Minorities & democracy deficit : The Tribune India


Minorities & democracy deficit

Whatever be Rahul’s sins, BJP govt ought to be more inclusive

Minorities & democracy deficit

Real picture: What makes Rahul’s statement appear credible is the lack of representation of minorities in the Central Government. PTI

Rajesh Ramachandran

The BJP and the Central Government have found a fresh emotive election issue to battle anti-incumbency and corruption allegations in Karnataka. Repeated Parliament adjournments and the demand for Rahul Gandhi’s apology Friday reached a crescendo on Friday, with BJP president JP Nadda issuing a video statement talking about foreign powers from across the seven seas being lured by the Congress to destabilise the government, and at the same time, linking the statements on Indian democracy by regime-change billionaire George Soros and Rahul. If the new-found poll plank remains sturdy enough to weather the bitter Karnataka battle, it may even prove useful to the BJP in the longer run for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Incidentally, Nadda has even brought in an anti-colonial spin to the attack against Rahul.

The messaging of Hindu supremacy or religious polarisation aimed at Muslims for electoral consolidation gets conveyed to Sikhs and Christians as well, who in turn get alienated.

Now, Rahul cannot be defended for making a foreign policy gaffe on foreign soil, as elaborated last week in this column (‘India is not Ukraine’), and he may not be entirely correct about India’s democracy deficit: Closer home in the North, one sees the AAP in Punjab and Delhi, the Congress in Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, besides Chhattisgarh in central India; farther away, there are very vibrant state governments fighting the BJP tooth and nail all across the South and the East. So, Indian democracy may not be in such great trouble as Rahul makes it out to be. Sure, his party is still in a grave crisis despite the successful Bharat Jodo Yatra, and it is entirely his own doing.

Rahul may be conflating Indian democracy with his own party and attributing his party’s weakness in parliamentary polls to the weakness of the country’s electoral democracy. This may not appeal to the Indian electorate as much as it does to the foreign press. But what makes his statement appear credible is the lack of representation of minorities in the Central Government. Does minority representation alone define democracy? The government of the day, through its acts of commission and omission, defines the kind of democracy that a country has. And if the Central Government does not have Muslim or Christian representation at all, and if the party in power does not field a single Muslim candidate from Muslim-dominated constituencies, it is bound to answer questions about the diversity and depth of its electoral process. After all, 15 per cent of the population ought to be represented in the government.

The only turbaned Sikh member of the BJP in the Lok Sabha is SS Ahluwalia, who got elected from the Bardhaman-Durgapur constituency in West Bengal — thus the party of patriots that vouches by the valour of the Sikh Gurus has to rely on a shaven Sikh film star to contest from Gurdaspur. Why don’t Punjabis elect the party of chest-thumping nationalists? Particularly when there is no group more ready to protect the national honour than the Punjabis. While reading the War Despatches of Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, the brilliant Western Army commander who thwarted Pakistan’s attacks on Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab in 1965, what struck one most was his reminiscences of the grit of the Punjab peasantry in the face of war. The stories of peasants nonchalantly hoeing the fields while shells were falling all around or civilians helping the Army or doctors and blood donors waiting to serve were all par for the course.

But the capture of Pak paratroopers was truly extraordinary and evoked a lot of mirth. The paratroopers always have a special halo of bravery and daredevilry around them. Simply put, they are always special. So, the crack commandos from Pakistan’s ‘Special Service Group’ were air-dropped to destroy Pathankot, Halwara and Adampur airfields. “In dealing with the paratroopers, the villagers took a major part in first informing of their presence and then chasing and surrounding them, with nothing more than ‘lathis’. In certain cases, the villagers overpowered armed paratroopers and handed them over to the military authorities. In all cases, the peasantry showed great patriotism, courage and determination… And there was many an amusing incident about the much glamorised paratroopers, equipped with sophisticated American weapons, eagerly surrendering themselves to scraggy villagers armed with ancient muskets, swords and sometimes only sticks,” wrote Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh.

The BJP has not been able to win the confidence of the children and grandchildren of these very peasants. When one pauses to wonder why a party of nationalists fails to get endorsed by the country’s most militantly nationalistic peasantry, one gets to understand the ruling dispensation’s majoritarian impulse that keeps the minorities away. The messaging of Hindu supremacy or religious polarisation aimed at Muslims for electoral consolidation gets conveyed to Sikhs and Christians as well, who in turn get alienated. This affects the diversity and vibrancy of the electoral process. The BJP should address this alienation for it to be called a truly democratic representative of the masses.

If George Fernandes underscored the inclusivity in Vajpayee’s cabinet, there is no tall Muslim or Christian or Sikh leader to step into his shoes and help Modi claim diversity in his government. Hardeep Singh Puri has excellent diplomatic credentials and is an effective minister, but he cannot be counted as a peasant leader. And the BJP does not seem to have considered inclusivity even as a token virtue, forgetting that it was not religious polarisation but a promise of better governance that brought Modi to power in 2014. Modi needs a Fernandes to fight his government’s battles abroad and to shore up its image all around, for even tokenism at times leads to a minimum guaranteed representation.

As for Rahul’s statements abroad, he made a big blunder by terming Sikhs second-class citizens, which no proud Sikh would agree to. The first-class citizens of Punjab had only last year given a first-class lesson in democracy to all politicians, including those of Modi’s BJP and Rahul’s Congress. If at all Rahul must apologise, it is for this statement.

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