India: Gujarat Elections, 2002 – Communalists profit from hate

Though hardly any of the political observers predicted a defeat for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), very few foresaw the huge victory that the protagonists of Hindu chauvinism managed to secure in the Gujarat elections of December, 2002, through their hate campaign against Muslims. The BJP increased its strength in the Gujarat assembly from 117 (in 1998) to 125 in the lower house which has 182 seats, while Congress – the main opposition – got 51 seats, loosing two seats from last time.

Gujarat Elections, 2002.

Communalists profit from hate

Never in recent history, has a state assembly election in India created such a sensation as the Gujarat elections of 2002. This election became a focal point for heated debates and discussions in the entire country and internationally. The backdrop to these extraordinarily crucial elections was the anti -Muslim pogroms that were organised by the rightist Hindu communal forces with the full blessings of the BJP state administration, in February and March 2002.

The pogroms were instigated when a train carriage full of Hindu Kar-Sevaks* was set on fire at Godhra railway station. These Kar-sewaks were returning from Ayodhya, where they had been to worship the Hindu god Rama at the very disputed site of Babri Mosque. 58 people were charred to death in this despicable attack, including many women and children. The irate Muslims allegedly started the fire after the provocations of jubilant Kar-sewaks at the station. The town Godhra that has a Muslim majority immediately became the epicentre of the anti-Muslim communal carnage that engulfed the entire state of Gujarat. *(Nearest English term is volunteer, but it must be added here that, the term Kar-Sewak has an aggressive connotation since the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 at Ayodhya)

Mass terror

What followed the Godhra carnage was even more horrific and bestial, where more than 2000 Muslim men, women and children were hacked, stabbed and burnt to death. For nearly 72 hours, in the major cities and towns of Gujarat, Hindu communal mobs took to the streets. Looting and mass killings of Muslims went unabated and in many instances the state police force merely stood and watched the ghastly incidents, if not gleefully participating themselves in the carnage. Ministers of the BJP-run state government were seen directing the mobs in the streets of Ahmedabad, Vadodara and other places to conduct the ethnic cleansing

Narendra Modi, the chief architect of the anti-Muslim pogrom, as the Chief Minister of the State characterised the Godhra incident as an act of Islamic terror. In his highly pro-Hindu communal election manifesto, he made all the promises that communally-charged Hindu mobs would wish for. His declaration of an ensuing anti-conversion law, restrictions and surveillance on Madrasas (Muslim religious seminaries) added to the already existing Hindu chauvinist hype.

The terrorist attack on the Akshardhanm temple during the run up to the elections was a blessing in disguise to the BJP and particularly to Modi. Modi used his entire gutter fermenting skills to terrorise the voters to vote for him. Huge cut-outs of the Pakistan leader, Musharraf, were placed in strategic places against his own, challenging voters do decide whether they will choose a "patriotic Indian" or an enemy of India. He drew inferences in his rabble-rousing propaganda, that a vote for opposition Congress is a vote for Musharraf.

Without even a courteous remark on the Gujarat riots and victims, let alone an apology or regret, Modi recalled Newton’s law of motion. He justifies the riots by asserting that the reaction to Godhra was a proportionate response. Modi quelled all the forced moderation that the BJP had to put on show because of the balancing act that it had to maintain in the 23 party coalition at the centre. Modi, along with the arch-reactionary VHP and RSS mandarins, set the tone for the elections. All the leaders including Vajapayee and Advani had to follow his footsteps in the campaign. If the leadership had not joined the Modi chorus, it would have risked a serious backlash within the party.

Belligerent positions

While the western imperialists are trying to bring both India and Pakistan to the dialogue table, L.K.Advani, the Deputy Prime Minister, in his first election speech in Gujarat, threw down a challenge to Musharraff by saying, "Let us fight it out face to face. We have fought thrice, let there be a fourth war". Advani, playing to the gallery of Hindu communal lumpens, went to the extent of giving a clean certificate to Modi by calling him the "most popular, competent and successful" Chief Minister.

In the immediate aftermath of the Gujarat riots, the Prime Minister under pressure from his coalition partners, had termed the events as a national shame, which did not go down well within the ranks of the Gujarat BJP. There were even suggestions that he was not welcome in Gujarat to do election campaigning. He had to retract many of his statements during the electioneering and had to resort to a belligerent position. In one of his speeches he said that the riots took place because the Muslim community did not condemn the Godhra train massacre strongly enough.

The sweeping victory for the BJP in Gujarat with a two-thirds majority is seen by many as a trail-blazer for the days to come. The five states that are due for elections in the course of the next year would become yet another battle between the BJP and Congress. However, there is hardly any difference between the two parties.

"Secular" Hindu Congress!

Having lost its earlier aura and charisma, the Congress is increasingly BJP-ised. Many newspapers dubbed Congress as the B-team of communalism. Shanker Singh Vaghela, a recent dissident from BJP was the chosen man of Congress to take on the BJP. Just as the tiger never changes its stripes, Vaghela went on a binge to outsmart the Modi brigade in the campaign to win his erstwhile communal Hindu constituency.

Instead of exposing Modi and the BJP for all their evils, and standing four-square behind the battered Muslim minority, the Congress chose to win and woo Hindus to its fold. It adopted a soft Hindu line to say that it was not a party which only appeases Muslims, as made out by the BJP. It had no convincing argument against the BJP’s campaign against Muslims to dub all of them as terrorists. Sonia advised the Muslim leaders of the Congress not to campaign in Gujarat to avoid being seen as appeasing Muslims and not to be dubbed as a pro-Muslim party. It is no wonder that voters chose an authentic communal party, rather than a bad imitation.

Left (in)significance!

Of the 968 candidates in the fray for the elections of 182 seats, the CPI (M) and the CPI together had literally a symbolic presence in only two seats. This pathetic show was hardly anything to count and bank on for the beleaguered Muslim minority. The left in their traditional style failed miserably in providing any way forward, let alone an alternative to the riot-torn Muslims and other minorities.

Gujarat being an industrial giant within India, has important industries such as textiles, diamond cutting and polishing, pharmaceuticals and ceramic tiles. There are thousands of workers in these factories who have a rich history of struggles. The CPI (M) and CPI have some base in the trade unions of this state, yet they once again thought that searching out the myriad of ’progressive’ bourgeoisie is more important than the class struggle that includes the class itself!

Instead of using the opportunity of elections to rally the workers and youth against communalism and capitalism, they put all their eggs in the basket of the Congress to lead the way. One of the politburo members of the CPI (M), Sitaram Yechury, called upon Congress to take a lead to defeat the communal BJP. The CPI(M) and the CPI continued their coat-tail politics to form a "secular democratic front" and wanted Congress to give them seats to stand in elections with a no fight arrangement.

The warning signs

To the BJP, which was loosing ground very fast, this electoral success is a shot in the arm. Though Gujarat is the only decisive victory for the BJP since it came to power at the centre, the hard-line factions within the party will want to use this opportunity to take the party on an openly communal line at the all-India level. The VHP (World Hindu Council) which was very active in the riots and the elections has already declared that the storm of the "Hindutva" (strident Hindu chauvinism) ideology will not be limited to Gujarat, but would be practiced in all the five states – Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Delhi. Praveen Togadia, the general secretary of the VHP, declared that "in Gujarat, the BJP has come back to its own agenda; the Gujarat election has shown the right direction to the BJP".

There is no doubt that the victory for the BJP in Gujarat, in the aftermath of the BJP-VHP-RSS engineered pogroms, is a warning signal. Using this communal and religious divide, the BJP will try to push further the anti-working class reforms and, more importantly, the privatisation programme, to make themselves nearer and dearer to the national and international bourgeoisie. They will further foment the temple issue, the cow-slaughter issue, abrogation of article 370 giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir etc. to keep the class divided on a communal basis and to disorient the class.

Class unity is the only Answer

It is easy to get dazzled by this huge victory for the BJP. The working class, which at the moment is beginning to move on various issues such as labour law reforms and on the impending large-scale privatisations, will certainly see it as a jolt. However, history is full of such instances where mammoth electoral victories have turned into nothing, as the class issues come sharply to the fore in society. There are preparations being made for a decisive show-down on the issue of labour reforms. Already a rank and file trade union formation called the ’New Initiative for Trade Unions’ is preparing the battleground for the future battles. Working class unity is the need of the hour. A campaign based on the bedrock of working class unity, can and will take on the forces of capitalism and communalism to defeat the BJP-VHP-RSS gang and the Congress. The New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India) will be campaigning on these slogans and link this to the formation of a new working class mass party based on the programme of socialism.

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December 2002