December 30, 2002


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T V R Shenoy

The new term of abuse

What is the connection between A K Antony, the Congress defeat in Gujarat, and the future of 'secularism' as defined by the Left in India? Second, why did Sonia Gandhi's call of 'Vikas ya Vinash' ('Development or Destruction') find so few takers in Gujarat?

Let me start by trying to answer the second question. It is nobody's case that development is not important. But, having said that, the history of the party making such expansive promises is important. Fundamentally, what was the Congress (I)'s credibility when it comes to issues of development?

The party ruled what is now Gujarat for decades on end, going back to the days when it was part of the undivided state of Bombay. (There was a brief interregnum in the mid-1970s and another small interval of non-Congress rule circa 1990-1991, but the Congress (I) was in the chair for all the rest of the time up to 1995.)

So, why did it take the party until 2002 to discover that there is no regular supply of drinking water in Saurashtra? Or that the electric supply is poor even in the cities? And why were there no primary health centres or elementary schools in the Adivasi belt until the Vishwa Hindu Parishad entered the arena?

When you come to think of it, did Gujarat develop because of the Congress (I), or in spite of it? Gujarat's maritime trading traditions go back to the days of the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization. The famed textile mills of Ahmedabad started humming back in the days of the British Raj. And much of the new petrochemicals sector is the work of visionary industrialists such as those in the Reliance group.

It is easy to dismiss the vote in Gujarat as the work of Hindutva votaries working up a frenzy. But when you think about it, the electorate probably made a supremely rational decision in rejecting the Congress (I). After all, how many broken promises were the people of Gujarat expected to swallow?

Now, for Antony. The chief minister of Kerala recently visited the Shankaracharya of Sringeri. A photograph appeared showing the pontiff on a dais while the chief minister sat on the floor before him. This was enough to set off the Leftists -- the local CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan said this proved that Antony had succumbed to casteism!

I have no idea what led to that particular wild charge. Antony isn't a Hindu, and is completely unaffected by caste. As a matter of fact, he is one of the few politicians from Kerala who isn't influenced by religion either. Though a Christian by birth he is not a regular Church-goer; again, unlike many of his colleagues, he doesn't make a point of visiting temples in a bid to prove his credentials. (Sonia Gandhi should take a leaf from his book!) I have no idea why Antony met the Shankaracharya, but I am confident he didn't do it because he foresaw any political benefit to it.

So, what was the fuss about? The sad fact is that it has become fashionable -- at least among a section of the media and its friends -- to attack anything which seems remotely connected to Hindu tradition. Vijayan's reaction was purely a reflex action, something shared by the Left in general. Running down Hinduism is what 'secularism' has been reduced to thanks to the perversions introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru and his disciples. (Despite Partition, India's first prime minister continued to downplay the dangers of minority communalism while simultaneously making a song and dance about Hinduism's less attractive aspects.)

The perversion reached a fever pitch in the last twenty years or so. In Gujarat, the Congress (I) came up with the concept of 'KHAM' -- standing for Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim, the four major votebanks it intended to woo. (I think it was Madhavsinh Solanki who came up with the concept, but I am not sure.) Nobody thought it was weird to press home caste conflict. Nor did the even more blatant casteism of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav raise an eyebrow -- all because it was done in the sacred name of secularism.

At one point, it seemed as if to speak out for Hinduism was tantamount to being a Fascist or a Nazi (both favourite abuses of the liberal media).

The result is that 'secularism' itself has become a term of abuse. Ten years ago, the BJP criticised only the "pseudo-secularists". Today, in Gujarat, "secularist" is an insult in itself. That is all that decades of Leftist propaganda has achieved.

The Congress (I) has a responsibility as the major Opposition party. It must decide whether it shall continue with the old, counter-productive, vision of secularism. If so, then I fear the cleavage within Indian society shall grow. The Hindus have rejected every other aspect of the old Nehruvian ideology -- State socialism, blind anti-Americanism in the garb of non-alignment, all the trappings of the licence-permit-quota Raj. Why did anybody think the Nehruvian vision of 'secularism' would remain sacrosanct forever?

Vijayan was a man without a clue, a man behind the times when he spoke as he did. The tragedy for the Congress (I) is that nobody was quite willing to call his bluff openly. As in Gujarat, so in Kerala too, the Congress (I) is a party without a long-term vision of where it wants to take India.

T V R Shenoy

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