By K.N. Pandita
The coming year could be crucial for country’s political alignment and realignment. 2014 parliamentary and legislative assembly elections have already generated heat among stakeholders and political parties who are gripped by the hysteria of projecting their profiles in choicest colours and with added fanfare through eye-catching ads and publicity stuff.
Democratic elections always generate heat much ahead of actual day of election. Mainstream political parties need to gear up to the event of great importance well in time, and reach their constituencies to streamline electioneering campaign by unleashing the tactics they think would win them maximum votes. This is all desirable and speaks for the healthy trend of democratic process.
Election Commission of India has already set forth in black and white the code of conduct for carrying forward healthy election campaign by the parties or the individuals. The Commission can bring in new rules and procedures if needed for ensuring that elections are fair and impartial. In our country, parliamentary election is a major event and enormous manpower and machinery have to be deployed to conduct the exercise. It also means a huge expenditure for the state exchequer.
However, notwithstanding the code of conduct for election campaigns, we find some unprecedented and even unexpected trends shaping as precursor to the impending parliamentary elections. Some strange but definitely unhealthy trends are in the making, which spring a surprise to the unsuspecting nation. This is not to underrate the dynamics of evolutionary democracy through which our country is passing. Evolution means progressive upscale not the reverse of it.
The first shock is that for quite some time, national politics has degenerated into vote bank politics, something that was not to be seen during the early history of our democracy. Vote bank politics simply means subjecting national interests to party or even personal interests. It means that political parties give precedence to party over the nation. This is polarization of the Indian society. A very unhealthy and dangerous development as it is, our vital national interests will become its target at the end of the day.
In vote bank politics, a constituency is carved and projected as deprived, suppressed, disempowered and discriminated against. The act of polarization makes the targeted group feel alienated and outside broad national mainstream that has to be treated distinctively. They are goaded into nursing the sense of being “the other” and, therefore, to react confrontationally to national issues. A precise example is of the Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Adivasis. SC/ST, and other communities. Instead of bringing them into national mainstream as equal partners in building the progressive nation, they are delivered the imaginary shock of being annihilated if any party other than the one on the scene seizes power. This is to carry the nation to social and political fragmentation.
Much is said about the minorities. The fact is that even to this day, the United Nation’s Council for Human Rights has not been able to give a cut and dried definition of a minority. There can be a number of counts to identify a minority; religious, social, economic, linguistic, cultural, ethnic, anthropological etc. Minorities can be fractured geographically showing up as majority in a region but minority in a sub-region. It is unjust to use one and only one measuring rod for identifying the minority group. Indian Constitution has identified four groups as national minorities. These are Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists. This is on the basis of religion and these are now called religious minorities.
This classification needs legal and theoretical justification because the vote bank politics is rooted in this clause of the Indian Constitution.
The Constitution takes into account only the numerical aspect of these communities vis-à-vis the majority community of India, namely the Hindus. It does not touch either on the economic outline of these communities or on their political weight-age, which is crucial in turning the scales in an election. In terms of numbers, except for the Muslims, other minorities have hardly any bearing on the result of the national elections. Even in the case of Muslim minority, its weight-age is meaningful only in two or three states where their population is between 20 and 35 percent of total population of the state. In this background, there seems little rationale for political parties to make a great fuss about minorities, minority rights and minority representation. These minorities would be more comfortable in the national mainstream than in a world of self-imposed or contrived isolation. As of today, even mainstream national political parties ignore the prospect of strengthening national solidarity by drawing the minorities into the mainstream. Conversely, they do all they can to ensure the isolation and segregation of the minority communities that ends up in solidifying the concept of “the other.”
Jammu and Kashmir State is predominantly a Muslim State. At the time of drawing the Constitution of the State, the population of Hindus in the Valley was around 7 per cent and in Jammu the population of the Muslims was about 36 per cent. Patently, there were religious minorities in both the regions. Yet the Constitution of the State does not speak a single word about minorities, their rights and their representation. The word “minority” does not at all figure in the J&K Constitution. It never formally recognized the Kashmiri Hindus and Jammu Muslims as minorities.
However it is the Indian Constitution that has created a bizarre situation for the State. In practice, the Jammu Muslims have been considered among the majority community of the State and minority community on regional and national level according to Indian Constitution. Thus a Muslim citizen of Poonch or Doda, for example, can enjoy trilateral benefits; as J&K majority member, Jammu region minority member and national level minority member. We know people who have made good use of all the three facilities. We are not envying them; we are only analyzing the ground situation that viciously supports vote bank politics.
The purpose is to show that application of minority status on religious count alone may not be really helpful in carrying our democratic dispensation forward. There have to be riders and conditionalities and economic factor has to play the vital role.
Apart from the extremely harmful and dangerous phenomenon called vote bank politics, the politics of vendetta has come to play the spoilsport in impending electioneering exercise in our country. This is reflected not only in Congress-BJP spat and unprincipled politics of regional political parties but also in personal vilification of national level political leadership. No stone is left unturned in denigrating the prime ministerial candidates whether of Congress of BJP, by publicizing in the net inconceivable perfidy against one another. The ruling party does not hesitate to implicate those who it thinks could be potent opposition leaders in the forthcoming elections. Cases are fabricated and vilification campaign has been let loose. Unfortunately, even national security concerns are thrown to wind in a bid to bring about a true or false charge against former top military brass. The witch-hunt reminds one of the days of emergency.
In this battle of revenge things have come to a pass where the Pandora box of official secrets is thrown open to public gaze. Each party tries to become the WikiLink of Indian polity. The nation is dragged to gutters.
We want that the mainstream political parties change their mindset of playing dirty vendetta, return to serious national politics, respect difference of opinion and convince the electorate through force of argument and facts on any point rather than to pull out skeletons from the cupboard of opponents. They have to remember that they are all Indians and have to work for the nation. No party is above nation. Cheap and mundane politicking should come to an end and serious national issues, issues of security, economy, health, literacy, women’s security and rights etc. should form the theme of their election campaigns. Party minions issuing irresponsible statements should be reined in and strictly waned not to indulge in slander. Our political leadership must understand that it is counted as the representative of the world’s largest democracy. They are not expected to behave like quarrelsome school brats. High standard of national politics has to be maintained. Leaders must understand the loud rumblings of our vast society.