Time to Move Beyond Divisive Politics

Published : Feb 15, 2018 09:28 am | By: M D Sridharan

India as a nation has seen a number of conflicts over many issues both trivial and serious ones that had greater impact on the society as a whole. There have been clashes over religious, ethnic, cultural or linguistic practices and traditions. Still India, as a country has managed to survive and withstand its unique identity. But, in the recent times the country has witnessed political parties blatantly engaged in divisive politics and it is time for the governments, both centre and state, to stop looking through the prism of caste, religion, language, sect and focus on the welfare of its citizens and the overall development of the nation.

Unity in Diversity is the greatest strength of India. The concept of diversity is a unique dimension of India, the world’s largest democracy. The power of plurality is the fulcrum of our society on which the entire nation has been built. Over the centuries, by and large we have lived happily for centuries with the idea of plurality despite strong differences within. The quality is imbibed in every Indian which in turn has enormously helped the art of democracy to flourish with pride.

Over the years India has witnessed several changes at many levels be it political, religious, social, cultural and traditional norms. With the passage of time, the way we think, communicate, behave and live today, have all undergone a sea change.  All these changes have been adopted slowly without shaking the social fabric of India as a society.

But, in the recent times there is a deliberate effort by some vested interest groups to destroy the social fabric of India by creating an atmosphere of fear and instil a sense of insecurity among different sections of the society by the political parties.  The challenge to Indian democracy and the society as a whole emerges from those sections that hate democracy as an idea.

In a democracy every citizen has right to express his/her views be it on governance or society and may applaud or criticise. At the same time very caution has to exercise to clearly distinguish hatred from critique.  Criticism is an essential tool in the world of democracy and healthy criticism helps the government to set things in order and redeem its glory. On the other hand hatred creates hollowness and in the long run shakes the very foundation of the democratic structure.

The democratic values need to be nurtured. But instead, we see a steady drop in the democratic values which is caused by the increase in the hollowness perpetuated by the political parties across India. As a result, slowly the hollowness develops in to hatred and inthe recent times one can see this is happening regularly across the country.

Hatred originates from intolerance and suppression by the people who strongly believes that their aspirations are crippled and ignored by the rulers and manifests itself.  The political parties, mainly those who are in opposition use the opportunity to their advantage by subverting the real cause. They undermine the true value of democracy and engage in spread distrust among the people.

The suppression of difference and freedom of expression need not always necessarily silence the opposition especially when dealing with religious and ethnic minorities. It may lead to the rise in intolerance towards India’s religious, ethnic and linguistic and cultural plurality. Democracy constitutes a wholesome welfare measures towards all:  women, peasants, workers, Dalits and minorities.

Maharashtra Clash: A bad precedence

Indeed the year 2018 has begun on an ominous note for Maharashtra. The violent clashes that broke out in villages around Bhima Koregaon near Pune also spread to Mumbai and Gujarat.

The arson has in the real sense belittled the actual occasion— the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon Bhima on January 1.  Every year Dalits used to assemble in large numbers to commemorate the second centenary of the historic battle between the forces of Peshwa Bajirao II and the British East India Company. Legend has it that the British could overcome the challenge posed by the Peshwa because of the extraordinary valour and courage displayed by the soldiers of the then “untouchable” Mahar caste in their ranks. Many believe that some 200 Mahar soldiers lost their lives in the course of the victorious charge which, in later years, went on to become a powerful symbol of Mahar pride. The victory pillar erected by the British at the site of the battle is, in the Dalit narrative, a monument to community assertion and self-respect today.

For 200 years it was not a political event and suddenly this year it attracted a huge crowd. From a congregation of few thousand Dalits every year, this year it was estimated that over 10 lakhs gathered to pay their respect.  

According to sources, it all began on December 28, when the tombstone of Dalit hero Govind Gopal at Vadhu was vandalised, leading to some 49 villagers being booked and nine arrested for an atrocity crime. While Maratha outfit Sambhaji Brigade and various Dalit leaders blamed Hindutva activists like Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide Guruji for instigating violence, some others set the blame with the Sambhaji Brigade for creating the controversy in the first place. Dalits retarded and unleashed violence in protest with an objective to fan Dalit agitation across Maharashtra.

On the other hand, 'Yalgar Parishad', a meeting of Naxal front organisations was held in Pune a day before the Bhima-Koregaon violence. So, the security agencies suspect that the violence may have been planned and executed by urban Naxal cadres. Also, the violence assumed political significance as some agitators, allegedly in the garb of activists championing the cause of the backward classes, have instigated the violence. 

Maharashtra, has seen powerful tensions between Dalits and socially forward communities, mainly the Marathas. Moreover, with Devendra Fadnavis , a Brahmin,  being the Chief Minister of Maharashtra many feel that the BJP has set its sights on the Brahmins and other upper castes and on the OBCs and this has antagonised the Marathas, who enjoyed uninterrupted power and influence for well over five decades. With agricultural incomes shrinking, the loss of political influence to OBCs and Dalits has provoked extra anger in the Marathas. The outcome of the Gujarat Assembly elections, where the Patidar community — who are in a roughly similar situation — tormented the BJP, has significantly emboldened the Marathas in Maharashtra.

Like the Patidars in Gujarat, Sambhaji Brigade has been demanding reservation for the Maratha community and wants inclusion of Marathas in Other Backward Caste (OBC) category. This has put the Fadnavis government in a fix — if it accepts the Maratha demand, it risks alienating the BJP’s OBC base; if it rejects it, there is a danger of the Marathas going against the party in the Assembly elections due in 2019.  The BJP is trying  to consolidate itself among the dominant Maratha vote bank and the Dalit vote bank, which  accounts for 30 per cent and 10 per cent respectively  of Maharashtra’s voter base.

The Maharashtra violence is a result of distorted political economy and communities failed by political leaderships.  Until the Nineties, Dalits were a force to reckon with in Maharashtra. With the decline of the once-firebrand Dalit Panthers organisation, the Dalit movement in the state has steadily waned. The current agitation is aimed at changing this situation.  Moreover, the socio-political trajectory of the Dalit community is marked by frustrations. For Dalits, it is important to send out the message that they matter politically, before the BJP takes a decision on Maratha reservations.

Conflict of Interest

While Congress and NCP call  the unrest ‘handiwork of divisive communal forces’, there is a conceited effort by Congress to unite backward castes, isolate BJP. It was very much visible even in the Maharashtra violence.   Peshwas, against whom the Dalits fought in Bhima Koregaon, were Brahmins.  So, in his speech to the Elgaar Parishad in Pune on, Jignesh Mevani, the Gujarat Dalit MLA, repeatedly referred to the BJP-RSS as the “new Peshwas”. Redefining the word 'Peshwai', which refers to the so-called oppressive rule of the Peshwas in their heydays, the front organisations have now coined 'neo-Peshwai'.

Shortly after the reports of violence spreading from Pune to different parts of Maharashtra and angry Dalit youth hitting the streets, the new Congress President Rahul Gandhi,  tweeted:  “A central pillar of the RSS/BJP’s fascist vision for India is that Dalits should remain at the bottom of Indian society. Una, Rohith Vemula and now Bhima-Koregaon are potent symbols of the resistance” Instead of displaying a sense of responsibility and diffusing tension at a time of violence, indeed Rahul Gandhi made a  callous and dangerous statement that is unbecoming of the president of India’s grand old party.

Rather than making a sincere attempt to douse the communal fire that threatened to engulf entire Maharashtra, indeed Rahul Gandhi’s  tweet inflated the issue further.  Also, it laid bare the party’s strategy to keep alive the tension that would reap political dividends.

Appeasement Politics

Major Indian Political parties, especially Congress which ruled the country for the majority part since independence,   have indulged in appeasement of the minorities with an eye on the vote bank.  The strategy of appeasement by granting them policy favours has in reality divided the people along religious lines and fragmented the country.

Over the years the Congress party had tacitly encouraged Muslim fundamentalists in order to garner their support during the elections and played the appeasement card.  The level of appeasement practiced by politicians has reached its nadir with a no-holds-barred electoral slugfest for Muslim votes. This appeasement of fundamentalism has also ensured that moderate and progressive Muslim voices are slowly receding into the background. Recently, it was the Congress which stalled the passing of “Triple Talaq” bill in line with the Muslim clerics who claimed that it is an interference with the Islamic law.

At a time when the country is heading for social reforms among the Muslim community , the Congress and the opposition parties are geared up to create a communal feeling among Muslims. For decades Congress has eyed on the Muslim vote banks as Muslims constitute around 15 percent of Indian population. Moreover, it is presumed that the community votes en masse. Therefore most Indian political bodies, especially the Congress always preferred to encourage the fundamentalists and the clergy in the community.   

Appeasement for the sake of votes has not only belittled the constitutional propriety, it also forced the political parties to take soft stand towards terrorism for the sake of Muslim votes. Worst, at times, political parties have blatantly compromised on issues related to Islamic terrorists damaging the integrity of the security forces.

Move Beyond Divisive Politics

Divisive politics has been the bane of Indian politics. While, the British successfully practiced the policy of ‘divide and rule’, still after 70 years of independence, political parties party only talks about secularism and being secular  but  ironically practice divisive politics in the background. As a result, most of the policies that have been implemented are perpetuated towards furtherance of vote-bank politics. It is time that the country should move beyond the arithmetic of minority-majority.  It is time for the governments, both centre and state, to stop looking through the prism of caste, religion, language, or sect and focus on the welfare of its citizens and the overall development of the nation.

Congress has a history of pitching one community against the other during elections. While it was Patels versus rest of Gujarat, it was  Jats in Haryana, Lingayats in Karnataka, Rajputs in – Rajasthan and Dalits in – Maharashtra – the list goes on.  After the relative success of Congress in the Gujarat Assembly elections, it is certain that the rejuvenated party will increasingly replicate the caste-division formula elsewhere and try to fracture the BJP’s Hindu vote bank.  

But currently, with BJP at the centre enjoying a strong majority the opposition parties, especially Congress and Left are continuously finding reasons to unite against the government and challenge the establishment.  Having, tried and tested its brand of appeasement politics for many decades, Congress is now changing its strategy to incitement politics. The Congress has been relentlessly accusing BJP government of being anti-Dalit and exploiting the community in BJP-ruled states. Having accused BJP for playing religious cards, Congress is now bent on playing the caste card.

Also, at a time when increasingly the demands for reservations are emerging from all sections of the society across the nation, a closer look at the issues – be it upper-caste anxiety or Dalit assertiveness – reveals that the root cause of the problems is the gross resentment at the government’s failure at various levels.

It is no secret that the communal and the caste fault lines have always existed.  Communal politics has been the bane of Indian politics. On the whole vote bank politics has become not only as a major tool for the political parties but also   remains as one of the most concerning aspects of Indian politics.  A country with a society of many religions today stands divided on both caste and religious lines and practices.

While, our founding fathers ensured that India thrive as a diverse society and the practitioners of every religion have pride of place in the country. But, after independence political parties simply hijacked the very essence of our society “Unity in Diversity” and conveniently played the caste and religion cards to improve their vote bank kitty.

While, the British successfully practiced the policy of ‘divide and rule’, still after 70 years of independence, political parties party only talks about secularism and being secular  but  ironically practice communal politics in the background. As a result, most of the policies that have been implemented are perpetuated towards furtherance of vote-bank politics.

By continuously engaged in appeasement politics, parties failed to understand that on one side they not only create discrimination among the people but also pave the way for the communal disturbances which results in tearing the secular fabric of the nation.

In any society, at any given point of time, there will always be people holding divergent views. Such views are integral and inevitable in a healthy, functioning democracy. While the opposition continuously blames the ruling BJP that under the hindutva banner, BJP is curbing the freedom of expression and dubbing the dissent voices as “anti-national”, BJP is raking up the issue of appeasement of minorities.

It is time that the country should move beyond the arithmetic of minority-majority.  It is time for the governments, both centre and state, to stop looking at welfare of its citizens through the prism of caste, religion, language, or sect.

If not, in the ongoing tussle between power and  welfare of the people and the nation as a whole,  the   contradictions between two major national parties BJP and Congress are bound to spread and increase violence across the nation.

 

 

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