Congress secular card rings hollow

By Balbir Punj
Published: 19th October 2013 06:00 AM
Last Updated: 19th October 2013 12:54 AM
By some strange coincidence Union finance minister P Chidambaram’s description of the coming general elections as an ideological battle between “secular” parties and the RSS, and the statement of general secretary of the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind Maulana Madani warning the secular parties, especially the Congress, not to hold up Narendra Modi as a bugbear to win Muslim votes, have come very close to each other.
Madani is not saying, he explained in a discussion with NDTV, that Muslims would vote for the BJP, but that they are no longer taken in by the Congress projection of Modi as a threat to their interests. The Congress, he said, instead should come out with what the party has done for the community in 60 years, accusing it of only exploiting the bugbear of BJP and not doing anything in effect for the Muslims. This would no longer work, he asserted.
If Chidambaram wants the country to perceive the general elections as an ideological contest, at least the main targets of such a propaganda — Muslims — according to a leader of the community, are no longer going to be herded along as was happening earlier.
In addition Madani sahib is underlining the failure of the ruling party to implement its promises to his community. The failure of the Congress to perform is a common ground on which not just the opposition as a whole, the BJP in particular, but other people, the business chambers, economists and public figures agree. Policy paralysis has become a buzzword in almost every assessment of this government by many organisations and individuals.
No wonder Chidambaram is hoping to draw a curtain on this paralysis and non-performance by raising the ideological scarecrow. So far the BJP or its leaders and spokesmen have hardly raised the issue of Hindutva. Their focus is development and they have success stories of BJP-ruled states, particularly Gujarat, to showcase. The Union FM cannot digest this truth. He, like his party, desperately needs to divert attention from this contrast.
In America Chidambaram has been delivering tub-thumping speeches hoping to dent the widespread impression among US investors that doing business in India is too big a risk. Even as our FM is pleading with American industry to invest in India, Wal-mart, the world’s largest retailer, has announced its withdrawal from its proposed Indian joint venture.
The repository of global financial voice, the IMF, has mocked Chidambaram by reporting that instead of his claim of 4.75 to 5 per cent growth, this financial year will see a 3.5 per cent growth that economists derided as the Hindu rate of growth in the 60s and 70s. The twin body blows to his claims have already grounded the FM in Washington, where he is desperately trying to revive global investors’ interest in India that they are watching with apprehension from a distance. Wal-mart’s explanation for its withdrawal that bribes had to be paid in India for business to move forward has truly dented any appeal he might make to international finance. This fiasco and the exposure of the Congress-led government in the US as a bribe-taking entity drives the last nail on the ruling party’s coffin as it tries to perch atop a moral high ground.
As if these blows are not enough the CBI has registered an FIR against top industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and Hindalco in Coalgate. The then coal secretary has also been named in the FIR as an accused. All of this comes at a time when the government desperately needs more investment to arrest the slowdown of growth and all the reforms that Chidambaram is promising do not seem to enthuse the investors in the country, much less abroad.
Other self-styled secularists are also alarmed by the surge in the popular response to the BJP’s focused agenda to rid India of a corrupt and paralysed, non-performing government. The non-performance is writ large on Madani’s statement. Even the traditional supporters of the Congress are now reconsidering their position. And not just the Congress, the other so-called “secularists” are also shaken. The large-scale riots in Muzaffarnagar have especially brought home to the Muslims that a so-called secular state government is no guarantee of their safety. The riots are also casting a shadow on the overall picture of the general elections.
As the undercover activities of several SP and BSP leaders from the minority community get unearthed by investigators, a picture is emerging of Muslim leaders of the two parties singularly trying to provoke the riots to project their election slogan of “Islam in danger”. Only this time, the game turned against them and the inefficiency and inability of the SP government led to huge loss of lives among the Muslims, calling into question the so-called “secular” claims of these competitors in appeasement.
The result will be evident when reports about the rally that Modi is to address at Kanpur come out. But the curtain has already been drawn for parties like SP who use the Modi bogey to get votes (in Madani’s words), reflected by the scale of security arrangement the SP government is making for the event: seven SP-ranked officials, eight ASPs, 15 DySPs, 40 inspectors, 700 constables, 100 women constables, et al.
A leftist columnist claimed the other day in a English daily with multiple editions that the alleged attempt at molesting a Hindu college girl while she was being escorted through a Muslim locality did not take place at all. This claim is in complete contrast to the report in the same newspaper earlier of an interview by a reporter with the victim who described in detail the harassment she had undergone along with her brother. It’s precisely this sort of cover-up and denial of truth by the “secularists” that is responsible for ugly situations like the recent Muzaffarnagar riots.
Look at the various electoral survey results, with Modi and BJP leading far ahead in people’s preference. Here is a leader with proven abilities, free from either discrimination or appeasement. Chidambaram and his cohorts may have to invent other ploys than characterising the electoral battle as an ideological confrontation to stop the wave. Or maybe he will be like king Canute ordering the waves to recede?
Balbir Punj is National Vice President, BJP. E-mail:
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