India woke up on October 19, 2014, to the news of a rout by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Maharashtra legislative assembly election. With the Shiv Sena severing ties with BJP ahead of the election, it was expected to be a neck-to-neck battle between the two saffron parties. But the way BJP won the election, winning almost twice as many seats as the second-best party (Shiv Sena), took everyone by surprise.
Soon the so-called ‘secular media’ started the usual rhetoric by questioning BJP spokespersons on national debates if their victory was due to communal politics. This was further backed by the fact that BJP had very few representatives from minority communities in the assembly.
The BJP has always been targeted by various media houses as a party that exploits majoritarian sentiments – and rightly so. But the fact is that other political parties which are equally (if not more polarising) are often let off easily in comparision.
This doesn’t come as a surprise. Since 2014, media houses have been busy painting their narrative to display that India’s secularism is under threat by majoritarian sentiments, and that India is turning into a ‘Hindu Pakistan’. However, the reality is far from this narrative which the media has been trying to portray and I would like to explore this with few examples.
After the Maharashtra assembly elections, I was intrigued by the fact that rarely did media houses discuss or debate the performance of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) that contested for the first time in the Maharashtra polls. But, the fact that the AIMIM won more seats than more established parties like the Maharashtra Navnirmaan Sena (MNS),speaks volumes. The AIMIM is known for its communal stand, provocative remarks (especially by the Owaisi brothers) and its support to separatists. The AIMIM won assembly seats from Aurangabad Central and Byculla constituencies, both of which have sizeable Muslim populations.
Let’s look at the demographics to put this into perspective. Aurangabad was once part of the princely state of Hyderabad ruled by the Nizam. Hinduism is the majority religion in the region and is followed by close to 50% of the population. Islam is followed by 34% of the population there.
For once, let us assume that AIMIM may have benefitted from a division of votes in the other parties and due to the fact that people may not have been happy with the incumbent representative. But it would’ve been impossible for AIMIM to win by a margin of 20,000 votes without a very high proportion of the Muslim population voting for it. What’s even more concerning is that a person as vitriolic as Owaisi managed to gather so much support in the first attempt. In fact, evidence of the spiteful and bitter speeches of Owaisi during the campaign can still be seen doing rounds on Facebook and Youtube. This only reveals how polarised the Muslim vote has been in Aurangabad.
A similar characteristic can be observed in Lok Sabha constituency of Ernakulam in Kerala, where a non-Christian MP hasn’t been elected since 1967. Ernakulam has a demographic pattern which is similar to the one in Aurangabad Central, with a Hindu majority (46%) followed by Christianity (40%). Both Left and Congress are equally guilty of playing the ‘Christian card’ in Ernakulam – to the extent that it is often wittily said that the next MP from Ernakulam is decided behind the closed doors of the Major Archbishop’s house.
The above examples are just the tip of an iceberg. Investigations will reveal similar trends in areas which have a sizeable minority populations. This brings us to our inferences. Firstly, it seems that all political parties are equally responsible for polarising voters including the centre and left-aligned parties. Singling out BJP is simply shortsightedness or a deliberate attempt spun by the agenda-driven media. Secondly, it exposes the so called ‘secular’ media’s narrative that India is slowly turning into a ‘Hindu Pakistan’. Contrary to popular belief, the majority communities have been far more secular in their thoughts and acceptance than minorities that align with certain ideologies.
Since independence, India has always aligned with secular and socialistic ideologies. Unfortunately, the constant abuse of the word ‘secularism’ by centre and left-aligned parties has led to secularism being reduced to a synonym for ‘pro-minority’ or ‘anti-Hindu’. This, coupled with minority-appeasement policies, are the major reasons for India’s sudden tilt towards the right.
India aligning with the right or the left will prove to be a disaster, for it will betray the very ideology our forefathers designed and aspired towards – an ideology that was prescribed after great sacrifices. This sudden polarisation, if not put to rest by political alternative and the enlightenment of the masses, can prove costly for India’s plurality and diversity. Worst, it can even lead this great nation to another partition!