The opposition, it seems, is already rolling out a coordinated strategy for the next year’s general election. In the face of a high decibel political rhetoric whipped up by it in the run up to the recent Gujarat Assembly election, the success of BJP in retaining power in the state with a comfortable majority, validated the continuing popular appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The opposition knows it has to reckon with this. The Congress evidently believes that it got many additional seats in Gujarat because it chose to put up brazen young leaders Jignesh Mevani, Alpesh Thakor and Hardik Patel to focus on Dalits, OBCs and Patels respectively and counter the claim of the ruling dispensation there that it was able to de-emphasise caste. Even though the caste and community based approach had not succeeded for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, the appearance of Narendra Modi as the face of change had got the voters to go beyond the confines of identity politics to seize the chance of being delivered from the earlier corrupt and despotic regimes, the Congress outreach to SP’s Akhilesh Yadav is not likely to be given up from its side because of the experience of Gujarat. Questioning Prime Minister Modi’s call of ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’ had not made any significant dent in Gujarat but furrowing into caste verticals that the opposition consciously tried there, did in the estimate of the Congress meet with a certain degree of success. Reverting to the traditional appeals of caste and other social divides in the name of economic justice might become a strategic base of electoral politics of the anti-BJP camp.
It is known that the long rule of the Congress after Independence drew strength, apart from its credentials as a party that had led the Freedom movement, from the fact that out of the four major demographic segments three Brahamins representing the upper castes, Dalits and Muslims backed it. It is not surprising that in the course of time the slogan of anti-Congressism came from the fourth segment of Backwards, under the ideological cloak of Socialism. The political strengthening of this caste grouping after the implementation of the Mandal Commission report has made it a formidable component of the power structure in India. The Congress has apparently calculated that putting focus on Dalits and Muslims, claiming a Brahmanical Hindu identity for the new party president and forging an alliance with backward leaders on a selective basis, might rally enough voting strength for it. In the broad political spectrum of ideology a meeting of minds with leftists, neo-liberals and known Modi detractors on issues like social justice, human rights and employment of youth, was being sought by it in the hope of gaining electoral advantage.
The outburst of Jignesh Mevani at Bhima Koregaon village in Pune on the occasion of the annual celebration of ‘valour’ shown by Mahar soldiers of the victorious British army, during a historical battle between the British and the Peshwas 200 years ago, was meant to set the political agenda for the coming period. Mevani a Dalit MLA from Gujarat and Omar Khalid - the JNU man who had become notorious for making a violent anti-India speech at the university, both turned up at the event and instigated the Dalits to take to the streets for their cause. This resulted in extensive damage of government and private property in the subsequent violence in Pune and Mumbai. Police investigation into the case since registered against them would unravel the mysterious arrival of these trouble-makers at Koregaon and the political force behind them. Mahar victory certainly showed that Dalits can be good soldiers but today in free India both Mahars and Peshwas would fight together against an external enemy. Anybody, on either side, making it a reason for precipitating an internal caste war here is clearly indulging in an anti-national act. What happened in Pune and Mumbai was a deliberate instigation of the politics of violence. The state and central governments must haul up the guilty in the court of law regardless of their public status and affiliation as otherwise the internal situation will be rendered unstable as the general election draws close.
Of particular concern is the desperate bid of elements in the opposition to step up efforts to somehow keep the Muslim minority with them in a future election. Their response to Trilple Talaq legislation, refusal to name Pakistan for infiltrating terrorists in Kashmir and patronisation of anti-national elements like Omar Khalid, all add up to a planned strategy of trying to influence the minority for election purposes. Even though the opposition allowed the Triple Talaq bill to be passed in Lok Sabha it thwarted it in the Upper House for it sensed that the community leaders did not like the legislation as they really believed that the mandate ‘men are in charge of women’ ordained superiority of the male gender. Further, many in the opposition sided with the apologists for Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir and saw nothing wrong with the activities of entities like Indian Mujahideen and Omar Khalid. They would like caste divides to come back so that the claim of the Modi government about working for the development of all, could be refuted. They are giving a democratic regime the label of 'fascism' on the ground of its links with RSS and trying to frighten the minorities. The Sangh on its part has avowed to focus on building a casteless and united Hindu society for strengthening the nation. The Ulema and the elite enjoying political stranglehold on the Muslim minority add to the scare of the community by giving a communal twist to the BJP rule. Divisions of caste and community, it seems, would be used by the opposition to deny the BJP government the opportunity of pursuing the non-divisive and secular path of ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’' and widening its political base.
It seems the pre-election year would witness a concerted attempt by the detractors of Modi to foment social unrest, ideological confrontation and sectarian conflicts to pool together opposition votes. Internal peace may become a casualty. The government may have to remain prepared to deal with violent agitations, inflammatory propaganda and communal tensions. A hostile Pakistan may be quite willing to fish in troubled waters and whip up emotions on minority issues. Modi government should continue to follow the policy of carrying development to all Indians, taking stern action against instigators of street violence and keeping up a strong profile on matters of national security. Centre's move to closely oversee the secular project of focusing on development in 115 districts identified as the most backward, deserves appreciation. The Indian voters are now wise enough to make their choices in keeping with the larger good of the nation. They would like political rivals to make their exhortations but not encourage sectarian aggressiveness in search of votes.
(The writer is former director of Intelligence Bureau)