Mahesh Rangarajan The massive win of the ruling party and coalition marks a milestone in India’s history as a democracy. A ruling party with the same PM and a clear majority returned to power with a stronger mandate. After 48 long years. No one should forget universal franchise had to await the departure of the British from India’s shores. It was only in 1951-52 and under the republican Constitution that all adults, irrespective of caste, creed, class or gender, got equal rights to vote. The elections of 2019 stand out for many reasons. One was the degree of polarising of the vote on religious or communal sectarian lines. There is no doubt this is not the first time. At a pan-Indian level, the first successful use of such card was in 1984. The tragic assassination of the Prime Minister took place on October 31. Innocent unarmed Sikh civilians were killed, often with police as onlookers and enablers. While much has been written about the clashes and tensions that led to the break-up of the Janata Party in 1979, it is equally critical to keep the Congress’ role in mind. In 1983, the Metropolitan Council elections in Delhi saw a subtle shift in the relations of the ruling party and the Sangh Parivar. By then, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had voiced concerns on the Meenakshipuram conversions. Punjab was on the boil mainly due to the ruling party’s patronage of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. The electoral campaign in Jammu saw the Congress play on the insecurities of both Hindus and Sikhs. The twin decision to open the locks of the disputed site at Ayodhya and the step-back on the issue of Muslim women’s rights saw the party play on rival sectarianisms. It sought to embrace, coopt and play along with both. As the government became unpopular in the second half of Rajiv’s term, VP Singh left the Cabinet to forge a unified front with Left and regional parties and the BJP. The latter eventually emerged much stronger and by 1990, the front ended its own Ram temple agenda. This was a transitional phase. There is a world of a difference between the Atal-Advani and Modi-Shah periods. The latter were still in quest of legitimacy and sought allies via compromise. Now, the party has a majority on its own. Hindutva is at the centre of public life to strengthen the nation and give society a sense of coherence. They have a centralising emphasis that is new and modern. There is another way to approach cultures. In a fascinating work titled India: A Sacred Geography, Dianne Eck, shows the centuries old unifying features of evolving beliefs across much of the subcontinent. She points not to the idea of a universal emperor or Chakravartin whose realm would stretch from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari where three seas meet. Her reference point is popular lore and customs across many locations that she has studied over a lifetime. The Kaveri is thus known as the Ganga of the south and its source, Talakaveri the Gangotri of the south. There are thus not one Gangotri, or birthplace of the Ganga. This does not reduce but enhances the actual site of the birth of the great river. But it means the idea of the Ganga or of Bharatavarsha takes multiple forms at the same time. It is fascinating to recall then that after the assassination of the Mahatma, the All India Radio within weeks broadcast a song that would make Mohammad Rafi immortal. He sang, “Suno e duniya walon/ Bapu ki ye amar kahani/Vo Bapu jo itna pooj hai /Jitna Ganga maa kaa pani.” The people of the world were asked to hear the story of the Bapu, who was as dear and holy as the waters of the Mother Ganga. This is crucial. Nowhere was religion shunned. On the contrary, the best of all faiths was taken aboard to try create a new kind of civic pride. Despite the Partition in 1947, aided in no small way by imperial British interests, the dream endured.
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