‘Gujarat Assembly election verdict an aberration, not trend’

Nirupama Subramanian

Commentators in Pakistan call it a sad day for Indian democracy

“Democracy is not just about voting, it is also about protection of minorities”

ISLAMABAD: Preoccupied with its own internal problems, Pakistan has not had much time to think about the Gujarat election or Narendra Modi’s victory, but commentators here who followed the election called it a “sad day” for Indian democracy.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Gujarat triumph would confirm the worst fears of many Pakistanis about the communal divide in India, but commentators also expressed confidence in India’s secularism and its ability to face the challenge posed by this to the country’s first principles.

In another time, Pakistan would have followed the election in Gujarat closely, given the background of the 2002 riots, the deep communal rift between the Hindu majority of the State and its large Muslim population, and Mr. Modi’s controversial role in this.

With Pakistan’s current domestic tumult, Mr. Modi’s journey to his third electoral victory was barely a blip on the country’s media radar.

Pakistani newspapers and television are focused on the country’s own general election, now only two weeks away. The Gujarat Chief Minister’s victory did not figure on the front page of any of the Urdu dailies, and except for one, did not make the front pages of the English press either.

But interest in the election did not completely disappear and several India watchers expressed disappointment at the BJP victory. Daily Times editor Najam Sethi said while the result was not a surprise, it was a “sad day” for India.

“It is sad that the State that produced Gandhi and Jinnah has resorted to such sectarianism and communal passion and reconfirmed the BJP’s position,” he said.

In Pakistan, India’s success with building a democracy is both admired and envied, and always compared with its own failure to do so, an angst that came out sharply at the time of the 60th anniversary celebrations of both countries.

“But this is the unfortunate part of democracy,” Mr. Sethi said. “We have to go through with the process, and hope his government becomes discredited on other counts.”

Commentators also said the Modi victory showed that the Congress and the media did not play an adequate role in educating voters about secularism.

“Democracy is not just about voting, it is also about protection of minorities, about human rights,” said Mr. Sethi.

According to Shafqat Mahmood, former Senator and a well-known political analyst, people do not always choose well in democracies, and this is what had happened in Gujarat.

“Democracy can sometimes be swayed by emotions that are not helpful for overall planning of policies. It shows that communal forces are still strong in Gujarat and that there is still a lot of education that needs to be done,” said Mr. Mahmood. But there is also the opinion that this victory is an “aberration,” and cannot be generalised as a “trend” in the rest of India.

Economist Akbar Zaidi, who said the results were “unexpected” because he had hoped that Gujaratis would pay back Mr. Modi for 2002, was hopeful that this did not spell the end for secularism in India.

“The Indian concept of democracy and secularism continues to be redefined and constantly shifts between clear positions. This is not a defeat of secularism in India. I would say that is a vote by Gujarat for Gujarat,” said Mr. Zaidi.

Mr. Sethi also called it an “aberration.” Both were of the view that despite projections that Mr. Modi could use this victory as a launching pad to build himself as a national leader, he would not find the same acceptance in the rest of India.

“That is when his past will haunt him, and he has a pretty severe past. Within the BJP, they will have to come up with someone more moderate than he is,” said Dr. Zaidi.

According to Mr. Sethi, the Modi campaign had played on people’s fears, which would not work on the national scale because “India as a country talks of hope rather than fear.”

The additional factor, he said, was that Pakistan’s preoccupation with its own internal problems had made it less of a factor in Indian polls, which meant that the BJP could not play the Muslim-Pakistan card indefinitely.

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