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Friday, Dec 20, 2002

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The rightward swing

Timeri N. Murari

There is a general swing to the right, all around the world. The impetus has been given by the terrorists, whether it is 9/11, Bali, the Lok Sabha or Mauritius. The pendulum will continue to swing to the right. But, then, once it has reached its extreme, it will start the swing back.

THIS is in reply to all my NRI friends living in the US and in Europe who e-mailed me after the election result in Gujarat.

Dear NRI friends

Quite rightly, you're all appalled by the Gujarat election results. Many of you are shocked, embarrassed and worried. You can barely hold up your heads after the terrible riots earlier this year and now have to explain to your friends that Mr Narendra Modi is firmly back in power?

To be honest, I wasn't aware you'd be following the event that closely from your distant homes. It's probably a safe place to be at this point in Indian history. But now you want an explanation as to how this had happened.

We explainers are in full swing. We're filling pages of newsprint, and consuming hours of television explaining to all those readers or viewers why this happened. So I'll throw in my two-cents worth of explanation.

I met a friend, a sophisticated, American-educated, constant traveller, and we'd never discussed politics previously. The middle-class does not, they'll talk business, sport or cars, seldom films and never books. I was surprised when he talked passionately about the Gujarat election results. He isn't anti-Muslim in any way but he resented that they were, as a minority, subsidised on their pilgrimages to Mecca by the government. As a Hindu, he could never get that treatment if he went on a pilgrimage. I did point out this a subsidy-crazy country. Farmers got subsidies, OBCs got subsidies, politicians got subsidies and, if you had the right connections, you could get a subsidy to play ludo or gilly- danda. But it failed to appease him.

I suspect that a few millions in Gujarat who voted in the BJP felt exactly the same way — that our government was pampering the minority. I doubt whether Mr Modi has the power to stop those subsidies. Another reason for the Modi victory is Pakistan; this neighbour is a suppurating wound in our side. It will never go away nor will it give up its dream of Kashmir and, I suspect, ultimately India.

The constant pin-pricks, despite their gravity at times, are still pin-pricks that constantly harass us. We're obsessed with Pakistan and vice-versa. They want something from us; we want nothing from them, except peace and quiet. They are fighting a proxy war, and the death toll continues to mount in human life — innocent civilians and security forces. The continued US support for Pakistan, financially as well in armaments, puzzles us. After all, most of the Taliban and maybe even Osama bin Laden are using it as a safe refuge. For the most tolerant of us, there is the growing suspicion that we have to find a `final solution' to the Pakistan problem.

For the growing number of the intolerant, and those include the BJP supporters such as the RSS, bombing it back to the Stone Age is the solution that appeals to them the most. Gujarat borders Pakistan and this anti-Pakistani sentiment does wash over the millions of Muslims in that State and even the country.

Mr Modi used the anti-Pakistan card to sweep himself into victory. Unfortunately, the opposition was the Congress party representing the secular forces. He called them, and many of us too, `pseudo-seculars', though I'm not sure what he meant.

The Congress is a very confused party, still functioning along old feudal lines. It has a pseudo-Gandhi as its president and, though the party loves her, sadly no one else outside the select coterie does. But she is the compromise in that faction-ridden party and will certainly not give up her pomp and power to suggest that someone else, should the Congress ever win a national election, be the Prime Minister.

Despite our reservations, we had hoped that the Congress would have given the BJP a close run. But they ran the wrong campaign at the wrong time and didn't read the mood of the electorate.

Briefly, those are the reasons why Mr Modi won. There is a general swing to the right, all around the world. The impetus has been given by the terrorists, whether it is 9/11, Bali, the Lok Sabha or Mauritius. In the US, while the Democrats played the economic card, President Bush played the bomb-Saddam card. The Republicans swept the elections.

In the UK, Prime Minister Blair, Labour's Maggie Thatcher, is also playing the Saddam/anti-terrorist card. In Australia, the anti-terrorist card will win any election. In France, Le Pen, nearly made it to be President but fortunately the French rallied and defeated him. But that was a close call.

The pendulum will continue to swing to the right. But, then, once it has reached its extreme, it will start the swing back. That's how history normally works. Unless, of course, we blow ourselves up altogether. In which case, the clock stops forever.

Best wishes

(The writer can be contacted at:

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