The spectacular victory of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh (UP) has left many flabbergasted, prompting them to question the level of political consciousness among people in India. The ultra-right Hindu nationalist party has clinched a substantial number of seats in Goa, Manipur and Punjab.
Riding on the wave of victory, the BJP is likely to follow its ruthless communal agenda more vigorously. This might tear the social fabric of Indian society. The heavy mandate in UP might embolden the thugs of Hindu revivalist outfits to further stifle the voice of the minorities. The victory seems to have legitimised their rapaciousness and violent acts against Muslims, Christians, Dalits and other marginalised communities.
It is disheartening to see communal forces that distort history, paint hate-spitting leaders as great heroes and declare demagogues and murderers as visionaries hold sway. Such developments do not augur well for India’s democracy that has already been plagued by rampant corruption, nepotism, cronyism and the criminalisation of politics. It is difficult to digest how a nation that boasts about its burgeoning middle class, democratic values and secular principles ends up voting retrogressive forces into power.
Criticism of India should not be meant to hide our faults. It would be a blatant lie to deny the presence of hate-mongers in the land of the pure. In fact, the religious right also wields immense influence in the country. They are adroit at creating a positive perception about themselves. It was the major religious parties of undivided India that had opposed the creation of Pakistan. But today they are the greatest champions of patriotism and Islamic ideology. They once pledged their allegiance to transnational terror outfits. But today they claim to have an unflinching loyalty to the state.
But this influence has never translated into votes. Despite the blanket support extended to the religious right by state institutions, the Middle East and transnational organisations, their obscurantist ideology failed to solicit votes from people. Even millions of dollars from the US and other Western countries could not help the religious right gain electoral strength. In the electoral history of Pakistan, they have been political orphans most of the time, devoid of people’s support.
The first fair and transparent general elections of the country’s history are a testament to it. The people of Pakistan overwhelmingly voted for the secular and nationalist Awami League, the socialist PPP and the left-leaning National Awami Party. The religious right – whose courage and bravery lies in targeting minority groups and the weaker sections of society – turned out to be a minority in a parliament dominated by secular, nationalist and socialist elements.
Frustrated at this electoral drubbing, the religious right hobnobbed with the non-democratic forces and targeted Bengali nationalists and masses. Their role in the tragedy of East Pakistan did not earn them any respect in the eyes of the Pakistani people who despised their hypocrisy and exploitation of religion to serve political ends. A combination of ZA Bhutto’s sledgehammer tactics, his feudalistic way of rule and support of invisible power helped the religious right gain strength. They hurled religious decrees against Bhutto and engaged in character assassination. But after his first arrest – when Bhutto was released and ventured out on a political campaign – people thronged public places to catch a glimpse of the leader vilified by mullahs. His mammoth public gatherings once again sounded alarm bells. The clerics stoked religious hatred, declaring liberals infidels and socialists atheists to counter the electoral strength of the PPP. But when Ziaul Haq reluctantly expressed his intention to hold elections, they were the ones who pleaded him not to do so, fearing the victory of the deposed prime minister.
A decade-long patronage of the religious parties by Zia did not yield any substantial results and they performed miserably in the polls of 1988. It was once again the PPP that emerged as the single largest party in parliament. Two factions of the JUI-F secured eight seats in the National Assembly while other religious parties managed to win a few – and that too through an alliance with Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League. The religious parties remained a tiny minority in the three subsequent assemblies as well.
It was again a military dictator – Pervez Musharraf – who pampered the clerics, helping them to form Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which his critics sarcastically called the Mullah Military Alliance. For the first time in history, the alliance of religious parties won 63 National Assembly seats. But this fake mandate evaporated in the general elections of 2008 when the PPP and the PML-N were allowed to contest it. The religious parties were again reduced to the periphery of the National Assembly, securing around 10 seats only. The general elections of 2013 further dented the position of religious parties, helping them win an insignificant number of seats in the lower house.
The purpose of these details is to show that when it comes to political consciousness, the public in Pakistan are much ahead of Indian voters. In Pakistan, people like Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar and Zaid Hamid can never make it to parliament. Despite being less experienced in democratic practices, Pakistanis cannot be lured into voting for clerics, religious fanatics and hate-mongers.
In the previous general polls, Pakistanis overwhelmingly voted for a person who publicly declared his intentions to have friendly ties with all neighbours, including India. He was, in fact, given a mandate to ease tension with its archrival. The success of this initiative can be debated. However, everyone in Pakistan and India knows who were responsible for reducing the chances of normalising ties with India: the war-mongers in both countries.
From developments in the software industry to advancements in medical research, India may teach many things to Pakistan. But in the matter of political consciousness, India’s experienced democrats need to learn from the fragile democracy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where India is no longer an agenda of electoral politics, India-bashing does not arouse nationalistic sentiments among Pakistanis. And people might be afraid of religious fanatics and hate-mongers but vent their anger through the ballot box by overwhelmingly rejecting such elements.
The writer is a Karachi-based freelance
Abdul Sattar, "Political consciousness," The News. 2017-03-14.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Religious parties , Military alliance , Dictator , Democrats , Minorities , Gen Zia , Nawaz Sharif , Pakistan , India , PPP , PMLN , JUIF