Since the BJP rose to power in May 2014 and capped its Lok Sabha win with victories in a number of state assembly elections, political pundits have attributed the party’s success to its strategy of promoting religious polarisation. Much stress has been laid upon the Ram Mandir issue, love jihad and of course the 2002 Gujarat riots. Though there is no denying that the BJP plays its Hindutva card well, the argument that the party wins solely on the basis of communalism shows scant respect for the intelligence of the Indian voter.
India, like any other society, has its share of communal bigots. These communalists can be found among any religious group and in every region. It was during the late 1980s that the BJP consolidated a communal Hindu vote bank in the name of the Ram janmabhoomi movement. December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid was brought down, marked the zenith of this Hindutva politics.
But did this help the BJP win elections and come to power? The answer is ‘No’.
On December 6, 1992, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were all ruled by the BJP. The Congress-led central government dismissed all the four state governments and called for mid-term elections. At the height of the communal frenzy unleashed by the Ram mandir movement and the mosque’s deolition, three out of these four states voted the BJP out of power. While in Uttar Pradesh, the Mulayam Singh Yadav-Mayawati coalition emerged victorious, the Congress formed governments in Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.
The 2G scam case – notwithstanding the acquittals announced last week – should serve as a reminder that the Congress was voted out of power not because people supported the temple politics of the BJP or the ‘Gujarat model’ of Modi, but because they were disappointed with the corruption allegations against its ministers. Arvind Kejriwal is one of the beneficiaries of the changed public opinion against the Congress. Corruption was brought to the forefront with the help of the Anna Hazare-led movement and the BJP accused the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of shielding the accused.
Modi’s greatest success lies not in the majority he got for the BJP in parliament but in making the opposition believe that he won because of communal politics. His political opponents counter him on the issue of ‘communalism’ or ‘Hindutva’ alone, forgetting the fact that historically the Indian voter has always shown a preference for the non-corrupt alternative, keeping all other issues at bay.
How corruption allegations toppled past governments
Let us go back to 1987 when the story broke of how the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors had bribed top Indian government officials to secure a contract for the supply of 400 155 mm Howitzer guns. That allegation was like a storm hitting the Indian political set up. V.P. Singh left the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet and became the flag bearer of the anti-Congress movement, alleging that the prime minister himself was a part of this scam. The Janata Dal, under the leadership of Singh, contested the 1989 elections on the issue of corruption and ousted Rajiv Gandhi from power.
After a gap of a few years, India again saw a Congress government under P.V. Narasimha Rao, whose five-year tenure was marred by numerous corruption allegations. In 1993, four Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs saved his government by voting against a no-confidence motion. Later, it was alleged that he had bought those votes, and though he was convicted by a lower court, the Delhi high court later acquitted him.
It was also during Rao’s tenure that Harshad Mehta – the kingpin of the 1992 securities scam – accused the Congress prime minister of accepting a Rs 1 crore bribe from him.
Then, telecommunication minister Sukh Ram was accused of being involved in a scam for which he was convicted much later in 2011. Many other ministers were also accused of receiving large sums of money through hawala channels.
In the face mounting corruption charges, the Indian voter threw the Congress out of power in 1996.
Later, the National Democratic Alliance under Atal Bihari Vajpayee also faced serious charges of corruption. Former defence minister George Fernandes was accused of receiving a commission in the purchase of caskets – the so-called ‘coffingate’ – while Tehelka caught BJP president Bangaru Laxman in a sting operation.
In 2004, the country once again voted what they saw as a tainted government out of the power. This time around, Manmohan Singh, a man with a much cleaner image, assumed office and the UPA’s first term passed without any major corruption charge against it. People in 2009 voted the UPA back into office.
It was during Manmohan Singh’s second term that allegations of corruption started cropping up – the 2G scam, the coal scam and the Commonwealth Games scam. There was also the matter of Robert Vadra and the manner in which his businesses suddenly prospered.
In the face of mounting allegations, the people felt looted and in 2014, when they went to vote, they weren’t left with many options.
The Modi-led BJP mixed development and Hindutva in the right amounts and added the promise of a corruption-free India. Once again, India voted a government that was seen as corrupt out of power.
India’s recent political history therefore offers a lesson for the opposition parties – including the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress. Targeting the BJP’s Hindutva agenda and all the violent excesses that come along with will not unseat the party at the hustings but will probably ensure the Congress remains in the opposition for much longer. It is clear that voters have consistently opted for corruption-free alternatives. Now that the special CBI court has acquitted all those accused of involvement in the much-talked-about 2G scam, the Congress believes it can burnish its credentials on the graft front. But that won’t be enough – what it needs to do is unearth instances of corruption under the Modi government. That is the only sure shot basis on which people will vote the BJP out of power in 2019.
Saquib Salim is an independent political commentator.