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Monday, July 20, 2009

The Minority Perspective On The BJP Manifesto

By Firdaus Ahmed

10 April, 2009

A party’s manifesto is not taken too seriously since the compulsions of power impact the promises in it considerably. In the coalition era, this is even more so. Therefore to assess the BJP’s position on security through its manifesto may be neither fair nor accurate. However, the exercise needs to be done if only to point out that the manifesto in its references to national security shows a remarkable insensitivity to minority concerns.

The very first reference to national security is on the Congress’ ‘abysmal failure to protect citizens from terrorism’. The verdict on counter measures is that ‘this is clearly not enough.’ Understandably the very first section after the Introduction is on national security. In this the first point is on terrorism. Unsurprisingly excluded from the list of terrorist activity in the Congress’ tenure is missing Malegaon. The overall impression is that the major instances of terror have been Muslim perpetrated, culminating in the 26/11 attacks by Pakistani terrorists.

Clearly, this bracketing of all terror instances is untenable as insufficient evidence exists of a minority linkage with the pattern of blasts in major cities last year. Since Malegaon investigations have not progressed adequately and the other possibilities with regard to BAD (Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi) have been buried with the Batla House ‘encounter’. As intended by perpetrators other than the ‘usual suspects’, the trail has not been picked up. A canard thus takes on the status of a truth or ‘common sense’. It bears reflection as to why these attacks have mysteriously stopped since the Malegaon revelations. That the manifesto propagates the error as a given is explicable in light of the ideological orientation of the party. Having deliberately misperceived the problem, the solution can only be persistence in error.

The manifesto is keen that Afzal Guru hang. That this has not already happened, despite the strong incentive for the Congress to have wanted to profit from the action, indicates there is more to the Parliament attack case than meets the eye. Afzal Guru is perhaps an innocuous victim of a larger conspiracy which in media reports spread to the considerably autonomous ‘dirty tricks’ department of J&K police. Since invoking national security can help legitimize anything, one Indian less in keeping its secrets secure is really no big deal. That Afzal Guru lives bespeaks of substance to the book ’13 December: The strange case of the attack on the Indian Parliament’.

Illegal immigrants are seen as the unwitting foot soldiers of terror with their ‘vulnerability…exploited by the ISI and its jihadi front organisations as well as local terror cells to carry out bombings and provide logistical support to foreign terrorists (italics added).’ Securitisation of the problem of economic migration as an ‘internal security’ issue helps focus attention on the need for their eviction. Its yet another handle on the minority since the party intends to in ‘Launch a massive programme to detect, detain and deport illegal immigrants’ in its very first hundred days.

There is an element that has been missed in reflection on this issue thus far. It is the possibility of such a targeted drive arousing Bengali nationalism. Nationalism is multi dimensional with one or other identity facet coming to the fore. The break up of Pakistan in which religion was trumped by ethnicity is an example. The Bengali ethnic group is the largest on the subcontinent. Presently it is divided on lines of religion. It would be prudent to preserve the status quo from point of view of Hindu nationalism. That this possibility has not entered the discourse points to the religion tainted limitation of cultural nationalism.

More disturbing is that reference to a reversion to 2002, despite its lesson. The Manifesto states: ‘Coercive measures, including diplomacy, will be used to deal with countries which promote cross-border terrorism.’ This is accentuated in the linkage drawn between the global war on terror and internal security in its very next sentence: ‘India will engage with the world in the global war on terror while not compromising on its domestic interests, primarily protecting citizens from the ravages of terrorism.’ This portends a more proactive engagement with GWOT as it unfolds with greater potential for violence in wake of the Riedel-Holbrooke-Petraeus ‘Af-Pak’ strategy recently unveiled by President Obama. The contrived linkage with India’s internal security makes for a continuing overhang over India’s largest minority.

That peace would continue to prove elusive with Pakistan is a given if the manifesto were to guide its actions when in power. It maintains that, ‘There can be no ‘comprehensive dialogue’ for peace unless Pakistan…hands over to India individuals wanted for committing crimes on Indian soil.’ This eminently avoidable condition gives out the agenda of using Pakistan as the threatening other to deepen the roots of the BJP’s brand of majoritarian nationalism.

Security issues comprise the first 17 pages. Other issues are also given the by now mandatory ‘security’ tinge such as ‘food security’, ‘social security’ or ‘energy security’. The civilian led militarization of mother India is virtually complete.

In saying that ‘the BJP repudiates the division of Indian society along communal lines which has been fostered by the Congress and the Left in pursuit of their vote-bank politics’, the BJP attempts to obfuscate it’s resort to and greater success at the same game in attempting to make the denominational majority its vote bank. It has contradicted itself in stating that, ‘categorisation of communities as ‘minorities’ perpetuates notions of imagined discrimination and victimhood; it reinforces the perception of the ‘minority’ identity as separate from the national identity’ in a section title ‘Minority Communities’. This slip indicates that the defining reality of India is its being a symphony of minorities along differing dimensions. Forging of majorities therefore should not, and hopefully cannot, be on lines of religion as the BJP seeks. Its effort in this direction is laid bare from the last section of the manifesto detailing measures for ‘Preserving our Cultural Heritage’.

The manifesto indicates that secularism continues as an embattled concept. Giving secularism a fresh lease of life requires a judicious and informed exercise of the vote.

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