An investment of diminishing returns

Political parties are sensing a palpable change in the air. Terror strikes or bomb blasts no more cause an immediate divide on religious or community lines. The Generation Next has either become immune to the events or turned too ‘focused’ to bother about the incidents not impacting their lives directly.

It is always hazardous to generalise but people do seem to be losing appetite for political sloganeering on communal lines. Last week’s Delhi blast witnessed the erstwhile ‘Maulana’ Mulayam Singh making a solo move to profess a case of  “insecurity” among Muslims  in the Lok Sabha but not many seemed to bite “the communal bait”.

The horrors of Gujarat riots 2002 and Kandhamal (Orissa) violence apart, there have been no big ticket communal flare-ups in recent years creating a vertical divide among people. Incidents over a piece of land, graveyard, mosques, churches, temples, routes of festival processions etc., did occur but they remained localised and got quickly defused.

The Union home ministry records that eight years since 2003 witnessed, on an average, about 750 incidents a year, but the number of casualties was low and on the decline.
Speaking at the National Integration Council meeting this month, Union home minister P Chidambaram spoke about a visible decline in communal violence. In the first six months of 2011, he said there has been a sharp decline in the number of incidents (271) and in the number of casualties.

There is an increasing realisation within the extremes of the political spectrum that the politics of communalism is now a game of diminishing returns. The master practitioners of communalism and ‘reverse-communalism’ (as practiced by `secular parties`) have found in their diligent way that “the communal card” is not winning them their election battles as decisively as it did in the preceding decades.

An almost faint response to the temple-construction at Ayodhya forced the BJP to put the issue on the back burner in the successive assembly and general elections. In successive national executive meetings of the party, the temple issue is mentioned as a part of ceremony and not as a topic of conviction.

Interestingly, none  of the `hard-liners` in the BJP are now keen to be seen in the company of one time `popular` outfits like Vishwa Hindu Parishad and `Bajrang Dal’. This is as much true of senior leaders L K Advani and Narendra Modi.

On the other side of the political setting, Congress, JD-U, CPM, CPI and host of other parties with ‘secular tags’ have also  revised their strategy on communal issues with an awareness that “every action does not necessarily have a reaction”. Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh’s attempts (like Mulayam Singh) to exploit ‘Batla terror encounter” in New Delhi or to evoke RSS bogey during Gandhian Anna Hazare’s civil movement, did not pay off political dividends.

Politics of communalism as practiced by ‘secular parties’ have done serious harm to the genuine progress of majority and minority communities and the country as a whole.  If the famed Wikileaks are to be believed, Singh himself admitted to US diplomats in 2007 that the Congress was embracing ‘soft Hindutva’ and pandering to Muslim fundamentalists.

The Congress leader, according to Wikileaks, confessed that his party “backed away from confronting communalism and casteism and this hurt at the polls”. Amidst the politics of opportunism of major parties, the religious communities in the country seem to have mellowed and partly seen through the games of  the hard-boiled politicians. The throw-back like Syed Ahmed Bukhari, Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid, was recently brushed aside by a large number of Muslims who actively supported Hazare’s fast at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi despite a call to the contrary given by him.

Indicators
A good indicator to people turning more judicious on the communal issues is the calm that prevailed after the September 30, 2010 judgment of the Allahabad High Court bench comprising  Justice S U Khan, D V Sharma and Justice Sudhir Aggarwal on the controversial Ramjanambhoomi-Babri masjid dispute. Delivered after a tortuous trial of about six-decades, the judgment was not seen to be favouring Muslims. But it did not unleash any strong passions, let alone violence from either side anywhere in the country.

The scope of communal politics declined with the rise of caste-based parties in the Hindi heartland of UP and Bihar. Administrative measures, including setting up of Rapid Action Force (RAF) having personnel drawn from all communities, removed the highly communal and casteist police force like Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) from the scene that had played havoc during communal riots in Moradabad and Meerut cities in UP during the ’80s.

The development is a political brand that is gradually replacing the communal plank. With the size of educated and urban middle class (around 30 crore) rapidly expanding, the politicos are forced to adopt and adapt to ‘politics of development.

New causes
The demand for a strong Lokpal to fight corruption is, perhaps, one off-shoot of  the “new politics”.  Along with the development, the new generation is determined to target education, jobs and basic necessities to live with dignity.

Sensing the change of mood, several MPs have publicly identified with the “new causes.” With vote banks seemingly modernising their profile, an open articulation of  communal agenda has become a strict NO NO. A generational change stimulated, among other things, by the so-called globalisation and market economy and a hard experience of over 63 years, has left the GenNext in urban and rural areas a little more wiser and liberal while addressing the issues.

The futility of  the  “communal-secular” debate, bandied about for decades by the wily politicos and  “intellectual aristocrats” without placing in place the imperatives of education, economic development and equity, has been understood by a silent majority. And it is a very positive sign.

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