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PostSubject: Not just Amit Shah   Not just Amit Shah Icon_minitimeTue Apr 08, 2014 5:25 pm

]Not just Amit Shah: All parties want a polarisation in UP

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It is a pity that in the last phase of election campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, all parties are seeking a polarisation. This is the only conclusion one can draw when Imran "boti-boti" Masood, Amit "badla" Shah, assorted Imams and even Sri Sris enter the picture weighing in with their voter exhortations. While it is customary for the media to focus only on what Shah said the other day, since there is a presumption that only the BJP has to prove its secular credentials, the fact is till the very end it did not seem like this election needed the added adrenaline of a religious polarisation. Narendra Modi, for the most part, has harped on development, not Hindutva. Did the development plank not work? Why did an Amit Shah have to ask Jats in western Uttar Pradesh – which goes to the polls on 10 April and 17 April - to seek revenge by pressing the Lotus button on their EVMs? The truth is not that the development plank failed, but that it may have worked too well. The fact is aspirational India came close to buying Modi's development and anti-corruption agenda, as most election-eve surveys have shown. The success of the development agenda has frightened his rivals into brandishing the communal card by repeatedly stoking Muslim fears. This is evident from the fact that no party in UP, from Congress to SP to BSP, has taken on the BJP on the development plank, but communalism, and the BJP leader has been painted as a murderer of Muslims. This stand is intended primarily to harvest the Muslim vote, which is about 18 percent in this battleground state.

Having failed to counter Modi on the development agenda, thanks to the economic slowdown and high inflation, his rivals have chosen to play the polarisation card. They seem to have succeeded in stoking atavistic Muslim fears. The BJP under Modi began the fight by trying to draw some Muslims into its orbit. This is why it sought to reach out to them through the Zafar Sareshwalas, Ram Vilas Paswans, MJ Akbars and Sabir Alis (the last being aborted), but the party realised late in the day that Muslim polarisation was too strong to be reversed in this election. An Economic Times report today (7 April) suggests that the BJP has nearly abandoned its efforts to woo some Muslims voters, since the plan is not working. And Amit Shah is the man giving out this news to the electorate.

The Amit Shah riposte in western Uttar Pradesh is thus a potential winner's acknowledgement that two sides can play the game. No party in pursuit of power is going to give it all up in the name of principle. If his rivals won’t, the BJP too will fight fire with fire – even if the state is cleaved along communal lines in the process. Modi's opposition certainly hasn’t stuck by any rules of the game, and now Shah has sent a clear message that if polarisation is going to happen, the only thing he can do is ensure a reverse polarisation to prevent a negative result for the BJP. Was Muzaffarnagar a turning point? Not quite: it was really the climax of Mulayam Singh's strategy of engineering small-scale riots in various parts of UP to consolidate the Muslim vote before 2014. Muzaffarnagar was merely something that went out of hand - partly through deliberate neglect. The Samajwadi Party’s plan was to constantly remind Muslims who their protector was before 2014, so that Mulayam Singh can get more than 40 seats and stake a claim to the prime ministership after the elections resulted in a hung parliament. This plan hasn’t worked, but the seeds of polarisation he sowed have sprouted roots.

Everybody is now watering it. Mayawati is doing it, the Congress, facing an ignominious rout, is sprinkling fertiliser on it (the boti-boti-guy is a Congress candidate, not SP), and so is the SP, which started it all after it was election to run India’s most populous state in 2012. Their fight is to buy the Muslim vote whatever the cost. And there is clearly an anti-Modi consolidation in the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh. The boti-boti statement is interesting because a Muslim candidate is sure to win in Saharanpur, with a 40-percent-plus Muslim concentration. he statement was intended to make Masood the pre-eminent Muslim candidate, and he appears to have achieved this purpose by releasing the video.

In the Mahabharata, both sides agreed on the rules of battle before Kurukshetra. But once the battle began and the stakes soared, both sides abandoned the rules in order to ensure a win at any cost. 2014 is Kurukshetra retold – but without any rules being agreed beforehand. With no one following any rules or high principle, this will be the dirtiest election in Indian history. Parties will come to their senses only after the damage is done. But one thing we should be clear about: when so much is at stake, no party is going to play fair. In this election, all parties have developed a vested interest in polarisation in UP, and not just the BJP. When no party is in a position to call the shots, all will flout the rules. The prize is simply too big (80 seats) and too crucial for everybody to play by the rules. Whoever wins the elections in UP will have to heal the wounds after 16 May.
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