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April 01, 2021 Thursday 05:25:36 PM IST

Vote Banks and Future of Secularism In India

Guest Column

This is a bank that gets talked about when elections are around the corner but where the investments are votes and not money! However, there is no regulator unlike our traditional banking or insurance systems.

The other day, our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in his election campaign at Palakkad, considered food granary of Kerala, alleged that the ruling Left Demcratic Front (LDF) and Congress led United Democratic Front (LDF) is playing 'vote bank politics' to fatten their pockets. Whether it meant money or votes is not clear.  However, National Democratic Front alliance also cannot absolve itself from vote bank politics as their Hindutva ideology attacks the pluralist nature of the country.

How vote banks are created?
India's diversity of culture, religion, languages and trade lends itself to various kinds of vote banks for political parties. It may be a minority religion or major religious groups or marginalised communities such as dalits, fishermen, farmers group such as those involved in rubber plantations, caste denominations  and business groups. Unless political parties cater to their interests and desist from making remarks that offend such communities, a large percentage of votes can turn out against them in elections. Even candidates in some places are chosen on the basis of caste and communal considerations as it improve the chances of winning the elections. 

In short vote banks can be categorised broadly into 1) religion or caste 2) minority groups 3) job or vocation related -farmers or planters  ( more than 60% of population engaged in this ) 4) business or trade groups.

It is not therefore surprising to find leadership of all major political parties or fronts meeting religious leaders when polls are announced. There are a plethora of interest groups and lobbyists in religion, trade, farming, plantations, Dalit communities that approach the government with their issues. And failure to address those issues can cause a swing in favour of the opposition front or group. Hence, the need to secure the vote banks at all times.

The other day some media houses had published opinion polls giving details about the perception of voters split into Hindu, Muslim, Christians and Dalits about the ruling party and likelihood of them returning to power. This shows the polarization of the society into various groups and how parties need to secure those groups with them. 

It is not clear how the vote banks emerged but some attribute the rise of BJP in the last three or four decades  from nothingness to becoming strong enough to rule the country due to the appeasement policies of Congress.  However, critics of this theory point out that Muslim community hasn’t benefited so far due to appeasement politics as the programmes meant for the welfare of the minorities never reached them.  The word ‘ appeasement’ itself has a negative connotation as it gives the impression of doing something to woo more votes or get favour.

Research on Appeasement

Considerable research has been done on secularism, appeasement minorities and rise of Hindutva ideology that led to BJP dominance since 2014.
Christophe Jaffrelot, a researcher on nationalism and democracy, has pointed out that India's secular tradition was not just undermined by Hindutva forces but also by the Congress party which cynically jockeyed for the support of different voting blocs and by stoking divisive issues of social identity (a practice known as vote banking). His view is that future of secularism in the country will depend on future electoral success of ruling BJP at the Centre and strategies of opposition parties to counter it. 

It may be good to recall some of the important observations made by Swami Vivekananda in his speech to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in September, 1893.

“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”

True Secularism
Noted writer and columnist, NS Madhavan tweeted about real secularism the other day by recounting a story of Jawaharlal Nehru. "During 1960 elections the bishops in Kerala circulated a letter to laity (edayalekhanam) asking them not to vote for communists. Nehru, in an election speech in Maharajas college ground ( in Kochi, Kerala) asked the clergy not to meddle in politics. That was true secularism.

Student Research
Students of secondary and senior secondary schools and those taking history or political science as optional could undertake research on how the secular fabric of the nation originally envisaged by the framers of Indian Constitution had got diluted and goes against the culture of religious tolerance that has been the hall mark of Indian civilization. A survey among minority groups and marginalized communities could be undertaken. Stakeholders (teachers, students, historians and academicians) are free to send suggestions on this topic to editor@rajagirimedia.com.

Some Reference Books:
Why  I am a Hindu: Shashi Tharoor
Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (https://advaitaashrama.org/cw/content.php)
Discovery of India: Jawaharlal Nehru (https://www.indianculture.gov.in/discovery-india)

Sreekumar Raghavan

Sreekumar Raghavan is an award-winning business journalist with over two and a half decades of experience in print, magazine and online journalism. A Google-certified Digital Marketing Professional, he specialises in content development for web, digital marketing and training, media relations and related areas. He is the recipient of MP Narayana Pillai Award for Journalism in 2001 and holds a bachelors degree in Economics and Masters Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Kerala University.





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