January 18, 2017

India: An Appeal by PADS to Voters of UP to Protect Democracy and Defeat the BJP in 2017 UP assembly elections

People's Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS)

--> battini.rao@gmail.com Telephone contact:  Srinivas Rao   09393875195

18 January 2017 [updated on 5 Feb 2017]

An Appeal to Voters of UP to Protect Democracy and Defeat the BJP 

Voters of Uttar Pradesh will be electing their next state government in February 2017. UP is the largest state in the country. The political choices of its citizens determine not only the shape of state politics, but national politics as well. This time much more is at stake than usual. The voters of UP will not only elect their state government but will play a role in determining the fate of democracy in India. This puts a special responsibility on them to cast their votes with extreme care and wisdom.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections the BJP got more than 40% of votes and won 71 of the 80 UP seats. Many factors contributed to this landslide – the political bankruptcy of the UPA government, the three-way split of non BJP votes, a sustained targeting of religious minorities and communal violence. The most vicious example of this was in Muzaffarnagar. In addition, a section of the people were drawn toward the achhe din promised by the BJP prime ministerial Narandra Modi.

The two and a half years of Mr Modi’s government have shown that the promise of jobs, development and social peace was merely an election jumla. His government has failed in the first responsibility of any government to provide security to the people. The violent communal elements of the RSS–led Sangh parivar took their election victory as a signal to attack religious minorities and Dalit communities. Mohammad Akhlaq of Badhana village, barely fifty km from Delhi, was killed by so-called gau rakshaks of his own village. Dalits were publicly humiliated in Una in Gujarat by violent hooligans parading as protectors of Hindus. When Rohith Vemula of Hyderabad Central University committed suicide in protest at harassment by university officials and the RSS youth wing (ABVP), ministers in Mr Modi's government brazenly tried to prove that he was not a Dalit. Now, when the BJP is faced with a tough going in UP, it has again raked up the issue of Ram Mandir in its manifesto.  While it is true that no government in independent India has cared much for India’s oppressed communities, it is also true that no government has been as shameless and open in attacking them as the Modi government.

However, it would be a mistake to think that this government is targeting only religious minorities and Dalits. Immediately after coming to power it tried to change the land acquisition law passed by the previous UPA government so that farmers could be dispossessed of their land more easily, and their land given to rich capitalists and corporates. Payments for the MNREGA, which had provided some economic security to the rural poor during times of distress were reduced. The recent demonetisation of 500 and 1000 rupee notes took away the hard earned income of crores of farmers and workers, and forced them to stand in queues for days to withdraw their own money. This ‘surgical strike’ on the daily lives of ordinary citizens has benefited only banks and companies dealing in digital payments. Scores of citizens including housewives and retired service personnel have lost their lives. Lakhs of informal sector workers have been thrown out of work. All governments in India follow pro-rich policies. But the Modi government has taken this to a new level. In its zeal to serve the rich it is dismantling the little social security that was available to the poor.

What distinguishes Modi government from other governments is its concerted effort to create an authoritarian environment and weaken all institutions of democratic governance, from the judiciary and police to the Reserve Bank. The right to elect leaders and parties of their choice is crucial in a democracy. Democracy however is sustained by a number of other norms and institutions. Indian democracy is facing its most serious crisis since independence, because its elected leaders themselves are destroying its foundations.

The Sangh Parivar to which Mr Modi belongs follows a hate-filled communal ideology that advocates violence and aggression. The RSS calls itself nationalist, but its idea of the Indian nation excludes large numbers of Indians, and is determined by interests of a section of the financial, land-owning and upper caste elite. When Indians were fighting for freedom from the colonial rule, it was busy helping the British in their divide and rule policy. This was the plan outlined by Savarkar, their ideological patron, in his clemency appeals to British when he was jailed in the Andamans. India's freedom movement was motivated by the idea of a nation incorporating all Indians and their welfare. The Indian constitution has tried to give legal form to these aspects of the freedom movement.

Freedom and equality of all citizens are the two foundations of democracy. All people should be equally free to lead the life of their choice, organise and express their opinion. The Modi government has consistently attacked these freedoms. It has foisted false sedition cases against university students for shouting slogans against official policies. Hooligans associated with it have physically attacked JNU students in court premises. When many noted writers and public figures protested against day light murders of respected rationalist Dr N Dabholkar, trade unionist Govind Panasare and author MM Kalburgi by fundamentalist forces, ministers of the Modi government attacked their protests as anti-national. This government has vitiated public discourse by abusing all its opponents as enemies of the nation. Clearly, the Modi government wants to create an atmosphere of fear to stop Indians from challenging what the RSS/BJP defines as India's national interest.

The makers of the Indian constitution adopted a parliamentary style of governance, in which the cabinet headed by a prime minister is responsible to the parliament elected by the people. On many occasions the Modi government has by-passed parliament, and is trying to rule the country through ordinances. Even the president has expressed his displeasure at this shameless disregard of parliamentary norms. Mr Modi rarely attends parliament sessions. In parliament every member is equal, and a prime minister has to deal with other members as equals. Perhaps Mr Modi is scared of the parliament precisely because of this.

Barring the Emergency regime of 1975 - 1977, no Indian government has tried to control the judiciary as brazenly as the current government. It has delayed the appointment of judges recommended by the Supreme Court collegium. Its investigating agencies are stalling criminal cases against supporters of the regime, and victimizing their political opponents. No less a person than the respected public prosecutor, Ms Rohini Salian has publicly stated that she was asked to soften her case against Hindutva terrorists accused of Malegaon blasts. Justice Jyotsana Yagnik, who pronounced important judgments on the Gujarat killings of 2002 has received threatening telephone calls. The governors of Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh have been shamelessly partisan in pushing the BJP’s interests.

If BJP wins the UP election the Sangh supporters will continue with their attacks on the common people. Modi will continue to target farmers' right to their land, and people's right to welfare. Most important for all Indians, it will be encouraged to further subvert Indian democracy. Political parties in UP are going to appeal to religious and caste identities and the so- called national interest of voters. The RSS-led Modi government is a threat to the Indian constitution. The people of UP have the opportunity in this election to defend democratic rights of Indians, which are more important than any sectional interest.
Battini Rao, Convenor PADS (95339 75195, battini.rao@gmail.com )