Viewers' Voice


The Case of Varun Gandhi

By Nawal K. Pandey


"If somebody lifts a hand against Hindus, or thinks they are weak, (that) there is nobody behind them, then I swear on the (Bhagvad) Gita that I will cut off that hand."

The statement was strong and its implication far-reaching, unexpected of the grandson of a Muslim and the son of a Sikh. There is no indication that the statement was against any particular community but it was so broad that some in Muslim community took offence of it. Obviously, Christians and Sikhs did not care.

However, such remarks are not uncommon. Suppose, he said that he would cut off the hands of Hindu’s if they lifted their hands against any minority. Perhaps the statement would have been as bad but the implication would have been that he would protect the interests of minorities at any cost.

I would say that it was a media circus that took ugly turn. The imposition of NSA against Varun is nothing more than the naked abuse of power; and the people in power can crush you, malign you and leave you for destruction, all with impunity. Mayawati needs Muslim votes and so does Congress and SP. They have ascribed the statement as anti-Muslim and hope to benefit from it.

Now the question is did Varun really mean to disparage the people of any community let alone the Muslim ? His remarks are not clear but the political tone it has garnered is more disturbing than the statement itself. The charges of murder preceded by the incitement of communal strife beseeches the ordinary mind. Then again it is India where brothers have killed brothers to reign the country. Lucknow in particular is notorious for pitting one leader against other in modern time; and Lucknow is where Varun’s fate lies.

In the beginning, probably Varun’s remark was a faux pas, an offence as vague as calling someone reactionary knowing full well that he was an open-minded. But, the decision of U.P. government to impose NSA against Varun was the height of hypocrisy. It proves that you can make mountain out a mole.
Evidently, the objective has changed; and it has become the tussle of titans. Who is more powerful, the descendant of once a goliath or the present day monster? In my opinion, the forces that wish to prove that point must remember that one day the shoe can drop on them, too.
Let us talk about the election commission, which is charged with conducting the fair election. It appears that the election commission has digressed from its mission of preventing malaise in the election. It has embarked on a chauvinistic mission of abridging the rights of candidates in the impossible task of purifying the election. Charging candidates for holding meetings and stopping them from expressing their viewpoints is undemocratic. Granted that, the election commission has the authority to do so but that authority cannot be the usurpation of extra constitutional power to put constraints on freedom of assembly and expression of ideas, appropriate or offensive. Actions of the election commission must be consistent with the spirit and tenets of democracy.
The main purpose of election is to choose representatives; and if the people wish to vote for a rogue person, the government has no business dictating the wishes of the people. Candidates have the rights to go to the masses to persuade them to vote for them. The interference of any governmental body is untenable unless there is violation of fundamental rights.
Stopping public meeting or allowing public meetings only with the permission of some bureaucrat is attack against the spirit of democracy. Democracy prides itself on freedom; and freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are two necessary features of democracy.
Talking about social problems falls within the paradigm of freedom of speech. If candidates can talk about development and other problems, they have the right to talk about the problem of social=2 0interaction. It may have been made illegal for election purposes but social discourse is necessary for understanding and enlightenment without the excitement of incitement and disharmony. Varun’s statement is nothing like that.
I have faith in Indian democracy. Though our demographic is diverse, it is seamless. There is preponderance of evidence that minorities like Muslims, Christian and Sikhs do not fear the Hindu majority because the majority accommodates its minority like brothers. Sporadic flare-ups notwithstanding, it has not broken our tradition of tolerance and goodwill. It might have benefited a few people but it has not contaminated our social amity. Therefore, social discourse, good or bad, brings best out of the people. It serves a purpose in democracy; and that purpose is to reject any relevance of communal forces.
In democracy, we expect people to choose their representatives from the competing candidates. If people do not know their candidates how can they make the right choice. Therefore, it is imperative for the candidates to have unfettered access to people. Our election time is limited to just a few weeks; and few weeks are crucial for democratic elections. If the candidates wish to propagate their ideas, they have to resort to various means. They need many vehicles, plethora of man power and, of course, a bunch of money. What is the reason to stop them from utilizing these resourc es. I would argue that if they need 20 cars an can afford it, let them have it. If they wish to have public meetings night and day, allow them to have it. I wonder if there is any other way for candidates to reach to the masses. Since the spread of media publicity is limited, the constraint on in person expression of viewpoints would limit the ability of candidates. I am not fearful that some candidates might buy votes. If it was so simple Mr. Laloo Prasad Yadav would not run from two places. He has the wherewithal to buy all the votes in Saran. But, he is also running from Patliputra because he knows that a large number of the people of the Yadaw caste are the voters. If money was the only factor, Mr. Jha, the movie producer would have won in the last election. If they want to spend crores instead of lacks, let them account their expenditure. On the contrary, ask the government to educate the people about the importance of election and the consequences of selling out for money. Though the power of money and muscle is ubiquitous, the integrity of voters is paramount. The election should be an open process without any limitation because democracy gives freedom of expression no matter how nonsensical and how evil.
We have heard of the dictates (Fatwa) issued by Mullahs to Muslim community during election time. We also know that a segment of Hindu population believes in voting only for the party that sympathizes with Hindu sen timents. However, in general, the people vote for right candidates irrespective of religion and caste. If people only voted based on caste and religion, the Hindu majority would have always elected Hindu candidates. Sakeel Ahmed, Sahabuddin, Shah Nawaj Khan and Sonia Gandhi would have never won. Of course, narrow mindedness affects the election but to say that it is an universal problem would be twisting the facts.
It is the virtue of democracy that it presumes candidates wishing to be the representatives of the people to be respectful and refrain from exploiting the masses. Democracy also assumes at the same time that the people are the judge of their own fate and they know who to vote and who to vote out.
In a polity like ours, culturally diverse and socially polarized, it is imperative that our candidates have the right to express their opinion on all subjects. If they can talk about the problems of poverty and unemployment, they should be permitted to talk about the virtue and vices of our society. The expression of ideas, good and bad, allows people to know their candidates. It gives people opportunity to determine where the candidates stand and how would they act as their representatives. People have the power to recognize the hate mongers; and they know why to reject them. Over all, people need interaction with candidates. Any constraint on their ability to interact demeans democracy and fails to take into account the intelligence of the people. Our diversity requires that our candidates intermingle with all segments of our society to express themselves. May be, for political convenience, they would say one thing to one group of people and say something else to another. It does not mean that they would be ineffective representatives. It is the characteristic of democracy that it treats all politicians alike because it gets strength from their competing ideas, good or bad. If only one set of ideas were allowed to prevail, democracy would turn into dictatorship. In modern India, the masses are aware of their rights and they will use their right to vote judiciously.

I am glad that the election commission is taking the matter seriously. However, they cannot make Varun an escape goat. All those who overtly or covertly practice prejudices, be they promoters of caste system, worshippers of social discord or dividers of regional integrity, must be dealt sternly.

I would suggest that if the action of Varun was inconsistent with our democratic values, the actions of those who cry castes and regionalism are equally inconsistent.
Let us face it: in a developed democracy, all ideas are considered by the voters. They are the masters and they know what to do. However, democracy like ours where populace is swayed by politicians20on frivolous grounds, the check and balance is necessary without suffocating the spirit of democracy.
At the end I would argue that Varun is being railroaded. It is possible that he said something that resembled bigotry but to charge him with attempted murder and other high crimes would be marauding of democracy