Beware of vote polarization
Elections are underway and all political parties are desperate in what is by far the most important elections to date.
India’s political landscape has always been differentiated along caste and communal lines and these take centre stage during the run up to every election. Caste has always been a major factor and all parties exploit the sentiment by picking candidates along caste and communal lines, which can swing votes for them. All talk of clean candidates, probity and secularism notwithstanding.
Azam Khan: The trend to polarize votes is pretty clear. One can see the trend picking up with Azam Khan taking the lead in the after math of the Muzzafarnagar riots. This was backed by Mulayam Singh and the Samajwadi Party activists, all making noises with an eye on the elections. With the Samajwadi Party losing support of the traditional Muslim vote bank in the Muzzafarnagar region, the SP immediately shifted focus to Jhansi, the heart of the Bundelkhand region. This is an area dominated by Most Backward Castes (MBC) like the Kachis, Nishads, Kahars, Lachchis, and OBCs, who together influence the 23 Lok Sabha constituencies. Samajwadi Party has tried to refocus in the area with a grand plan to urbanize Jhansi, a belated move to make up the ground lost in the Muzzafarnagar area.
It’s interesting to see Azam Khan trying to gain lost ground with a series of controversial but well-timed comments. He started with taking on Modi, with his “Modi kutte ke bacche ka bada bhai hai” statement knowing fully well that this was going to trigger a reaction. He followed this remark with this statement on Modi “agar hum chote kutte hain to wo bada kutte hain”. That’s exactly what happened.
Not to be outdone, Amit Shah of BJP landed up in Muzaffarnagar to cash in on the change of mood amongst the Hindu voter and swing the Jat votes with his “badla” speech on taking revenge on “murderers of Muzzafarnagar”. Each one trying to outdo the other.
Mulayam Singh Yadav
To make matters worse, Mulayam Singh Yadav belatedly went out of the way to placate the Muslim community when he stooped to make his bizarre speech with reference to the rapists in Mumbai saying “ladke, ladke hain, galti ho jati hai” and went on to say that he would do away with the death penalty. It couldn’t get worse.
And then we have BJP’s Bihar leader, Giriraj Singh, who over zealously tried to curry Modi’s favour by going ballistic with his “back Modi or go to Pakistan” speech, all point to a sense of desperation as the elections have drawn close.
According to reports, on the 19th of April, Praveen Togadia joined up with VHP and Bajrang Dal activists to protest outside the house of a Muslim businessman who had recently purchased a house in a Hindu majority colony. He allegedly instigated the crowd gathered there to take to physical intimidation and force the family to leave. All this when the BJP and Narendra Modi is going all out to woo all sections of society to present a moderate image. The BJP’s muted response to this has not gone down well with most political parties.
Earlier on Feb 1, at a rally near Adilabad district, Togadia made an aggressive speech against Akbaruddin Owaisi of MIM, calling him a ‘dog’. This was apparently in retaliation of a fiery speech against Modi and BJP made earlier by Akbaruddin Owaisi.
So where is all this heading? For how long will the people of India sit by and watch politicians debase themselves in political mudslinging of the lowest order?
Very often a hate speech results in violence as was seen recently in a clash between two communities in Mallipattinam, part of Thanjavur district in Tamil Nadu. 22 persons were subsequently arrested.
Most of the polarization is aimed at areas where there is a larger concentration of Muslim votes. States like U.P., Bihar and West Bengal have been traditional hunting ground for politicians who aim to fragment the vote to their advantage. The loser is always the poor voter who then has to deal with the aftermath for the next five years.
The Election Commission has been taking note but we are yet to see concrete action by way of deterrent, a deterrent that works. The laws are not as stringent and the implementation of the law leaves much to be desired. Politicians know fully well that any action by the Election Commission will take its own time, meanwhile, the votes get polarized prior to voting. This seems to have become standard operating procedure before all elections and most parties are guilty of this.
These are all seasoned politicians and know very well the limits that they can push, however, when compared to the gains of being voted to power, the polarization of the vote banks on religious and communal lines, seems to be a small price to pay. But does it really work?
The only silver lining is that the Indian voter today has become more aware of his rights and thanks to electronic, print and social media, is far better informed than ever. Even the poorest and most illiterate amongst voters understands the futility of voting on caste and communal lines as these have failed to deliver any benefits to them. Across India, opinion poll after poll shows that the ordinary voter is more concerned with the economic and developmental agenda of parties than any communal vitriol.
Time for political parties to wake up and take notice. India is moving on.