Fighting fascism

PARLIAMENT'S WINTER session took off with strong criticism of the utterances of the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, in which he had lampooned the Chief Election Commissioner, J. M. Lyngdoh, because of the latter's religion. The entire Opposition joined hands in taking strong exception to the activities of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in that State. The communal fascism resorted to by the BJP Government in the State with massive onslaughts against the minority community for 10 weeks since February 28 has been roundly denounced by all the parties and civil society in no uncertain terms. All sections of the media which were free from the control of or penetration by the RSS joined hands in exposing the atrocities committed against the Muslims in Gujarat and the blatantly partisan role played by the administration under clear instructions from the Chief Minister in this horrifying episode. Massive demonstrations by secular political parties and non-party organisations were also held in most cities to uphold the principles of secularism, territorial brotherhood and national solidarity.

The basically tolerant ethos of Indian culture was underlined in seminar after seminar. The teachings of the Upanishads, the Buddha, the Sants and Sufi poets, including Guru Nanak and Sant Kabir, kings and princes such as Ashok, Akbar and Dara Shikoh and savants such as Swami Vivekananda were referred to time and again. However, most of all, there was stress on defeating the Modi Government with the united efforts of all the parties opposed to his communal fascist agenda. Now that the electoral process is on, the time has come to test the genuineness of all those elements which have been part of this eight-month long exercise.

Volunteers from politically unattached Gandhian, socialist, environmentalist and human rights groups and individuals of diverse persuasions, whether Marxist or Ambedkarite, have come together in large numbers to defeat the new challenge. However, the responses of political parties opposed to the BJP are not yet clear. Secular-minded persons were encouraged by the assertion of the Leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi, that the Congress, which alone has a sizeable presence in the State, was willing to accept coalition politics at the national level and has offered cooperation to other Opposition parties in the State elections. Yet, its recent neutrality in the election to the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council by members of the Assembly where there was a direct contest between the ruling coalition and the Opposition has unnerved all those who had welcomed its altered attitude.

The defeat of the BSP-BJP candidate at this juncture would have thoroughly exposed the claims of the State Government that it enjoys a majority in the Assembly and shown the partisan predilections of the Governor in refusing to ask the Chief Minister, Mayawati, to prove her majority on the floor of the House. Moreover, it would have added one more strand, with major consequences, to the string of demoralising electoral debacles of the BJP in the Delhi Municipal Corporation and the Jammu region. It could obviously inflict a patent blow to the prestige of the party against which the Congress is arraigned in company with all other Opposition parties in the crucial electoral battle in Gujarat. One could accept that, committed as it was to the process of economic reforms, it could not but coalesce with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance Government in pushing through the amendments in the Indian Patents Act of 1970 or the induction of foreign capital in the insurance sector. These measures were opposed by the progressive parties; yet, they agreed to work with the Congress in defending secularism and in countering the communal fascism of the Modi Government. However, its neutrality in the Uttar Pradesh election has created doubts.

The spokespersons of the party have explained that it had not been approached by other Opposition parties which had joined together in putting up a common candidate against the one put up by the ruling coalition. However, the press has reported that meetings between its leader and the leaders of the Samajwadi Party, sometimes with the mediation of the CPI (M) general secretary, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, had been taking place.

The real issue is the future relationships between the Congress and other secular parties. Can the RJD, which has this party as its junior coalition partner, trust it for long? Would not the Left bloc led by the CPI (M) and centrist parties such as the Janata Dal (S) be immediately reminded of its successful attempt in pulling down the United Front Government headed by I. K. Gujral which, in fact, opened the door to the present ruling dispensation?

There is, of course, the complaint that the Samajwadi Party leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav, had prevented Sonia Gandhi from becoming the Prime Minister in 1999. At that time, the difference between them was that while the Samajwadi Party and the Left parties wanted the installation of a coalition government headed by Ms. Gandhi, the Congress' stand was that it would have to be a single party Government; others should extend support to it from the outside. Whatever that be, should all that continue to help the BSP-BJP coalition in Uttar Pradesh complete its ruinous term even when it has been shown to be in a minority?

Is the secular Opposition condemned to remain divided? How can rational politicians with secular credentials continue to behave in this manner when communal fascism, on their own admission, stares them in the face?

In the case of Gujarat, the logic of the events still requires that the BJP is engaged in direct contests. The BJP, conscious of this eventuality, has "permitted" its close allies, the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United), to put up their candidates, against its own. It is true that no electoral adjustments are possible among secular parties in case smaller parties put up fantastic claims. Yet, the major responsibility to accommodate always devolves on the bigger party, that is, the Congress.

It has been reported that the Congress is prepared to adjust with the CPI (M), the CPI, the Lok Janshakti Party and the Janata Dal (S), whose demands are less than 10, all taken together. That leaves the Nationalist Congress Party and the Samajwadi Party. The former has announced that it would confine itself to the areas of its assured support; in all other constituencies, it would help the Congress. It should have been possible for the State-level leaders of the two parties to sit together to discuss such seats which the NCP wished to contest. As for the Samajwadi Party, the newly-caused bitterness owing to the Uttar Pradesh Council election might provoke it to contest a large number of seats. The Gujarat elections have big stakes. "Forgive and forget" must start somewhere; unless we forget how divisions among the opponents of Hitler helped him seize power in Germany.