The year of the nationalist vote

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, Telugu 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.


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