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Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Need for an enlightened and elastic Hindu Vote Bank

By Ram Chandra

When I googled to find a definition for ‘vote bank’, I stumbled upon the Wikipedia link. Being the largest democracy in the world, India has contributed immensely to the electoral lexicon. The site informed me that the term ‘vote bank’ too is indigenous, thanks to M.N. Srinivas.

The site defines vote bank as “a loyal bloc of voters from a single community, who consistently back a certain candidate or political formation in democratic elections. Such behavior is often the result of an expectation of real or imagined benefits from the political formations, often at the cost of other communities”. It goes on to state that “Vote bank politics is the practice of creating and maintaining vote banks through divisive policies. As this brand of politics encourages voters to vote on the basis of narrow communal considerations, often against their better judgement, it is considered inimical to democracy.” I am not sure whether Srinivas would have agreed to this definition. I, for one, am a votary of a ‘Hindu Vote Bank’, and would disagree.

We are in an era of divisive and exclusive politics, harping on narrow communal, casteist, regional and even sub-regional grounds. Vote bank politics as it is practised today, would largely subscribe to the given definition. Proliferation of regional and local parties, with its own limited and narrow mandates, offer immense opportunities as well as serious threats. The mushrooming of these parties largely owe to the feeling of alienation of the marginalised, and the failure of the larger national parties to give voice to these voiceless. The rising expectations and unmet needs of these social groups could now be appropriately raised and redressed. At the same time, opportunitive politics and fragmented electoral mandates pose a peculiar situation, where often the larger interests of the nation is often seen to be compromised. It is not the least to say that national parties are more responsive to national needs; but rather in this complex multi-party system, national priorities give way to sub-national political compulsions. I find only a single solution to this problem. In a competitive democratic system, for preserving the unity and integrity of India, we should have a vibrant and enlightened Hindu Vote Bank.

To begin with, the first premise of the definition that for “creating and maintaining vote banks” we have to follow “divisive policies”. I am rather envisaging a Hindu Vote Bank though ‘consolidative policies’. It has to target a larger audience, transcending regional, casteist, or even narrow communal considerations. Democracy is a game of numbers, and he who has the benefit of numbers on his side, wins. For the success of any vote-bank, the primary prerequisite is to have substantial number of voters committed to it. In the process of mobilising largest numbers, the expectations and needs of the marginalised and the voiceless minorities would also be incorporated into the broader agenda. Hindu vote bank, even by wierdest stretch of imagination, cannot be a homogeneous and monolithic entity; but rather a mosaic of multifarious and diverse groups of people, coming under the socio-cultural umbrella of pan-Indian cultural nationalism.

It has to be uncompromisingly ensured that Hindu vote bank is not to bring in a “tyranny of majority” to quote Tocqueville. Being pro-Hindu is not to be presumed as anti-Islam or anti-Christian. Majority vote bank politics is not to rival, compete or outdo the minority communities; it is rather an engine that would drive and steer the country along its path of progress, inclusively, without delinking a single bogie from the train. Hindu vote bank is to be consolidated not on narrow communal considerations, but on inclusive ideological considerations.

To have a strong vote bank, there should be a strong apolitical ‘guardian’ for this vote-bank. Vote-bank should not be identified with any specific political party; but should rather exist on its own, independent, and self-assertive. If the ‘guardian’ fails in its unflinching integrity, efficacy and unquestionable credibility, the whole proposition would be detrimentally counter-productive. It should be ensured that the vote-bank is not highjacked and used for manipulative bargaining. Else it could well be an anti-national Frankenstien.

The theories of social choice and public choice, with champions like Nobel Prime winner economist Kenneth Arrow and eminent social scientist Maurice Duverger, have established benefits of a constructive pressure-group in voter market. This aggregation is of “individual interests, or judgements, or well-beings, into some notion of social welfare, social judgement, or social choice”. A healthy and vibrant Hindu vote bank with a credible and honest ‘guardian’, will transform and clean up the existing opaque and inefficient voter market.

In a competitive voter market, Hindu Vote Bank would enjoy ‘inelastic’ demand from various parties. Voter market is traditionally a demand driven market, and if transparent and efficient would enable an enlightened and informed supplier i.e. voter to avail constructive bargaining power. The ‘guardian’ can leverage his strengths, bargain with political parties from a position of strength, and ensure maximum benefits to its constituents.

Hindu vote bank would also have cascading effects in dislodging the hardliner drivers of minority vote bank politics. As a result we can anticipate emergence of liberalist thinking dominating the minority vote banks, trying to establish some commonalities with the majority.

With an enlightened and elastic ‘pressure group’ which can on its own win or defeat parties in elections, no government would be compelled to make another Shah Bano amendment, or to delay the execution of court orders against a Terrorist or to repeal a much needed anti-terrorist Act, fearing the brinkmanship of present hardliner-dominated minority vote bank. And there can be no more opportune time than the present one, to go about doing it.

(The writer is a social thinker and administrator.)

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