Voters Should Resist Making Religion A Poll Issue

Voters Should Resist Making Religion A Poll Issue

If the Congress wishes to be in the ring for the Lok Sabha elections with full vigour, it will have to send this message across to the cadre that the voters are with the party, and with a little more effort the party will show better results in the general elections

Abhay MokashiUpdated: Saturday, December 09, 2023, 12:03 AM IST
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Though the Bharatiya Janata Party has come to power in three states in the just concluded elections to the state legislative assemblies, the results show that the voters of Telangana have not fallen for the communal stand of the parties contesting the elections in the state.

BRS Chairperson and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao had announced in one of his election rallies that if the BRS is voted back to power, his party will set up an Information Technology Park dedicated to the Muslims. In political science, such an act is considered affirmative action, to help a particular section of the population to come into the mainstream, after being left out for a long time.

The Union government and several state governments have come up with such affirmative action for women, the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the members of the Other Backward Classes. Not many political parties or their leaders have criticised such moves, fearing losing votes and hence the elections in the bargain, given the sizeable population of these sections of the society, collectively and as individual groups.

This is not the case when it comes to criticism of affirmative action in favour of Muslims, as regards the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP does not bank on the Muslims votes and for its leaders, their statements against affirmative action in favour of Muslims by leaders of the Opposition parties is elixir, especially during elections.

There is no doubt that due to socio-economic reasons, a large section of Muslims has been kept out of the mainstream development and organised labour, in the absence of proper skill development. Of course, Muslim men and women are found in several sectors, which employ semi-skill, skilled and super skilled people.

But with a large population of the Muslims out of the economy generating mainstream, due to lack of skill-based education, there is a need to make appropriate education available to them. This does not mean that it is at the cost of others, it is just that in a welfare State, it is the responsibility of those in power to take affirmative action from time to time to ensure that no individual or section of the society is left out. Development has to be inclusive and in many societies, there cannot be inclusive development without affirmative action.

Ironically, even those who speak of inclusive development are irked when it comes to affirmative action to benefit Muslims. A case in point is that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came down heavily on Rao for his statement that on coming to power again, his government will launch an IT Park for Muslims. Modi went to the extent of wanting to know the Constitutional provision for such a move, not realising that the Constitution is not against affirmative action.

Critics of schemes for particular sections of the society need to understand that it is not only in the interest of the members of the community, but also in the national interest to help them acquire skills. Skilled and educated people stand a better chance of getting employment or being gainfully self-employed, than those without it.

It is strange that such critics prefer lumpen elements who are being used to generate communal frenzy, and such elements are found among the Hindus and the Muslims.

The recently concluded elections exhibited the anti-Muslim stand of some leaders of the BJP. That stand did not have any impact on the people of Telangana, where the BJP fared poorly, winning only eight seats.

BJP leaders like Amit Shah, Tiger Raja Singh and Balmukund Acharya, among others, have made provocative hate speeches and the Election Commission has failed to take action on the complaints received against some of the speeches.

Amit Shah has time and again spoken against the Muslims and against affirmative action in favour of Muslims, calling it appeasement. Tiger Raj Singh, a BJP legislator from Telangana, in oblique references to the Muslims, called them traitors, adharmis (those who do not follow his religion), Jehadis and cow slaughterers. In blatant violation of the Election Code of Conduct for candidates and political parties, he appealed to the Hindus to vote for him and to tell others that their (Hindus’) enemies indulge in cow slaughtering, Love Jihad and forced conversions. In Rajasthan, Acharya announced in his constituency that he will not allow the sale of non-vegetarian food and went about shutting down shops. However, he apologised for his act two days later.

While all this was going on, public attention was diverted from the analysis of the election results. The BJP put up a wonderful show in terms of seats won, but the Congress polled more votes than the BJP in all the states put together. The figures of the Election Commission of India show that the Congress pulled in 4,92,24,020 votes in the five states that went to the polls, while the BJP polled around 11 lakh votes less. The most interesting result was in Mizoram where the BJP, which polled 35,524 votes, won two seats, while the Congress, having polled 1,46,113 votes, won only a single seat.

If the Congress wishes to be in the ring for the Lok Sabha elections with full vigour, it will have to send this message across to the cadre that the voters are with the party, and with a little more effort the party will show better results in the general elections.

The BJP has learnt the trick of winning elections with perfect planning. In a democracy, the decision of the voters should be respected, but the voters at large should be wary of making religion a poll issue, before the country sees disastrous effects.

The author is a senior journalist and media trainer. He tweets at @a_mokashi

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