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'Secularism has become a dirty word'

June 18, 2019 09:56 IST

'If any party talks too much about Muslims, it will lose.'

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

"The space for secularism has weakened, but it hasn't vanished all together. Many people are afraid of fundamentalism because fundamentalism is always dictatorial in nature," Dr Prabhat Ghosh of the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute, tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih.

Why was the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal), a party with a committed vote base, routed and decimated in Bihar? What do you think went wrong?

I thought RJD would get 12, 15 seats. I seriously over estimated the strength of their social base.

Muslims may have voted for the RJD, but many in the backward castes -- even Yadavs -- did not vote for the RJD because the BJP also had a reasonable number of backwards candidates.

In 2014, even though Lalu (RJD founder Lalu Prasad Yadav) did not get many seats, his vote share was close to 20%. This time a substantial portion of that committed base has left Lalu.

This time he was personally absent from the campaign and it is one thing to support Lalu and another to support his sons. Although his son's performance as a political leader is not bad.

He is not sophisticated, but is sophisticated enough to call himself a gentleman unlike his father and mother.

Their social base has been eroded partly because of Modi's strength and partly because of Hindutva.

How will the 2019 result impact the 2020 assembly poll in Bihar?

In Bihar, the results will either remain the same or the defeated parties will acquire slightly more space than they did in the parliamentary election.

The NDA (National Democratic Alliance) has already won 39 (Lok Sabha) seats (out of Bihar's 40 seats), the only thing that can happen to the Opposition is that their vote share increases.

A major change is very unlikely.

 

What about Nitish Kumar who remains quite ambivalent about the BJP?

Throughout the election process, the amount of space Nitish Kumar occupied was very limited.

Although they (the Bharatiya Janata Party-Janata Dal-United) were equal partners with 17 seats each, the election was fought as if it was between the BJP and the rest.

In the distant future, the BJP might claim that they don't want the deputy chief ministership, but the seat of the CM.

In any case, the BJP's deputy CM (Sushil Modi) has an excellent image. He is also non RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and that makes him more acceptable to Biharis.

He is not a swayamsevak turned CM like Adityanath (Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ajay Singh Bisht aka Yogi Adityanath) or (Haryana Chief Minister) Manohar Khattar.

How do you see Lalu Yadav's future?

This (the Lok Sabha election debacle) is a mental setback, a political setback and his health is deteriorating.

Can Tejashwi Yadav (Lalu's younger son and leader of the Opposition in the Bihar assembly) hold the party together in his father's absence?

I should think so. He has a certain amount of intelligence and communication skills. If not, the Congress will take the space vacated by the RJD.

The BJP had the strength of organisation and finance. The BJP was made more effective because of the organisational weakness of its opponents, not ideological weakness.

Rahul Gandhi gave the impression that the Congress is also pro-development -- of course, now secularism has become a dirty word.

People don't want to utter it, but Rahul Gandhi gave several postures to say that I am secular and they are fundamentalist.

The space for secularism has weakened, but it hasn't vanished all together.

That idea still has a lot of appeal to literate people. Many people are afraid of fundamentalism because fundamentalism is always dictatorial in nature.

Even in the BJP many think that no one matters more than Modi.

What were the reasons behind the BJP's sweep of Bihar like never before?

The RJD is not an organised party. The Congress at one time was organised, it has no organisation now.

The BJP, on the other hand, had very good organisation and resources. The BJP's subsidy programmes -- I don't call then developmental projects -- like toilets, gas cylinders were not successful as they claim, but definitely benefitted many people.

In spite of all these factors, Narendra (Damodardas) Modi would not have won the election if the BJP had not taken recourse to so-called nationalism, Pakistan and Hindutva.

Wherever Modi went, he spoke about Pulwama and nationalism. He himself did not speak about Hindutva, but his colleagues did. He did not speak about Swachch Bharat or gas cylinders, or GST.

His reprimand of Sadhvi Pragya's statement that Godse (Nathuram Godse, who murdered Mahatma Gandhi) was a patriot was so soft!

The worse thing about fundamentalism is that it a self reinforcing force. You don't need to do anything.

(Lal Kishenchand) Advani was more fundamentalist compared to (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee, Advani was ousted and there was Modi and then Yogi Adityananth and now there is Sadhvi Pragya. The scale of fundamentalism is increasing.

See the history of Iran, it was ruled by the Shah of Iran, who was a stooge of the Americans. He was overthrown by Ayatollah Khomeini, a fundamentalist and Iran took almost 30 years to come out of the grip of fundamentalists.

Although they fight America, Iran is somewhat moderate.

Liberalism has a price and not all nations are capable of paying that price. Right now, India is not capable to pay that price of a liberal society.

Has the BJP isolated castes loyal to the RJD and its allies?

Yes. the BJP's strategy was to bank on religious identity.

Once you take the theme that I am a Hindu, all castes are included in that. A long time ago, the BJP was identified as having Brahmins and Baniyas, it is no longer so.

Are Muslims irrelevant in Bihar politics?

There is reverse mobilisation. If I am a Hindu not committed to the BJP or a supporter of Modi, but if I get this idea that Muslims are united and voting for a particular party to defeat the BJP -- the Hindus feel if Muslims can unite against a party, then Hindus should also be together.

This is reverse mobilisation. Hindus are mobilised not because someone has asked them to, they are mobilised because they see that Muslims are together.

So they vote for someone taking the apparent cause of Hindus.

This happened very strongly in West Bengal. Mamata (West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) was giving too much space to Muslims and many supporters of Mamata have left her.

You get some benefits when you mobilise Muslims, but it also has a flip side.

What happens to Muslims in Bihar?

It is very difficult to say. If any party talks too much about Muslims, it will lose.

If a party has to fight the BJP in the next assembly or parliamentary election, it has to be a broad-based alliance where no caste or particular religion is given too much space.

The Congress had this advantage for a long time because it was not associated with any caste or religion. It was an inclusive party in contrast to the BJP.

The Congress has to regain that image.

What challenges confront Narendra Modi in his second term?

The management of the economy will be very tough.

The growth rate is going down, oil prices are going up -- the banking sector has been the worst part of the Indian economy.

Modi has not been able to do anything to decrease the NPA (non performing assets) of the banking sector.

A major beneficiary of the banks is the corporate sector and a large part of the BJP's finance comes from the corporate sector.

If you start making interventions in the banking system, you will hurt the corporate sector.

What do you see as the future of the Congress?

The Congress could have done better, but people within the Congress also don't take Rahul Gandhi seriously.

They won the (assembly) elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and MP (in December 2018) and didn't get a single (lok Sabha) seat in Rajasthan! In MP, only Kamal Nath's son won.

In Maharashtra the NCP(Nationalist Congress Party)-Congress are organised parties. The Congress has its best organisation in Maharashtra while Sharad Pawar cannot be outwitted by any Maharashtra politician. They too were washed away by the rhetoric of Hindutva, Pakistan.

ARCHANA MASIH / Rediff.com
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