Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Our leaders ignore the rules of democracy and play by religion, caste and roguery

Politicians' shenanigans are getting bolder and nastier by the day. The Narendra Modi personality cult is raised to the level of equating him with the revered Mahadev himself (Har, har, Modi!); P. Chidambaram threatens to turn Gandhian and devote himself to "serving my people" in Sivaganga; Sharad Pawar shows no shame in asking his followers to break the law and vote twice; Dhananjay Munde boasts that he organised one lakh bogus votes for his uncle and BJP leader Gopinath Munde. And all these patriots are roaming free, ready to lead our country to glory.

Serial roguery of this kind hits the headlines. Less noticed, yet more serious, is the growing religious polarisation with casteism assuming new dimensions. It is true that in the current season Varun Gandhi is not offering to cut off the palms of Muslims. Nor is Akbaruddin Owasi bragging about his followers' ability to finish off 100 crore Hindus in 15 minutes. But the Abominable Religionists are still at large. Congress candidate Imran Masood promises to "chop Narendra Modi into pieces". Kerala's Christian priests instigate their flocks to revolt against restrictions on big-ticket development in the Western Ghats; one of them warned of a Jallianwalla Baug massacre in the hills.

In states where caste has been a determining factor in elections, there are new alignments triggering new upheavals. In Uttar Pradesh's urban centres Brahmins were traditionally seen as a BJP votebank. "Highclass Brahmins" who represented key constituencies for long, such as Murlimanohar Joshi and Kalraj Mishra, were edged out this time for the convenience of Narendra Modi and friends. UP Brahmins are seething with anger.

In Bihar Brahmins and Bhumihars are angry because they see the BJP's ruling clique ignoring them and favouring the Backward castes. In important constituencies ranking BJP leaders raised the banner of revolt. They saw a conspiracy in Backwards who opposed Narendra Modi early on gaining the upperhand now. Their argument, which applies to the Hindi belt in general, is that if the BJP ignores its traditional upper-caste votebanks, it will lose more than it gains.

In Haryana half the BJP's candidates are turncoats from other parties, picked for their caste value. In Rajasthan the age-old rivalry between Rajputs and Jats has turned unusually bitter with the BJP's denial of ticket to Jaswant Singh, a Rajput and a party veteran. The five-party rainbow alliance the BJP forged in Tamil Nadu includes the aggressive Vanniyar-caste lobby, the PMK. This party was involved in the modern Romeo & Juliet tragedy that shocked the world last year. (Ilavarasan, a dashing Dalit, and Divya, a charming Vanniyar fell deeply in love. After they married Ilavarasan was killed and the Dharmapuri constituency was split down the middle along caste lines). Dalits today say they would vote by caste this time.

There is evidently a historical shift on the Hindutva front. Founded by Chitpavan Brahmins, the Sangh parivar has been a Brahmin-led movement all along. This is the first time that the BJP is stepping down from the upper levels to accommodate Backwards in leadership positions. (In the 1990s UP upper castes accepted Kalyan Singh, OBC, as the leader of a winning combination. But it seemed more of an experiment and did not last long).

Now that the BJP is the vehicle of a Ghanchi caste (OBC) leader, is the shift from the Upper echelons a calculated move by Narendra Modi? The new combinations he is promoting are not entirely new; Mayawati had demonstrated the potential of "social coalition" between Dalits and Brahmins. It was of course an empty slogan, intended to benefit neither Dalits nor Brahmins, but herself, but it worked for her in the caste-obsessed culture in which she operated. Is Modi trying similar coalitions with similar intentions? The best answer to that is another question. Moving the draft Constitution for approval in 1948, Dr. Ambedkar asked: " In addition to our enemies in the form of Castes and Creeds, we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing Political Creeds. Will Indians place the country above their Creed or their Creed above the country?"