Wednesday, March 18, 2009

article/edit appearing the latest issue of PD dated 22/3/09

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*Rebuff The Politics Of Communal Criminalisation*

IF the BJP has any modicum of political morality left in it, it should immediately withdraw the candidature of Varun Gandhi from Pilibhit Lok Sabha constituency for the crass communal venom that he spewed in his election meetings.

The Election Commission has shown alacrity in asking the local police to register a criminal case against Varun Gandhi. Both the Indian Penal Code and the Representation of the People Act, 1951 are unambiguously clear that "promoting communal disharmony" or "seeking votes on the grounds of candidate's religion" are corrupt political practices. The Indian Penal Code, irrespective of whether elections are taking place or not, lists in Section 153A as a cognisable offence: "Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both."

The Representation of the People Act, in Section 125, prescribes a similar punishment for those "promoting enmity between classes in connection with election". This section specifically prescribes that any promotion of enmity or hatred on the grounds of religion shall be punishable similarly.

Since a criminal case has been registered, the BJP now seeks to "let the law take its course". This will not do. As can be seen from the famous disenfranchisement of the Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray, who was removed from the electoral rolls for six years and prohibited from contesting any election during this period, the process for the law to take its course is, indeed, very long. Bal Thackeray was charged with similar vilification and spreading communal poison in the Vileparle Assembly by-elections in 1987. The punishment for the offence of making inflammatory speeches came finally only in 1999 when the Supreme Court upheld an order of the Bombay High Court finding Bal Thackeray guilty of inciting hatred among religious communities during his election speeches. As per law, the then president of India, late Shri K R Narayanan, had referred the Supreme Court order to the Election Commission to decide on the quantum of penalty. The Election Commission had, then, disenfranchised Bal Thackeray for a period of six years.

In the current instance, Varun Gandhi's crass communal inflammatory utterances cannot wait to be buried under such a long time for the law to take its course. The charges of "doctoring" the videos made by Varun Gandhi are negated by the material available on electronic media like /You Tube/. Taking a strange view of crime, Varun Gandhi denies those charges claiming that since there was no consequent violence, there is no crime! We are refraining from reproducing the unfiltered communal poison spread by his speeches for the fact that they are simply disgusting and cannot be tolerated in any secular democratic polity. While the law must take its course, it is for the BJP to clear its credentials before the electorate by withdrawing Varun Gandhi's candidature.

This, however, may be too far-fetched. With the RSS declaring that it shall support only that party which promises to build a Ram temple on the disputed site at Ayodhya, the BJP has fallen in line by declaring that its hardcore Hindutva agenda will be its mascot for the 2009 general elections. The way it is conducting itself in Karnataka, now dragging in one of the finest creative artists of the 20^th century, Charlie Chaplin, into its line of fire, by objecting his statue, the BJP is clearly moving in the direction of sharpening communal polarisation hoping for electoral benefits. Thus, one need not go far to understand why the erstwhile BJP allies in the NDA have deserted it all down the east coast. The fundamental contradiction of the NDA – the stronger the resurrection of hardcore Hindutva agenda by the BJP, deeper is the alienation of its allies in the NDA – is unfolding.

Under these circumstances, the electorate must, therefore, firmly give such politics of communal criminalisation a fitting rebuff in the forthcoming elections.

*Lok Sabha Polls: An Alternative Emerges*

Prakash Karat

THE past one week has firmly established the fact that there is a viable non-Congress, non-BJP combination emerging to fight the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. What is popularly known as a third front became a reality when seven parties shared a common platform at the massive rally organised in Dobbspet, near Bangalore, on March 12. The leaders of the Janata Dal (Secular), the AIADMK, the Telugu Desam, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the CPI(M) and the CPI declared that they would work together to defeat the Congress and the BJP and to create a new alternative.

Three days later, on March 15, nine political parties met in New Delhi. Apart from the four Left parties, the TDP, the JD (S), the AIADMK, the TRS and the Biju Janata Dal discussed how to take forward the electoral understanding and seat sharing arrangements they had arrived at in various states. In a joint statement, they declared their resolve to work together to defeat the Congress and the BJP and to form an alternative government for the progress and welfare of the people. The meeting also discussed the policy issues that need to be addressed.

On the same day, the BSP president, Ms Mayawati, released her party's election appeal and called for the defeat of the Congress and the BJP and expressed her party's determination to work for a non-Congress, non-BJP government.

All these developments in the second week of March have dramatically confirmed what the CPI(M) has been maintaining: politics in India cannot be straitjacketed into a two-party system. Although the ruling classes of our country would like politics to revolve around a choice between two political parties, both of which represent their interests, this has proved impossible in practice. Both the major all-India bourgeois parties are unable to command a mass base and the support of the people in significant parts of the country. For instance, in the two major states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Congress and the BJP together cannot claim to represent even one-third of the seats to the Lok Sabha. In state after state, either the Congress or the BJP represents a minority force.

This inability to achieve numbers that are anywhere near majorities in parliament has compelled them to look for allies. So, they have settled for projecting a two-/front/ system as an alternative – a Congress-led combination and a BJP-led combination.

The emergence of a viable non-Congress, non-BJP combination has caused consternation in the Congress and the BJP camps. While the Congress called the third front as the "biggest mirage of Indian politics", the BJP has sought to dismiss the third front as a "nautanki" (drama). The BJP has greater cause for worry because, unlike in 1999 and 2004, many of the secular regional parties are no more willing to be associated with the BJP. They are finding their place in the non-Congress, non-BJP camp. The latest partner to break with them is the BJD in Orissa.

As for the Congress party, it fielded its senior leader, Pranab Mukherjee, to attack the concept of a third front. He harped on the fact that the front has not set out any programme, or, vision for government forgetting that the Congress created its front – the UPA – only after the elections in 2004. It is also a strange argument considering that the UPA itself is not going with a common programme or manifesto to the elections. The Congress, the RJD, the NCP and the DMK are all bringing out separate manifestos. So why is Pranab Mukherjee concerned about a common programme for the parties of the third front? Why did not the Congress consider a joint programme with its elusive ally, the Samajwadi Party? He even made the extraordinary claim that the parties of the third front were not even fighting enough seats to get a majority in the House. This is, of course, utterly inaccurate. The Left alone is fighting 150 seats and if the parties with which they have seat sharing arrangements or election alliances are taken into account, then their number is more than 50 per cent of the seats in parliament. If the seats contested by the BSP are taken into account, then the combine is fighting far more seats than the Congress party.

A Congress spokesperson has also charged that the formation of the third front will help the communal forces by dividing the secular votes. The fact is that the emergence of the alliance of the Left and the secular regional parties has struck a body blow to the electoral ambitions of the BJP. The BJP has been left with not a single ally in states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Orissa. The propagation of a two-party system by the Congress only helps the BJP instead of weakening it.

Both the Congress and the BJP are on shaky ground when they termed the third front as an unstable and unviable alliance. The reality is that both the UPA and the NDA are not durable alliances and that their fragility has come to the fore in the recent period. The Congress, after its Working Committee meeting in January, declared that it has no national level alliance and that it is going in for state level alliances only. This has undermined the very basis of the UPA. In turn, it has freed the UPA allies to look for different electoral partners in various states. Some of the non-Congress partners of the UPA are signalling that alignments will change according to the post-poll situation. The NCP president Sharad Pawar has, unlike the Congress and the BJP, stated that the third front cannot be written off. He has further stated that his party is not a bonded labourer of anyone. As for the NDA, it suffered a major blow when the BJD decided to break with it. Even the Asom Gana Parishad, which has entered into a seat adjustment with the BJP, has declared that it is not part of the NDA.

Although the Congress seems to have gained confidence after seeing the disarray in the BJP and its alliance, it is unwilling to recognise what is happening to the people and the country. One single instance should illustrate this point. The Congress party and the government are happy to claim that inflation is going down steadily. The inflation rate of the Wholesale Price Index is now below 4 per cent. But the prices of food items have increased sharply. According to the Price Monitoring Cell of the Department of Consumer Affairs, there has been a big surge in the prices of food items such as rice, tur, onions, sugar and tea. The wholesale price food index registered 7.5 per cent inflation for the week ending February 28. This price rise at the retail level increased manifold. According to these figures, the price of rice in Delhi rose by 22 per cent between March 2008 and March 2009; sugar went up by 47 per cent, tur by 31 per cent and onion by a whopping 111 per cent.

While the government takes satisfaction in proclaiming that the growth rate has slowed down only slightly, the reality is that lakhs of jobs are being lost due to the global recession and the economic crisis.

The agrarian crisis, price rise, unemployment and the falling living standards of the people are all being ignored by the Congress rulers. This is going to cost them heavily.

When the time of reckoning comes, the people have the choice to reject both the Congress and the BJP, which has similar economic policies, and to look for an alternative. The Left parties have set out a full-fledged alternative policy platform. The CPI(M) is working to see that the parties that have rallied around the banner of a third front come together on a common platform for pro-people economic policies, a firm defence of secularism, strengthening federalism and for an independent foreign policy. Such a platform offers a clear alternative choice for the people. In the coming days, during the election campaign, these alternative policies will be presented before the people.

(March 18, 2009)

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