December 21, 2000


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Dilip D'Souza

The National Interest: Take My Vote Away

Actually I have the perfect solution to it all. Because Vajpayee and Advani and gang claim to be courting them, take the vote away from Hindus. Because Thackeray has also spent 35 good years claiming to court Maharashtrians, take the vote away from them. Disenfranchise the Yadavs and other northern middle castes because Mulayam and Laloo and assorted pals look for their votes. Deny free-enterprisers the vote because the Swatantra Party once championed their cause. Keep Tamil speakers off the electoral rolls because the DMK and AIADMK both claim to be their legitimate electoral representatives.

You get the picture. Every time any politician in India appeals to any community of any kind -- as a community -- for votes, that community must lose its right to vote. Think what a perfectly democratic society we will have mutated into in no time at all: one in which nobody votes. For all of us will end up voteless, most of us two or three or four times over. Come election time, we'll all troop to the voting booths, and we'll all troop right back. No ballots to print, none to count, no great messy ink blots on our fingernails, no puerile chad-flavoured pickles like Florida recently found itself in.

And when we've reached that democratic utopia, we can leave the Thackerays and Advanis and Laloos to figure out what it all means. Having disenfranchised us all, they are welcome to preside over the house of cards that will then pass for a country called India.

Think I'm just being absurd, do you? Don't be silly! I'm trailing in the wake of some pedigreed thought processes here, following in the pugmarks of everybody's favourite Maharashtrian tiger, Bal Thackeray. In his interview last Sunday to the paper he himself claims to edit, Saamna, he said Muslims should be stripped of their voting privileges. That way, political parties will not treat them as vote-banks. "Let's see then who cries for the Muslims," he went on. "Then all the secular-minded politicians will become pro-Hindu."

Except that this very sparkling logic would then immediately apply to being "pro-Hindu," and Hindus would have to be stripped of their voting rights.

Which isn't so far-fetched a thought, really. One of Thackeray's own errand boys, one Pramod Navalkar who in an earlier incarnation was the state's Anti-Kissing Minister, came bravely to the defense of his political boss. And this is how he did it, as quoted in Mid-Day of December 18, 2000: "One should understand what Thackeray means. Even I say that slum dwellers must be disenfranchised, so politicians will stop appeasing them."

Clearly, the long years under Thackeray's weighty thumb have dulled any sense of irony Navalkar might once have possessed, along with any ability to think for himself. Because he said what he did with a charming air of utter confidence. As if disenfranchising slum dwellers was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, as if it was an idea he is sure the whole world will approve heartily. Except, how exactly do you take away the vote from over half of the city of Bombay, to take just one city? Or even suggest such a plan seriously?

Which is why I say again: immediately take away the vote from any group any politician "appeases." Leave the Thackerays and their political pals to make sense of the resulting slide into nonsense.

Then again, my folly is the attempt to apply logic where it certainly must not be applied. Far better to pay heed to what my good friend Yogesh Kamdar of the PUCL told Mid-Day: "I wonder why everyone takes Thackeray seriously. We should not forget that he was a cartoonist once and possesses a good sense of humour."

Good point, and applicable on a wider scale too. For Thackeray's and Navalkar's humorous offerings on disenfranchisement make up only one attempt at wisdom we've had dumped on us in recent days. Others have floated down the river too. Must be the season, that mosque-breaking time of year, what?

Take RSS chief honcho Sudarshan. A bomb destroyed that mosque in Ayodhya, if you please. Now such disciplined RSS disciples as Advani and Uma Bharti and Joshi spent months -- years -- urging the faithful to travel to Ayodhya and rid us of that mosque. All of them and Sudarshan himself tell us the mosque had to go because it was a blot on our history and removing it was a restoration of Hindu self-esteem, a redemption of national honour. Belief in this proud cause and ears tuned to the chariot call of these leaders brought thousands upon thousands to Ayodhya that December of 1992. Once there, they did what they had come to do, what they fully believed they had to do: they pulled down the mosque.

Yes, redemption it must have been, buried somewhere in the rubble that lay about that December 6th: Hindu self-esteem gloriously restored, Hinduism famously saved from annihilation.

But eight years later Sudarshan has some funny news for those who found self-esteem in the fallen stones of that mosque. It wasn't their efforts that rid us of the blot, but a bomb. A bomb, worse yet, put there by those master pseudo-secularists: the Congress Party! What's your garden-variety redeemer of national honour to think, you suppose? What must he think when the very task he completed as a matter of self-esteem is now ascribed, by the very hawkers who sold him this matter of self-esteem, to a mysterious bomb?

He might think, I would not be surprised, that it wasn't self-esteem at all. It was hogwash. It was just another political ploy to buy votes enough to put those Advanis and Joshis into power. It was just an attempt to build a Hindu vote-bank like the Muslim one the Advanis and Joshis always accused the Congress of building. Ha ha.

Take, too, Prime Minister Vajpayee. Just a few days ago, he told us Indians that building the famous Ram temple in Ayodhya is a matter of "national sentiment" that the whole country wants.

Right off the bat he's wrong, because right off the bat I can think of at least one or two people who don't want to build that temple, so "whole country" is a mite presumptuous. Besides, I could make a plausible case for other causes that might be matters for "national sentiment": drinking water, or reasonable health care, or basic education, to name only a couple. Yet PM Vajpayee has never pronounced on the sentiment for such causes. What does that tell us?

But never mind that. PM Vajpayee went on from there to a far more telling statement. He was asked, as he often is, what his coalition partners had to say about this business of building a temple. He replied that the coalition had worked out a "National Agenda for Governance" from which such "contentious" issues as building a temple had been dropped in the "national interest."

Curious indeed. The "whole country wants" that temple, but somehow it is also a "contentious" issue. How did that come to be? There is a "national sentiment" for the temple, but somehow that sentiment has no place in a "National Agenda for Governance." In fact, it had to be dropped in the "national interest."

I am just longing for a learned prime ministerial exposition on exactly how a matter of national sentiment is separate from the national interest. It promises to be humorous indeed.

Then again, it's quite possible that our prime minister was really shooting for that same goal the Advanis and Joshis and Sudarshans and Thackerays are in search of. Is what he really wants to build not a temple, but a Hindu vote-bank?

In which case, of course, Hindus must immediately be disenfranchised. Ha ha.

Dilip D'Souza

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