Five states (Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram) went to the polls recently. As the results trickled in on 11 December, the nation seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. When the final results emerged around midnight, it was evidently clear that the people (particularly from the three major states) had spoken decisively. It was a clear “NO” to the ideology of hate and divisiveness; to the politics of communalism and casteism; to the legitimization of corruption and the impoverishment of the vulnerable As in so many times in the past, ‘vox populi’ had triumphed, the people of India had spoken decisively for change. It was a vote for the rights and freedom guaranteed in the Constitution of India. It was a vote for the future of India!
There are several reasons being given as to why the ‘Hindutva brigade’ has lost their bastions in the cow belt of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh .Some key ones include their inability to respond to the cries of the people specially of the farmers; the all- round neglect of subaltern groups very specially the adivasis, the Dalits and other marginalized communities; the rampant destruction of natural resources for the advancement of the corporate sector; the mainstreaming of corruption and crony capitalism; the economic impact on the poor because of demonetization and pro-rich policies which has been responsible for the growing gap between the rich and the poor; the focus on the building of the ‘Ram Temple’ and using religion to divide the people. Above all, it is common knowledge that the BJP is hell bent on changing certain sections of the Constitution and certain sections of society are very wary of this possibility.
On the other hand, the secular political parties and particularly the Congress seemed to have focused primarily on development and the real needs of the people. They were able to take on the BJP on their rhetoric, lies and unkept promises. These certainly resonated with the electorate. Besides, the Congress clearly steered away from injecting the communal card in their election campaign clearly stating that there were more serious problems which have to be addressed by the Government today. A key factor in the run up to the elections was that the opposition was not able to stitch alliances together particularly the BSP- Congress in Madhya Pradesh. The victory here would have been more decisive if there was a pre-poll alliance.
Ever since the verdict was delivered both the mainstream media and social media are agog with debates and analysis, editorials and op-eds as to what went “wrong” and why the BJP lost in these three key states (to put things in perspective, the BJP was never a serious player either in Telangana and Mizoram).There is of course the ‘justification’ factor being put forward: that the vote share in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan is better than that of the Congress; there was the anti-incumbency factor (Rajasthan for one, in the last few elections has always voted out the Government in power) Several of the more objective commentators have highlighted some of the factors mentioned above for the Congress seizing power in these states.
Led by its Chief K Chandrasekhar Rao, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) romped home in this fledging State winning a 47 per cent vote share and 88 seats. They rode on the platforms of pride in the newly formed state with a slew of welfare measures — both of which earned it support from a broad spectrum of social sections. The outcome has produced yet another state-level party that aims to play an important role in national politics. The situation was rather similar in Mizoram where the regional outfit the Mizo National Front (MNF) emerged victorious, bagging 24 of the 40 seats. In Mizoram the tables were turned on the Congress; whereas in Telangana, in spite of the Congress and some other political parties forming a last minute alliance, they came a very distant second.
The naked fact is that whilst the BJP is a virtual nonentity in both Telangana and Mizoram, they have lost three major states in which they have been in power: Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. However there is no room for complacency or premature celebrations at this moment. Fascists and fundamentalists everywhere are known for their strategizing and organizational abilities. The Sangh Parivar has tasted ‘power’ and they are not going to let go easily. They will try every trick in the book to regain lost ground. In their attempt to make good their nefarious designs to destroy all that is sacred in the Constitution and to ensure the establishment of a State based on the ‘Hindutva’ ideology, they will do all they can in the run-up to the National Elections of 2019, in order to ensure their victory.
In the context of these recent victories at the hustings, it is important that all the secular political parties (particularly the Congress which has come back to power in the key states) ensure the following:
• to implement the promises made in their ‘Election Manifesto’ immediately – especially the loan waiver to the farmers. Modi and his ilk have foisted a slew of ‘promises’ on the nation – which have turned to be fake or sheer lies. Today no one waits any longer for the ‘achche din’. The Congress at least at this stage must show that they are a party which takes the promises made in their Election Campaign seriously. This will help them have greater credibility for 2019.
• to reach out to the poor and other marginalized sections of society – in meaningful and pragmatic ways. Mere tokenism will not suffice. ‘One can never fool all the people all the time’ – it has been proved time and again that the so-called simple, poor and ordinary citizen do speak very effectively through the ballot box.
• to shun every form of corruption- this is the bane of Indian politics. Every political party seems to be outdoing the other in unethical and corrupt practices – the BJP has proved that they are the masters in corruption and have mainstreamed it at every level.
• to desist from using religion to divide the people. Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Constitution. No political party should ‘use’ religion to further their political agenda: whether it is the Mandir construction or the ‘Christian’ oath taking ceremony by the MNF in Mizoram. Any political outfit playing the ‘communal card’ needs to be ostracized.
• to uphold and protect the sanctity of the Constitutions and at the same time defend the fundamental rights of all citizens. In the same vein, the independence of Constitutional and other statutory bodies should not be compromised. The BJP has shown beyond measure that they have the ‘authority’ to interfere and prevent the fair and judicious functioning of all these bodies be it the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Information Commission, the Election Commission and the latest, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) which has resulted in the resignations of both the Governor of the RBI and his deputy. The way the impartiality of the judiciary has been destroyed these past years, is there for all to see.
• to forge alliances well in advance and to make it clear that blackmailing one another or indulging in petty horse-trading will not be beneficial to the country in the long run; one can take a cue from the post-election scenario in Karnataka when the BJP desperately tried to buy some of the newly-elected MLAs. However because of intra-party and inter-party dynamics, alliances are always on a sticky wicket. There has to be adjusting and adapting at every level, and above all, major political parties will have to shed their arrogance!
• to promote a participatory form of democracy and in keeping with the ‘Panchayati Raj’ principle a bottoms up approach. One would need to be reminded of the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “My notion of democracy is that under it the weakest shall have the same opportunities as the strongest... no country in the world today shows any but patronizing regard for the weak... Western democracy, as it functions today, is diluted fascism... true democracy cannot be worked by twenty men sitting at the centre. It has to be worked from below, by the people of every village.”
Besides, all women and men of goodwill, civil society at large need to engage wholeheartedly in the political processes of the country. The country deserves to have more good women and men in politics. A first and significant step is to ensure that their names are on the electoral rolls and that others are registered voters too (as it happens in every elections, many names just mysteriously disappear from the electoral rolls). Once this is done, people must exercise their franchise – not to do so is clearly abdicating one’s responsibility. There is so much happening all over the country today – like-minded individuals and groups must take a visible and vocal stand to address these painful realities. One is fully aware of how human rights defenders, forthright journalists, academics, intellectuals and social activists are targeted, hounded, harassed and even killed.
At this juncture one cannot but help recall those immortal words of Pastor Martin Niemoller, who in the wake of the holocaust by the Nazis on the Jews, wrote,
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
All the above, is easier said than done. But this is a very special moment in the history of the country- which necessitates a special and even radical response. The recent defeat of the BJP and the RSS combine in all five States must not be watered down as a ‘flash–in–the–pan’. The victory of the secular forces must be capitalized positively at every level. It is therefore imperative that secular political parties and civil society who are committed to the future of India awake now , engage proactively in every sphere and ensure that the ‘Big Fight’ of 2019 is the triumph of Truth and Justice for We The People of India!
(The writer is a human rights activist. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 17th December 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 51)