Godhra. But apparently he could not make the Sangh parivar accept the plank. Otherwise, how do you explain the election propaganda material — calendars, handbills, posters, stickers, CDs and almanacs — all replete with images of the burning Sabarmati Express bogie?

Vajpayee has used the Congress reference to the publication of a White Paper on Godhra and the promise to punish the guilty to break his pre-poll assurance not to bring in Godhra. Assuming the Congress is a violator, there is no justification for unleashing the most pernicious propaganda against the Muslims and even offering justification for the Gujarat carnage. At one time it was said that the prime minister was so disgusted with the VHP campaign that he had decided not to go to Gujarat.

But this frame of mind did not last long because he openly said later that he would go to Gujarat if anybody called him (agar koyi bulayaga). The RSS, which now controls all the elections from behind the scenes, has obliged him. The Congress’ ‘crime’ cannot be the ground for the prime minister joining the divisive and parochial forces.

L.K. Advani has thrown every caution to the wind. He should know that he is India’s home minister, not the Gujarat chief minister’s drumbeater. How can he give Modi a clean chit when the government-appointed Nanavati Commission is sitting and recording evidence on what happened in Gujarat and who were guilty? When the home minister declares Modi not guilty, the entire purpose of the commission is defeated. If the commission does not clear Modi, he can proclaim the chief minister’s innocence on the basis of the home minister’s certificate.

In fact, the Concerned Citizens Tribunal, with retired Supreme Court and High Court judges as its members, has already indicted Modi. Its two-volume report, entitled ‘Crime Against Humanity’, tells how the misuse of religion for political ends resulted in the Gujarat carnage.

The tribunal says: “Hindutva barbarians came out on the streets in different parts of Gujarat and, in all flaming fury, targeted innocent and helpless Muslims who had nothing to do with the Godhra event. They were brutalized by miscreants uninhibited by the police: their women were unblushingly molested; and Muslim men, women and children, in a travesty of justice, were burnt alive. The chief minister, oath-bound to defend law and order, vicariously connived at the inhuman violence and some of his ministers even commanded the macabre acts of horror.”

Still the home minister praised Modi for the “exemplary handling” of the riots!

Unfortunately, the Congress too is using sadhus and sants lest it should be seen without the support of religious leaders. Congress president Sonia Gandhi started the campaign after invoking the blessings in temples. These acts too are reprehensible.

I do not know how the Gujaratis will ultimately vote. But the election campaign is a warning to the nation: there is no compunction about mixing religion with politics. The entire structure of the polity is in danger if this trend is not ruthlessly stopped. The adherents of theocracy will devour democracy. In no part of the world are one nationality and one religion synonymous terms; nor has it ever been so in India.

Since 10 more state elections are due in the next 12 to 15 months, there should be ground rules for their conduct. The Election Commission alone cannot check the prejudices and passions which are sought to be raised during the poll campaign. Gujarat is an example where even Mahatma Gandhi’s name was dragged in to abuse India’s pluralistic ethos.

Political parties have to adhere to certain discipline. Can they mix religion with politics — something which endangers the very basic structure of the constitution? The ruling BJP has a lot to answer for in this regard.

The writer is a columnist based in New Delhi.

Conscience voting

By Ghani Chaudhry

IN the recent turn and twist of events in the run-up to the election (ascertainment) of the leader of the house in the national assembly, ten members of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) voted against their party decision.

Since then the PPP has suspended the party membership of three of the ten dissenters who now occupy important slots in the federal cabinet while they on their part have formed a new faction, Patriot, of the party.

During the ensuing scenario these MPs and leaders from some political parties tried to justify the decision on the basis that they exercised conscience vote for protecting the fledgling democratic system in the country. While disciplinary measures subsequently against these members remain an internal party matter, it has raised an important issue of “conscience voting” in political circles of the country. Some political leaders argued that conscience voting is permissible even in the British parliament, which is credited as being the mother of parliaments.

A fleeting glance into the voting system in the British parliament explains the point. British MPs are usually willing to accept the discipline of the party whips in the house. The party whips work to keep their parties together and preserve party discipline and communication in the house. Every week a whip sends to the MPs a notice giving the order of business for the following week. Each matter to be discussed is underlined once, twice or three times according to its importance.

If it is underlined once, then it is not a particularly important issue, attendance is merely requested. A rather more important matter is underlined twice meaning that attendance is particularly requested. Attendance is essential when an item is underlined three times (also called a three-line whip) and a member is normally expected to attend unless he or she is seriously ill or has to attend to extremely urgent business elsewhere.

If a member chooses to disobey the party whip, he or she can be warned several times. Continued defiance may eventually result in the whip being withdrawn or a member resigning the whip. This means that the member no longer belongs to a party and it rarely happens. Sometime the whip is restored after a time. If it is permanently withdrawn, a member may find his or her political career ruined, as without party backing, the seat is very likely to be lost.

Issues that allow members of parliament to cast a conscience vote are decided upon by the political parties themselves and not by the members. The issues that are subject to this procedure include those measures that need bipartisan approach for the future national goals. In the past issues such as capital punishment and abortion have been occasions where the parties have allowed the members a conscience vote. The capital punishment was abolished in Britain in the mid-1960s.

In the past there were instances of members casting a conscience vote in the house. One reason for this was that Britain’s electoral system at that time did not adequately reflect the state of public opinion. Until the Reform Act of 1832 England returned 489 MPs to parliament. Besides being elected by the country and smaller constituencies, Oxford and Cambridge universities were also allowed four representatives in the parliament. The system was not even remotely democratic.

In the first parliament elected after the act of 1832 that introduced parliamentary and electoral reforms in Britain the MPs started showing greater responsibility and commitment to party discipline. Macaulay who later became Lord Macaulay and who drafted the Penal Code was one of the two members from the newly enfranchised borough of Leeds. He soon faced a problem of conscience when the question of slavery was debated. As a holder of government office he was expected to vote for an amendment proposed by the ministry but disapproved by the ‘Abolitionists’. He offered his resignation and spoke against the government, but since the House of Commons supported the ‘Abolitionists’ and the government gave way, he remained in office.

The 14th constitutional amendment incorporated in Pakistan’s Constitution in the form of Article 63-A is an institutionalized attempt to maintain party discipline that was earlier essentially an internal party matter. Defying the party whip in the past was not taken to the House for action. Under the amendment the member was made liable to lose his seat in the house on a reference made by the party chief. In the 1937 elections in undivided India only two members of Muslim league — Chaudhry Barkat Ali and Raja Ghazanfar Ali — were elected to the assembly from Punjab. Raja Ghazanfar Ali defected from the Muslim League. However he later occupied an important place in the Muslim League and after the creation of Pakistan served as its ambassador abroad.

The party discipline in voting established by the British parties was because these parties were older because of the fact that British parliament was long established. Its imitation in other countries remained a question mark. There are opposing points of view among the politicians. One view was that reining in members was imperative to maintain party discipline in the assembly. The other view is that giving unbridled powers to the party chief in the name of party discipline amounted to giving him control of party apparatus empowering him to establish personal dictatorship. The protagonists of this view recall instances how political parties have been used in the 20th century by dictatorships for entirely undemocratic purposes.

In our country the party system has yet to take roots because of repeated interruptions. During democratic governments political parties have shied away from exercising the function of the opposition that is often of crucial importance in the determination of national policy. The party in power practically denied opposition constituencies any development projects much to the frustration of both the member of the assembly and his constituents. The doors of our traditional centres of power at the local level like police stations and revenue offices remain shut to opposition members.

It is in part out of personal frustration that the MPs ultimately switch loyalties. If changing of parties were on principles there would be some members moving from the treasury to the opposition benches also. Changing parties in our country has meant joining the party in power.

The government offers all inducements to members that include development funds, jobs, foreign tours and easy access to government functionaries. Such attractions serve as major tools to awaken the conscience of the MPs. Call it by any name the step in political parlance remains a party defection that is bane of the parliamentary system.

Who’ll lead the SEC?

President Bush has moved quickly to fill two gaps in his economic team, naming an accomplished businessman-lobbyist to serve as Treasury secretary and apparently settling on a blue-chip Wall Streeter to run the White House’s National Economic Council. The Wall Streeter, Stephen Friedman, is a former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs and comes with an especially strong reputation; he is said to be a pragmatic consensus-builder in the mold of his Goldman partner Robert E. Rubin, who was perhaps the most successful economic official of recent years. Provided that the vetting process goes well, and that John W. Snow, the nominee for Treasury, is not tripped up during confirmation, the Bush administration will be able to take credit for a smooth succession. And yet there is something disquieting about the process. White House officials appear to regard the shuffle as a way of insulating the president against blame for short-term economic uncertainty. But short-term uncertainty was mostly not the fault of the previous team, nor should it be the focus of the new team; it reflects the necessary working out of excesses built up during the high-tech bubble. Moreover, the clearest way for the administration to build confidence is getting oddly little attention.

That way is to nominate a new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.— The Washington Post

Congress is BJP’s B-team

DR Murli Manohar Joshi has a great deal of hair for a man of his age; it is long, even luxurious and slickly combed. Within those hirsute waves lies hidden, at the centre of the skull, a special tuft: the classical mark of a believing Brahmin.

Many Brahmins have given up this tradition, more out of embarrassment than denial. The tuft is not considered modern. But Dr Joshi has an ancient tradition to defend. The Joshis are ‘uccha koti’ Brahmins, of the first rank (lower ranks of the caste include Brahmins who till the land, or those who preside only over the death ceremonies).

The Joshis, Pants and Pandes came originally from the Konkan region of Maharashtra and settled in the Kumaon hills of the Himalayas. The reasons for migration are lost but common practices remain: the manner of the thread ceremony, for instance, in which the Vedas are read for three days, and the anointed Brahmin asks for bhiksha (alms), gets his hair shaved and ears pierced.

These were the Brahmins in charge of a people’s knowledge, prayer and ritual. If the voters of Gujarat want to vote for Hindu qua Hindu, who do you think they will choose between a Kumaon-Allahabad Joshi like Murli Manohar Joshi and an Italian-Indian Roman Catholic like Sonia Gandhi. Or between a svelte Gwalior-Brahmin orator like Atal Behari Vajpayee and a heavily-accented Sonia Gandhi? So why has Sonia Gandhi chosen to chase Narendra Modi’s tail in Gujarat? What is this me-too Hindutva all about? The Congress election strategy in this crucial polls is incomprehensible, even if one uses nothing more esoteric than common sense.

Who advised Sonia Gandhi to begin her campaign from Ambaji, a pilgrimage centre? What signal was she sending? That she was a devout Hindu? That the Congress was a party of only devout Hindus? I have no problem with candidates visiting temples, mosques, dargahs and churches: that is a sign of respect for the faith of the people, and we are a deeply religious people. But to politicize religion is quite another matter. To make Hindutva your central message is to surrender to the BJP even before the battle has begun.

You do not have to be a Clausewitz to realize that you never fight on a battleground of the enemy’s choice; you select a field where you have the advantage. That is elementary, dear Congress. Hindutva is the BJP’s strength. Governance is the BJP’s weakness, and misgovernance includes permitting, if not abetting, the post-Godhra riots. This mistake is reminiscent of the mistake Rajiv Gandhi made in 1989, the first election to witness the emergence of the BJP as a national force that could make a bid for power at the centre.

As party president in that defining phase, L.K. Advani had pounced on Rajiv Gandhi’s compromise with Muslim fundamentalism over the Shah Bano case, and turned the discourse to Ayodhya, from where it has not shifted (the pilgrims who were brutally torched in Godhra were returning from Ayodhya). Instead of staying with the Congress ideology, hewn, tested and implemented through a century of trauma, Rajiv Gandhi, acting on the advice of R.K. Dhawan, decided to open the campaign for the general elections of 1989 from BJP territory, both physically and mentally.

He went to Ayodhya for his first speech. With that gesture, the debate entered the BJP’s space. The Congress lost just enough seats in 1989 to bring the BJP within striking distance of power. In a very real sense the Congress has not recovered from 1989. Just when the party was showing signs of recovery, Sonia Gandhi has repeated this mistake.

The Congress strategy of “soft-Hindutva” reeks of cynicism and contempt: cynicism about its ideology and contempt for the voter. The cynicism is evident everywhere. Sonia Gandhi, as president of the party, has permitted her candidates to treat Muslims as lepers. Congress candidates and leaders shy away from being seen with Muslims in localities that are predominantly or totally Hindu. In many places Muslims have been told to keep away from Congress offices. Why? Why is the Congress also feeding the hatred that has been created against Muslims?

In their campaign speeches, Congress leaders and candidates skirt around the post-Godhra violence and accuse Narendra Modi of not being able to protect Hindus at the Akshardham temple, which was the victim of vicious terrorist violence. Naroda Patia, the scene of the biggest massacres in the post-Godhra riots, is deliberately not mentioned by Congress leaders. Why? Sonia Gandhi believes that the Muslims have no option but to vote for her, so why bother about them; she must woo the Hindus by becoming a saffron Congress.

If the Congress is going to be the B-Team of the BJP, why should the voter not stick with the real thing and vote BJP? Why elect the fraud? There is real identity between Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi in one critical perspective: both believe that the Hindu voter is communal, and can only be persuaded by a communal dialectic. The implications of this strategy stretch far beyond this election. The Congress under Sonia Gandhi has decided to abandon secular politics in Gujarat and imitate Modi, albeit without Modi’s unique extremism. It is a difference of degree and not content.

No wonder Jawaharlal Nehru’s face is missing from the lineage of Congress leaders on Congress posters, although Sonia Gandhi’s is included: Nehru called dams and steel mills the temples of modern India. Nehru would never have buckled, as his successors have done.

It is not as if Nehru and the Congress did not face such dilemmas. It seems to be forgotten that the first general election was held after the horrible massacres and hatred of the partition riots. In hindsight, and with knowledge of the Congress’ huge victory, we tend to forget that the Congress leadership was worried about the Hindu vote in the north in 1952. In Jawaharlal’s own constituency, Phulpur, the opposition had put up what might be called a Hindutva candidate, a rabble-rousing swami whose main objection to Nehru was that he ate beef. Nehru treated this candidate with arrogant contempt, but other Congress leaders were worried. Did this change Nehru’s position on the Hindu-Muslim relationship? If anything, he redoubled his campaign against fundamentalists of all hues, whether Hindu or Muslim.

Congress memory need not go as far as 1952. It could have learnt something from 1992. Digvijay Singh, who has kept away from the Gujarat campaign, officially because of his state’s differences with Gujarat over the Narmada dam, could have told his party how he won the elections in Madhya Pradesh in 1993, in the shadow of the post-Babri riots and passions.

Did the Congress take Sonia Gandhi’s “soft-Hindutva” line then? No. Narasimha Rao was president of the party then, and despite his colossal blunders of December 1992, when he slept while the Babri mosque was demolished, he never succumbed to the temptation of borrowing from the BJP. The Congress stuck to its traditional commitment to secularism. The BJP was stunned when it discovered that the voter did not want to thank the party for helping to demolish the Babri mosque. Digvijay Singh is still in power. I have my doubts about a Congress that cannot stand up to Narendra Modi, but honours him by imitation.

It is chicanery to claim outside Gujarat that you want to destroy the evil of communalism by defeating Narendra Modi; and to indulge in a variation of his communalism inside Gujarat.

In any case, is success the only measure of ideology? Supposing the Congress does well by imitating Modi. Does this mean that the Congress should rewrite its values and convictions?

Strange as it may sound, a similar problem attends the BJP.

What would be the consequences of a substantial victory for Narendra Modi? If Modi gets a thin majority, which is all that every sensible senior leader in the BJP is hoping for, then Modi should be worried. If Modi gets a bumper majority then the BJP should be worried.

Modi is an ideologue, with a difference. The difference is hysteria. It is an edgy hysteria, which can mesmerize; and it easily melts into the kind of megalomania that makes a politician believe that he is serving the larger good through a destructive frenzy against a perceived enemy. In Hitler’s case, the enemy was the Jew; in Modi’s case the enemy is the Muslim. Such a politician is not a fool; in fact, he may have a high degree of intellect.

But it is intellect unleavened by reason, and untempered by humanism. If Modi wins big, he will immediately seek to make the whole of the BJP a version of his Gujarat experience. He is already visibly contemptuous of the senior leadership of his own party. One reason why Advani got poor crowds was because Modi wanted to prove to his official boss that in Gujarat, it was Modi who ran the show, not anyone from Delhi.

Modi will mount a challenge within his party, and get some support too; he will dream of becoming prime minister of India after a national victory fashioned through the Gujarat rhetoric. He will depend on terrorists to supply him with Godhras elsewhere in India.

The flaw in the dream is that long before Modi gets anywhere near Delhi, he will have destroyed the BJP.

Will the Congress never learn that there is nothing called “soft” fundamentalism? However, there is something called a soft mind. The Congress ploy in Gujarat is too clever by half. And the voter is not a fool. Gujarat in the last month of 2002 has become a state holding an election that no party deserves to win. That of course makes Gujarat a loser.

The writer is editor-in-chief, Asian Age, New Delhi.



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