Report of the Seminar

What sets the 2014 elections apart 14th June, 2014, Mumbai

Introduction/ Background:

Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) organized a seminar to analyze the outcome of the general elections for the 16thLok Sabha and to understand its implications. The seminar took place at the Economic department of the Mumbai University on 14thJune, 2014. The elections gave a thumping majority to the ruling party and its imperative to understand this mandate of people. It’s a matter of concern that communal violence in Godra, Gujarat took place on a large scale claiming numerous lives and property of innocent Muslims under the rule of the same party. The Gujarat government had come under the scanner of global community and international organizations for human rights violation. It was thought that it would be a rather interesting exercise to analyze what were the factors that led to different sections of society to vote in a manner that led to such an outcome of the elections. It’s also significance to study what is the possible role of civil society as a watchdog of rights in this scenario. With this in mind, CSSS organized this seminar.

Objectives of the seminar:

  • To understand the various factors that led to the outcome of the election
  • To understand the implications of the elections on various vulnerable groups
  • To examine the role of the civil society in future to protect democracy and secularism

Nature of the Seminar:

The seminar was inaugurated by Kumar Ketkar who gave a keynote address. Kumar Ketkar is a senior journalist and political commentator. This session was chaired by Teesta Setalvad who is a prominent human rights activist who fought for justice of Bombay and Godhara riots victims.

Kumar Ketkar gave a brief historical overview of a century to explain the various threats to liberal values in Indian society. He explained how there the three major transitions that are highlighted in this election- State of ideology, the State itself, Society and the pattern in manifestation of social and economic formations. He elaborated on the three by citing important landmarks in history and events worldwide. Russian Revolution of 1917 had a significant influence on the Fabian Socialist. Pandit Nehru too was influenced by the Russian revolution and the Fabian socialists. Tilak also wrote favorably about Lenin. However in Britain in the period of 1914- 1920, there was a shift from liberal to hardliner ideology. By 1942, both liberals and hardliners in India and Britain perceived Hitler as a main threat though Indians were fighting against imperialism. So there was a fight against Fascism from all ideological quarters. In 1947 Indian independence came with partition of the country. But Indian state was not formed at independence. India as a State started evolving only after 1947. State was also being formed in Pakistan. India however embraced parliamentary democracy and socialistic pattern of society. Parliamentary democracy was due to its commitment to liberal ethos. However due to the fair working of this system as compared to disintegrating states around India, India had a sense of pride in its democracy. This also bred an intellectual laziness and ideological complacency since we started taking liberal values and democracy for granted. This largely contributed to the outcome of this election. Everyone took it for granted that Congress will be in power forever and can be used as a punching bag.  Nature of state itself is undergoing a change.

He chalked out the various ‘waves’ in Indian history to understand the elections. First was the ‘Indira Gandhi wave’ where after being thrown out of the party by the then congress president, she formed her own party and wins with a thumping majority in 1971. This was also owing to nationalization of banks and independence of Bangladesh. However due to emergency and other factors this Indira wave faded. Second wave was the ‘Jai Prakash Narayan or JP wave’ n which NGOs have their roots. Janata party cashed on it and came to power. But this wave also didn’t last for long. In the same way there was ‘Rajiv Gandhi wave’. That also didn’t last. However all these ‘waves’ took place within the framework of a Congress system. This elections have dismantled the Congress system. The significance of the Congress system was that it was based on Nehruvian values which meant politics of inclusion. In the past, DK movement in the south, Khalistan movement in Punjab, Shiv Sena movement in Maharashtra and Mandal movement all started and sustained under the Congress system of politics. Though these movements gained strength, it did not go against the Congress system.

In this election, BJP only got 31% of vote share. In 1971, Congress led by Indira Gandhi also had only 40% of vote share. The RSS influenced this win by reaching out to the middle class which has lever of power. The rhetoric of development also played a major role in this win. However this ‘development’ claim has to be examined since the sensex in Manmohan Singh’s regime skyrocketed from 5800 to 20000. The sales of automobiles also went up in spite the criticism of price rise of fuel by the Congress government. Thus the poor are adversely affected by price rise and not the middle class. The middle class in fact benefitted. And ironically, the same middle class voted the new government into power.

Teesta Setalvad’s comments as Chair:

She flagged the issue of rightward shift in the state apparatus which took place gradually even in the UPA regime of two terms. There is a convergence of religo-social with economic paradigm. The trends in voting in Maharashta were particularly disturbing with BJP getting a vote share of 47% as compared to 16% by congress and 17% by Nationalist Congress party. She pointed out that there is a rightward shift even in the judiciary’s response to poverty or economic policies of the governments. In this scenario, individual small scale responses won’t be adequate. Middle class is not concerned with caste issues and there is an atmosphere of divisions and confusion. A thought should also be spared to examine if the electronic voting machines are healthy for democracy.

Anand Teltumde The next session was to understand the elections from Dalit perspective, Muslims’ perspective and the process of Hindutva. Anand Teltumde who is an author and human rights activist. Speaking from dalit perspective, he said, In India though untouchability is abolished, caste still prevails. It is a misconception that Congress assimilated or represented interests of all castes. Congress protected bourgeois forces. Capitalism had a dream run till 1970s and then there was a crisis in capitalism. In response to this neo liberalism emerged. Individual was the center of this ideology. Co-option of Dalits was started by Congress in Maharashtra. The BSP in UP for only 18.9% of Dalit vote share. BSP provides a cover to Dalits and protects them from backlash of other castes. In spite of this the vote share of BSP gradually kept going down. This was a gradual process and didn’t happen suddenly in this election. Muslims supported the SP. System of electoral politics especially the First Past The Post system must be deliberated.

Adv. Irfan Engineer, director of CSSS, explained that Muslims don’t constitute a homogeneous community. They are divided on lines of language and regions. BJP feared not getting Muslim votes thus they formulated a strategy of dividing Muslim votes as was already done in Gujarat. Sadbhavana mission of Modi was the tool to divide Muslims. In meetings, he always invited only one section of the Muslim community. The elite Muslims need state patronage for their survival and have to play along with whoever is in power. He wooed the Syedna who is the religious head of the affluent Bohra community – a trading community. This experiment of dividing Muslim votes was consciously carried out in 2014 elections. The objective of the BJP was to unite Hindus and to divide Muslims on the other hand. Subramanium Swami also admitted his strategy. Communal riots were instigated and carried out to polarize communities eg. Muzzafarnagar riots. This is the first time that there are no Muslim from UP in the Parliament. From Muslim majority constituencies like Bhiwandi, Moradabad, Bareilly there is no Muslim representative. There are only 23 Muslims in the Parliament. Which is the lowest number of Muslims since 1962. Muslims also voted for BJP. Around 10% Muslims have always voted for BJP. Fundamentalist Muslims and elite class worked against Congress. But still there was no Muslim representative from Maharashtra in the Parliament. Maximum number of Muslim parliamentarians is sent from Trinamool Congress. On a whole this further reduced political representation from Muslim community is a matter of concern which will further push them into backwardness.

Ram Puniyani, author and activist, Chairperson of CSSS, said, Hindutva is not a religion. It is a politics. During the freedom struggle there was a friction between Ambedkar and RSS. Ambedkar was against Manusmriti and RSS opposed the Constitution which they perceived as full of western values. RSS suppresses marginalized groups like women, Dalits and Adivasis. RSS didn’t want to come to political power immediately. But it wanted to mould sections of society in its ideology. Thus it opened institutions for cultural and educational propaganda. Modi’d chief tool of victory was polarization of communities. RSS spread misconceptions regarding minorities. Kerela, west Bengal and Tamil Nadu are states where BJP couldn’t make a dent as there were no major instances of communal violence.

The real concern under this regime is the attack on the values of pluralism, diversity and liberalism. Democracy is a journey. Social movements must be given space to thrive and make civil society more active. This threat won’t come only through administration, police or army but through culture an education propagated by the right nationalist forces. Work has to be done to protect liberal spaces.

Shama Dalwai, a women’s activist and retd. Professor of economics comments, in her comment as chair said, youth and women have voted on the patterns of the communities they belong to. The assumptions that these groups take independent stand and vote differently has been proven wrong. The Muslims felt positively about AAP but didn’t reflect in the election results.

The third session was to understand the two main factors in the elections- role of media and the discourse of development. Jatin Desai, journalist, a political commentator and lauded for his role in the initiative of dialogue process between India and Pakistan compared to previous elections, the role of media in this election has been more pronounced. Rs. 36,000 crores was spent on media in this election. In this election, Modi spent the most on media- Rs. 10,000 crores. Rs. 1.86 crores was paid every day for carrying out advertisements in Times of India each day. Paid news as a phenomenon started in 2009 Lok Sabha election. The feeling emerged that paid news must be controlled. 270 cases of paid news came before the Maharashtra Media Certification and Monitoring Committee. 4 cases came to appeal. Modi was widely covered by print and TV media. Modi always placed a condition before the news channels that f they want his interviews they will have to provide him the questions beforehand and ask non controversial questions.  Network 18 will be owned by Mukesh Ambani. These changes in the way media operates can be expected. People have not only voted on communal basis but also on ‘development’ basis.

Milind Ranade, associated with struggles of various marginalized groups and a prominent left activist, said, In 1991, new economic policy was introduced by Manmohan Singh which still prevails. Three sections benefitted the most due to this policy- traders, industrialist and upper middle class. They were precisely the three sections who bitterly criticized Manmohan Singh and voted Congress out. Though disparity between classes has increased but the poor hasn’t become poorer. Last drought was critical in Maharashtra but there was no migration to Mumbai from other parts of Maharashtra. Manmohan Singh increased the size of the cake but the distribution of the cake/ wealth was not equitable. Manmohan Singh came to power with the common minimum programme with the help of Left support. He also signed the Nuclear deal with the US in the face of bitter opposition thus dispelling the myth that he is a weak PM. Industrialists voted for UPA in 2009. Till mid 2011 there seemed no challenge to Congress. But scams surfaced coupled with Anna Hazare’s movement. Congress handled it badly and the perception strengthened that the government is corrupt.  The beheading of the soldiers and the government giving a clean chit to the Pakistan government further infuriated the masses. This led to the hunt for the ‘strong’ Prime Minister. RSS and capitalists forwarded Narendra Modi as the answer. The bourgeois class played an overt role in this election. Modi spent mammoth amount of money in Varanasi.

He polarized the society. He spread the misconception of development of Gujarat to win. He wanted to destroy the remnants of the Nehruvian policy. Left’s portrayal by Modi as anti development was also deliberate and calculated move. A left of the centre approached needed now. The role of social media is also to be examined in this victory. There is a need to discuss Nehruvian policy again.

Open Session:

  • Poor candidates in electoral fray must be helped for clean politics
  • There must be more meetings where people from different fields must come together on the common forum to discuss these issues
  • More work to be done with youth
  • Focus on press and media
  • Organize lectures in colleges and youth forums
  • More trainings with youth and community keeping in mind how they are brainwashed in a systematic way by RSS
  • Social movements must be strengthened and united
  • Work must be done with middle class which ensured this win
  • Intervention towards ensuring compensation to Muslim youth who are imprisoned without bases must be designed
  • Political and police reforms
  • Social media must be used to attract youth to secular and democratic movement
  • One meeting each month for follow up must be organized
  • More interaction between Hindus and Muslims to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions
  • Review policies in groups and lobby with the government