Category : COVER STORY
Author : Aura Staff

It is well-known that at the time of India’s independence, there was a great deal of scepticism over whether a newly independent country, mostly illiterate and bogged down with immense poverty, could successfully execute the practicalities of universal adult franchise. Nevertheless, it did, and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, many general elections later, it is often dubbed, particularly in international publications, as a “festival of democracy” – the largest in the world. Democracy is premised on another related concept – citizenship. Citizens stake claim to representation and are enmeshed in a framework of rights and duties. But in a polarised polity, such as present-day India, certain minority groups have been dubbed en masse as ghuspetiye – infiltrators. Then – what is the value of their vote? Where do they stand in Indian democracy?

When the CAA-NRC protests broke out, it rested on the fact that the citizenship rights of Muslims – and other minorities – were being challenged and threatened by a belligerent government. It was not unprecedented how the Indian government treats certain groups as infilitrators based on their religion and ethnicity – take the case of Bengali Muslims in Assam; or how Rohingyas are mistreated and ghettoised, barely surviving in camps scattered across the country – is already evidence for how certain groups have been deemed unworthy of dignified citizenship. The horrifying detention camps that have characterised Assam’s landscape and the foreigners tribunals – quasi-judicial bodies at best – which are rewarded based on how many poor Bengalis they declare as non-citizens is a dark (and ongoing) chapter in modern Indian democracy.

Then, when the prime minister spoke about how the wealth – personal wealth – of Hindu women would be forcibly snatched were the INDIA alliance come to power and given to ghuspetiye, it was not surprising but marked another chapter in this saga, one where wealth redistribution (something the Congress manifesto did not promise!) is being linked to anti-minority politics in a way that frames Muslims having the possibility to ‘seize’ the first right on resources in the country. The emotive appeal of how the Opposition – coded as Muslims – would snatch the ‘mangalsutra’ of Hindu women (completely ignoring how wealth redistribution, even if hypothetical, does not include personal possessions) is yet another way to provoke sentiments around the everlasting spectre of Muslim male violence that has always been an undercurrent in Hindutva discourse.

This is deeply ironic since Muslims have been systematically shut out of resources in every which way. A vast majority of Muslims find themselves limited to the unorganised sector, working in very vulnerable conditions. Even those jobs are at threat with systematic campaigns such as those that target Muslims – thook jihad, (alleged) cow protection, the “puncturewala” tag, or even targeting Muslim fruit and vegetable vendors when the ‘QR code’ of their carts reveal their Muslim names. Those who crack the UPSC ceiling or make it to government jobs find themselves targeted similarly. Which resources are being spoken of, then?

The ongoing elections have thrown up many debates, including that of the caste census, social justice issues, and other progressive measures. But the ruling government has targeted all such measures proposed in the opposition’s manifesto – which would normally formulate a basic checklist of any good welfare state, and is not radical by any measure – as “freebie” politics – also derisively called revdi (a local sweet dish that has somehow come to stand in for populist measures) politics. But there is no conversation about how what is being called a ‘freebie’ is actually the government’s fundamental responsibility to its citizens. If we have reached a stage where basic social security measures, or free bus passes for women (which enable their mobility and helps them save for other expenses) are being touted as freebies, then the fundamental nature of the state is being unravelled.

The power of a vote has been touted time and time again. But the value of a vote is even more important, now more than ever. The month of May will mark the bulk of the elections for the Lok Sabha. It will be marked, inevitably, by more provocations, more dogwhistle speeches, and more dormancy from the Election Commission. But in an election that has been rather quiet – both from the side of the voter and the campaign – several key issues can be raised consistently by a concerted opposition and civil society. Beyond the construction of temples and the coded language that is meant to signal the continued dehumanisation of a community, several issues have been haunting India for years and have only worsened in the past ten years, and the mishandling of the pandemic. Whether it is price rise, unemployment, the induced collapse of the public education system, the increasing disparities in Indian society based on caste, religion, and other identities, the insecurity that Indian women face in their homes and their workplaces – there is a great deal to bring to the fore, as citizens and voters. The election has only begun, but the struggle for a democratic country will continue beyond it, no matter the results.

1 Comment

  1. Usmankhan

    Revdi and Rabdi seem to have been mixed up. Rabdi is kind of a sweet dish. Revdi is something like a toffee or chocolate and is. hard .It is usually distributed at a time
    of happy occasion.


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