By B.G. Verghese
The latest opinion polls following announcement of the general elections have forecast major gains by the BJP-NDA alliance at the cost of a floundering Congress-UPA. One need not question the integrity of the major polls though lesser known pollsters have been exposed through a sting operation as willing to trade margins for a consideration, an offshoot of the entirely unethical paid news phenomenon. The 11-Party post-election front remains wrapped in uncertainty while certain players like the AIDMK, Trinamool and even the BJD remain open to post-election alliances, with Jayalalithaa and MamataBannerjee making no secret of their prime ministerial ambitions.
Polls are prone to go awry. Even if the party numbers turn out to be broadly right, there could be upsets in the indicated preference or assumption of who will be prime minister. Modi currently leads the packbut it is not axiomatic that he will be the final choice. He remains controversial and even divisive to some, even within the BJP, witness the inner-party tussle over whether MurliManohar Joshi should give up his Varanasi seat to accommodate Modi.
Elements within the BJP worry that once elevated, the man may remain entrenched for two or more terms thus putting paid to their ambitions. But the greater concern will be the views of the NDA partners unless the BJP on its own is in such a dominating position that it can dictate any terms. This seems unlikely. So even if Modi is the BJP’s choice (whatever the inner reservations), the NDA will have a casting vote on who is to be prime minister. The constituent parties may well prefer someone less right-wing, tainted and divisive and, more importantly, less influenced by the RSS- Hindutva lobby which has been given or certainly assumed a central role in the forthcoming elections as a matter of “Hindu survival”.
The RSS, a so-called “cultural body”, has been increasingly steering BJP policy of late, wary of losing its operational status as head of the Parivar and keeper of “cultural nationalism”. It will not allowa BJP government to cut loose. In his latest VijayaDashmi speech following its Amravati conclave last year, Mohan Bhagwat has called on RSS cadres to take the field and deliver “100 per cent Hindu voters” to the polling booths. Ashok Singhal, VHP is in fear of Hindus becoming a minority and has urged Hindu mothers to bear five children! NarendraModi has told Northeasterners to welcome Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, Fiji, Mauritius and the US, where they face persecution, but throw out Muslim and Christian infiltrators. In Ayodhya, the repair and construction of mosques within a sacred radius has virtually been prohibited under VHP pressure. Numbers of ex-servicemen are meanwhile joining the BJP on account of its sturdy “nationalism”.
At its latest annual conclave in Bangalore the RSS determined not to compromise on “moral values, social systems and traditions in the name of individual freedom” on such issues as live-in relationships and homosexuality. Wendy Donniger’s book “On Hinduism” has been pulped under pressure.Elsewhere moral policing continues. The BJP continues to demand passage of a uniform civil code; but what is utterly surprising that the Party does not legislate this in any of the States it rules as is constitutionally permissible and does no injury to personal law. A UCC, already partly extant in the form of the Special Marriage Act, would liberate women from male bondage, make for equal opportunity and cut at the root of the power of fundamentalist clerics of all faiths who now rule the roost. The indifference to such a basic reform across the board, largely born of legal illiteracy reinforced by gender insensitivity, is truly astonishing. The Supreme Court has however just moved to legalise Muslim adoption under civil law, a step towards the making of a uniform code.
To get back to the polls, aware of the negative vibes caused by Modi’s record in 2002.Rajnath Singh, the BJP president, has said that the party is prepared to apologise to the Muslims in case any injusticewas done to them. Only a sense of inner guilt can explain this dubious apology. A more curious reference to 2002 came thereafter from Venkiah Naidu who sought to prove that the party is stronger than any individual (such as Modi).He argued that when Vajpayee chastisedModi and called on him to resign, reminding him of his raj dharma as Gujarat’s chief minister, the party collectively vetoed the prime minister. Was Vajpayee then an ill-informed maverick talking out of turn or a liberal statesman deeply anguished by the holocaust?
So the jury is still out on who may be prime minister even if the 2014 electoral outcome indicates a BJPsurge under Modi’s leadership.One must wait to see how the chips fall. However, one does not see the Congress under Rahul Gandhi going anywhere. The Government was busy frantically handing out lollipops hours before the election code came into force. Governors were appointed at 3.20 a.m, the Defence Minister’s achievements were eulogised at 7.30 a.m and the Home Ministry announced that certain Wakf properties would not be acquired just 10 minutes before the election code deadline. Reservations for Jats from the OBC quota were also announced.
In another display of illiberalism, a group of women academics at Aligarh Muslim University celebrated International Women’s Day by extolling purdah. At a private Meerut college, a group of Kashmiri students that cheered Pakistan’s cricket victory over India caused some understandable annoyance.That was then followed by an over-the-top sedition charge against them by the UP police which was fortunately rescinded a day later after Omar Abdullah spoke to AkhileshYadav. We have to become more mature and avoid knee-jerk reactions.
The poll campaign is warming up but the AAP-BJP brawls in Delhi, Lucknow, and in Gujarat are a warning signal. The AAP was wrong to see the Gandhinagar police’s temporary detention of Kejriwal’s motorcade for moving without sanction after the coming into force of the election code, as an “arrest”. This sparked off a fractious Delhi rally by AAP supporters before the BJP office and a retaliatory strike by the BJP in Lucknow. This kind of rowdyism must be put down with a firm hand. Nor should the man who blackened YogendraYadav’s face with ink at Delhi’s JantarMatar be let off on Yadav’s say so. Unless such conduct is dealt with sternly, others will be encouraged to misbehave and plead immunity.