Friday, April 18, 2014

Communal Polarisation of Indian Politics: Role of Congress & SP

Dr M N Buch, 
Dean, Centre for Governance and Political Studies, VIF

Till the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act 1976 was enacted, the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ did not form a part of the Preamble to the Constitution.Till the 42nd Amendment, the word ‘integrity’ did not form a part of the Preamble. However, when the Constitution is read as a whole, these three words are already a part of the foundation of the Constitution and their inclusion in the Preamble was really not called for. In fact, there is some doubt whether the Preamble can be amended at all because the opening words of the Preamble are, “We, the people of India …..” The people, as represented by the Constituent Assembly, adopted not only the Constitution but gave us the Preamble which precedes the Constitution. Under Article 368, Parliament can amend the Constitution except, as decided by the Supreme Court in the Kesavananda Bharati case, in a manner such that the basic features of the Constitution are amended. That power does not vest in Parliament. Similarly, the question arises whether a preamble can be amended at all.

As per the Chambers 21st Century dictionary, preamble is defined as “an introduction or preface, e.g. to a speech or document, opening statement”. An opening statement cannot be considered to be a substantive part of the main document because it is an introduction, almost as if it is an explanatory statement to the effect that the main document is designed to fulfil the objectives laid down in the Preamble. If the Preamble, therefore, does not form a part of the substantive contents of the Constitution, how can it be amended under Article 368? That can only be done by the Constituent Assembly as and when it is convened. One, therefore, has strong reservations about the legality of that portion of the 76th.

Actually Articles 25, 26, 27 and 28 which give freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion, freedom to manage religious affairs, freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion and freedom to attend or not attend religious instructions or worship in educational institutions, had already declared India to be a secular nation. Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Articles 29 and 30 provide for specific protection of the interests of minorities. In other words, the chapter on Fundamental Rights mandates the secular nature of the Indian State. When this is read with Article 38 which directs the State to secure a social order for the promotion of the welfare of the people, in effect, the Constitution directs that the State will be socialist in terms of ensuring equality and equity. The original Preamble promises justice, liberty, equality and fraternity to every Indian and in combination this means that India will be secular, nondiscriminatory and socialist in terms of promoting equity and equality. Articles 42, 43 and 44 direct the State to look after the interests of workers, which is what any socialist State would do. That is also the tenor of Article 14 which mandates equality before law.

This opening statement is made because in the democratic republic of India, where there is no State religion, no theocracy and complete equality before law, no practices can be permitted which communalise any situation in terms of religion, caste or region. That is why under Article 325, no person can be excluded from an electoral roll on grounds of religion, race, caste or sex. That is why under Article 326, elections to the House of People and the Legislative Assemblies of States will be held on the basis of adult suffrage in which every Indian citizen not less than eighteen years old will be entitled to vote. There are no separate electorates in India and this is the hallmark of a secular State. In a secular State, it is not permissible to communalise politics or seek votes on account of community, religion, caste, etc. In fact, under section 29(A) of the Representation of People Act, 1951, every political party, association or body, when applying for registration with the Election Commission, is required to state that it “shall bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy, and would uphold the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India”. The Representation of People Act (RPA), 1951 thus makes it mandatory for every party to accept secularism, which not only means separation of Church and State but also means that the party will shun communalism.

Let us look at the party scenario in India. There are two parties which specifically represent the interests of a particular religious group. The first is the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) which is the successor to the pre partition Muslim League. By and large, this party has a significant presence only in Kerala. The other party which represents a particular religious group is the Shiromani Akali Dal which represents the Sikhs. There is a third party, The Majlis Ittehad-el Muslameen led by the Owaisis in Hyderabad, but it does have some Hindu members. Strictly speaking IUML and SAD should be considered communal parties, but SAD has Hindu members also and IUML, while promoting Muslim interests, does not project a blatantly religious image which calls for hostility against other communities. BJP is accused of being a party of the Hindus because it has the backing of RSS, but despite its support for the concept of Hindutva, BJP has kept its doors open to other communities and it has a number of Muslim, Christian and Sikh members. It also has India’s best known and most highly respected Jew, Lt. Gen. JFR Jacob, as a member. It, therefore, firmly and rightly rejects its identification by the Congress, Samajwadi Party, etc., as being a communal Hindu party. It must not be forgotten, however, that in the closing decades of the last century BJP did adopt the policy of promoting Hindutva and building the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. This was not appreciated by the Muslims but at no time did this represent a communal, religion based agenda, nor did it target a particular community.

The past as a means of understanding of the genesis the issues of today may be useful, but one has to move forward. For the elections of 2014, there is a systematic attempt to dub BJP as a communal party and its leader Narendra Modi as a man with Muslim blood on his hands. The merits of what happened in Gujarat in 2002 have been deliberately obfuscated by the shrill voice of those who in the name of secularism would in fact communalise politics. In this rhetoric of hate, facts are glossed over or even deliberately ignored. It is loudly acclaimed that Modi is a monster and must be kept out of office because with his coming to power every Muslim would be unsafe. Therefore, mobilise and polarise Muslim votes so that collectively they can keep BJP out of power. For this purpose have a pact with Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Imam of Jama Masjid, who appears to be a complete Hindu baiter and has made a blatantly communal appeal to Muslims to vote for the Congress. Muslims, mind you, not citizens at large. The Congress, when appealing to the Muslims, has virtually stated that they should keep communal forces at bay by voting for the Congress. This means that all Muslims are secular and, ipso facto, all Hindus are communal. Add to this the kind of speeches being made by Congress candidate from Moradabad Imran Masood and Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan in U.P. Khan has gone to the extent of saying that the victory in Kargil was won by Muslim soldiers and that Hindu elements of the Indian Army were not instrumental for it. The one institution which prides itself on being above politics, caste and creed is sought to be thrown into the cauldron of communalism. Does it matter whether it was Hindu or Muslim troops who saved Kargil? It is the Indian Army which shed its blood for the country and that is what counts.

Those who are trying to communalise politics by polarising Muslim votes must realise the disservice which they are doing to India. The Hindu vote is almost impossible to polarise, which BJP has found to its cost. The Hindu votes according to party ideology, caste, region, even language. Collectively the Hindus do not form a monolithic vote bank. The very heterogeneity of Hindu society makes it highly resistant to polarisation. There is, however, an exception to this. So long as Muslims vote anti BJP, the Hindu is prepared to live with this. Even in the heyday of Mahatma Gandhi, not more than five percent of Muslims have voted for Congress. However, if in Hindu perception, the Muslims are seen to be united against Hindus as such, we are in grave danger of seeing this resulting in polarisation of at least a section of Hindu votes. If twenty percent of the Hindu voters decide that they will polarise, then a party allegedly pro Hindu would sweep to power. The present effort at treating at least a section of Hindus as communal bigots who will destroy the minorities is likely to rebound in that it may lead to a certain amount of polarisation of Hindu votes. This would not be a happy situation. The one bright light in this murky scenario is BJP’s refusal to respond to provocation and to stick to development with equity as its election platform.

The legitimacy of the BJP seeking power comes from the Constitution which mandates free and fair elections. The Election Commission of India is armed with sufficient powers to ensure that the BJP fights the election with a secular orientation. However, if the Congress, Samajwadi Party, etc., try and polarise Muslim votes, then the possibility of an equivalent and opposite polarisation of Hindu votes cannot be ruled out. In other words, without anyone asking or advocating it, if a certain amount of polarisation of Hindu votes takes place, it will be the Congress and the Samajwadi Party which will be wholly responsible for this. One fervently hopes that these parties will return to their senses and let the election be based on principles, ideology and peace for all.

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