Reference is made to Mr. Ralph Ramkarran’s column, `At 53, it’s time to place a political solution on the agenda’ (SN May 26). I could not agree more. I have supported the call for power sharing since the days of the struggle for the restoration of democracy.
However, I disagree with Mr. Ramkarran’s conclusion on the recently held general elections in India. Mr. Ramkarran misread the politics of India.
As part of my academic studies on India elections, I spent six weeks polling in India last December and January and another month in April and May during the election campaign. I was also there countless times prior to December conducting surveys and lecturing at several universities and serving as a managing consultant at a private university. I moved around several states – was in the urban and rural areas, in the slums and suburbs. I interacted with people from all classes and castes and I shared my findings with the public at reputable universities at lectures. My real on the ground experience (findings) differ from Ramkarran’s conclusions.
The BJP received all round support from all categories of voters. These were not only my findings but also the findings of election studies conducted by the centre for survey studies (CSDS-Lokniti Post-Poll Survey) which is largely an anti-Modi (anti-BJP) group.
Contrary to what Ramkarran penned, India’s youth were not lured to the BJP by “hate politics” but by Indian nationalism against terror funded from across the border. If one factor can explain Modi’s victory, it was the bombing of a terror camp in Pakistan in February. My earlier surveys showed the BJP struggling to retain office. Every Indian voter, male and female, Hindu and Muslim, supported Modi on the surgical strike against Pakistan terror camp. It landed the BJP victory in the elections. Even farmers who were hurting and youths who were unemployed voted for Modi on the issue of nationalism.
With regards to caste, based on my projections, BJP received some 20% support from the lower castes. The lower castes make up about 70% of the population. Without lower caste support, the BJP could not win the elections. In fact, the lower caste alliance failed to dislodge the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the two states from where 90% of Guyanese trace their roots. The BJP won 64 out of 80 seats in UP and 39 out of 40 in Bihar. The BJP received some 63% of the votes in both states – where Upper Castes and upper class make up less than a quarter of the population. Lower castes and Muslims make up almost 75% of the population in both states. So BJP could not win so many seats in these states without cross over religious and caste votes.
On Muslim support, Muslims make up over 20% of voters in some 200 seats; without Muslim support, BJP could not win so many seats. Many Muslim women voted for BJP because the party offered them gender equality. The BJP has sought to eliminate triple talaq divorces (with men saying I divorce you three times) leaving women vulnerable without financial security. The BJP insists that females be given financial compensation for any divorce which should be done in courts rather than in families and the jamaat. Muslim women have greater faith in BJP than in other parties. Without Muslim and lower caste support, BJP alliance could not win 353 seats. Another reason why BJP won is the lack of credibility of the opposition and the rank opportunism of some parties; they were not viable alternatives. Modi was preferred by over two-thirds of voters among the choices for PM.
Contrary to what Mr. Ramkarran penned, the judiciary and elections commission were (are) not subverted. In India, unlike in Guyana and most other countries, the judiciary and the elections commission are autonomous and independent. The Supreme Court ruled against the BJP and Modi in several cases. The BJP never defied court’s or Election Commission’s orders. The BJP was chastised by the elections commission; several of the BJP’s star campaigners were banned from campaigning.
Mr. Ramkarran is right that India has much influence in Guyana because of religious and cultural factors and Guyana is a beneficiary of India’s largesse. But India never influenced Guyana’s politics. Had that been the case, India would not have stood by and allowed Indians and other ethnic groups to be persecuted during the period of the dictatorship. Do not forget that many Indian food and religious items were banned during the dictatorship. And religion never influenced how we vote in Guyana. Ethnicity (race) shapes voting behaviour in Guyana as it does in countless countries including in the great USA.
National unity has proved elusive in our country over the last 180 years. As Mr. Ramkarran has argued in several columns, it is time we look to some form of power sharing in which all ethnic groups are included in government formation through their elected leadership in democratic elections.
Vishnu Bisram (PhD)