Long Live, Perceptions!

Meraj Ahmad for BeyondHeadlines

Confucius wrote, “The correct use of language leads to the correct behaviour of people”. Political language and behaviour, shaping popular perception, is at heart of most of surveys before election. Political discourse, in terms of voting behaviour, may be defined in several ways. Substantially, politics is all about claiming differences. While sometime it’s just a hollow populist rhetoric. Politics of shaping perception may have different dimensions, unproductive or otherwise; seems dominating the Indian political landscape, more so in case of entangled minority politics.

Shaping popular perceptions, and thereby influencing tectonic shift of vote share, in favour of the party, led to many wins and losses. Since the emergence of Hindutva political discourse, the social interaction among religious communities began to change radically. Reactions should have been re-enforcing and re-affirming faith in ‘preambular’ values, enshrined in the Constitution of India but unfortunately, this has not been solid conviction. Fight to protect one of the basic structures of the constitution viz. secularism, unfortunately, met with politics of hollow perception game, in turn keeping politics of perception alive.

Manipulating public perception by crude means is not prerogatives of saffron party and its various offshoots. Many secularists have been engaged in hollow and populist claims in response. Few examples need to be analyzed here. The Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement was portrayed as ‘anti-Muslim’ by some political parties as if energy will be used against Muslims! A party even went to the extent of meeting the ex-President (Muslim by faith) before giving its assent in favour of the nuclear agreement. Chief of Trinmool Congress declined to meet US ambassador Nancy Powell as Nancy happens to be an American. Can other political parties or the Indian foreign policies afford to do so?

Most importantly these insignificant tactics of shaping popular perception was to entice ‘Muslims minority votes’ and no one can deny this fact. The United States of America and Saudi Arabia are one of the strongest political and economic allies in Arab region. Therefore, it seems that political gestures like these are nothing but serious question mark over intelligence of Muslim community. There are many other such examples that may be cited.

Mixing religion with politics is a dangerous game. Harbouring identities and symbols of religion and culture has been practiced by all major political parties. Sporting Topi, attending Iftaar Party or Iztema (religious gathering) and paying respect at Dargah might suggest that ‘Yes! We are with you’,‘ we believe in secularism’ and ‘we are one’; although history proves that, at the end of the day, mobilisation on the basis of these symbols produces symbolic returns only. Most importantly, it boosts morale of saffron outfits to mobilise on the religious grounds. There are blurred lines indeed, between culture, religion and politics.

As election is approaching, the whole discourse of ‘minority politics’ has come under serious scrutiny. During national level meeting of the Prime Minister, at the launch of the National Waqf Development Corporation Limited (NAWADCO), an activist raised question over non-implementation of minority welfare schemes. Not only this, the definition of minority welfare came under serious academic scrutiny as to what constitutes minority welfare. Instead of providing secular education, inclusive development, security and peace for all, creating separate electoral space in the name of protecting culture and identity is a good idea? Whether the nature of ‘minority welfare’ exacerbating the problem of minorities instead of solving? These are some of the questions, now asked from within community.

In the coming 2014 election, it seems that Slogan of ‘Mandir wahi banayenge’ took back seat for the moment. In projection, though some ideological magniloquence seems playing its role, B.J.P prime ministerial candidate still represents the symbol of die hard Hindutva, and conveys the same ideological massages, propagated by the founder Gurus. Since militant nationalism has been negated by common masses, aforementioned image is being painted by brushes of development and good governance.

Thanks to many independent reports and academic writings that revealed the fact that the ‘growth’ doesn’t mean ‘development’. However, the other major political parties failed to appreciate it the way it should have, many independent reports and writings that punctured the development ‘bubble’ originating from the shores of Gujarat? One cogent reason may be that the track record of other political parties on Human Development Index (HDI) parameters is not palpable. This phenomenon fabricates the mutually acceptable level at which the parties will expose, appreciate or contest with each other. For example, on the issues like corruption, communalism and dynastic politics, major political parties are in no position to stand up firmly against each other. So what’s left in politics? This may be called as an ‘easy politics’.

Continuous hint of the issues like common civil code, national threat emanating from Pakistan, illegal migration from Bangladesh, Common Civil Code and Article 370 uncover the real face behind the ‘good governance’. These so called ideological commitments cannot be realized overnight but ultimately it sustains communalism vs. secularism debate within two major groups along with their shifting allies.

Example of Lok Jan Shakti party chief and many other political individuals prove the point that secularism is nothing but a traversable tool in the hand of political personalities, chiefly guided by opportunistic political considerations.

B.J.P may defend its own definition of secularism, and other parties that vowed to fight communalism always maintained that they are secular too. Riots and massacre happened not only during the tenure of B.J.P. Therefore, what’s the meaning of commitment for secularism? The parameter should not only be ideology as it always there in case of B.J.P but also what’s happening on the ground. More so, on the basis of symbols that party are using to persuade or disperse certain sections.

Accruing Muslim votes, by any means, has become the certificate of secularism. Many parties have been engaged in claiming just opposite of what BJP might say or do in the name of protecting secularism. Such classic silent consensus between the two artificial political poles suits almost everyone since last few decades. This is the easiest way of doing politics. Rigorous may be the politics of manifesto.  Such locking horns stand against the politics of development, social justice, quality universal education, food security, employment for all and well implemented labour and woman rights etc. Moreover, if this artificial tug of war on secularism vs. communalism is going to persist, pressing questions on ‘good governance’ will remain dormant for sure.

AAP’s appeal for clean governance is hitting hard on the politics of perception, though a completely different sort of perception is being generated. Leaders of the two major national parties are compelled to expose each other on those issues upon which consensus were already there.

Many political parties and politicians are accusing B.J.P’s prime ministerial candidate on the issue of wearing ‘topi’ as if wearing ‘topi’ is the hallmark of secularism! Babri demolition, riots and fake encounters are real issues concerning minority, and must be solved expeditiously through judicial mechanism and innovative means like alternative dispute resolution, however in how many elections these issues will be included and fought for? Politics of ‘appeasement’ is no answer to the politics of communalism. Danger of both kinds of perception is real. Voting behaviour, predominantly shaped by hollow perception, is not a good custom in healthy democratic polity and certainly not in the interest of marginalized communities.

(The author is pursuing Ph.D. in Legal Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)


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