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The ace up Modi’s sleeve

Updated December 18, 2018

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The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

IT’S not the misplaced fear of a war with Pakistan. Nor is it the alleged corruption in warplanes’ procurement that would play a decisive role in India’s general elections next year. The ace up Narendra Modi’s sleeve, which has given him assured electoral successes, is communal polarisation of the order of Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar.

The first calculated killings took place when he was a struggling johnny-come-lately chief minister, under pressure from a string of successes the Congress had won in local polls in Gujarat. Adding to the pressure to act was his party’s defeat in Uttar Pradesh in February 2002, exactly two days before the train tragedy occurred in Godhra. In fact, Hindu activists killed in the train inferno, and their colleagues cramming the other coaches, were returning from Ayodhya, angry and enraged by the rout of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the hands of a Dalit party.

The second time when communal carnage came into play for Modi was after he dodged the scrum of fellow BJP challengers to become the party’s prime ministerial candidate. The feat was shored up by a publicly witnessed corporate consensus. It was Muzaffarnagar that spurred the near-clean sweep in the populous cow belt.

There is no known antidote that the Congress keeps or anyone else could flaunt from the opposition should the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) duo decide to staunch the adverse tide in the recent state polls. It is a given the duo would stop at nothing if their core interests were threatened by a possible defeat in 2019.

It is a given that the BJP-RSS duo would stop at nothing if their core interests were threatened by a possible defeat in 2019.

What are those interests? Their conversion of Christian and non-Christian tribespeople to Hinduism should not be interrupted. Their takeover of the educational system, universities and colleges should continue unhindered. In other words, any new government should keep the missionaries out, which is not a difficult condition for the Congress to fulfil.

As far as the takeover of the educational institutions is concerned, the foetus was growing under Congress rule. History books were banned or pulped during the Manmohan Singh government. Finally, it was Singh who first enunciated Modi’s mantra that Maoism was the nation’s most serious internal security threat. It should not be difficult for any opposition government to keep the lid on urban intellectuals who bond with agitating peasants and working classes.

The Modi-era assault on workers in Thoothukudi had its ideological roots in the brutal police action sanctioned during Manmohan Singh’s watch against an anti-nuclear power plant struggle in Kudankulam in southern India. Both the Congress and the BJP had described the workers as foreign agents or Maoists. Should any government threaten to depart from this agreed script shared by Hindutva and its corporate minders, right-wing violence could be unleashed to bring any government to heel.

Why is war not feasible and why will a scam like the Rafale deal being hawked by the Congress not become a clinching factor in 2019 elections? Well-meaning analysts on both sides of the border have expressed fears of a military confrontation with Pakistan after the BJP’s rout in the Hindutva strongholds of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

Former Indian supreme court judge Markandey Katju is admired for his outspokenness, erudition and a rare sensitivity to the plight of Muslims and Dalits though he has been remiss in the past on gender issues.

Anyone with an iota of humanism would heed Mr Katju’s recent warning that the Indian army leadership had lost the plot in Jammu and Kashmir, and its latest atrocities against civilians in Pulwama showed a cultivated penchant for striking the wounds of a brutalised and alienated people. Mr Katju has likened the latest killing of civilians to the My Lai and Jallianwala Bagh massacres.

One would disagree, however, with Mr Katju’s fear of a war with Pakistan breaking out as a way for Mr Modi to win the next elections. War has never won an election for anyone in India. Mayawati, for example, is not going to lose even a fraction of her 18 per cent Dalit votes in Uttar Pradesh to any war drums. The same holds true for Lalu Yadav or other caste-based regional satraps. As for the Congress, it knows the jingoism game better than anyone in town.

The opposition can thus only be waylaid by a communal upsurge, when, as Ambedkar correctly observed, self-absorbed caste groups turn into a Hindu bloc. Atal Behari Vajpayee’s vote count went down with the Kargil stand-off and Manmohan Singh secured a second term without lifting a finger at Pakistan after the Mumbai terror assault in November 2008.

The opposition’s bid to tame Modi could be stymied only through the high-yield recourse to communal carnage. This was confirmed when even Mayawati and Mulayam Singh could not intervene in Muzaffarnagar.

An illiberal polity cannot defeat fascism. Promise of cow urine factories are not the antibiotics required to heal the disease afflicting Indian democracy. As long as the opposition, most importantly the Congress, finds itself tethered to signs and symbols of political regression, the BJP and RSS will thrive.

Why would corruption not be a factor in the next elections? Remember Rajiv Gandhi and the Bofors taint? Many of us still believe he was ousted in the 1989 elections over allegations of corruption, though they have never been proved against him. Gandhi came out as the head of the largest party in the electoral fray despite Bofors. He won 197 seats, the Janata Dal coming second with 143 and the BJP for the first time winning 85 against its previous tally of two by raking Ayodhya.

Yet, Gandhi’s vote percentage of 39.53 was more than the sum of the two rivals. Should the BJP come back as the largest party next year, would Modi sit in the opposition as Rajiv Gandhi did? More worrying for the opposition: what if he makes peace with Pakistan?

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2018