|A K Antony|
Mr A K Antony’s recent remark that the appeasement of minority communities by the Congress party has led to its disgraceful defeat in the last general elections may generate some debate in the country. However, it is not only the Congress but also many other political parties in the country that should take an introspective look at themselves vis-à-vis their attitude towards religions.
One of the greatest tragedies in independent India has been the misuse of religion by its politicians. The catastrophic misuse started even before Independence and the British imperial government’s divide-and-rule policy added the necessary fuel to the fire.
The vision embodied in the Constitution of India with respect to religion is very noble indeed. It respects every religion and allows the citizens to follow the religion of their choice or not follow any. What happened from the time of Indira Gandhi onward has been disastrous for the country, however. After her rout ensuing the Emergency, Ms Gandhi viciously made use of religion in order to come back to power. She made “detours to visit numerous places of worship, call on saints of all denominations,” as reported by Ramesh Chandran (Illustrated Weekly of India, 5 Nov 1978). And was she successful!
Indira Gandhi had started communalising Indian politics in the early 1970s. In 1969, the Congress had split and in order to gather the support base for her faction [Congress (I)] Ms Gandhi started appealing to the lower castes. Garibi Hatao became the party’s election motto in 1971. The election manifesto of the party promised much to the lower castes including the formation of a Backward Class Commission.
Eventually the backward classes and certain minority religious communities became the vote banks of the Congress party. Many other parties learnt the lesson and started appeasing different religious groups and castes in their own ways. Many of the contemporary leaders in different states achieved success by playing the same tricks that Ms Gandhi made use of in her own way.
The sad truth, however, is that not many of the people of India gained anything by all the reservation policies, Backward Commissions, and other such political gimmicks. The poor in India continued (and still continue) to be poor – with some exceptions, of course. It is only the politicians who really benefited from all the communalisation of Indian politics.
The BJP’s demands for Ayodhya Temple, its anger against the reservation policies and other forms of minority appeasement, and other demands such as for Uniform Civil Code were all reactions to what the Congress and other political parties were doing. The majority obviously felt left out because of the political games played in the name of minorities and backward castes. So the majority had to play their own games. Rath yatras and riots became part of those games. Gujarat 2002 is still fresh in our collective memory.
Memory mixed with desire can stir dull roots with new life, as T S Eliot wrote in his poem, The Waste Land. Memories and desires worked together in the 2014 general elections. Every action in human affairs has a reaction, not merely equal but more emphatic.
Mr A K Antony has been honest enough to acknowledge this history of actions and reactions in Indian politics of the last half a century. It is not only the Congress that should sit down for some serious introspection. Almost every political party in the country is guilty of the same crime: communalisation of politics. Perhaps, Antony’s confession can lead to some cleansing in the Augean stables of Indian politics. And liberate secularism from the clutches of vested interests of all kinds.