Victory in Gujarat Spells Trouble for South Asia
resounding victory of the Hindu-nationalist and rabidly anti-secular,
anti-Islam, anti-Pakistan Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in legislative
Assembly elections in the western state of Gujarat has dangerous
implications not just for India's domestic politics, but for the
whole of South Asia. In particular, New Delhi's policies on Kashmir
and on relations with Pakistan are likely to harden further, raising
the threat of conflict and war in this troubled region.
The bitterly fought elections took place only six months after Gujarat
witnessed Independent India's most ghoulish pogrom of a religious
minority, in which 2,000 Muslims were butchered, and many more were
raped, robbed and made homeless. (The violence followed a localised
Hindu-Muslim conflict at Godhra in central Gujarat, in which 58
people, including some BJP supporters, were charred to death in
a rail coach.)
The post-Godhra carnage was planned and organised by the BJP, which
rules Gujarat, along with its ultra-nationalist Hindu-fundamentalist
associates. The party cynically misused the apparatuses of the state,
including the police.
The man centrally responsible for the outrage, and India's own Milosevic,
Narendra Modi, has now just won the state Assembly election with
an unprecedented two-thirds majority of Assembly seats. Modi's dark
victory came from exploiting insensate sectarian violence, fomenting
anti-Muslim hatred, and a Nazi-style campaign which consciously
played on the electorate's insecurities.
Gujarat's is the first major state election which the BJP has won
since 1998. It has given its leadership the new hope that it has
at last found a formula to overcome its long run of defeat after
electoral defeat even if that means killing and maiming innocent
This cynical calculation is likely to impel the BJP to harden its
chauvinist and jingoistic positions, for at least four reasons.
First, the tone and tenor of the BJP's election campaign in Gujarat
was extremely harsh. Its language was so inflammatory as to make
rabidly racist public remarks, say, in the US and Western Europe,
sound almost polite. In his campaign, Modi depended largely on the
BJP's extreme-rightwing associates, in particular the Vishwa Hindu
Parishad (World Hindu Council), notorious for its violent methods
of mobilisation and goon tactics, and the Rashtriya Sewayamsevak
Sangh (National Volunteer Corps), an all-male secret society-type
group established in 1925, which has a history of hero-worshipping
Hitler and Mussolini.
The RSS is the BJP's founder, ideological mentor, and organisational
Modi openly appealed for Hindu votes by maligning all Muslims as
fundamentalists and as agents of Miyan Musharraf (a derogatory reference
to Pakistan's president) who foment terrorism at Islamabad's behest.
He repeatedly raised the emotive issue of the Godhra carnage and
vowed revenge to rescue Gujarat's honour and self-esteem. He also
promoted himself as a modern-day Fuehrer who alone could give the
The sharp polarisation along religious lines brought about by this
campaign enabled the BJP to overcome the unpopularity it had courted
during its term in power on account of its right-wing social policies,
its callousness towards the poor, its mismanagement of the economy,
With the BJP's victory in Gujarat, the Modi Formula of fomenting
violence and the reaping the harvest of hatred seems to have vindicated
the Hindu fundamentalists in the party. Senior BJP leaders have
concluded that a rabidly anti-Pakistan stand pays rich dividends,
as does the cult of authority, militarism and tub-thumping nationalism.
Slogans such as war on terrorism (whose source is always identified
with Pakistan) are particularly useful in the BJP's hate-driven
Even Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP's allegedly soft
face, who often tries to maintain a pretence of moderation, has
succumbed to this logic and publicly praised Modi's tactics and
his campaigning style. On December 17, he maligned Muslims by falsely
claiming that they did not condemn the Godhra killing strongly enough.
He thus tailed Narendra Milosevic Modi.
Second, inside the BJP, the group close to Modi has gained greatly
in political weight thanks to the Gujarat verdict. This group consists
of young Hindu-fascist hardliners, including party president M Venkaiah
Naidu and two general secretaries (Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh).
Until now, Vajpayee was considered the BJP's sole mass-level campaigner,
more or less indispensable to its electioneering. Now, Modi has
emerged as a rabble-rousing rival well to Vajpayee's right.
This, and the sheer magnitude of the BJP's electoral success in
Gujarat, will change inner-party political equations, weakening
the BJP s centre-right parliamentary wing led by Vajpayee, and emboldening
the hardliners, who are fascinated by force and coercion, and who
favour tough, military solutions to problems such as the popular
discontent in Kashmir and crime (related to poverty, jobless growth
and extreme and growing disparities), besides terrorism.
The hardliners will lobby against, and even veto, any initiative
for dialogue and reconciliation in Jammu and Kashmir. If it does
not pursue reconciliation, the Indian government will squander the
great opportunities opened up by the relatively fair and credible
election in that state held recently.
The ugly jingoistic mood among India's conservatives was reflected
in a December 18 court judgment sentencing to death three Kashmiri
men accused in a terrorist attack on India's Parliament House in
December last year on questionable evidence and in wild celebration
of the verdict by right-wing Hindu fascist cadres. The ultra-conservative
influence on the Vajpayee government is set to increase, not decrease.
Third, the Gujarat results have greatly strengthened, indeed elated,
the BJP's non-parliamentary associates like the VHP, the RSS and
the self-avowedly pro-fascist Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. They groups
have now mounted the demand that the BJP must move towards transforming
India into a Hindu or Hindu-supremacist state.
The BJP had four years ago placed in abeyance its own characteristically
Hindu-militant agenda because it would not have otherwise come to
power through a coalition with parties which disagree with that
agenda. The BJP is under pressure to revive and implement that divisive
programme, including imposing a new personal code on the religious
minorities and abrogating Kashmir's special status within the Indian
The VHP's international general secretary Praveen Togadia has declared
Gujarat to be the graveyard of secularism and of the anti-Hindu
politics of Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, no less. He promises to make
India a Hindu state in two years time, through the agency of the
On December 17, two days after the election results were announced,
he vowed to wreak vengeance upon all those who oppose Hindu fundamentalism.
He said that the opponents, like cancer patients, live under a death
sentence, which would be executed by the people. He also said that
in Hindu India, Muslims would become second-class citizens.
The VHP's fascist intolerance and hatred of Pakistan was starkly
revealed in 1999 when it demanded Vajpayee should go to Lahore not
in a bus (as he did), but in a tank. Togadia now exhorts the BJP
to dismember Pakistan.
The BJP is reluctant to condemn such inflammatory hate-speech and
to distance itself adequately from the likes of Togadia. It is likely
to cave in to pressure from the extreme right to maintain a state
of high tension and hostility with Pakistan.
The Vajpayee government has cold-shouldered Pakistan's new civilian
government and also annulled a summit meeting of SAARC (South Asian
Association For Regional Cooperation), which was to be held in Islamabad
in January. Vajpayee did not want to go to Pakistan and shake hands
The non-BJP members of the 24-party ruling alliance, already weak,
have been further marginalised by the Gujarat verdict. They are
unlikely to resist mounting Hindu-sectarian pressure from the extreme
The fourth factor pertains to electoral politics. Half a dozen Indian
states are scheduled to hold Assembly elections next year, including
Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and the Delhi territory,
where the BJP and Sonia Gandhi's Congress confront each other in
bipolar contests. These polls will set the trend for the elections
to the national parliament due in late 2004.
The BJP's current national ratings are abysmally low. It cannot
hope to return to power if they remain there. It will try the most
adventurist, high-risk and grotesque tactics in the coming state
elections to gain some popular support and put the Congress on the
defensive. It will be tempted to use Modi-style violence to create
Hindu-Muslim polarisation, and then exploit that electorally. The
centrists in this right-wing party will not be able to resist that
Thus, the chances of the BJP moderating its political line seem
low. There is a high likelihood that it will adopt tough positions
on a range of issues and build anti-terrorism into a major plank.
Should Pakistani hardliners and fundamentalist militants instigate
a major terrorist attack in India, they will play straight into
the Hindu right's hands and further strengthen the forces of fascism.
Even without their intervention, the South Asian security situation
is set to deteriorate.
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