Millennium Post

‘Semi-finals’ marred by violence

If the turn persists, we will probably see extremely bloody Assembly elections in five states over the next month, and an even more gory 2014 Lok Sabha poll campaign.

Such violence is condemnable in itself because it claims innocent lives. Worse, it’s liable to corrupt the political process of democracy. People don’t act rationally in a climate of fear, insecurity and danger to life. They tend to get preoccupied with the immediate danger, suspend all long-term considerations of public welfare and justice, and allow feelings of anger, retribution and revenge to overpower them. The blasts clearly show that Modi has vitiated the political climate with his macho-communal persona and venom-spewing style. They also raise uncomfortable questions. Why did the perpetrators use low-intensity explosives? Does it make sense to cause death through a stampede triggered by these when high explosives could ensure much deadlier damage, and a bigger stampede?

How come the police could name the main culprit within an hour and all six alleged Indian Mujaheedin terrorists in a day? How can the public be convinced that their confessions are voluntary and authentic, when the opposite happened in the past? How is this case different from the framing of Ishrat Jahan, who was falsely accused of plotting to kill Mr Modi, and then shot in cold blood?

Why did the BJP persist with Modi’s rally when there were repeated intelligence warnings of impending trouble, as it claims? Why was the rally held even after the blasts took place? Since then, five more bombs have been found at the site. How come IM ‘terrorism’ started growing in Bihar—witness the Bodh Gaya blasts—only after the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal(United) terminated its alliance with the BJP? Beyond this, however, one thing is clear: the bombings politically benefited Modi by creating sympathy for him and further strengthening his macho image. That’s precisely why, logically, the possible involvement of a Hindutva-inspired grouping cannot be excluded.

There’s ample evidence of such involvement from recent cases: Malegaon, Nanded, Parbhani-Jalna, Hyderabad, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express. Right-wing extremist groups like Abhinav Bharat have no compunctions about killing Hindus in their sectarian self-interest. They have a long history of staging events like the Reichstag fire to provoke violence against vulnerable minorities.

The public needs to be assured that Patna isn’t a repetition of police responses to past attacks when identical allegations were made about the IM, and scores of Muslim youth rounded up.  They have since been proved innocent, but remain uncompensated for the years wasted in jail and for social stigma, suffering and humiliation. Besides, it’s still unclear if the IM is a real organisation with a well-defined structure, or a symbolic identity constructed by the Intelligence Bureau. All kinds of terrorist attacks have been blamed on the IM, without evidence of a unified command or a single mind at work in planning and executing them. As responsible former police officers put it, the IM’s address is: c/o the IB.

To return to Patna, it would be disastrous if the blasts trigger a cycle of violence and counter-violence. That can only help the worst of fanatical-sectarian forces, including the Sangh Parivar and its jehadi counterparts, and poison what will doubtless be a trend-setting Lok Sabha election in 2014. That election will decide whether the Congress continues to be a major, possibly dominant, national force, or goes back into decline; whether the Left and regional parties can form the next government; and whether the BJP can stage a dramatic recovery and successfully challenge both. It’s too early to say which of these outcomes will materialise. Opinion polls, which have anyway lost some of their credibility, can be particularly misleading seven months ahead of the contest.

Yet, it’s clear that the BJP has the most to lose/gain from 2014. It has staked its utmost on winning nearly 200 (of 543 Lok Sabha) seats needed to form a government by fielding the most brashly aggressive politician in Indian history. He’s confrontationist, maligns his opponents, and has nothing positive to offer. The RSS is going all-out to mobilise support for him.

The Sangh can stoop to inciting communal violence to this end. It knows that if the BJP loses a national election for the third time, many cadres will get demoralised and quit. The party could then be pushed to the political margins where it remained for four decades till the late 1980s, with 7-12 per cent of the national vote. It was reduced to only two Lok Sabha seats in 1984, and recovered only after the violent Ramjamnabhoomi movement. Today, it’s recover or perish for the BJP.

That’s where the coming Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram figure. They are rightly called the ‘semi-finals’ to 2014, and will decisively test the Congress and the BJP in the first four, essentially bipolar, states. If the BJP wins in three or all four states, that will greatly boost its 2014 campaign and Mr Modi’s leadership. If it loses in even two of the four, its forward momentum will be broken, with a huge Hindi-belt and national impact. If it loses in three states, it will face a truly uphill battle to 2014.

Such an eventuality is plausible. The Congress stands a good chance of winning in Rajasthan and Delhi, and can put up a decent fight in Madhya Pradesh. Even in Chhattisgarh, its chances have improved despite Chief Minister Raman Singh’s popularity. So a Congress score of at least two, even three, out of four isn’t far-fetched. A precondition for this is that the Congress do some careful social coalition-building, galvanise a strong appeal especially to the poor by pledging a convincing commitment to fulfilling people’s minimum needs through a rights-based approach, and run an energetic, united campaign that’s more coherent than what its vice-president Rahul Gandhi has offered so far. The Congress has a decent governance record in Rajasthan, where Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has consistently notched up India’s best performance in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, given effect to the Right to Information for all development projects, and launched excellent schemes for the free supply of medicines and monthly old-age pensions at Rs 500 (compared to the national social security cover of just Rs 200). Equally crucial, Gehlot has consolidated his base among the non-Jat Other Backward Classes, and won over a section of the Brahmins and assorted castes and tribes. In 1998, he broke the four-decades-long upper-caste hold on Rajasthan. He has since proved an astute leader, who neutralised the Jats by including them in OBC quotas. It’s feasible for him to build a winning social-group coalition. In Delhi, Sheila Dikshit stands to gain from a division in the anti-incumbency vote likely to be caused by the Aam Admi Party’s rise. She can also capitalise on her recent pro-people measures. AAP will doubtless eat into some Congress votes, but will probably win even more from the faction-ridden BJP which changed horses midstream by nominating Harshvardhan as its CM-candidate.

In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP faces anti-incumbency due to corruption and misgovernance. It has been warned by former CM Babulal Gaur that it could be defeated unless it drops at least four ministers and one-fifth of sitting MLAs. Factional alignments are likely to preclude this.

There are some signs of a Congress revival in MP with Jyotiraditya Scindia taking over as the party’s campaign committee chief. If the Congress builds alliances and reaches seat adjustments with small regional groups, it could well have a chance to prevent the BJP’s return to power.

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