Indian Jesuit: General Election, amid a political vacuum and emergence of Narendra Modi
Ahmedabad (AsiaNews) - In an exclusive article for AsiaNews Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ - Director of the Jesuit "Prashant" Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace - paints a picture of the social and political process that has affected India and the general election currently underway.
General Elections to the Indian Parliament are currently on! These elections which are regarded as one of the greatest democratic exercises ever in any country began on April 7th, 2014; till date six phases of polling have been completed and three phases have still to go to polls. The final results will be out only on May 16th. It is important to look objectively at two dimensions that have held sway during these elections.
The political vacuum in the country.
In 2004, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rode to power under the leadership of the Congress Party. No one in fact expected the UPA to come to power. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was doing well; but it failed to deliver on some of its promises and it paid the price; besides the Gujarat Carnage of 2002 presided over by Narendra Modi definitely affected the NDA very badly; some of their key allies deserted them. India was not going to accept a party which was instrumental in killing their own people.
The UPAI provided fresh hope to India. They had within them a mixture of experience and expertise, veterans and youth; their approach in governance was inclusive and despite a severe economic crisis in other parts of the world, India did not fare too badly. Naturally in 2009, the UPA came back to power, riding on a wave of delivered promises.
From 2004 to date, UPAI and UPAII gave the country the Right to Information (RTI) which helped in exposing a good bit of the corruption in India; the Right to Education (RTE) which for the first time made education free and compulsory for all school-going age children and the Right to Food Security (RTF) through its many schemes which focused on the poor and marginalized sections of society.
However, on several fronts UPAII was not able to deliver: on the economic front, inflation kept increasing and prices of essential commodities rose very steeply. Several of their ministers were exposed in corrupt deals and even sent to prison but the UPAII seemed to lack the political will to deal headlong with corruption; the emergence of an effective people's movement 'India against Corruption'; the opposition parties with their obstructionist tactics constantly held Parliament to hostage - all these accelerated the political impasse. Finally, political analysts also state that UPAII was not able to effectively market even the good that they had done. The political vacuum in India was for real.
The emergence of Narendra Modi
From his youth, Narendra Modi has been a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The core ideology of this extremist organization (born in the 1930s and having its inspiration from Hitler and the Nazis) was the formation of a Hindu nation state. In this ideology, minorities (particularly the Muslims and the Christians) were meant to be treated as second-class citizens. However, India's freedom fighters (like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Babasaheb Ambedkar) worked and ensured that India becomes a secular and democratic State where every citizen is treated equally with rights and freedom guaranteed in the Constitution.
The RSS was never satisfied with this. One of their men Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Over the years, they spawned many other groups including their political wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP); together they are all known as the 'Sangh Parivar'.
For some years, Modi was the organizing Secretary of the BJP in Delhi particularly at the time the BJP was the main political dispensation in the ruling NDA from 1998 - 2004. In 2001, he schemed the overthrow of one of his mentors Keshubhai Patel (Chief Minister of Gujarat) and from October that year, he began ruling the State. One of the first things he did in February - March 2002 was to preside over the Gujarat Carnage which left two thousand Muslims dead and several thousands homeless. Till today, he has neither shown remorse nor taken responsibility for one of the bloodiest chapters in India's history! In 2003, he brought in the Freedom of Religion law which is clearly aimed at tribals and dalits who would like to embrace Christianity, Islam or Buddhism.
Modi has proved to be an extremely divisive person; he is a skilful orator able to spin myths and to take credit for achievements which are not his. With a well-oiled campaign, backed by a large section of India's corporate sector and by media houses owned by them, many feel that his party will be the largest single party when the results are announced and he may also be India's next Prime Minister.
Whether this will actually happen is anybody's guess! One thing is certain that a fairly large percentage of India's voting population has actually come out and exercised their franchise in what is regarded till today a fairly free and peaceful election. The campaign has been vicious so far. The speeches of the candidates and their campaigners have not focused on the real issues that need to be addressed but by personal attacks at the lowest level; whether this will change post-election is rather doubtful.
At this juncture as India votes - there is one message going out to the world: democracy in India is alive and thriving; and that there are many who are doing all they can to preserve the heart and soul of India!