Swami Agnivesh & Rev. Valson Thampu

The people of Gujarat have spoken, under the circumstances, the letter of democracy. Whether or not they have articulated the spirit of democracy, and to what extent this electoral exercise is a faithful mirror to the will of the people, remains tantalizingly unclear. We know from history that the function of emotionally surcharged propaganda is to disable rational thinking and to inhibit humane sentiments. It is, in short, to alienate people not only from others but also from themselves. To what extent do votes cast in such a state embody the will of the people? Sadly, the mechanism of democracy, programmed to function on quantity, is insensitive to qualitative questions of this kind.

The recently concluded elections in Pakistan, stage-managed by Musharraf, is a warning against turning elections into a democratic fetish. Ironically, these elections stabbed democracy in the back even more than his earlier military coup did! And, let us not forget, it was using perfectly legitimate democratic instruments and conventions that Hitler managed to murder democracy in Germany. Musharraf hijacked democracy by paralyzing opposition. Modi ridiculed democracy in Gujarat by trivializing this election. According to him, this crucial election was about patakas. The all-important question on which the people of Gujarat had to give their verdict was: "Should patakas burst in India or in Pakistan?" Do we really need an expensive and emotionally charged election to resolve this question? Couldn't it have been answered better by organizing a One Day International cricket match between the two countries? The five crore Gujaratis who, according to Narendar Modi, have entrusted their gaurav to his custodial keeping, (never mind, his track-record in protecting the lives of the Sabarmati Express passengers or Akshardham devotees) know, presumably, that communally trivializing elections in this fashion amounts to belittling our cherished legacy of secularism and democracy?

What the people of Gujarat have been manipulated into doing, if Praveen Togadia is to be believed, is to stamp their endorsement on the RSS vision of the Hindu Rashtra which, he assures us, will be realized within a couple of years. Is that the will of the people of Gujarat? Or is this simply a fait accompli? Have they been taken for a ride? Have the five crore Gujaratis spoken indeed? If they have, is this indeed what they spoken: that all who oppose Hindutva, including secularists, should be eliminated, according to the best traditions of democracy?

Be that as it may, it is the turn now for the rest of the country to speak; for Advani has re-defined BJP's new incarnation. According to him, the party shall march henceforth with two items in its hands: the saffron jhanda (flag) in the right, and the NDA agenda in the left, and in that order. It won't be too long before the willfully self-deceived NDA partners begin to know that henceforth the jhanda will be the NDA agenda, and that the saffron flag will be the insignia of the Central dispensation. The coalition partners will have to range themselves under the saffron flag, if they have not been doing so already. Coalition will be subjected to the merciless logic of political homogenization, in the overt or covert pursuit of attaining the RSS goal of Hindu Rashtra. Going by all available evidence, the prime goal of BJP is to capture State power and hand it over to the RSS. And the principal lesson from the Gujarat elections for the NDA partners and all oppositions parties, barring Congress, is that the communalization of Indian democracy will leave them with no political survival space. Indian democracy will have only two poles: BJP and Congress. Modi has clearly liberated the BJP from its last residual inhibition about its communal and theocratic agenda, and given it a popular appeal and resonance that would leave even Hitler applauding. As Advani asserts, now BJP does not have to be apologetic about being truly itself, or coming out in its true colours. We must not, still, read too much into the magnitude of Modi's win in Gujarat. It was a victory by default, as Uma Bharti was quick and candid to admit. According to her, Congress defaulted by disowning the riot victims and by playing the mournful tune of soft Hindutva. Equally disastrously, it failed to evolve a comprehensive alliance of secular forces. The opposition parties, for all their eagerness to win, did not join the battle in right earnest. They, not less than Modi's BJP, would be held responsible by future historians if and when they chronicle the degeneration of our democracy into fascism.

Perhaps the most significant trend unveiled in this election is the cooption of the adivasis and tribals into the Hindutva agenda. This was a traditional Congress stronghold and the Congress has virtually handed this sector over to the BJP on a platter by default. The electorates in this region are cynical alike of BJP and Congress. But BJP has managed to worst the Congress by involving the tribals and adivasis in the Gujarat riots, giving them a fleeting sense of power, which to a chronically depressed people is a bumper bonanza. The pathos of this situation is that it was their crass under-development that made them vulnerable to this criminal bait. The Congress has to do serious soul-searching in respect of its sincerity to espouse the cause of the poor, the Dalits and the adivasis and formulate a national policy that would address the needs and aspirations of a huge chunk of our population.

The media has done a disservice to Indian democracy by over-emphasizing the electoral harvest that the BJP has reaped from the riots. The riots proved a windfall in the negative sense that BJP would have faced a total rout, but for the riots. But the party's gain is clearly by default in this respect as well. It was on account of the disastrous failure of the opposition parties, especially the Congress, to evolve a credible and consistent ideological alternative to Hindutva that the riots helped the BJP to consolidate Hindu votes. Clearly, Modi flourished in the ideological vacuum that prevailed. And those who created this vacuum, not less than those who exploited it, have to bear the blame for the awkward turn that Gujarat has taken. The bitter lessons of Gujarat will be lost on the nation, if this basic fact is overlooked.

Since the Gujarat elections, Congress spokesmen have been trying desperately to explain away the setback that the party has suffered in that state. This will not help them or impress anyone else. The need of the hour is to do a brutally honest postmortem so as to adopt the corrective measures that are so desperately needed. Quite simply, BJP cannot repeat Gujarat elsewhere in the country, unless Congress facilitates it by default. The party owes it to this country to heroically espouse our secular and pluralist heritage and to do all it can to regain the beleaguered faith of the poor and the exploited sections of our society. It needs to make up its mind, besides, about the multiplying victims of globalization who are sinking below the poverty line into debt and possible death by starvation. It must do all it can to capture the imagination of the rural youth and to inspire the middle class with a proactive vision of what India could be in the days ahead. Above all, it needs to exemplify a spirit of courage and sacrifice, and re-define the morale of this nation for the difficult days that lie ahead.