Non-opposition is costly

The BJP didn’t forcefully counter the UPA government’s communal socialism. It’s paying for it in Rajasthan

Let there be no mistake: those who organised the violent mass agitation demanding entitlements that go with a scheduled tribe (ST) status, including its leader Kirori Singh Bainsla, are responsible for the deaths and injuries that resulted. Surely in a country where Chauri Chaura is taught in history textbooks, public protests involving burning down police stations and public transport buses can’t be called non-violent protests? Mr Bainsla’s claim to a Gandhian parallel—he was fasting while blocking railway traffic—is a macabre parody. The Gujjar riots are not about non-violence. They are about cynical use of violence and the threat of violence to press political demands.

And let there also be no mistake that even ‘non-violent’ tactics that disrupt normal life—blocking railways and holding up traffic—have no place in a constitutional democracy. As B R Ambedkar said, such methods are the “grammar of anarchy“. The political demands that the Gujjar protesters had should have been pressed in constitutional ways: through electoral politics and the judicial system. Arson and vandalism are crimes. Nothing in the Gujjar agitation must desensitise us from seeing them for what they are.

The police and law-enforcement authorities acted correctly. The loss of lives is unfortunate. But the police were not firing on a group of peaceful satyagrahis, but rather, on mobs that were resorting to mass violence. Mr Bainsla and his colleagues cannot escape moral responsibility for these deaths. They also cannot escape responsibility for diminishing the legitimacy of whatever genuine grievances some in the Gujjar community might have had.

These riots have come at a time when tensions between the BJP government in Rajasthan and the UPA government at the centre came to the fore after the terrorist attacks in Jaipur. The Congress Party is revelling at the Vasundhara Raje government’s discomfiture, at the hands of a monster that the UPA government nursed back to health.

It’s useful to be blunt about it. The rhetoric of ’social justice’, ‘reforms with a social face’ and ‘inclusive growth‘ is largely about doling out entitlements based on group identities. The prize—the status of ‘backwardness’, with its attendent benefits in terms of reservations in educational institutions, government jobs, and if the UPA government were to have its way, in the private sector too. The designation of backwardness was subject to electoral promises, not hard-data or economic rationale. Do this long enough and you run into the Gurjjar-Meena clashes in Rajasthan and the Dera Sacha Sauda tensions in Punjab. Continue to persist along this path, and such incidents will be repeated in hundreds of places. [The Acorn, 4 June 2007]

Dr Frankenstein will face his creation eventually, but the BJP cannot escape its share of blame for failing to prevent, or at least draw attention to, the UPA’s larger project of divide and rule. It did complain when entitlement were sought to be handed out along religious lines, calling it minority appeasement. But it remained cynically silent when entitlements were handed out along caste and ethnic lines.

A party claiming to represent the whole of India should have protested loudly inside and outside parliament when the UPA government began its divide and rule project. Why, even a party claiming to champion the interests of the Hindu majority should have protested loudly when its base was being vivisected. If the Congress Party has succeeded in pulling the rug from under the BJP it is only because the latter could not muster up the leadership and courage to speak out against entitlements. As the Gujjar riots indicate, it will have to play the game by the rules set by its opponents.

Asking Manmohan Singh the right questions

The onward march of communal socialism

The UPA’s most unfortunate strategy of earmarking government expenditure along community lines continues apace. The latest in this juggernaut is the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for the welfare of minorities. It contains, among other things, measures to allocate greater resources for the teaching of Urdu, for modernising Madrasa education, for quotas in the rural employment guarantee programmes, preferential bank loans, government jobs and why, even a quota for upgrading of slums. That’s not just an assault on good economic sense. It’s a naked assault on secularism.

Prevention and control of communal riots is an excellent policy goal. But it is a national policy goal. To place it as a ‘minority welfare measure’ is not only an affront to justice. It is counterproductive to the cause of communal harmony, as earmarking justice—in the same style as jobs, loans and slum upgrading—will deepen the suspicion that it won’t be even-handed.

One person challenged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on this patently anti-secular socialist policy:

“The New 15-Point Programme that focuses on earmarking certain outlays of various developmental schemes and programmes of the Government of India amongst the eligible beneficiaries, based on their minority status, should be reviewed in the interest of maintaining the social fabric of the nation.”

“Such discrimination, amongst the eligible beneficiaries, for flow of funds based on minority status, will not help the cause in taking people of India together on the path of development,” he said.

(He asked) the Prime Minister how was “religion important” for a government strategy on inclusive growth.

Wondering “what has gone wrong in the previous plans” that such an approach should be adopted, (he) said “poverty has no religion” and only poverty should determine allocations in the Plan. [IE]

That person was Chief Minister Narendra Modi of Gujarat. The prime minister waffled in response. And Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, didn’t even realise the irony of what he said in defence of the 15-point programme:

Ahluwalia later said “one of the instruments being used is to make special efforts to focus on districts where there is high concentration of minorities” and these programmes “do not involve discrimination in favour of minorities as such.” [IE]

What’s the difference, Montek?