Sunny side of Mumbai’s low voter turnout – By Ghulam Muhammed

Friday, May 01, 2009


Sunny side of Mumbai’s low voter turnout


In the just concluded parliamentary elections in Mumbai city’s six constituencies, the voter turnout is reported to be an abysmal 44 percent.


It was a glaring anticlimax for all the media, publicity, PR blitz that had mesmerized the city of Mumbai for over a month. The low turnout had dampened many a soul, but it has its sunny side. The low turnout has proved that without a negative wave of polarisation, the old adage proves right: no news is good news.


The old order when Congress is widely believed to be organising communal riots, through proxies and would follow up with big show of massive state relief and security assurances to minorities, had seen its golden days wither away.


With BJP stealing Congress thunder by its post-Godhra riots and its subsequent exploitation of the violence to win solid majority in the state of Gujarat, Congress had widely believed to have early realised that the old game of garnering votes through organised violence is up. It cannot be the tool of trade to communalize the polity, as now new factors have made the whole strategy more dangerous and non-productive.


Supreme Court for reasons of its own, has come out of its 60 year old lethargy on communal riots when not a single person was hauled in for accountability over thousands of riots across the country, and has been proactive in digging into the murky affairs of Gujarat Riots; thanks to the dogged persistence of activists like Teesta Setalvad and her supporters.


The hate crime has been swiftly nabbed in the bud, when Mayawati applied National Security act to send Varun Gandhi behind bars, for Varun’s open harangues against Muslims. It is notable that through the spectacle, the silence of the Muslim lambs remained exemplary and total.


On the other side, Maharashtra’s new rabble rouser, Raj Thackeray, tasting the heat of the cooler, had realised the limits that he cannot cross in the new changed civil society distaste against violence on the streets.


But the big change was brought about by the single-minded devotion to duty by the late Anti-Terrorist Squad Chief, Hemant Karkare who exposed the saffron conspiracies and laid bare the alleged active participation of Sangh Parivar elements in a series of bombings that media had conveniently blamed on the victims themselves. Enraged Advani and Bal Thackeray thundered against Karkare for daring to step into their fiefdom.  The whole series of televised drama of 26/11 had the mysterious overhang of the widely believed murder of ATS chief Karkare. Only days earlier, Karkare had had been threatened with murder, apparently for exposing the hand of Sangh Parivar in various bombing incidents in Maharashtra and the plans they had for future subversion of the entire political system.


All such happenings, widely reported by electronic media and flashed around the world by international news agencies, had convinced the political operators that India is no longer the closed ghetto, that escaped the world scrutiny through out Nehru-Gandhi Parivar’s long stretch at the helm of a cordoned country. It is the world beyond India’s borders that made important moves to bring a new image of India to the world. Imagine, BJP’s next to next prime ministerial candidate being barred from visiting the US over his alleged role in 2002 Gujarat riots. He is afraid of even visiting the UK, under threat of being hauled up in British courts over his role in the communal riots.


The old order of garnering of votes by polarizing the society and instigating public disorder to drive voters to the polling booth, has to be given up, possibly temporarily. Now that Kamandal (a widely used word denoting Hindu communalism) has been eclipsed, the danger of Mandal (Casteism) has surfaced. However, neither Congress nor BJP has the nerve to fight a Mandal war, to the extant of garnering their majorities anywhere in the country.


The low turnout in Mumbai has been attributed by the media to a number of factors, except the mutation of communal polarisation. Media in corporate hands, is still hopeful that it can resurrect the demon, at a moment’s notice. But the international spotlight is too harsh for trouble-mongers to escape scrutiny and reprisals. Media is not above the law. Even though 3 editorial staff of the Times on India, were arrested by Azad Maidan Police and later released on bail, for publishing objectionable material; in a solidarity of the journalist brotherhood, entire news was blacked out by the media all over the country. But that shows that government is willing and prepared to haul up journalists behind prison bars if they cross red lines.


The role of media in nourishing hate and communal division is yet to come under greater scrutiny, but it would seem that people are already getting immune to media instigations.


All this does not solve the problem of Indian democracy, as how to move 700 million voters to polling booths, every now and then, and expect them to choose the same lot that has made a mess of the country, at least for the majority of have-notes. The anger is too deep to be channelised merely through civil means of tame elections. For all practical purposes, this should be interpreted as silence before the storm.


Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai





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