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An agenda for the new right
June 01, 2004
Part II: Imbalanced media and the loony Left
Did you really think I'd leave the far right out of this story? Well read on.
It's time to face the fact that far-right Hindu organisations had little or no impact on this election. In spite of the finger-pointing being done in the press about the BJP not pushing Hindu causes, the fact is that the far right groups have happily painted themselves into a corner.
Frankly speaking, I don't want any part of a vision of India that is pitched with derogatory repartees as 'hum paanch, humare panchees' or the 'Gujarat has been a successful experiment.' There is simply no place for such nonsense in a broad-based Indian society and any posturing that rejoices the death of a thousand or more Indian citizens is particularly odious and should be to every Indian.
Thanks to incredibly poor strategic thinking on public relations and an inability to understand what will gain them broad support within India -- such groups have reached a situation where an articulate, highly educated doctor who does have some ability to do good is banned from entering a state like Assam, while the same state's government happily welcomes in illegal Bangladeshis. A massive credibility vacuum, if you will.
Credibility is an incredibly precious thing and these organisations have lost it. Sadly many of the good causes that they espouse, such as rural education and Article 370, tend to get tarred and feathered with the same brush.
Regaining this credibility to a broader base where people who worry about India's security, India's future can get beyond caricatured views of these organisations is going to be difficult and a slow process.
Yes, there is a place for aggressive right-wing nationalism and that will in fact be necessary for India, as the country grows in size and importance and needs to protect its interests around the world much more aggressively. Hard and unthinking ideology is not what this nationalism is about -- it must be about Indian national interests, pure and simple.
How about a new manifesto on Indian nationalist causes, that is more inclusive, such as:
That is a view of Indian nationalism that I can get behind and I suspect that many, many hundreds of millions of Indians can understand and support. These right-wing groups must give up on the 'masjid thod-fod andolan' and help build a better, more secure India, in the process recovering some of their lost credibility.
Pakistanis wanna join the fun
With all this attention focused on India the Pakistanis were feeling left out, so they left a subtle calling card -- 33 dead Indians, including jawans, their wives and children. Yes, there has been some hand-wringing in the Pakistani press about the success of democracy in India and all kinds of rationalisations were passed out, including hints of 'until we get Kashmir, we cannot have democracy' by Kasuri.
Not to be left behind -- Pakistan has mounted a concerted diplomatic and military effort to get international acceptance of a LoC+ solution, where Pakistan keeps everything it has, but India has to negotiate for what it gets to keep. The aim is to increase pressure, and play the game of brinksmanship to loudly tom-tom 'look, Pakistan kept the terrorists under wraps for a while; Pakistan kept its part of the bargain but it cannot any further, unless India makes further concessions.'
The effort is not well-hidden or subtle in any way, but is certainly going to catch the fractious Manmohan Singh government off-guard, through such well-practiced maneuvers as:
All of the above have been reported on in the media in the last four weeks. Pakistan, through its dance of death, is well-positioned to start playing a role in the political drama that has gripped India these days.
India at a crossroads
Let us not forget one salient fact: India is at a cross-roads. There are two competing visions of India at play here. There is a war of ideas which is but natural since India is changing economically, socially and politically at a pace that has not been seen for many hundreds of years. But this battle of ideas extends to all of us and is up to us to choose which vision we want to make reality. It is difficult to characterise the crossroads but here is how I see the choice:
Ok, ok, my biases show. But, frankly speaking I'd much rather see Bangalore's success move out and affect our villages and the rest of the country. While there are others who would like to see West Bengal's obscene rural poverty and Bihar's criminal-ridden state move out and take over the rest of the country. That is the fight I'm concerned about.
Nevertheless, do not mistake this for a war strictly along party lines, right versus left, BJP versus Congress, VHP versus Communists or whatever. For it may well turn out that Chidambaram takes greater fiscal risks than the BJP could have and it also may turn out that the CPI-M govt in West Bengal puts in better labor reforms than any other state.
This is nonetheless, a battle for a vision of the next India that to a certain extent was at stake, at this election even though it did not come off as such.
The one great Story
Finally, the great drama, in which nothing was fake in which, India won hands down. Indian democracy succeeded like nothing else.
There was the little reported story of the Chakmas. The Chakmas, who had escaped butchery in the moderate Islamic state of Bangladesh to seek refuge in India, cherished and vigorously enjoyed their newly acquired voting rights. In violence-racked Assam, voting percentages were as high as 70% in most places. In fact, in the entire northeast, voting percentages with one exception was above 50%.
Even in Kashmir, 'On April 20, more than 36 percent in Baramulla and 44 percent in Jammu-Poonch' voted. As Udayan Namboodri writes: 'On April 20, just after the first phase of the voting was over, the national press went hey-ho over the Exit Polls and the ramifications of the 'findings.'
The fact that 17 people fell to terrorists' bullets while trying to exercise their mandate in Jammu and Baramula received scant attention. They died in the process of reiterating their nationalism and pride in India's highest democratic institution Parliament. Since then, a dozen more have died while voting in Srinagar, Badgam and Anantnag. Who wins or loses is diminutive as an issue in Jammu and Kashmir. What will triumph is the end of the equivocation of Kashmiris over where their loyalty lies.
The fact is, that in spite of what Arundhati, Hafiz Sayed or Musharraf tell us, the beleaguered people in Kashmir did want to go out and vote. Praveen Swami reports: 'We want to vote,' said Manzoor Ahmad, 'but we have to answer to the mujaheddin tonight, when none of these soldiers will be around. So, some of the people in our village asked the soldiers to coral us to the polling booth.' Mohammad Rafiq was more blunt. 'The only safe voter tonight,' he said, 'is the one who has a couple of lathi (baton) blows to show along with the ink on his finger.'
This is the success of the Indianism that the Naxalites, terrorists and their mouth-pieces will never understand.
Arindam Banerji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org