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Kuldip Nayar is a senior journalist, human rights activist and author.

Rahul’s poor show should worry Cong

s the dust settles, I wonder if the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur have further nurtured democracy. When I see most countries, from Europe to Asia, paying lip service to democratic elections, I feel proud that India stands practically alone with a civil authority at the top.

Yet I am dismayed that caste, religion and money play a crucial role in the elections. My estimate is that the candidates, together, would have spent more than Rs 2,000 cr in these elections. The Election Commission can do little because the money is distributed at unknown places, generally in the hush of the night. No Lokpal can detect this because the purchasing of votes takes place at the individual level. Political parties employ hundreds of hands in each constituency in the name of "bandobast".

The Election Commission has confiscated nearly Rs 50 cr in cash and some trucks carrying liquor. Instances of "paid news" have also been spotted. But all this does not amount to even 1% of the money the candidates and political parties have spent. Yet, the EC, or, specifically Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi should be commended for giving us a violence-free election. Quraishi stretched the polling to over six weeks so that the Central security forces could be made available in all five states. This is a sad reflection on the state police. They are so much at the beck and call of the Chief Ministers that no fair election will be possible if left to the states. The local police used to act independently till the mid-1970s when morality was banished from politics.

What has stood in good stead is the model code of conduct, agreed upon by all political parties some 20 years ago. The ruling Congress is the only party to join issue with the Commission on this and has threatened to make the code statutory so that allegations of malpractice are taken to the law courts instead of the Election Commission, where the complaint is attended to forthwith.

I am not surprised that the BJP uses the building of a temple at the Babri Masjid site as an issue. The party's ethos is Hindutva and its mentor, the RSS, has nothing else on the agenda. But I am disappointed when the Congress communalises elections. The party introduced the proposal of a sub-quota for Muslims inside the quota for Other Backward Classes. First, it is wrong to take away a part of reservations from the OBCs. Secondly, reservation on the basis of religion is not allowed by the Constitution.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid, who promoted the idea, should know that this is how the theory of two nations, Hindus and Muslims, came to be propounded before Partition. We should, in fact, be discussing why secularism has not been taking roots in our country when the Constitution guarantees equality before law and when secularism is the basic structure of the Constitution. Why cannot a Muslim still get a house in certain localities in big cities? Why is the caste system so oppressive among Hindus, including liberals?

The Akalis in Punjab could have played the Sikh card, but did not because the party has come to be firmly committed to secularism, to Hindu and Sikh unity. Yet this is the same party which plugged the line of Sikh identity a decade ago. It has now opened its doors to Hindus as well.

I wish the BJP would change its outlook. It should be clear to the party that an average Indian is not communal and is happy to coexist with members of other communities. The BJP, which has gone down in its tally in UP, from 51 to 47, fought under the shadow of the mandir. The party inducted Uma Bharti, who was seen jumping in joy with Murli Manohar Joshi after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

s for the Congress, I fail to understand its strategy regarding Rahul Gandhi. It was amusing to see party leaders sheltering him from criticism for the UP fiasco, until he himself took responsibility for the debacle. The endless and irritating defence is that the Congress' organisational weakness is at fault, not Rahul Gandhi. Responsibility for that also lies on Rahul's shoulders because he is a party general secretary who has shown interest in UP from day one.

I have no doubt that Rahul Gandhi worked hard in UP. The Congress leaders can say that on the basis of his work the party improved its position. Still its tally is a mere 28 (37 with its ally RLD) in an Assembly of 403. The Congress should seriously ponder about Rahul's appeal, because he did not sell in Bihar and has not done well in UP as well.

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