By Aditya Aamir
For the first time in any general elections, North India and South India; Northerners and Easterners have become part of election rhetoric and accusations and counter-accusations are being levelled along parochial lines, a new low that political parties are touching in their bid to fashion victories any which way. ‘Lovely, Praji’ like a Punjabi will say, and ‘Nala,’ like a Malayali will add.
Politicians are talking of North India’s supremacy and the political and economic costs South India and East India for being compelled to shell out because electoral democracy dictates so. It was, in fact, waiting to happen for a long time. But so long as so-called secular parties were at the helm, this question stayed on the back-burner, simmering.
The Congress and the Left parties are “national” and their acceptance countrywide. The Bharatiya Janata Party has, on the other hand, the Achilles heel of being considered a party of North India by north Indians for north Indians. And North India limited to Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. Bihar an adjunct.
Come think of it, these were the contours of ‘India’ for all political purposes for all these 70 years. These states set the agenda for all of India. Whether it be who’ll be Prime Minister of India; which political party will head a coalition government or will/should there be war? And barring Gujarat, the rest are all basically Hindi-speaking states though accents and dialects differ.
So long as Congress ruled, language and regional divisions rarely became election issues. Regional disparities, deliberate negligence of non-Hindi speaking states and dominance of Hindi-speakers did not become part of political discourse. This was so even when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became Prime Minister.
The election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, however, marked an inflexion point. For some reason, Modi could not win the trust of South Indians, especially the Malayali and the Tamil,and the Bengali to an extent. It’s not language. It’s ‘he’, ‘him’ – it’s Modi. The man and his personality. And this is kind of odd. Modi has never with word slighted the South Indian, Malayali or Tamil.
Some of his actions and decisions, however, worked against him. Refusing to give special status to Andhra Pradesh that both Chandrababu Naidu and Jagan Reddy seek left him alienated in Andhra Pradesh. At least that was the perception created. And Chandrababu Naidu’s attitude did not help matters improve.
Similarly, the Malayali, though considered level-headed, practical, got carried away by Modi’s refusal to accept UAE-aid for flood-hit Kerala last August. Modi was following policy set by the Manmohan Singh government. He could have reversed policy. But India is an emerging economic superpower and it doesn’t look good accepting aid from a country a 100 times less powerful.
Anyway, the Malayali is not in a mood to forgive Modi. Also, there are other things which sets a Malayali apart. Beef-eating is one part, the cow vigilantism that marked Modi-raj and Modi’s inability to rein in the gaurakshaks were seen as deliberate and “very Hindutva.”
The Malayali is a peculiar-secular. He is conservative as Carnatic music. And Kathakali. But is largely liberal when dealing with his and another man’s religion. Hindutva is slowly taking hold in Kerala society, slowly! There’s a still a long way to go for BJP and RSS to capture Malayali minds in a benign manner. Kerala is Congress and Left-entrenched. The Malayali doesn’t quite recognize Modi legitimate political heir.
Rahul Gandhi’s choice to contest from Wayanad has brought the north-south divide into stark relief. Modi regards it as political cowardice. He terms Rahul running off to contest from a ‘non-Hindu state’. And Rahul Gandhi returned the compliment by alleging that ever since Modi became Prime Minister, South India has been neglected and alienated.
Both these thoughts will reflect in the voting, this north-south rhetoric. And, now, we have Mamata Banerjee talking the same language. That the BJP and Modi are imposing North Indian ethos on the ‘Bangaliana’ of Bengal. Mamata ‘Didi’ hammers down on the ‘Hindi-speaking North Indians’ who have no clue of the “ethos of Bengal”, who woefully lack an understanding of ‘Bengaliness.’
Needless to say, this sort of parochial politics will leave scars on the Indian polity. Whether it is Rahul Gandhi or Mamata Banerjee, if either one of them gets to become Prime Minister of India, they will have to assuage the feelings of North Indians while at the same time bring about a level-playing field for all Indians. The wind is out there blowing, the whirlwind will not be far behind.
The BJP and Modi should also learn from this awakening. As India develops rapidly and awareness increases, no one region or people should feel left out of the development process. Whoever is Prime Minister and whichever party is in power should take everybody along. A pipedream, the Malayali will say. Not if Mamata becomes Prime Minister, the Bengali will smile. (IPA Service)