With Elections 2014 getting portrayed as a communalism vs secularism debate, social activists and NGOs from across the country have entered the fray, working in tandem to check Narendra Modi — even if that means aligning with political parties and “lesser evils”.
If eminent intellectuals and artistes like Salman Rushdie, Jayati Ghosh, Chetan Bhatt, Kumkum Sangari, Homi K Bhabha, Deepa Mehta have signed open letters in global newspapers saying Modi as prime minister would “bode ill for India’s future”, a huge number of NGOs are mobilising at the ground level against Modi and a possible “communal takeover” of the country.
Under the aegis of the the Janvadi Vichaar Andolan, Bharat (JAVAB), NGOs, social activists and civil society groups have fanned out to around 100 constituencies, including Varanasi and Lucknow, asking voters to help “safeguard” secularism and democracy. Armed with “fact sheets” on Gujarat titled ‘Gujarat news that the media doesn’t bring to you’, they are holding meetings, nukkad sabhas (corner talks) and door-to-door campaigns, as well as reaching people over email.
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Another set of NGOs has come together in Varanasi, the stage for the big electoral battle between Modi and Arvind Kejriwal. Around 23 of them, including Vidya Ashram, Sajha Sanskriti Manch, Sarvodaya Andolan, Lokavidya Jan Andolan, People’s Vigilance Committee for Human Rights, Bharatiya Kisan Union, Gandhian Institute of Studies, All India People’s Solidarity Organisation, have come together, citing the “special situation” arising out of “fellow activist” Kejriwal being in the fray. They are urging the nation to support the Aam Aadmi Party.
Amarnath Bhai of the Sarvodaya Andolan says that while he has some reservations about Kejriwal’s stance on the Jan Lokpal issue, the AAP leader is the “lesser evil” and represents a new political thought.
The controversial remarks by Sangh acolytes, latest by VHP leader Pravin Togadia, are seized upon by these NGOs to prove their point. A leaflet distributed by JAVAB says, “…Those who use divisive communal politics need to be kept under check. In 2014 on one hand we have traders of hatred and on the other hand are democratic forces… Friends, democracy is at stake.
We have no option but to stand with those who could provide a strong and viable opposition against the forces of fascism at the national level as well as other parts of the country. We are not weak, we are spread all over the country, lets stand united and have just one agenda — safeguarding our democracy and the Indian Constitution.”
JAVAB is concentrating its efforts on 25 constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, 18 in West Bengal, another 18 in Bihar and some 8 in Maharashtra, apart from some seats in Karnataka and Assam. They are mostly seats with a sizeable minority population.
Like the NGOs in Varanasi, they are not averse to seeking votes for other parties to “stem the Modi tide”. “So in Bihar we could be working to support the RJD or Congress, in Uttar Pradesh it could be the BSP or even the Samajwadi Party despite what happened in Muzaffarnagar…
In the south we have only gone as far as Karnataka due to serious budgetary constraints. We are in fact running on a shoestring budget — some Rs 20 lakh collected through donations and personal efforts,” social activist Shabnam Hashmi of Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), who is associated with the JAVAB initiative, says.
Azhar Khan of the Maharashtra-based Pragatik Vichar Manch insists the JAVAB campaign is non-political. “We have started campaigning in eight-nine constituencies and the response on the ground is good. Nearly 200-300 small civil society groups and individuals have joined us. We don’t see a Modi wave. Most interesting is the response of youngsters. Most of them feel they have been misled on the so-called development of Gujarat. They also express reservations about a PM candidate with such poor knowledge of the country’s history and geography,” Khan says.