Winds of "Change"? (December 13, 2008)


The election results of five state assemblies indicate that the voter's mindset is undergoing a subtle transformation, writes Mohammed Ataur Rahman.

The "change" referred to in the headline here has been used advisedly. It relates to the voter's inner world, his/her worldview, rather than any imminent alteration in the country's polity or its structures.

One particular incident in South Delhi should suffice to explain this shift in voter behaviour. Only a few days before the polls, several severed heads of cows were "found" in and around temples in South Delhi. The motive was clear: to provoke Hindu anger (preferably, riots as well) and encourage Hindus to vote for the Hindutva party.

Some people were, of course, angered as usual. Small, volatile crowds gathered near the temples. However, soon policemen and their officers appeared on the scene, calmed and they dispersed them. The temples were cleaned after the heads were removed, and everything was back to normal.

This was a precedence of sorts. Before that, BJP and it earlier version, Jan Sangh, always reaped the bumper harvest of cow-head politics in the form of anti-Muslim riots and concomitant electoral support of the Hindu voter to the champions of Hindutva.

Why were the people suddenly logical enough to grasp the fact that Muslims would not throw away cows' heads into or around temples. There is no reason why Muslims should choose to offer cows' heads to Hindu deities. There is no scope in Islam for worshipping (and offering sacrifices) to any deity except the one and only God.

For the first time in Delhi, Hindu voters knew that Muslims don't turn to idolatry at any period in their life, not even a week before polls. Voters could see through the game of "Cow, Ram Mandir, Ram Setu". They could also see through the bogus BJP concern for "terrorism" (by which they mean Muslim, not Hindu or Naxal version of terrorism). Also, everyone knew who was gong to benefit from such cheap and dangerous gimmick. By virtually boycotting BJP's mascot Narendra Modi's public meeting in Delhi voters had clearly indicated that they were not interested in a badbola's bragging and communal posturing.

What was true of Delhi was also true of Rajasthan: rejection of anti-Muslim, fascist politics in favour of democratic, secular, progressive, inclusive politics. In Rajasthan elements of the feudal order still persist. However, by rejecting BJP lock stock and barrel (including the revered Maharani Vasundra Raje Scindia) the electorate has shown that it has come of age. Jat politics and allied caste and ethnic equations, too, have played their role. Ashok Gehlot's hard work has also contributed in ample measure to the party's victory.

By and large Delhi electorate has supported a secular developmental agenda. Ditto for Rajasthan. Mizoram has its own politics, removed from the political discourse of India other than the north-east. BJP victory in Madhya Pradesh came from the chief minister's focus on development issues and Congress infighting rather than anti-Muslim rhetoric. Jharkhand also was lost to Congress not because of fascist appeal but because of infighting in Congress.

All said and done, BJP's wistful thinking (of winning all five states) has come a cropper. However, there is a lot of time left before Lok Sabha elections. A lot of voter mood swing is possible in the intervening period. Secular forces cannot afford to be complacent.


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