People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 11

March 22, 2009



Rebuff The Politics Of Communal Criminalisation

IF the BJP has any modicum of political morality left in it, it should immediately withdraw the candidature of Varun Gandhi from Pilibhit Lok Sabha constituency for the crass communal venom that he spewed in his election meetings.

The Election Commission has shown alacrity in asking the local police to register a criminal case against Varun Gandhi. Both the Indian Penal Code and the Representation of the People Act, 1951 are unambiguously clear that “promoting communal disharmony” or “seeking votes on the grounds of candidate's religion” are corrupt political practices. The Indian Penal Code, irrespective of whether elections are taking place or not, lists in Section 153A as a cognisable offence: “Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”

The Representation of the People Act, in Section 125, prescribes a similar punishment for those “promoting enmity between classes in connection with election”. This section specifically prescribes that any promotion of enmity or hatred on the grounds of religion shall be punishable similarly.

Since a criminal case has been registered, the BJP now seeks to “let the law take its course”. This will not do. As can be seen from the famous disenfranchisement of the Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray, who was removed from the electoral rolls for six years and prohibited from contesting any election during this period, the process for the law to take its course is, indeed, very long. Bal Thackeray was charged with similar vilification and spreading communal poison in the Vileparle Assembly by-elections in 1987. The punishment for the offence of making inflammatory speeches came finally only in 1999 when the Supreme Court upheld an order of the Bombay High Court finding Bal Thackeray guilty of inciting hatred among religious communities during his election speeches. As per law, the then president of India, late Shri K R Narayanan, had referred the Supreme Court order to the Election Commission to decide on the quantum of penalty. The Election Commission had, then, disenfranchised Bal Thackeray for a period of six years.

In the current instance, Varun Gandhi's crass communal inflammatory utterances cannot wait to be buried under such a long time for the law to take its course. The charges of “doctoring” the videos made by Varun Gandhi are negated by the material available on electronic media like You Tube. Taking a strange view of crime, Varun Gandhi denies those charges claiming that since there was no consequent violence, there is no crime! We are refraining from reproducing the unfiltered communal poison spread by his speeches for the fact that they are simply disgusting and cannot be tolerated in any secular democratic polity. While the law must take its course, it is for the BJP to clear its credentials before the electorate by withdrawing Varun Gandhi's candidature.

This, however, may be too far-fetched. With the RSS declaring that it shall support only that party which promises to build a Ram temple on the disputed site at Ayodhya, the BJP has fallen in line by declaring that its hardcore Hindutva agenda will be its mascot for the 2009 general elections. The way it is conducting itself in Karnataka, now dragging in one of the finest creative artists of the 20th century, Charlie Chaplin, into its line of fire, by objecting his statue, the BJP is clearly moving in the direction of sharpening communal polarisation hoping for electoral benefits. Thus, one need not go far to understand why the erstwhile BJP allies in the NDA have deserted it all down the east coast. The fundamental contradiction of the NDA – the stronger the resurrection of hardcore Hindutva agenda by the BJP, deeper is the alienation of its allies in the NDA – is unfolding.

Under these circumstances, the electorate must, therefore, firmly give such politics of communal criminalisation a fitting rebuff in the forthcoming elections.