All signals in the Indian politics are pointing towards a midterm poll. The UPA is busy fashioning out policies aimed at the Muslim community. As M J Akbar has written, the decisive moment in Indian politics comes not when leaders believe that they have convinced the electorate but when they are certain that they have convinced themselves. “If you want to know when a general election is likely to be announced, check the faces inside Parliament. If the leaders look buoyant and the MPs glum, you know an election cannot be too far away.”
And by all indications, the election in India does not seem far away. Clues are all around. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s public utterances are riddled with clues. The so called mechanism set up to calm nuclear nerves between the Congress and the Left has bought only reasonable peace.
One more revealing clue was the fact that India’s Minorities minister (yes, the country has one though so few know about it that the poor fellow has lost all stature) A.R. Antulay has been pulled out from the woodwork to announce a follow-up to the Sachar Committee recommendations for Muslims. As one scholar has written, “When Congress throws sops in the general direction of Muslims, can elections be far behind?”
But it is at a time like this that the Sikh community is poorly poised to make its stance count. In Punjab, the Parkash Singh Badal-Sukhbir Singh Badal-BJP-RSS regime is sending signals that it should not even be counted. It cavorts with the RSS while it has spent most of its time in power thanking the Centre for one thing or the other. For forty years, Parkash Singh Badal was clear that the Congress was the enemy of the Sikhs. Then he found a bigger enemy, struck an alliance with it, and toned down even his opposition to the Congress. As far as the Sikh argument was concerned, it is completely out and the Badals have shamelessly declared themselves as a secular party, even stating it on oath before the Election Commission of India.
The responsible representatives of the Sikhs are busy in an internecine war as has been brought about by the WSN in its cover story in this edition, and in the write-ups in the last edition. These midterm elections are happening at a time when India is in the throes of a violent fever. A bus accident in Agra makes the young turn to stones and arson. A dalit’s death in Haryana brings the community out on the streets. Caste wars surface all the time. Sikhs are totally disappointed. Muslims are restless and angry, imbued with a sense of betrayal as yet another government they helped elect has given them committee reports rather than justice.
One part of the crimes of the winter of 1992-93 has been punished, but those who indulged in anti-Muslim riots, including policemen named by the Srikrishna report, are untouched by the law. Any protest is fobbed by the promise of action tomorrow. Tomorrow is a day that never comes. Not in brahamanical India.
The nuclear deal with the United States will be an issue in the next general elections, but it will not be the only debate. Campaign season is question time, so the questions that have not yet been articulated will rise to the top of the debate.
In times like this, the Sikhs need to make sure that they have a leadership in position which can make the voice of the community heard. The speed and the clarity with which a message travels in time of elections in India are remarkable when compared to sedate times. That some leaders of the Sikhs, particularly whom the community gave great respect and provided huge opportunity, have chosen this moment in history to trigger fratricidal war is a sad fact of history. That some leaders think it is only a matter of sense of humour is all the more sad. The community wanted their sagacity, and their valour. It can search for its humour elsewhere.