This Election Season, Let's Build Trust and Put Humanity Above Community

Elections will come and go, but we should not allow our friendships to be ruptured.

We are soon going to witness the dance of democracy in India. But it is no ordinary dance, it a ‘Kapalik nritya’ – in which there are a lot of postures of violence that hopefully pave the way for a final peace to arrive.

Indian democracy has weathered some tough times in the last 70 years. But after each election, the society goes through changes. I’m getting flooded with WhatsApp messages suggesting that elections will come and go, but we should not allow our friendships to be ruptured. This is no ordinary message and must be taken a bit more seriously this time around.

During a focus group discussion on the impact of elections on our everyday lives, someone had lightly commented that ‘we become communal for one day (the election day)’. It is true that the Indian electorate, for the most part, does not vote as citizens but as a community. Of late, I feel like asking the same person: what happens if that one-day episode is repeated in their everyday life and gradually, it becomes the new normal?

In the last four years, we have witnessed the majoritarian onslaught in many forms, including the lynching of members of the minority community in the name of saving the holy cow. Yet, the recent violence against a Muslim family in Gurugram is even more grave as it has proved that the safety of the ordinary middle-class Muslim is at stake.

I guess this is the usual tactic of communal forces instilling fear in the minority community’s psyche by individualising the episode of violence. Is it not a product of electoral dynamics, as this is an act of terrorising a common citizen who happens to be a Muslim? During ‘election time,’ the episode is probably aimed at spreading the message of fear that might keep Muslims away from the process. We must be careful as such events could be repeated in different forms.

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The BJP is also using the anxiety of the majority community to counter the caste-based politics of the regional parties. The projection of PM Modi as a strong man who has the capacity to protect India against any possible attack from Pakistan is one such strategy of the party. Its background was prepared by declaring the Jawaharlal Nehru University as a hiatus of the Tukde-Tukde gang. The attack by militants in Kashmir and counter-attack by the Indian Air Force have been presented as an issue of nationalism and it is directly linked with the PM’s (in)famous statement ‘chhappan inch kaa seena’.  This is a ‘war of position’ as it is being used for projecting him as a leader who could make things possible or one who could deliver.

Unfortunately, there is an undertone that spreads fear in the minority community.

The anxiety of the majority community should also be taken seriously. The right-wing party seems to be playing on this as the opposition hesitates to pick up this issue. It is difficult to convince the majority in its Partition-torn psyche that such fear is completely baseless.

But how do we create a relationship of trust? I can definitely see the failure of the opposition in locating the ground on which the right-wing party is standing.

I remember meeting the former PM Manmohan Singh with a Muslim colleague of mine, one who was trying to convince him that instead of giving reservation to the community on the basis of the Sachar Commission report, there was a need to invest in their education. He had data to show that the number of central schools is very less in the minority concentration regions. Singh assured him that he would give this idea a proper consideration. He even called the concerned person immediately to take note of it, however, I do not think this could grab the attention of Congress policymakers. For creating this relationship of trust, one has to make serious efforts and it is possible probably through shared living and shared experiences i.e. common schooling system, multi-religious workspaces, multi-religious housing colonies etc.

I think Gandhi was quite convinced about it when he requested every Hindu attending his Prarthana Sabha to bring at least one Muslim friend along. His decision to stay in a Muslim house at Kolkata during the Partition riots was a conscious effort in this direction. However, every election –parliamentary, state or municipality – has taken a toll on Gandhi’s dream. He was fully aware of this danger of the parliamentary politics based on the party system and therefore, he was contemplating a party-less form of democracy. His idea of the oceanic circle only suggests his far-sightedness.

Let me put forward the puzzle of religion and politics. On the one hand, if you look at the religious conglomerations, there is an amazing reflection of the goodness of human beings. For instance, if one visits Patna during the chhath puja, you would be surprised by seeing that the city becomes almost crime free. Even young girls move around early in the morning or late in the evening without much fear.

On the other hand, in the season of elections, commitment to human values reaches the lowest of the levels. We are transformed into the Hobbes’s individual “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. In election time, the vices of human beings reach their zenith, distrust becomes the organising principle.

Thus, the statutory warning from friends on WhatsApp needs to be taken seriously. We have to pass through this time. We need to make additional efforts to meet our friends from the other communities, discuss and debate issues more objectively. Let us not allow the passion to dominate the reason. We need to be careful.

Manindra Thakur teaches politics at JNU.