Major Parties failed to address several Pressing Issues in MP: Activist L. S. Herdenia

December 8, 2018

Veteran secular activist L. S. Herdenia talks to Sabrangindia about Madhya Pradesh’s recently concluded elections, Hindutva in the state, and how key issues influence voters.

MP Election
What are the pressing issues that you believe political parties have neglected in this election?
There were many such issues, which should have been taken care of, but in my opinion both parties (Congress and BJP) failed to give a positive assurance to Muslims, Dalits and Tribals. For example, the Congress failed to mention the implementation of the Sachar committee report in its manifesto, which they chose to describe as ‘vachan patra’.

Agricultural distress remains acute in the state, especially in the year following the killings at Mandsaur. How does this issue intersect with other concerns in the state election? Which parties have tackled this head on?
The farmers’ plight is miserable. The BJP failed to give any relief. Rahul Gandhi has assured a waiver of kisans’ loan within ten days from the day the Congress assumes power in MP.

Do you believe women and minority communities have been adequately represented, especially given the question of violent crimes against women, sexual harassment at the workplace, and the growing insecurity of minorities?
Minorities have not been given an adequate share in the selection of candidates. The Congress has given tickets to three Muslims, including one Muslim woman. The BJP for the first time has chosen only one Muslim (woman) as a candidate.

CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan attempted to 'dilute' the SC/ST Act (after demonstrations from upper castes). How might this have impacted the elections? 
No doubt the SC/ST act has influenced the voting trend. For the first time, upper castes floated a political party. After Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced that he would not allow immediate arrest despite provision to this effect, Dalits reacted strongly.

What is your opinion on the Congress taking a ‘soft Hindutva’ approach in its manifesto?
It is very unfortunate that the Congress included such assurances in its ‘vachan patra’, which made it appear like a ‘B’ team of the BJP: for instance, the Congress’ assurances that it will establish ‘Gaushalas’ in every Panchayat, and will construct ‘Ramgaman path’ and many such assurances. The word ‘secularism’ does not find mention in the Congress ‘vachan patra’. Barring minorities (Muslims) and committed secularists like us, it never makes any substantial impact on the mindset of common voters.   

Relatedly, as a secular activist, what is your view on how Hindutva has emerged in Madhya Pradesh? How might it have influenced polls this time?
In fact, Shivraj has converted MP into a Hindu Rajya. He lifted the ban on government employees joining RSS activities, spent huge sums on activities like Simhasta at Ujjain, Narmada Parikrama, celebration on the birth anniversary of Adi Shankarcharya, encouraging participation of officers of various ranks including IAS and IPS in religious activities and many such related activities.

Madhya Pradesh has had more than its fair share of scams, yet the government and administration appear successful in subduing the public discourse around these. Will VYAPAM and the like make any difference?
Scams make little impact. If corruption affects the voting pattern, BJP would not have given a ticket to Laxmikant Sharma’s brother from his traditional seat. Laxmikant Sharma, a former minister, happens to be the main accused in the VYAPAM scam. 

Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been regarded as an entrenched local leader. Do you think these polls will hold any surprises for him?
No doubt Shivraj Singh is popular largely due to some populist programmes like Kanya Daan, pilgrimage for senior citizens, supply of wheat at Rs. 1 per kg, subsidised houses etc. The BJP sensed that Chouhan is more popular than Narendra Modi. That’s why, in all the advertisements, Chouhan is shown more prominently than Modi.

Issues like demonetisation and GST seem to be belatedly impacting people’s electoral choices. Will these affect the electoral results given that they are held against the Central BJP leadership? 
No doubt demonetisation and GST have affected the voters’ choice. Particularly small traders, builders, and youths got alienated from the BJP. Government servants, particularly those on field duty, are angry with the BJP. Chouhan once declared “Jo adhikari galti karega use ulta latka dunga” (I will hang the erring government servants). Several officers, including IPS revenue officers, were killed by various mafias, including the sand mafia. Chouhan made several announcements, but most of them were not implemented, which affected his credibility. All these factors will impact elections to the Lok Sabha.

Also, do you believe communalism has grown in recent years? Has economic distress contributed to this?
Although no major communal riots took place during BJP rule, small incidents did take place. In some cases, shops and houses of Muslims were set on fire. Our team and me visited such places and enquired into the causes of such minor communal incidents.