May 11, 2014

People’s Wave Seeking Relief

AS we go to press, the penultimate eighth phase of this marathon nine-phase general election has been completed. Though only one phase is left, this would be a decisive phase in certain states like West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. While the polls have, by and large, not been marred by large-scale violence and terror, there have been notable exceptions. During the last phase, the third phase in West Bengal, large-scale reports of terror intimidation and booth capturing by the ruling party in the state, Trinamool Congress, have been reported. Though the Election Commission apparatus did not manage to capture such booth capturing through their video surveillance, which was severely lacking in many crucial polling booths, in addition to the fact that no central paramilitary forces were deployed at these booths, private individuals have recorded how Trinamool Congress goons were forcibly voting for individuals who went into vote and such recordings have gone viral on social media networks. In this latest phase in West Bengal, which went to polls on May 7 again large-scale malpractices have been reported and the Election Commission has been urged to take necessary corrective steps like having a re-poll with adequate preparations. Elsewhere in this issue, the memorandum submitted by the CPI(M) to the Election Commission is re-produced. It is imperative that the Election Commission must act. That the EC had not taken any action on the complaints during the third phase in West Bengal has clearly encouraged the Trinamool Congress to indulge in similar malpractices distorting democracy in the fourth phase. If the present complaints, such as video cameras being forcibly covered or their direction deliberately turned away from voters, also go unaddressed, then the polling in the last and decisive phase where elections to 17 out of the 42 seats in West Bengal will take place, will be once again marred by large-scale irregularities. Such a grave distortion of democracy and the democratic electoral practices cannot be allowed. The charges against the Trinamool Congress of large-scale use of terror, intimidation, use of muscle and money power by all other political parties, apart from the CPI(M) and the Left, like the Congress and the BJP, deserve proper consideration by the Election Commission and action taken to correct the consequent distortions. While these matters must be properly addressed, it is clear by now that the media hyperbole of a Modi `wave turning into a tsunami’ devastating the country appears to have considerably mellowed. With every bus stop and hoarding in the country carrying his advertisement as the future prime minister for over a year now, a Modi anti-incumbency factor has been set in motion. Field reporters spawned across the country are filing media reports that show ground realities are far detached from the media packaging which saw every opinion poll predicting an emphatic BJP win. Particularly disturbing for the RSS/BJP are the reports from the Hindi heartland which can be summed up by one caption that says: “Despite Modi, local factors remained key”. In Bihar, the reports are about the contest between Lalu once again stopping the BJP ‘Rath’ and Nitish reaping the benefits of development. In UP, media reports are preoccupied with caste polarisation around Mulayam and Mayawati. The RSS/BJP, in a desperate bid to break through the grip of local factors, which overwhelmingly influence the lives of the people, is upping the ante of communal polarisation, as expected. The BJP ‘Saheb’s right hand man in UP is following up his incendiary communal speeches by now hurling accusations that the Samajwadi Party chief’s constituency Azamgarh is a “base of terrorists”. The worst form of communal vote bank policies seeking to consolidate the majority Hindu vote is gaining momentum. On May 5, at a rally in Faizabad, the constituency under which falls the disputed site at Ayodhya, Narendra Modi addressed from a podium that had huge figures of lord Rama, thus, invoking the BJP’s commitment to the building of a Ram temple at this very disputed site and thereby sharpening communal polarisation. This comes in the background of his continuation of the anti-Bangladeshi rhetoric by threatening in Bengal’s Asansol on May 4 that Bangladeshis should be ready with their bags packed to be deported once he becomes the PM. He more than clarified that while Hindus are welcome, Muslims are the target. This is a clear enough signal to foment communal hatred against all bona fide Indian Bengali Muslims. Media allegations are abound suggesting that such whipping up of communal passions was responsible, amongst others for the recent spree of death and mayhem in the Bodoland territories of Assam leaving at least 31 people dead so far. Already reports from Bangladesh, where Modi’s statements have been widely criticised by secular forces, suggest that Hindus are being targeted by the fundamentalist forces there. This, once again, proves the point that Hindu communalism and Muslim fundamentalism feed and thrive upon each other. Indeed, fundamental human rights hitherto considered sacrosanct, are today placed by the RSS/BJP on the altar of electoral gain! In a similar vein, a new version of match fixing in the new IPL cricket season can be seen between the BJP and Trinamool Congress in Bengal. This is the battle for the consolidation of respective vote banks widening the communal divide. The war of words between Modi and Mamata is designed to consolidate the hardcore Hindutva support base behind the BJP and to ensure that the minorities remain supportive of the Trinamool Congress in order to prevent the return of the minorities disillusioned with the Trinamool Congress to the fold of the Left Front. On the other hand, conscious of the fact that the BJP will surely need allies to reach the majority mark post elections, the BJP president speaks in terms of a handsome ‘Bengal Package’ cementing post poll Trinamool support to a BJP government. Such is the characteristic double speak of the RSS/BJP. Apart from the fact that the Trinamool Congress has done business with both the BJP and the Congress in the past, its chief served as railway minister, both under Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, it has always maintained a close affinity with the RSS. In 2003, when the embers of the Gujarat communal carnage were still hot, the Trinamool Congress chief attended an RSS function where she was hailed as “Bengal’s Durga”. In turn, the RSS was praised by the Trinamool Congress chief as being “true patriots”. She went on to add, “I know you (RSS) love the country” and further, “We are with you (RSS) in your fight against the Communists” (The Telegraph, September 15, 2003). The current nature of the match fixing is, thus, the worst form of vote bank politics. Amidst all this, the basic issue that overwhelmingly concerns our people is being lost sight of. The common refrain among the people is a cry for relief. Relief from the growing burdens of inflation, unemployment and growing miseries of day to day existence. Such relief can only be provided by an alternative set of policies, alternative to both currently advocated by the BJP and the Congress. In fact, if there is any wave at all in these elections, it is this people’s wave seeking relief. The victory of the people’s wave will be crucially dependent upon the extent to which a free and fair poll can be conducted and people allowed to vote without extraneous pressures and enticements. It is, thus, imperative that the EC acts firmly to ensure this in the last phase that goes to polls on May 12.