Why Bihar Verdict Matters For The Future Of India

06/11/2015 1:50 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
BEGUSARAI, INDIA - OCTOBER 8: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the gathering during an election rally ahead of the Bihar Assembly Elections 2015 on October 8, 2015 in Begusarai, India. (Photo by Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The Bihar elections are over, giving rise to the hope that it will end a highly vicious season and the party in power at the centre gets back to work -- in silence.

Elections are a strange phenomenon. Before the best guy wins, we bring out the worst in each other. After every election in Delhi, I took off either for a trek into the mountains or into some dense forests or to some least inhabited parts of the country, to undo the damage done to the nerves and emotional equilibrium by the painfully high decibels of an Indian election.

The elections in Bihar witnessed unprecedented attempts by none other than the Prime Minister to polarise the entire country to win a state. Never before has a Prime Minister addressed 30 rallies for an election just in one state. Never before has a Prime Minister so unabashedly declared his intent to sacrifice his life to ensure the benefit of reservations do not reach "a particular community". Never before has positive affirmation been so negatively used.

"One can only hope that after 8 November, the government draws the right lessons from the verdict and ensures that the tail stops wagging the dog."

The ruling establishment was brilliant in its coordination when it spoke in multiple voices catering to multiple groups. If a design to attract upper caste votes was suspected in General VK Singh's idiotic dog analogy for Dalit children killed by upper caste, it was obvious in the Dadri lynching and the carefully scripted comments that followed.

And when the heat generated by Dadri threatened the image of the government among domestic and foreign investors, we saw reports of Amit Shah summoning leaders who made provocative comments, conveying the "displeasure of the Prime Minister".

Arun Jaitley too kept the heat on, playing the perfect role of a poor man's Goebbels -- using his courtroom abilities in his blogs, condemning intolerance and citing Congress-era precedents in the same breath. Arguments that would make junior counsels lose their briefs were made by so called luminaries -- "but Dadri happened under the Samajwadi Party"; "but Kalburgi was killed under Congress rule in Karnataka"; "but it was Prithviraj Chavan's government in Maharashtra when Dabholkar was killed."

And what was the ideology behind all these killings?

Isn't the same ideology ruling in Delhi now?

"But why didn't liberals protest the killing of Prashant Poojary?"; "but why didn't intellectuals return their awards after the 84 riots?"; "it is a conspiracy to defame India and slow down its economic growth"; "the Congress and the Left are playing politics through proxy."

Whether a political vigilante gets killed while assuming an extra-constitutional role or an innocent is killed on suspicions of the kind of meat he had supposed to have kept in his kitchen -- a death is a death, causing pain and anguish to the near and dear. And yet, can the two deaths - of Prashant Poojary and Mohammed Akhlaq -- be compared?

What happened in 1984 was a tragic aberration. The politics of the Congress party does not rest on anti-Sikhism. Despite no conviction yet of any leader belonging to the Congress, the party's leadership apologised for the tragedy that happened under its watch. It made sincere efforts at reaching out to the aggrieved community.

Can the same be said with confidence about the BJP? As someone asked on Twitter: "Will the BJP reach out to the Muslim community by making a Muslim Prime Minister?" Although, it is unfair to attribute Dr Manmohan Singh's prime ministership -- a position he reached due to his intellect and his pioneering efforts at liberalisation of the economy, to his religious identity -- but this tweet from someone completely non-political is thought provoking. Here again, a riot is a riot and causes pain, destruction and loss to innocents. Instead of "your riot vs. my riot", the ideological triggers of riots need to be exposed and curtailed instead of giving them electoral legitimacy.

Now that voices like Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Rahul Bajaj and Narayana Murthy from India Inc have started expressing concern over growing intolerance, is Mr Jaitley accusing these giants of Indian economy of sabotaging the economy? And if the Congress had the support of all these powerful elements of the industry and the film business, would the party have been in this situation?

The Bihar elections have divided not just society but also exit pollsters. Irrespective of the claims made by Amit Shah that the result will not be a verdict on Modi's performance as Prime Minster, irrespective of the claims of Rajnath Singh that the results will not be a verdict on Amit Shah's performance as the president of the BJP, irrespective of what the results are, they will either bring out the worst in the ruling establishment or there will be some course correction. One can only hope that after 8 November, the government draws the right lessons from the verdict and ensures that the tail stops wagging the dog.

And you know what I mean!

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