Tuesday, Aug 13, 2002
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EVEN AS THE Chief Election Commissioner, J.M. Lyngdoh, and his two colleagues are engaged in a reality check of the ground situation in Gujarat to convince themselves whether conditions truly exist for the holding of a free and fair poll, the ruling BJP is trying rather desperately all kinds of pressure tactics to make the panel settle for an early election, scheduling it sometime in September/October. Of a piece with the BJP's abrasive and intimidatory attitude in this matter is the party general secretary and former Law Minister, Arun Jaitley's sharp criticism of the Election Commission's articulation of serious concern about the unmet relief and rehabilitation needs of the riot victims. At one level, the `mind-your-business' tenor palpable in Mr. Jaitley's comment sounded authoritarian vis-a-vis a Constitutional functionary. At another level, it also reflected a total lack of sensitivity to the basic human concerns of the thousands of families traumatised by the communal carnage post-Godhra and who are still haunted by the spectre of fear and yet to be resettled fully, thanks to the callousness compounded by blatant discrimination against the minority community of the Narendra Modi Government.
The fact that the Commission, after getting a report from a high-power official team, embarked upon the rather unusual course of all its three members visiting the State for an evaluation of the situation (against critical parameters for conducting the democratic exercise) before making up its mind on an appropriate poll schedule is in itself a recognition of the extraordinarily difficult circumstances attending the electoral event. In the face of a sharp polarisation in opinion across the political spectrum on the question whether the present situation is conducive enough for a free and fair poll, the Commission apparently wanted to be extra careful in discharging its Constitutional responsibility. Given the sort of socio-communal turbulence that provided the backdrop to the impending Assembly polls, it is only natural and appropriate that the panel decided to take a hard look at the `state' of the riot victims in all its varied dimensions the number of families yet to be rehabilitated in the true sense of the term, the level of their sense of security and so on. As such, Mr. Jaitley's `advice' to the Commission to "concentrate" on the business of conducting elections, while pointing out that there were designated bureaucrats to take care of relief and rehabilitation work, was not only unwarranted but coercive, even if veiled.
Anxious as the BJP is to politically utilise what it perceives to be the consolidation of the `Hindu vote' which indeed was the calculation behind Mr. Modi's decision to dissolve the Assembly eight months ahead of tenure the party has been soliciting support for its demand for an `early poll' in Gujarat by persistently contending that elections had been held in other States under much less conducive conditions. The examples invariably cited, as Mr. Jaitley has done, are Punjab, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir. The logic is terribly skewed for the simple reason that there can be no parallel between the two situations. Whereas the unsettled conditions in those States had everything to do with the scourge of terrorism (sustained in some measure by subversive forces from across the border), what obtains in Gujarat is the direct consequence of a minority-targeting pogrom carried out by the Hindutva elements under a benign Modi regime as part of a design to manipulate the democratic apparatus to subserve a blatantly majoritarian agenda. To equate the two qualitatively different types of situations is therefore to add insult to the injury of the vast sections of the minority community who are yet to be freed from the fear psychosis that overtook them in the aftermath of the Godhra incident.
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