Living the secular experience
The option was open even at the dawn of freedom in 1947: Muslim Pakistan, Hindu India. Pakistan chose theocracy with a floundering democratic set-up...
This has been India's fascinating journey through the idealistic Nehru years which saw the flowering of democracy and adoption of the Constitution in 1950 and becoming a democratic republic with secularism at the centre point through the socialist 1970s. Secularism thus evolved as the national credo and an essential part of living experience notwithstanding the challenges. The pledges made at the outset have become firmly rooted ever since. The non-secular and communal groupings also existed but confined within narrow grooves.
There were many a political upheaval but without disturbing this ambience� right through the decline and fall of political fortunes: Anti-Congressism coming to the fore in the 1960s, leading to formation SVD governments in many States and the rise of regional parties in the North and South.
On his part, Nehru went on reminding the people to be wary of divisive trends. The Congress lost three by-elections to the Lok Sabha in 1963, his closing years. He did not mind the non-Congress Opposition groups showing signs of resurgence but his main emphasis remained on the need to keep divisive and communal forces at bay. The 1963 by-poll brought Dr Lohia and Acharya Kripalani into Parliament.
The first major jolt to the Congress came with the formation of the Janata government at the Centre post-Emergency in 1977 in the wake of popular resurgence against the Emergency misrule. In fact, the Congress suffered humiliating reverses in Northern States, reducing its strength to a paltry 153 members in the 543-strong Lok Sabha: this was an all-party conglomerate with the then Lok Dal of Charan Singh emerging as the largest group with 90-odd members followed by the Jan Sangh (the BJP in its earlier avatar) with over 65 members.
This marked the latter's first major debut on the centre stage. The rest is history till the other anti-Congress eruption came on the arrival of VP Singh' and his uneasy 10-month rule at the Centre with the help of two unlikely props, the Marxists, on one side, and the BJP, on the other. The Mandal card played by VP Singh led to his downfall, and the BJP after toppling the set-up played its counter-card which is known as LK Advani's 'kamandal' strategy which culminated in his rath yatra on Ram temple issue. But even when till VP Singh was in power there was no talk of divisive politics taking hold of the country's polity.
However, Mandalisation brought in caste politics while, on the other hand, the communal temple agenda came to dominate the political scene. The dominance of caste and communal politics did bring about a sea�change in the political scenario and led to two major formations at the Centre, the NDA and the UPA with which began the rise of coalitions.
But even during the BJP-led NDA regime under Atal Bihari Vajpayee nobody sensed any real danger being posed to the secular polity but for the worst communal flare-up in Narendra Modi-governed Gujarat in 2002. But what has substantially changed now in this present run-up to 2014 elections when the atmosphere has become so surcharged with the talk of polarization? Basically, they have pinned great hopes on Narendra Modi� the icon of corporate and the sympathetic media.
At the other end of the spectrum is the UPA, the party in governance. Modi is projected as Development Man slurring over the 2002 ignominy. Not that the UPA does not have many skeletons in the cupboard, dogged as it is by a clutch of financial scams, failure of governance and overall inertia.
Its redeeming features are welfare schemes like MGNREGA, food security proposal; the RTI and RTE. Amid such uncertainties have surfaced the blurred contours of a possible third front. Indeed, there is a cliffhanger and the political future lies in a virtual melting pot.
The final word, of course, will be that of the people at the elections; that is, the faceless multitude but known to the world at large for its traditional wisdom.