Swami Agnivesh &Valson Thampu

Elections 2004 has been unique. We haven't seen anything like this in a long while. No other verdict has left everyone, especially the victors, so surprised. That means, among other things, that things did not happen according to the plans set by the major players. It is as though Verdict 2004 scripted itself prompted by the destiny of India.

One way of engaging the significance of this election is to see it as an encounter between India and Bharat. The BJP strategists were right: India was shining, and is still shining. But they went wrong, fatally wrong, about Bharat, which was far from shining. Vajpayee was better informed, and he conceded, in an NDTV interview, that there were "pockets of darkness" in this country. What he did not realize, however, was that they were far too many and too large, and that millions of people were languishing in this darkness. Put simply, while India was shining, Bharat remained in darkness. The function of darkness is to hide the reality. And to that extent the BJP spin-doctors too were living in darkness. Even light is a problem; for it makes you aware of darkness. Hence it happened that even the benefactors of India shining -the privileged urban voters- rejected the BJP, being aware and uneasy about the darkness elsewhere. This accounts for the 'surprise' package this election proved to be.

It is true, as Vajpayee wrote in his Kumarakom musings, that globalization has come to stay. No political party, he asserted, could go against its diktats. This untried dogmatism is at the root of the NDA rout; for it shows a cavalier irreverence to the ethos of India, which not only adopts but also adapts. We have always transformed what we accepted. In contrast, the servile surrender to globalization -particularly to its apathy to the plight of the poor- belittles the ethos of India. It erodes the genius of our culture: the ability to adapt, even transform, what we adopt in order to harmonize it with the spirit of India. Secularism is a case in point. Like globalization, secularism too is of 'foreign origin'. We have adapted the idea and practice of secularism to match our unique context. We do not separate State from religion. Instead we factor, at least in theory, religious harmony into our secular culture.

The transforming power of Indian genius stems mainly from its pluralist character. The western mindset works in terms of "Either . . . or". It sees, mostly, in black and white. There is nothing in between. So it is either the State or the Church. This outlook is inherently intolerant. Indian tolerance is a fruit of our pluralist genius, which allows different ingredients to co-exist, interact and evolve newer possibilities, of which Sufism is an example in the sphere of spirituality.

That being the case, we should not assume that globalization and the priorities of democracy are mutually exclusive. To assume dogmatically that no party or government can resist the juggernaut of globalization is to imply that 'the will of the people' has become irrelevant to governance. That amounts to a de facto rejection of democracy. In the days ahead, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) will have to evolve an authentic synthesis of globalization and democracy. This is an enterprise that could benefit not only India, but also scores of Afro-Asian nations. It would be a gross betrayal of the mandate of the people if the UPA government were to endorse the NDA dogma in this respect.

Already powerful forces are out to hijack Verdict 2004 and to anchor the UPA in Dalal Street. Mistake it not, what we heard through Verdict 2004 was the outcry of popular anger at people's needs being slighted and overlooked. Ironically, the "India Shining" campaign simply catalyzed this chemistry of indignation. It struck the common man as an insult to the victims of hunger and misery in 'pockets of darkness'. Destitute farmers committed suicide in silence. The unemployed youth did not. They went out and voted. A majority of Hindus saw through the communal conspiracy to hijack their religion for political ends. They kept quiet for a while, but used their votes to dilute their embarrassment. The minorities retreated in fear and humiliation and waited for their turn to 'cry freedom'; and they did it with tactical precision. Let us get this right: the core issue in this election was hunger and the criminal neglect of human needs. Globalization showcased consumer goods of infinite variety and aggravated the thirst for more and more. It made the underprivileged people aware of their exclusion from the feast of nascent prosperity. This enabled economics to supersede ideology. No longer will Indian voters march to the drumbeats of ideology along rotten and unlit roads on empty stomachs. Perhaps Chidambaram has got the message right. "India," he says wisely, "must shine for all people".

The second important message of this verdict is that the days of communalism are firmly and finally over. The common man in this country is too genuinely religious to be fooled for long by the false colours and clamours of communalism. He knows that communalism is the enemy of the religion it pretends to serve. He knows, too, that given our religious plurality, religious harmony is a precondition for peace and progress. His own welfare hinges on this. The BJP gave the Hindus a choice between an Indian bahu (daughter in law) of foreign origin and a foreign ideology painted in saffron. They rejected the ideology and embraced the bahu. In doing so, they have mandated the UPA government to secure the cause of secularism, decisively. Consider the pathetic downfall of Narendra Modi; and no further argument will be required.

The third most significant feature of this election is the fact that the women of this country have unseated the NDA. This is juicy irony. The macho, patriarchal outfit proved a mere bubble at the fingertips of the disempowered women of this country! Why have women supported the Congress so overwhelmingly? Part of the answer lies in the affinity they feel towards Sonia: an affinity that was deepened by the abuse that people like Modi heaped on her. But why do women turn to Sonia? Is it only that they are fascinated by her simple dress code and personal grace, as some journalists speculate? The women voters in particular have expressed themselves against the violent and oppressive political culture of the Parivar-driven NDA. Women love peace; for they are the worst victims in a culture of violence. In Sonia they see the ultimate victim of violence. And no one should underestimate its deep appeal to the masses, especially to the women of India. The more she is vilified, victimized and caricatured, the deeper will they feel for her. The managers of the anti-Sonia campaign are her best benefactors.

The UPA government must pay special heed to the aspirations of the women in this country. It must make an all-out effort to do justice to the women of India. This is not merely a matter of giving women the long-delayed 33 % representation in the Parliament, which brooks no further delay. But that, by itself, will be only a token, even if it is a significant and powerful one. In the end, doing justice to women involves founding our society on compassion, peace, and justice: a society in which violence has no place. That includes not only physical violence, but also systemic violence like poverty and gender-based discriminations of all kinds. Besides this, we must propagate an attitude of respect towards women.

In the wake of Sonia's decision not to be Prime Minister, anxieties were expressed, even by some sober journalists, that a double-centre of power might develop: one centered on the PM and the other on Sonia. It is being made out that this will be a disaster. The truth of the matter is, it would be a disaster if Sonia were to renounce her responsibilities towards the people of India, just because she renounced power. To see this clearly, just consider the rout of Chandrababu Naidu. Was it not his single-center of power that proved his undoing? Mesmerized by the glitter of high-tech progress, he lost touch with the people and became the CEO of Andhra Pradesh. There was none in the party who had the courage or stature to link governance with the people. Underlining the need for Sonia to be the eyes and ears of the people within the power-centre of governance, need not amount to any disrespect to Dr. Manmohan Singh's ability or sterling qualities. He would be the first to admit that he needs the guidance of people-oriented politicians to make governance people-centered and oriented towards their needs. More than anyone else, Sonia has a duty to ensure that this government addresses the needs, hopes and aspirations of the people of India. It was in this respect that the NDA government failed and got thrown out by the people. It is a costly lesson that she cannot afford to ignore. The people of this country gave her the mandate; they will hold her, and no one else, accountable.