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India after the Ballot Count

A Report

"many political analysts anticipate the fall of the Vajpayee cabinet within two years"
At an informative meeting held at CERAS on Friday the March 13, Daya Varma, president of CERAS, and Feroz Mehdi, coordinator, analysed the results of the Indian election and discussed the future of India with three prominent journalists from India.

It is now official: the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu fundamentalist formation, has been asked to constitute the next government, the fifth one in two years. However, not all is lost suggests Vinod Mishra, editor of the journal Liberation. He warns that the communal forces are gaining power and that this implies an increase in violence in Bihar accompanied with a reinforcement of the feudal structures that oppress Dalits (untouchables, outcastes) and peasants. Yet this increased power may cause them to show their hand and expose their true nature leading to their eventual undoing. Mishra also notes that it is significant that the BJP, hoping to win 30 seats in Bihar, only obtained 19. At the same time, he notices that other parties such as the Communist party are responding vigorously to these feudal and communal elements. (Misra's own party got 20 000 more votes than the last time in Arrah, district of Bihar..)

In fact, he believes that the polarization of ideologies may force the people and parties committed to a secular and democratic India to take the threat of Hindu fundamentalism seriously and get organized to "combat communalism." In other words, instability is not such a bad thing in the long run.

In the state of Maharashtra, where the BJP acquired few seats in this election, Teesta Setalvad, editor of a magazine called Communalism Combat, explains that they are perceived as an extremely corrupt, and exploitative party. On the other hand, there is little trust in the Congress which has dominated Indian politics since independence. The Congress has been plagued in recent years with ac cusations of corruption and has not succeeded in eliminating poverty. The "Dynasty" party is also criticized for its lack of openness and democratic principles within the party.

Setalvad sees the continued rise of Sonia Gandhi as inevitable but hopes she will steer clear of syncophancy and fight corruption in her party. Setalvad relates a local joke as saying that while the Congress party is not uncorrupt, they have been in power for so long that they do not have to squeeze as mercilessly as the BJP or the Shiv Sena.

Finally, Asad Zaidi, coordinator of the South Asian Network of Alternative Media, predicts that the BJP will not succeed in forming a stable government. In fact, many political analysts anticipate the fall of the Vajpayee cabinet within two years. Zaidi argues for the need for a realignment in Indian politics and suggests that Left Wing parties could unite to form a coalition to halt the BJP. He notes that politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloor Prasad Yadav who held firm to their convictions fared well. The electorate has shown its distaste for bankrupt politicians and parties.

The BJP has been getting organized for many years now. Growing out of a cultural organization founded to promote Hindu glory (RSS), they spread their influence and the tenets of their well-structured ideology, Hindutva, throughout the various layers of society: schools, trade unions, and community groups, and they foster divisions among religious, ethnic, class/caste groups.

The strength of the BJP, a grass roots movement based on a unified ideology, means, according to Daya Varma, that it can only be defeated in the long run by promoting the benefits of secularism and democracy at a mass level in India, as well as in North America where there is an important community of Indians who support the BJP.

CERAS is disturbed by the results of the recent election and is working to create a coalition of groups of non-resident Indians to pursue its goal of promoting secularism and democracy in South Asia.

-Dolores Chew &
Gabrielle Collu

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