The year-long run-up to the next general elections—which will traverse through the Assembly polls in 2018 in several states including the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh—is already throwing up signs of the Opposition exploring a strategy of coordination for the big event. Indicators are coming from the course of campaign that was followed in Gujarat, the increasing vigour with which the alleged sense of “insecurity” in the Muslim minority under the present regime is being played up and a common critique that is being built up on the projection of government’s handling of Kashmir as a mark of the present dispensation’s “flawed” foreign policy. There is a whiff of caste, communal and separatist odour in the agenda of many in the Opposition, which in India’s domestic context has the potential of straining internal stability. National security in this country has not always been kept above party politics and it is to be seen if bitterness of rivalry this time could generate violent protests, communal tensions and a fierce attack on the “nationalist” profile of the Narendra Modi government, as elections draw close.
Indian politics is traditionally vulnerable to ethnic, regional and religious contradictions and these have impeded the march of our democracy towards the goal of “one man one vote”. Over the years, mounting corruption created permissiveness of a sort that allowed for buying of votes, encouraged sectarian appeals and facilitated unprincipled alliances, all of which weakened Parliament as the institutional repository of the nation’s sovereign powers and the guardian of national security. The rise of Narendra Modi as the new Prime Minister of India—on the strength of his reputation as a leader of personal integrity and a strong administrator—with an overpowering majority in the 2014 general elections, came as a blow to the Opposition, which is trying ever since to frame an agenda of unity against Modi and think of a strategy that would bring together aggrieved groups and ideological opponents of “One Nation”, “India First” and “No Appeasement”. In Gujarat, PM Modi demonstrated that he personally did not suffer any anti-incumbency on the count of his development agenda, but the Congress-led Opposition came to believe that militant projection of caste verticals had got it additional seats. It seems there is a return of aggressive street protests and violent agitations on issues of caste, community and sectarian import. The riots at Pune and Mumbai attributable to the public speeches of Jignesh Mevani, the Dalit MLA from Gujarat, and Umar Khalid, the troublemaker from JNU, at Bhima Koregaon, in which they exhorted Dalits to come out on the streets for their cause, presage a trend of divisive tactics being used for electoral advantage in future. The Opposition, while advocating minority rights of Muslims is alleging that the community is feeling “insecure” in the Modi regime and is not getting its share in development. A disquieting dimension of this desperate bid to consolidate minority votes is its ambiguous stand on the triple talaq legislation, reluctance to condemn Pakistan for pumping in terrorists into the Kashmir valley and refusal to criticise Indian Mujahideen and PFI—an Islamic fundamentalist outfit from Kerala—for their attempts to radicalise the youth.
It would be good for India if our electoral politics steered clear of using secularism as pretence for causing a Hindu-Muslim divide and persisting with caste calculations, to garner votes. In a democracy, the two main instruments of secularism are economic development and law enforcement. Development has the connotation of an area and not community. The Modi government’s project to give special attention to the development of 115 districts, identified as most backward areas, deserves appreciation and nationwide recognition. Accepting that India is a country where Hindus are a preponderant majority cannot be seen as a display of “majoritarianism”, so long as the Constitution grants equality of social, religious and electoral freedom to all. India as a sovereign nation provides a common political umbrella to all communities as it is governed by an elected political executive. It is a matter of deep satisfaction that at the recent annual conference of the state police chiefs and heads of paramilitary organisations, at Tekanpur in Madhya Pradesh, the Prime Minister himself reminded the gathering that India “is not an assembled entity, but an organic entity”. He was elaborating on how national security was an integral concept that demanded total sharing of information among the states.
There are forces within the country and outside that are using our domestic politics for instigating fissiparous trends and playing up group identities. In a timely move, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval impressed upon the DGPs at the Tekanpur conference, the importance of the role of the police in controlling internal strife, which is often aggravated by powers from across the border. It is an established fact that Pakistan has been exploiting fault lines within Indian society to destabilise India. The period before the next general elections may witness politics of social unrest and sectarian tension, judging from the atmospherics being set following the Gujarat elections. The Modi government will have to get the state police forces to maintain law and order with a stern hand in the coming months. Indian voters are now wise enough to reject practitioners of the politics of the street and make their choices, keeping the larger good of the country in mind.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau