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What Vivekananda, Gandhi Would Have Said About Modi’s Communal Narrative for Votes

author S.N. Sahu
Apr 24, 2024
There is no parallel in the post-independence period of a prime minister making blatantly discriminatory references to Muslims in election speeches.

Prime Minister Modi has again – and in a very calculated manner – stated a falsehood in his election campaign speech in Rajasthan’s Banswara – that the Opposition plans to hand over the “mangalsutras” and “land” of those listening to his speech to “infiltrators” and those “producing more children”.  The target of Modi’s outrageous statement were Muslims. What he said amounts to hate speech. His aim is to polarise voters and cause division among people along religious lines so that the BJP benefits electorally.

Modi also twisted an 18-year old speech by Manmohan Singh, who, as prime minister, had called for the equitable distribution of resources of the country among the underprivileged and deprived including Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, children, women and minorities. Modi gave a spin to that statement of Singh and said, “Earlier, when his government was in power, he had said that Muslims have the first right on the country’s property, which means who will they collect this property and distribute it to – those who have more children, will distribute it to the infiltrators. Will the money of your hard work be given to the infiltrators? Do you approve of this?”

In a similar vein, BJP supporters are circulating a carefully edited Rahul Gandhi speech where his call for justice for Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs and minorities is presented as a demand for Muslims alone.

There is no parallel in the post-independence period of a prime minister making blatantly discriminatory references to Muslims in election speeches. Of course, Modi is a repeat offender. Earlier this month, he said that there is an “imprint” of the Muslim League in the Congress’s election manifesto.” And in 2019, too, he made offensive remarks.

‘Treating people as flock of sheep’

Swami Vivekananda, whom Modi hails as his role model, warned about the consequences of politicians spreading lies at election time. Writing in the late 19th century (the article was titled “East and West”), he indicted the vote politics of Europe where he found that “whatever only a handful of powerful men dictate becomes the fait accompli; the rest of the men only follow like a flock of sheep,,.” “I have seen your Parliament, your Senate, your vote, majority, ballot,” Vivekananda wrote, adding,   “….it is the same thing everywhere, my friend. The powerful men in every country are moving society whatever way they like, and the rest are only like a flock of sheep”.

He observed that in Europe “…a class of people  …in the  name of politics, rob others and fatten themselves by sucking the very life-blood of the masses….” Vivekananda bemoaned: “If you ever saw, my friend, that shocking sight behind the scene of acting of these politicians — that revelry of bribery, that robbery in broad daylight, that dance of the Devil in man, which are practiced on such occasions — you would be hopeless about man”! … They that have money have kept the government of the land under their thumb, are robbing the people….” With a sigh he observed, “This is politics! Don’t be startled, my friend; don’t be lost in its mazes”.

Isn’t the politics indicted by Swami Vivekananda getting amply reflected in  Modi’s speeches in Rajasthan?

Gandhi’s 1925 appeal to vote for those upholding Hindu-Muslim unity

On March 22, 1925, while addressing a public meeting in Madras, Gandhi referred to two questions asked by a friend – “What is the duty of the voters in the coming elections to the Legislative Council? and “Do you advise me to abstain from voting?”

He answered those questions first by saying how he would cast his vote after thoroughly scanning the candidates contesting elections and ascertaining if they wore Khadi, engaged themselves in spinning  habitually and with conviction and above all,  if they, among others, staunchly believed in  Hindu-Muslim-Parsi-Christian-Jewish unity, removal of untouchability, and were sound on Brahmin-Non-Brahmin question.

Gandhi then said that votes should cast for those upholding unity of people professing diverse faiths.

Modi, who takes pride in saying that he hails from the land of Gandhi, is trampling upon the vision of Gandhi by demolishing Hindu-Muslim-Parsi-Christian- Jewish unity and appealing to the electorate to vote on the basis of his polarised narratives for gaining  access to power specially tailor made serve the divisive agenda.

Nehru’s observations on elections

It is in this context worthwhile to invoke Jawaharlal Nehru’s thoughtful observations on elections in his book, Discovery of India. While stating that “elections were an essential and inseparable part of the democratic process and there was no way of doing away with them”, he noted with concern that “Yet, often enough, elections brought out the evil side of man, and it was obvious that they did not always lead to the success of the better man”. He then wrote that “Sensitive persons, and those who were not prepared to adopt rough-and-ready methods to push themselves forward, were at a disadvantage and preferred to avoid these contests”. “Was democracy” he asked,  “then to be a close preserve of those possessing thick skins and loud voices and accommodating consciences?”

Modi, who often derides Nehru, represents precisely the evil side and a person with “accommodating consciences” which he could anticipate in the early 1940s before India held its first free and fair election.

A final observation may also be in order. According to the CSDS-Lokniti survey, 79 per cent of people want India to be a country not just of Hindus but of all citizens  professing diverse faiths. Regardless of their religious creed, they are prioritising basic issues such as the unprecedented unemployment rate and  burden of inflation over anything else. It is hoped that the culture of people celebrating religious pluralism will definitely defeat the divisive narratives as embodied by Modi’s speech and people will vote for those upholding, in Gandhi’s words, “Hindu-Muslim-Parsi-Christian- Jewish unity” and the “removal of untouchability.”

S.N. Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K.R. Narayanan.

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