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Vote Bank Politics vs. Development-for-All
by H.N. Bali Bookmark and Share

Implication of the Emergence of Narendra Modi - V

Continued from “Challenging Minorityism and Pseudo-secularism”

The Founding Fathers of our Constitution enshrined therein special provisions to evolve an inclusive, egalitarian society devoid of disparities and discriminations that have plagued our past. India would indeed have become a robustly cohesive and inclusive society within a few decades after it became a Republic had those special provisions been implemented and utilized to frame carefully calibrated public policies, and had these been executed in real earnest. Had this happened the present shape of our polity would have been unrecognizably different and today, we should have been contemplating a qualitatively different future.

Unfortunately, even after six and a half decades ours has not become an inclusive society – leaving its citizens where they were as a part of the fragmented and fractious whole. Heterogeneous caste and communal ensembles characterized traditional Indian society. We find ourselves cramped in the same inflexible social mould - perhaps squeezed into a worse shape. And the reason is simple. It is the blatant subversion of the special provisions of the Constitution for narrow partisan politics. The author of this game plan has been the Indian National Congress, which Gandhi was far-sighted enough to recommend the dissolution of on the last day of his life.

I mentioned in the last installment of this essay that Jawaharlal went to Cambridge to do his tripos. This was to redeem his dear father’s (and also his own) fond ambition to qualify for the ICS to join the ruling class of India as another Nehru (Basant Kumar) did. Jawaharlal chose natural sciences to go in for but soon had to change from Physics to Botany because of his of pretty weak mathematics. Later in life, when his father – an apple of whose eye he was – suggested a much easier route to power by clambering on Gandhi’s bandwagon of swaraj, his numerical ability was sound enough to comprehend that one wins an election in a democracy only by polling majority votes.

And that pre-condition is easier achieved if you have an assured bloc of votes. That bloc was provided by the scared flock of Muslims who chose to stay on in Hindu-majority India after Partition, but only after dividing the country on basis of religion.

Vote Bank Politics

Article 44 of the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution of India commits the country to a uniform civil code which, if passed, would have been a giant step towards welding Indians into a forward-looking nation. Nehru chose to cater to the obscurantist Muslim lobby which was opposed to any semblance of modernity to bargain for their abiding political loyalty. Incidentally, all this neat political equation had been struck before the term vote bank was heard of. But this time when the bugles are sounded to herald the electioneering campaign of the 2014 elections, our vote bank politics will, as it comes into full play, will be much discussed.

The ubiquitous term vote-bank was first used by the internationally celebrated Indian sociologist, M. N. Srinivas (who, incidentally, is also acclaimed for coining the much-used terms Sanskritisation and dominant caste). He deployed the term vote bank in his much-discussed 1955 paper entitled “The Social System of a Mysore Village”. (Incidentally Nehru had by then signed and sealed the deal with the Muslim lobby on you-continue-to-live-mired-in-the-past- but-always-vote-for-us terms.)

Srinivas had used the term it in the context of political influence exerted by a patron over a client. (I don’t think he ever implied a cast-in-iron arrangement.) Later, the expression was borrowed by F. G. Bailey, then a professor of anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, in his 1959 book Politics and Social Change, to refer to the electoral influence of the caste leader. This is the usage that has since caught on and, in our society, almost done to death.

Thought the term originally referred to voting along caste lines, it was soon expanded to describe vote banks based on other community characteristics, such as religion, in particular. Its most common citation is Muslims voting en bloc for the Congress Party whose rule alone supposedly ensures their safety and security in a Hindu-dominated India.

Muslim voters thereby exercise a disproportionately high share of influence in elections in states where – see the Table below – their share of total vote is 15% and above.

Percentage Share of Muslim Voters as per 2001 Census
J & K 67%
Assam 31%
West Bengal & Kerala 25%
UP 19%
Bihar 17%
Jharkhand 14%
Karnataka, Delhi, Uttarakhand 12%
Maharashtra 11%
Andhra, Gujarat, Rajasthan 9%
MP, Tamil Nadu, Haryana 6%
Orrisa, HP, Chattisgarh 2%

Why are Muslims Missing Out?

Unfortunately, despite their numerical importance, Indian Muslims aren’t doing well at all. In fact, according to all conventional criteria, India’s Muslims are faring terribly. They are disproportionately likely to be in prison, unemployed, illiterate and poor. India’s economy is growing fast, but the gap between Muslims and other religious groups is widening. Press headlines refer to Muslims as the new dalits – the group, once known as “untouchables”, at the bottom of the Hindu-caste heap. If it is their backwardness that has forced them to be the victims of vote bank politics, it is worthwhile to ascertain what led them into this blind alley.

However, discussing why, or what to do about it, has been taboo in a country proud of its secularism. That is why the findings of the Sachar Committee which investigated the conditions of India’s Muslims, is creating so much heat. And why it was tabled in parliament weeks after it was finished and presented to the Prime Minister.

If we dare to face the issue squarely, the question to ask is: aren’t most of the troubles of Muslims self-inflicted? Who rules the roost in the community: obscurantist imams who equate education with the rote-learning of the hadith sayings, Madrassas such as the Darul-Uloom in Deoband, Uttar Pradesh, which proudly boasts of a curriculum largely unchanged since 1866, hardly equip their students to face the future, and the tragedy is only 3% of Muslim children attend them.

According to Abusaleh Shariff, an economist who compiled much of the data in the Sachar Report, there are two areas where the gap between Muslims and the rest has widened dramatically over the past ten years or so. These are: literacy rates for Muslim girls and poverty rates among urban Muslims. The real key to the amelioration of the Muslims’ lot is in the spread of modern education that equips them to face the challenges of present-day life.

Secularism and Religion

Islam has to resolve the above imperative against the traditionalist view. According to the latter, Islam fuses religion and politics, with normative political values determined by the divine texts. It is argued that this has historically been the case and the secularist / modernist efforts at secularizing politics are little more than jahiliyyah (ignorance), kufr (unbelief), irtidad (apostasy), if not downright atheism. Those who participate in secular politics are, as it were, raising the flag of revolt against Allah and his Messenger.

Saudi scholars denounce secularism as strictly prohibited in Islamic tradition. The Saudi Directorate of ‘Ifta', Preaching and Guidance, has issued a directive decreeing that whoever believes that there is a guidance (huda) more perfect than that of the Prophet, or that someone else’s rule is better than his, is a kafir, an infidel.

Islam and its proponents have to resolve one day this long-pending, long-simmering fundamental issue. No one can help them resolve this. They alone have to find an answer for themselves,

Are Muslim too Supporting Modi?

Meanwhile, the question looms large in the electoral horizons: whom will the Muslims go with in 2014? The question has the ring of a national pastime. Before and after every major election in this country, political analysts and pollsters go into overdrive with their prognostications or post-mortems on the voting patterns of the minority community. But do Muslims really vote en masse as part of tactical approach to keep forces inimical to their interests out of power? Have a look at the following tables and draw your conclusions.

Vote share of Major Politicial Parties in 2009 Elections:

Political Party % of Votes Cast
Congress 28.5%
BJP 18.8%
BSP 6.2%
CP(M) 5.3%

Percentage of Muslim Vote for Congress over Years
1996 31%
1998 33%
1999 40%
2004 37%
2009 38%

Among the few certainties of an Indian election among India’s chattering classes is the myth of an en bloc Muslim vote, which goes to whichever political party looks bending backwards from letting the BJP coming to power. So, therefore, when Mahmood Madani, general secretary of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Hind, claimed recently that some Muslim voters in Gujarat had voted for Narendra Modi in the last election, that time-honored myth wobbled and crumbled.

More striking, however, is that unlike in the past, where other Muslim leaders had to face a strong backlash for any favorable comparisons of Modi, Madani seemed to get away lightly. No fatwa was issued against him. The reason, it appears, is that Maulana Madani’s statement that Muslims in Gujarat voted for Modi reflects ground realities. It is also because Muslims in Gujarat have a better recognition of Modi’s pro-development governance, which has brought economic opportunities for all Gujaratis, whether Muslims, Hindus or others.

There are, however, others who feel that rather than recognition of Modi’s developmental achievements, Madani’s statement is a reflection that the Muslim community wants a recalibrated relationship with the parties that they traditionally support. Syed Ahmed Bukhari, Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid and someone who has been politically over-active in issuing fatwas in favor of one party or the other, with varying degrees of success, too thinks that times have changed.

“Earlier we had a generation that had seen the days of partition, and fear psychosis that was there. Now the new generation feels that just physical security is not enough; we need jobs, opportunities, just like every other deprived section,” says Bukhari. The demand for reservations in government jobs, as recommended by the Ranganath Mishra Commission report, is the new demand from the community. “Earlier our politics was confined to the thana, whoever could offer us physical protection from riots and police harassment got our vote; now the demands are different,” he adds.

Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, who lost his job as rector of the second biggest Islamic seminary in the world, the Darul Uloom Deoband, for even hinting that Modi’s development politics could be emulated, says that an aspirational middle class is developing among the Muslims, and it too wants the same opportunities available to other sections of society.


More than Tokenism

An unfortunate attribute of our polity is that Modi and the BJP have long been used as a bogey to compel the Muslim community to vote for one or the other of these so-called secular parties. It looks like not working anymore. Nonetheless, it may be too early for an electoral myth of this proportion to break in 2014. Still, Nitish Kumar’s success in Bihar, where he broke Lalu Prasad Yadav’s powerful Muslim plus Yadav combination despite an alliance with the BJP, coupled with the AIUDF’s march in Assam, point to definite cracks in the monolith of the Muslim vote.

While religion may or does play a significant role, it is less clear how it translates into voting pattern. “Politically speaking, there is no single unified Muslim community in India,” writes Yogendra Yadav, a political scientist who designed and coordinated the National Election Studies, the largest series of academic surveys of the Indian electorate, from 1996 to 2004. He argues that “Muslims are fragmented along the lines of religion, sect, caste, and community.” Economic issues too are also intertwined with issues of religion and caste. Indian Muslims, who experience high poverty rates, voted for Congress for decades because of its secular platform and promised reforms. Unlike most minorities in most democracies around the world, Indian Muslims, Yadav says, have not voted for Muslim parties. Nor do they vote en bloc, “like, say, the black vote in the United States for the Democratic Party or the UK’s ethnic minorities who largely vote for the Labour Party,” he says.

The Modi Model

It goes to Modi’s profound credit that in Gujarat he completely bypassed the overblown religious divide and concentrated on development, and this development was under-pinned by faith in development-for-all. One of Modi’s strengths is the vision to identify an idea or a project that will benefit all and take it ahead, braving all odds. A much needed link road is built. All are its users. A desperately needed hospital facility is provided. Who benefits from it? All. Hindus as much as Muslims.

Take another example: the much-applauded Jyotirgram Yojana, which has ensured 24-hour, three-phase domestic power to all of Gujarat’s 18,000 villages. In 2003, an expert gave Modi the idea of delinking the agriculture power feeder by laying a separate feeder line for domestic supply in every village, so that the latter could be free from power cuts. The CM at once picked up the idea. It meant laying a mindboggling 90,000 km of separate power lines in the state. He faced stiff opposition from power officials who called it infeasible. India Today columnist Uday Mahurkar recorded: ‘One such official, who is now a Modi admirer, told me: “Hats off to him. He did it despite adverse pressure from the bureaucracy.” The same bureaucracy now admires him for systems he has devised for speedy deliverance of his schemes.’

I take liberty of quoting the following from the December 7, 2007 issue of India Today listing the achievements of Gujarat under Modi. I’ve no reasons to believe that the management of the nationally reputed weekly has been influenced enough to take its facts and figures unchecked and unverified. I also believe that by 2007 when this was written, the contemporary paid news racket had not yet started.

If development alone is the criterion to judge Narendra Modi, then he gets AAAA+ in his six-year rule. Many of his projects are changing the face of Gujarat.

  • Jyotirgram Power Scheme:
    The scheme ensures 24-hour, three-phase domestic power supply to all 18,000 Gujarat villages, spurring an economic revolution in villages and reverse migration from city to villages in many parts.
  • Girls’ Education Scheme:
    The main feature is that both ministers and IAS officers go to villages for three days in a year to persuade parents to send their daughters to school. It has seen the girl drop-out rate in schools sliding from 48 to 3%
  • Beti Bachao Andolan:
    The Beti Bachao drive of the Government aimed at preventing female feticide through a joint awareness campaign by government, NGOs and people’s representatives has seen the sex-ratio improve from 802 to 870 since 2001.
  • Industrial Investment:
    The success of the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investment Summits hosted by Modi received recognition from RBI recently when it pegged the investment coming to Gujarat at Rs. 76,000 crore which equals the figures of Maharahtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu put together.
  • Highest Growth Rate in the Country:
    Gujarat registered the highest growth rate of 10.6 per cent in the country during the first four years of the 10th five-year plan that ended last March as against the national figure of 7.2 per cent during the same period.
  • Non-populist Governance Based on Accountability:
    A largely populist-free model of governance that aims at accountability. It also means few sops to people. In the power sector the government has not hesitated to slap cases on farmers indulging in power theft. This and other measures ensured that the state’s power set-up wiped out a combined loss of Rs. 2,200 crore and posted a profit of Rs. 200 crore last year. The government could carry out power reforms better and faster than most other states.
  • Good Governance Marked by Fiscal Discipline:
    Gujarat became a revenue surplus state from a revenue deficit state after a gap of 15 years. The revenue deficit was Rs. 6,700 crore when Modi tookover in 2001. Two State PSU’s Gujarat State Fertilizer Company and Gujarat Alkalies and Chemicals which were running into losses turned into profit-making units.
  • People’s Participation: The Government has tried to involve people in governance, creating a rare model of people’s participation. For example, the urban development drive to upgrade small municipal towns last year sent the tax collections soaring simply because the people were motivated to pay their taxes. Developmental works worth Rs. 300 crores were also carried out with the help of private donations. When it celebrated e-governance year last year the state got a huge number of computers as donations in villages from local residents.
  • Petro-capital of India:
    State PSU Gujarat State Petrochemicals has made Gujarat the petro-capital of India by laying a 2,200 km gas grid in the state of which 1,400 kms is already complete. Huge natural gas and crude oil reserves were found in Krishna-Godavari basin. The gas grid is expected to give a major fillip to industrial production because gas is much cheaper than naphtha which most industrial units had been using so far.
  • Achievements in Agriculture Sector: The state has given soil health cards to more than half of the 38 lakh farmers in the state to enable them to comprehend the quality of the soil on their farms and decide on precise crop pattern and the right fertilizers. 700 scientists from the four agricultural universities of the state have been involved in educating the farmers on crop patterns and fertilizers. This move won praise from eminent agro scientist, M.S. Swaminathan.
  • Unique National Security Model: The state has set up a unique security model based on tight vigilance and effective action due to which not a single terror attack has taken place in Gujarat in the last five years while cities like Delhi and Mumbai get hit by terrorists.

And the model isn’t like our Five Year Plans – largely paper exercises. They have delivered results and those affected thereby have repeatedly endorsed them.

Years and decades hence when the controversial man departs from the contemporary political stage, posterity will, I’m sure, be indulgent enough to give Narendra Modi at least the credit of turning a new leaf in the history of our polity by endeavoring to substitute development-for-all backed by good governance for opportunistic pseudo-secularism and minorityism. Indeed, he can, like Othello, the Moor of Venice claim:

I have done the state some service, and they know’t.
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well.....

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