Now that the general elections entered the third phase, the political campaign has got shriller. It is taking a communal color. First, the situation in J&K is very volatile. The state is polarised as never before. The Hindu majority Jammu is at odds with the Muslim dominated Kashmir Valley.
The Centre has adapted a blow hot, blow cold policy with numerous flip-flops. Its muscular militaristic and maximalist approach has worsened the situation. The infiltration from across the border has increased many- fold, bringing the normal life to standstill. The number of attempts by militants to infiltrate has increased from 121 in 2015 to 406 in 2017.
And political wisdom demands every possible effort is made to bring normalcy in the state. However, the BJP’s manifesto seeking to scrap the Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution, that grant the special status to the state, has ignited the fire. It states: “We are committed to annulling Article 35A of the Constitution of India as the provision is discriminatory against non permanent residents and women of J&K.” It is for the first time that the BJP mentioned the Article 35A in its manifesto, calling it “an obstacle in the development of the state.”
The state political leaders have reacted sharply. Mehbooba Mufti said, “The state is already on a heap of explosives, and we saw a glimpse of it in Pulwama. So my warning to BJP is stop playing with fire.” Farooq Abdullah reacted, “They talk of abrogating Article 370, if you do that, the accession will also not stand.” And Sajjad Lone of People’s Conference retorted, “Article 370 and 35A are sacred. The only space for movement in this regard is reversal of erosions. Any other reckless thought or comment seeking removal is a disaster.”
It is a ploy to polarise the majority community in the name of nationalism for electoral dividends, knowing well that the denial of special status is fraught with serious political consequences and it would be resisted and fought tooth and nail. The Centre shouldn’t sound naïve to the background under which J&K, a Muslim majority state, had acceded to India and the need to preserve its culture and identity. It is an ill-conceived notion to equate it with other states. Second, invoking the armed forces’ supreme sacrifices for electoral gain has a repelling effect.
The politicisation of the armed forces is demoralising the security forces fighting at the border and defending the country from infiltrators and terrorists. More than 150 military veterans, including eight former service chiefs, have addressed a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, Supreme Commander of Armed Forces, urging him to direct the political parties to desist from using military personnel to further their political agenda, and ‘preserve secular, apolitical character of armed forces.’
The letter refers to “the unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for military operations, like cross border strikes and even going so far as to claim the armed forces to be Modiji Ki Sena.” This is an unprecedented move by the military veterans.
Besides, the bureaucrats are also feeling uneasy about the government’s interference, affecting their political neutrality and the ability to function independently. Some senior bureaucrats, from PMO, MHA and MEA, have sought transfer and are thinking of premature retirement. They resist centralisation of decision making, depriving a sense of partnership, and hand picking officers loyal to the establishment. This is having a demoralising effect on the All India personnel in the administration.
Third, in yet an unusual move, actors, artists, film makers and writers have expressed strong dissent against the political narrative of the ruling dispensation. A group of more than 230 writers, 800 theater and film personalities and over a 100 visual artists have signed online petitions appealing people to “vote out hate politics” and “vote for a diverse and equal India.” The film industry is divided. Some 900 artists from the industry have initiated a counter campaign- “The continuance of government by Narendra Modi is the need of the hour.” The gloves are off.
Fourth, there is a simmering issue that has the potential to ignite communal passion in the North East. It is expected with the lapse of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the Bill would be buried. The BJP’s manifesto says the Bill would be reintroduced, if it comes to power. Amit Shah says the National Register of Citizens (NRC) would be implemented across the country and every infiltrator, except Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists, would be expelled.
The Bill confers Indian citizenship on Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, who are immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The Bill is skewed in favor of Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh. More than 40 lakh people are being identified as illegal immigrants to deny citizenship. And the NRC issue is in Supreme Court.
The religious discrimination of excluding Muslims goes against the Assam accord of 1985. The cutoff period for identifying the illegal immigrants being March 1971, it is impossible to deny Indian citizenship to the people who lived here for five decades. It is yet another political ploy to polarize people on the eve of elections.
In the meantime, All Assam Students’ Union and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti have threatened to revive the agitation opposing the Bill. They said, “This is unacceptable. Indigenous people of Assam and North East will never endorse such a communal and unconstitutional bill which is a grave threat to their language, culture and identity.” Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chantra Parishad and 70 other organizations have also threatened to revive the agitation.
And finally, the Union Minister Maneka Gandhi’s provocative communal speeches have added fuel to the fire. She has asked the Muslims to vote for her if they wanted jobs. as “it is all give and take” and even announced ‘ABCD’ grading system to classify voters to receive government benefits. She has gone a step ahead of Giriraj Singh and Sakshi Maharaj etc. who invoke religion to polarise people. It is a betrayal of the spirit of the Constitution. Discriminating the people on religious ground not only breaches the fundamental right to equality, and equality before law, but demolishes the very secular foundation of the Indian nation.
G Ramachandram is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.