Lok Sabha 2024: Communal electioneering subverts the ideal of fraternity

Fraternity is one of the crown jewels of the Constitution and the Republic but politicians are trampling this value to catch easy votes.

ByFaisal C.K.

Published May 14, 2024 | 11:00 AMUpdatedMay 14, 2024 | 11:00 AM

Telangana elections

The Indian general election 2024 is the largest-ever exercise of democracy in human history. It is like the festival of Saturnalia in ancient Rome, a season of liberty and equality for all, irrespective of their social ranking.

The Constitution conceives a free and fair gala of democracy, and the Election Commission of India is the ‘King of the Saturnalia’, who presides over the fest. But the communal campaigning blended with hate speech against minorities extinguishes the very exhilaration of the election process.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the cynosure of the election campaign, is himself continuing with his diatribe against the Muslim community in his election speeches across the country. He has misled the public with skewed facts, claiming that the Congress party was planning to rob Adivasis and other communities of their property and give it to Muslims, derogatorily calling them ‘infiltrators’ and ‘vote jihadis’.

Moreover, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recently shared videos on its social media accounts depicting the Congress giving disproportionate benefits to the Muslim community at the cost of certain disadvantaged tribal and Hindu caste groups. The most baffling side of this foul play is the silence and inactivity of the ‘King of the Saturnalia’.

Related: ‘PM harping on Hindu-Muslim issue’

Menial and dangerous gizmo

Communalism in politics is as menial as obscenity in art and literature. Both demand little creativity and imagination but catch the undue traction of laymen and win rich dividends. Their lethal side effect is the vitiation of the individual mind and social psyche. Such manipulations and machinations undermine the very foundation of democratic values. Democracy, in its true sense, is a system based on the principle of equality, and it recognises the inherent dignity and worth of every individual.

One can easily discern that communal electioneering undermines the Constitutional design of India. India is a secular republic that promises equality of status and liberty of belief and worship for all its citizens. The Constitution aspires to promote fraternity among all the citizens, to assuage the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation, irrespective of their breed and creed. The Constitution further encourages the citizens to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst themselves, transcending religious, linguistic, and regional or sectional diversities and to value and preserve the composite culture of India.

However, the politicians disregard these Constitutional commandments to catch easy election votes. Communal campaigning has always been a plague afflicted with Indian elections. Bal Thackeray, during the 1995 Maharashtra Assembly elections, declared: “If the Election Commission allows burqa-clad women of the minority community to exercise their franchise in the ensuing election, the Shiv Sena won’t allow elections to be held, not only in Maharashtra but the whole of Hindustan”.

He further said: “If their [Muslims’] heart is in Pakistan, and their body is here, we won’t want Muslims here”. Thackeray’s communal campaign attracted huge crowds and led to a surge in his party’s popularity. Thackeray’s acidic attacks on ‘pro-Pak’ Muslims paid him rich rewards as his party voted to power for the first time in Maharashtra.

Also read: PM’s communal remarks in Rajasthan

Why fraternity matters

If the Preamble is the crown of our Constitution, ‘fraternity’ is one of its crown jewels, and it is the lifeblood of our republic. Our Constitution borrowed the ideal of fraternity from the French Revolution but has strong and deep indigenous roots. The 12th Major Rock Edict of emperor Ashoka, inscribed in the 3rd century BCE, proclaims: “One should honour another man’s sect, for by so doing one increases the influence of one’s own sect and benefits that of the other man…Concord is to be commended so that men may hear one another’s principles”.

Nonetheless, ‘fraternity’ has always been delicate in India. Rajmohan Gandhi, in his Fraternity: Constitutional Norm and Human Need, rightly observed: “The vast majority of the population, including those who grew grain, or raised cattle, or wove cloth, or pushed loads on India’s rough paths, or removed carcasses, or toiled in other ways across the broad territory of India-they did not taste democracy.

“They surely tasted precious bonds with some others, but almost always, those were bonds within a family, Jati, or tribe and seemed often joined to an aversion to, or from, fellow humans beyond their small circle…Clinging down the centuries to caste, Indian society had legitimized, in Ambedkar’s unforgettable phrase, an ‘ascending scale of reverence and a descending scale of contempt’. And there was untouchability! Before the Buddha, and after him. It’s there still, in 2024, whatever the Constitution and its abolition-of-untouchability article might say”.

Rajmohan Gandhi further stated that fraternity is not a quality that naturally, inevitably, or continually governs relationships among India’s diverse groups. “It does not seem to be a tree that grows by itself or a stream that flows by itself. It seems to require human assistance — from India’s inhabitants and rulers”.

Dr Ambedkar explained the importance of ‘fraternity’ in our Constitutional scheme: “What does fraternity mean? Fraternity means a sense of common brotherhood of all Indians — Indians being one people. It is the principle that gives unity and solidarity to social life. Without fraternity, equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint” But unfortunately, the most powerful constitutional functionary himself is indulging in undermining the sacrosanct precept of fraternity for petty electoral gains today. When gold is rusting, nothing better can be expected from iron.

Related: Secularism is pejorative for powerful, says Sonia

LK Advani on fraternity

During his tumultuous visit to Pakistan in 2005, BJP leader LK Advani was asked by a guest at a dinner party: “Advani sahab, you are a Sindhi who migrated to India after Partition. Didn’t you face any discrimination when you went there? How did you become the President of one of the largest political parties in India and, later, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister? And why do you think the migrants who came here from India — muhajirs as they are still called — have not had the same kind of success in Pakistan?”

Advani replied: “It will surprise you to know that neither I nor any other migrant — Sindhi, Punjabi, or Bengali — ever felt like outsiders, whatever profession we chose for ourselves. This is because of the essentially tolerant and integrative character of Indian society. This is true not only about migrants but also all the diverse religious, caste, linguistic, and ethnic groups in India. I would attribute this character basically to our democratic system of governance and India’s national ethos rooted in our culture” (L.K. Advani, My Country My Life, pp. 798-799).

The gist of Advani’s reply was that India is tolerant, inclusive, and has a pluralist ethos — in other words, India’s evergreen fraternity that accommodated all. Presenting a seasoned statesman’s solemn note to politicians indulging in communal politicking is like casting pearls before swine. But the citizen-elector must not allow the sacrifice of the Constitutional value of fraternity on the altar of an electoral rat race.

(Faisal C.K. is Deputy Law Secretary to the Government of Kerala. Views are personal.)

(Edited by VVP Shama.)