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|June 20, 2002||
Amberish K Diwanji
Of symbolic and real fights
The communists of India have decided to put up Colonel Laxmi Sehgal against A P J Abdul Kalam for the presidential election. Their venerable leaders tell us that they are putting up a "token" fight, as they are aware that they are going to lose. Reason: they want to expose the BJP's communalism.
To be honest, this really is just a waste of time and money and only exposes the communists as a bunch of politicians willing to waste India's time and energy.
The fact is that there are far bigger battles to be fought, even if victory is nowhere in sight. For instance, the fight for Gujarat, where the BJP's communalism was on full display. But while Hindutva parties are rampant in Gujarat, the communists are conspicuous by their total absence in the state that is seeking to become India's first Hindu state. Why are the communists not present in Gujarat?
Then there are other wars to be fought -- for the democratic and secular soul and spirit of India, for the dignity of all Indians, against hunger, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment.... These have to be fought in the villages, in the cities, and on the streets where bigots roam, brandishing tridents to enforce their vision of an exclusivist India.
Yet, the tragic fact is that instead of concentrating on such battles and causes, the communists are wasting their time, money and energy on ridiculous symbolic fights for the President's post, a fight where they have the chance of a snowball in hell.
As the well-known Malayalam writer O V Vijayan once put it, in a different context: 'The communists have gone to sleep under the banyan tree of power [in West Bengal and Kerala].' The communists prefer to wage a war from the cool comfort of Delhi rather than in the gruelling heat of Gujarat, or elsewhere. Or is it, as many suspect, that the communists really have withered and are no longer a potent political force except in three states of India?
The other problem is that the communists are opposing A P J Abdul Kalam, who is a renowned scientist/technologist admired by most Indians and accepted even by other rabidly anti-BJP parties. In a sense, it is wonderful to note that Rashtrapati Bhavan is going beyond being a place for retired politicians seeking a sinecure and might some day house eminent personalities from the fields of science, academia, business and industry, etc.
And what exactly is the communists' grouse against Kalam? To say, as the communists have done in Kerala, that Kalam is a closet RSS person because some of his poems were published in their publications is ridiculous. Or that Kalam did not condemn the Gujarat massacre? With due respect to the outgoing President, I don't remember him saying anything nasty to the BJP either. It also begs the question: are the communists implying that their friends till yesterday are now communal because of their support for Kalam's candidature?
One can fully understand and totally support any fight -- symbolic or substantive -- if the BJP had decided to field a character such as, say, Ashok Singhal or Vinay Katiyar. Then a presidential election would have had true meaning and would have been worth fighting.
Last, a word about Kalam, who can be referred to as a scientist among politicians and a politician among scientists! There is no doubt that Kalam has cleverly placed himself as the best face of India's defence technology establishment, overshadowing others whose contribution is no less. But one very important reason why Kalam outshines his colleagues is the fact that he rose to such eminent heights from the most humble of beginnings.
Any such story of struggle and success has a universal appeal, the very epitome of class struggles waged and won. Which is why Dhirubhai Ambani is India's so revered: not just because of what he did (there are other great businessmen too), but because he started with virtually nothing and has come so far. Is there any other top-level scientist in India who started life as the son of a boatman in a small village in an illiterate house? Surely such a person must have some sterling qualities?
The second -- and wrong -- reason that makes Kalam so popular is that he is a Muslim leading India's nuclear charge, something that goes down well with most middle-class Hindus who see in him India's secular facade. Better still, he is a Muslim who lives like an ascetic Hindu -- vegetarian, reads the Bhagvad Gita, quotes shlokas, and so on. This, alas, is humbug we can well do without. The President is, and should be, above religion. At least Kalam was rational enough to junk ideas about auspicious timings and the like. Now, that is an, er, auspicious beginning.
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