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Pre-Election Chimera: MOCKERY OF POLARISING VOTES, By Dr.S.Saraswathi, 23 Oct, 2013 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 23 October 2013                                                                                                              

Pre-Election Chimera


By Dr.S.Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR)


In a letter to Chief Ministers the Union Home Minister Shinde asked them to ensure no innocent Muslim youth is wrongly detained in terror cases along-with providing legal assistance to those lodged in jails. After several objections of Muslims being singled out were raised, the Ministry clarified it applied to all minorities.


Predictably, various Opposition Parties condemned this move to divide the nation on communal lines. Coming on the heels of communal riots in UP’s Muzaffarnagar district it provoked accusations of the Congress’s conspiracy and strategy to polarise voters on communal lines, read Hindus and Muslims.


Specially against the backdrop that the communal flare-up took place in Muzaffarnagar known for people of different communities living in peaceful co-existence thereby  raising suspicion about the role of Parties with an eye on forthcoming Parliamentary election.  Namely, by polarising voters on a caste and community basis.


Unfortunately, innumerable social groups are receiving recognition for preferential treatment from political leaders for various purposes.  However, when it relates to a question of law and justice, it raises several questions vis-à-vis the ‘hidden’ intentions behind this move.  As our Constitution guarantees equality before law and precludes special treatment to any group.


Worse, mutually contradictory developments in electoral politics are glaringly visible today adding more confusion to the already confused electorate.  One is the multiplication of State-level and regional Parties and the other are attempts at polarisation of electors particularly by the national Parties.


The first is an outcome of diverse interests, needs, and aspirations of groups of people seeking political expression and support for fulfilling them.  The latter is the result of Parties seeking to build a Parliamentary majority by bringing together like-minded Parties against pinpointed opponents.


Pertinently, co-existence and co-development of both trends have become   necessary wherein it is linked with various dimensions of the political processes ---- rise of identity politics, establishment of alliance politics and formation of coalition Governments.


Notably, bi-polarism refers to a division in to two on extremely opposite ideological stand.  Divergence indicates absence of a meeting ground as well as obstinate adherence to their position by two Parties on the opposite political spectrum.


In fact, polarised pluralism is a term coined by Sartori to describe a two-Party or multi-Party system where moderate views are replaced by antagonistic ideas.  It refers to sharply different approaches to an issue with no reasonable or compromise middle positions.  A classic case was seen in Germany when it was split between Communists and National socialists (Nazis).


But in our country, polarization attempts are sometimes issue-related and other times on Party lines overlooking individual Party preferences.


In the USA, the phenomenon of polarisation is prevalent but during the two World Wars it declined drastically for the sake of national unity. For instance Liberal-conservative division is noticeable on race-related issues which is increasing polarisation of political elites presently. 


Besides, there is more reference to polarisation politics in the current pre-election period in India than at any pre-election period in the past.  It is part of the communal politics played more in political rhetoric than in actual field.  As such, polarization is more in the imagination and strategy of interested Parties than in the minds of the voters.  


Moreover, the Further the anti-incumbency phenomenon present today is evidence of the lack of polarisation of the electorate. Consequently, the principal actors in this polarisation game are Parties/groups and not the voting public.


This game uses communal affiliations as one of the effective factors of fusion and fission. Importantly, communalism in India is not restricted to religious groups.  It may divide members of the same religion also. 


Caste and sub-caste conflicts, linguistic differences, Dalit and non-Dalit disputes, practices of “untouchability”,   tribal and non-tribal clash of interests, OBC-SC competitive demands, Shia- Sunni interface all are communal divisions. 


As also some of the dictates of the khap panchayats    and instances of “honour killing” of inter-caste couples are manifestations of communalism within a region and religion.  


In its wider sense, ethnic, sectarian, and linguistic groups that display political divisions are also involved in communal politics.  Concepts like “sons of the soil”,  remedies like the Reservation Policy and  “Mulki Rules”,  propaganda against people from outside a State as aliens, outsiders, migrant workers designated with the epithet “non”  like “non-Maharashtrian” or “non-Assamese” are also forms of communalism in a plural society.   They can divide people into distinct and often antagonistic groups.


Indeed, appeal to communal feelings by political groups is common to catch bulk votes but, it is an undesirable phenomenon.  It is violation of the elections model code of conduct.  Sadly, Parties which are supposed to provide political education are failing miserably in their responsibility when they recognise and pamper groups for political patronage.


Clearly, people want elections to be free.  This freedom lies not just in going to the booth and casting a vote to register   one’s will without any overt compulsion.  But the voting choice must be based on one’s informed opinions.  Therefore, there has to be freedom in forming opinions.


Undeniably, rumours, lies, exaggerations and false promises mislead the public into framing opinions that are not free and are behind many instances of communal clashes. Thereby, public opinion summing up “unfree” individual opinions portends a dangerous trend.  Alas, whosoever tries to create such public opinion is playing anti-national politics.


Significantly, a leading political scientist points that in many instances the public has no opinion even in advanced democracies but only a very articulate public feeling made up of moods and sentiments.   The average voter does not act, but only reacts to simulations and provocations.  It is this weakness that is exploited by Parties in India to whip up parochial attachments to build non-existing support.


Recall, bi-polar consolidation of political forces started in Indian politics in the late 1960s in some States and in the 1970s, a bi-polar alliance of Congress vs. Left Parties emerged in three States, Kerala, West Bengal, and Tripura. 


In five other States the Congress and a regional Party became contenders to power in the 1970s and 1980s.  In Tamil Nadu, it is a bi-polar contest between the regional DMK and AIDMK since the latter’s formation in the 1970s.


At the national level, it is difficult to achieve bi-polar consolidation   as issues and interests vary from place to place.  It may work at a village or ward level but not even at a constituency level in most places.   But there are multiple Parties within religious, caste, linguistic and other groups making a mockery of attempts at polarization.  The less we talk about this pre-election chimera, the better we understand electoral behaviour. ----- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)






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