can provide the answers
-- By Surendra Mohan
The Election Commission has seen for itself the prevailing abnormalities
of the situation in Gujarat. Earlier, the observers' team posted by it
to study the conditions at the ground level had submitted its observations
which reportedly do not favour early elections. The President of the Union,
APJ Abdul Kalam, has also listened to the tales of woe of the affected
people. He might tender appropriate advice as to the priorities and the
responsibilities of the authorities concerned.
The Election Commission
has to decide whether the general elections to the Gujarat Assembly can
be held as per the wishes of the State Government. Unfortunately, however,
the Union Home Minister, LK Advani, has asserted, quite unnecessarily
his Ministry's prerogative to testify whether the conditions in the State
were normal or not. Now, the BIP General Secretary, Arun Jaitley, has
admonished the Election Commission that it need not go into questions
relating to rehabilitation.
These statements are clear transgressions of the right of the Election
Commission to ensure that conditions are conducive for holding free and
fair elections. This eagerness of the BJP in Gujarat and in New Delhi
to see that elections are held at the earliest can be easily understood.
One has only to recall that in April itself, the national executive of
the party had "permitted" the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi,
to seek a fresh mandate of the people. This permission was given at a
time when violence and intimidation had not ceased, and which, in fact,
continued for at least three more weeks. Mr. Modi had then assured the
people that the elections would be held as per schedule. Yet, after a
couple of months, he got the Governor to dissolve the Assembly.
The shrewd calculation was that since the new Assembly shall have to meet
before October 5, that is, with in the expiry of six months after the
last sitting of the dissolved Assembly, therefore the election to it will
have to be completed by the third week of September. The Opposition would
thus have little time to prepare for the big event. The ruling BJP, on
the other hand, will be able to fully exploit the hatred it had caused
between the two communities, consolidate the Hindu vote behind it and
inhibit the Muslims from voting for fear of reprisals.
The argument trailed out by the BJP is that the 1984 parliamentary elections
were held within seven weeks of the anti-Sikh atrocities, and, therefore,
there need be no problem in holding the elections in Gujarat in September.
However, it forgets that the situation had then been controlled within
eight days, while in Gujarat, violent disturbances went on for more than
eight weeks. Moreover, none of the Opposition parties, including the BJP,
had demanded postponement of the election at that time. While the then
Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi's unpardonable reference to the shaking of
the earth when a banyan tree fell down was a grotesque attempt to justify
the anti-Sikh riots, the ruling party's election campaign stressed more
upon the dangers to the integrity of the nation, rather than on the Sikhs
Whenever the election to the State Assembly is held, there must be an
assurance that all eligible voters shall be able to vole in a free and
fearless manner. Political parties op- posed to the BJP should be willing
to forego partisan interests and avoid division of the anti-BJP votes
by ensuring direct contests. The emergence of the Nationalist Congress
Party under the leadership of the former Finance Minister, Sanat Mehta,
and the former Chief Minister, Chhabildas Mehta, is a new factor in the
politics of the State. This new force could act as the fulcrum to unite
all non-BJP and non-Congress parties on a single platform.
While the influence of the NCP has not been tested as yet, others that
might join it do not have a significant presence in the State. However,
a united third front could gather steam so that the whole could prove
bigger than all the parts put together.
Press reports suggest that some Opposition parties are holding joint rallies
in order to campaign against the BJP. At present, the Congress is not
included in this exercise. The objective of these rallies appears to be
limited to testing the ground and demonstrating the parties' combined
strength for purposes of striking an electoral bargain with the Congress.
A realistic assessment of who can defeat the BJP in a particular constituency
can lead to a healthy bargain, provided it is brought about without much
haggling in public. However, unrealistic demands from any non-BJP party
could cause irreparable wounds to the nation's psyche and its body politic.
Whether the high commands of the Congress and the NCP and its possible
allies would achieve conditions of one-against-one candidate is to be
Another new element is the Lok Janashakti Party led by Ram Vilas Paswan,
which has now been joined by Arif Mohammed Khan. Its effort is to create
a united Dalit-Muslim social-electoral base. Paswan has pleaded for a
total unity of the Opposition in the election. Nevertheless, a bigwig
of the Samajwadi Party has said his party shall strive to collect four
percent of the total votes polled for purposes of its recognition as a
national party. Were the party to offer a large number of candidates,
it would appear to be helping the BJP, and would thereby lose its credibility
in its social base among the Muslims in Uttar Pradesh.
Hence, this statement could also have been issued only to join in the
bargain in the allotment of scats in an overall adjustment among the Opposition
parties, or it might be a case of misreporting.
The drought in Gujarat has rendered the plight of the people in general,
not just the Muslims, pitiable. This drought is affecting very large areas
of the country. However, in Saurashtra and Kutch, this is the third year
of the failure of the monsoon. Kutch has not fully recovered from the
destruction caused by last year's earthquake. The people are, therefore,
demanding expeditious relief. This is in addition to the relief for the
riot victims. Hence, several persons from among the majority community
are keen that priority must be given to these problems, while elections
can wait. The BJP turns that argument on its head and demands that this
very plight of the people requires an elected Government. However, it
is now plagued with internal dissension as the resignation of Haren Pandya
Obviously, Pandya is not, alone. The question being asked by many in the
BJP is why did the Chief Minister hurriedly dissolve the State Assembly.
Some attribute to him the motive that he was keen on retaining the party's
leadership. However, there is every possibility that the people in the
State will vote like anywhere else in India. In most parts of the country,
bouts of madness have occurred, but the people recovered from them early
enough and acted sensibly. Otherwise, how does one explain the end of
militancy in Punjab, or the return of Mizoram to peaceful, democratic
conditions? Even in Ayodhya, the VHP's "strong-hold", the people
are rejecting its trickery.
The reaction to the prolonged, provocation by the VHP in Gujarat and Ayodhya
has been negative. Nowhere else in India did the communal madness occur,
Gujarat cannot but see through Modi's manufactured mischief, tragic as