India: Defeat of NDA, victory of secularism by Asghar Ali Engineer

South Asia Citizen's Wire
Crushing defeat of NDA led by the BJP in the recent general elections is certainly victory of secular forces.
The BJP-led NDA had won in 1999 not so much as for its ability to deliver and provide better governance but because the BJP understood the significance of coalition politics and the Congress did not.
When the Congress realised the importance of coalition it entered into electoral arrangement with different secular parties in different regions and inflicted crushing defeat on NDA. The NDA defeat was so massive that its leaders were totally stunned by it.

One can say that this was liberation of the country from communal forces who had bared their fascist fangs in Gujarat in 2002. It would be wrong to say that only Narendra Modi was guilty of the Gujarat carnage of 2002; the BJP-led NDA at the Centre was equally responsible for it. Despite hue and cry from all over the country the central leadership of the BJP and NDA not only kept quiet but extended full support to Narendra Modi in his fascist-like pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat. Mr. Fernandese even said in Parliament debate on women being raped and their wombs split that there is nothing new in this and that it has happened in this country for years.

The TDP leaders may not have lent active support like Mr. Fernandese but kept silent and never insisted on removal of Narendra Modi. Mr. Chandrababu Naidu allegedly settled for few hundred crores for his state and continued to support the NDA Government despite blood bath in Gujarat. His conscience was also not shaken. He also paid heavily and was swept out of power in Andhra Pradesh as Muslims refused to vote for him. Though this was not the only reason, it was one of the important factors for his being voted out.

The BJP leaders of course less said the better. They supported Narendra Modi to the hilt. When the BJP won Gujarat elections after the carnage with two-third majority all BJP leaders not only praised Narendra Modi but maintained that we would repeat the Gujarat model throughout the country i.e. that we would like to win elections in other states by organising blood bath of innocent members of minorities. What a shame? These were public statements made in full glare of T.V. cameras. Even Mr. Vajpayee when asked whether BJP would repeat the Gujarat Model averred "Will you repeat Godhra?" rather than firmly discounting such possibility. "Can then Mr.Vajpayee be described as statesman?" Will a statesman ever lend moral and political support to such carnage? He would rather resign than lead such a party which thrives on blood bath of innocents.

There is no doubt that BJP is a Hindu nationalist party and is firmly aligned to the RSS ideology. Mr. Vajpayee himself said at Straiten Island in USA among his VHP supporters that he has RSS soul. Who does not know that in 1978 also the Bharatiya Jan Sangh preferred to resign from the Janata Party rather than severe its relations with the RSS when Raj Narain, Madhu Limaye and George Fernandese raised dual membership controversy. Thus its loyalty to the RSS is unquestionable and its commitment to what Vajpayee used to call 'coalition dharma' was very superficial. It is nothing but a political arm of RSS.

One must not forget that in these five years it never tired of implementing the RSS agenda. In this respect its so-called 'coalition dharma' never came in its way. And its coalition partners who styled themselves as secular also became party in implementing this RSS agenda. The whole education system was communalised. That is the first priority of all communal and fascist forces to control education. Mr. Murli Manohar Joshi was a hard core RSS man and he was put at the helm of Human Resources Ministry. He successfully implemented RSS agenda by communalising our education system. The RSS schools teach textbooks openly preaching hatred against minorities, especially in Sishu Vihars. Thousands of students study in these schools.

The premier social and historical research organisations like the Indian Social Science Research Organisation and Indian Historical Research Organisation were handed over to hardcore RSS and VHP persons. All this will have to be wrested back from their control. It was a systematic conspiracy. Similarly key personnel were appointed from RSS supporters in premier educational research body like the NCERT which prepares text books which form the minds of lakhs of students every year. Mr. Joshi got these textbooks changed in keeping with his RSS commitment. Many eminent historians protested but to no avail. The damage was done and Mr.Joshi was to prepared to undo his RSS agenda. It was to implement this agenda that he was given this ministry.

Now the new coalition government led by the Congress and supported by the left (or may be the Left also joins the Government) will take over and it should be its top priority to undo the damage done to the education system. As pointed out before education system plays very crucial role in shaping the minds of its future citizens particularly in a multi-religious, multilingual and multi-cultural country like India who, of necessity, should have a secular polity to build a integrated healthy nation. The RSS tried to lay the foundation of Hindu Rashtra dividing and polarising the country on religious lines.

The Secular coalition will have to give top priority to this agenda of secular education and an education system, which would inculcate equal respect for all religions and eliminate the traces of hatred from our text -books. The earlier Congress Governments also never sowed firm commitment to promote secular education. The history text books in particular, have never been seriously overhauled. It was because of this that it became very easy for the BJP to consolidate its position on issue like Babri Masjid-Ramjanambhoomi controversy. Those who had read these text-books during fifties and sixties grew up to be full citizens of this country and uncritically swallowed the Sangh Parivar propaganda about Ramjanambhoomi and captured power easily.

The secularity of the country is most essential ideological asset of our nation. The Sangh Parivar has seriously damaged it already and all Efforts should be made to restore its secular character. The Human Resource ministry should be headed by someone strongly committed to secularism and his/her priority should be to restore secular character of our education and necessary changes in history text-books. Nothing can be of greater importance than this. Also, ICSSR and ICHR should be liberated from the clutches of communal forces. These are premiere social and historical research organisations.

It should also be remembered that the BJP would like to revert to its original communal agenda. In order to win secular and minority votes it was trying to project itself as non-communal organisation. In the last days of campaigning the BJP also tried to convince the Muslims that it is not against them and Mr. Vajpayee even promised Muslims in Kishanganj, Bihar that if elected to power again NDA Government would like to appoint 2 crore (perhaps it was slip of tongue and meant two lakhs) Urdu teachers. But Muslims refused to be persuaded as how could they forget Gujarat after all and vote for a party that idolised Narendra Modi as Hindutva hero.

The Muslims voted very cleverly to defeat BJP candidates all over India and particularly in U.P. where BJP had maximum stake. Therefore, there is every chance that the BJP might go back to its communal agenda to win back a section of upper caste Hindu votes and since it is already being reprimanded by its ideological masters like the RSS and VHP that it lost because it diluted the Hindutva agenda. Thus the new secular government will have to be very cautious in its approach towards communal problem.

The Home Ministry also has been stuffed with those closed to the RSS ideology in various positions. Mr. Advani too is known to be RSS man and it is not imaginable that he would defy it in placing people in key positions. Also, there is great need to strengthen the intelligence machinery. Intelligence failure is very common phenomenon in any major communal violence. Also, communalisation of police particularly during last twenty five years of communal hype by the Sangh Parivar, is something to be taken very seriously. I have conducted more than 150 police workshops and have seen raw prejudices among the police personnel. It is highly necessary to have re-orientation courses for the police.

These things should not be taken lightly. All our developmental efforts will succeed only if there is peace and harmony in the country. And for this the secular government should do everything possible to restore secular values and confidence of the minorities. It would also raise the status of India in the comity of nations. Gujarat has considerably damaged it. Muslims and Christians have greatly suffered under the BJP-led NDA rule.

The Congress should also reflect seriously on its past mistakes. It often allowed free play to communal forces. Now it should not repeat those mistakes. Since the Left will be supporting or joining the government it is hoped that it would continue to put pressure on the Congress to contain communal forces with great determination. It is not easy to cleanse the whole system but it is highly necessary to restore sanity and integrity.

The minorities should also have full faith in the Indian democratic system. It was free and fair elections, which could bring about complete change in the situation. Many Muslims had despaired that no change is possible. Some even joined BJP out of this desperation. All of them have been belied. Indian democracy has great resilience. Long live Indian democracy. And the masses also defy all caste and communal barriers on such crucial junctions and vote to restore social and national health.

Originally published in Secular Perspective May 16-31, 2004.

Centre for Study of Society and Secularism