Kumar Ketkar: The terrorist attacks may have a long-term impact on Indian politics

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The Independent Online

It is not clear what the objectives of the terrorists were, except causing mass murder and mayhem across the metropolis and fear across the country. They met those objectives quickly and at minimum cost – but they also achieved something far more devastating, which could have long-term ramifications on Indian politics.

Ongoing state elections, like today's in Delhi may prove to be a foretaster. Although most of the campaigning was over when the gunmen struck, the Mumbai attacks could tilt the balance against the ruling coalition, led by the Congress Party. However, the real and truly devastating impact will be seen in the parliamentary elections expected to be held in April or May next year.

Since Sonia Gandhi's Congress Party defeated the BJP-led alliance of Hindu fundamentalists and right-wingers in parliamentary elections in 2004, its message has been simple: restore the secular multicultural India and keep the people at the centre of politics. Though the Congress itself did not get more than 145 seats (out of 544) and was ruled only as part of the coalition known as the United Progressive Alliance, it could define the agenda. Now that agenda is under threat.

With nationwide elections looming, the BJP will campaign for votes, saying that India has been weakened because, in the name of secularism, the Congress party was appeasing the Muslims and thereby virtually encouraging Pakistan to attack. In fact, they have already started, under the extremist leadership of Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat. (And privately, most supporters of the BJP believe that all Muslims should be forced out to Pakistan). The ultra-nationalist appeal often succeeds in times of economic crisis, and today there is a global financial meltdown.

So the BJP will benefit, but perhaps not to an extent they want. This is because they cannot answer why, in 2001, during their reign, the terrorists struck the parliament building itself. Also the lower mainly-Hindu castes, have found a new icon in the shape of Untouchable politician Mayavati, who could mop up support from disaffected Congress voters. Who knows, perhaps she will form an alliance with the BJP itself?

The verdict of next year's election which was broadly open, has now been sealed by the terrorists -- against the ruling Congress party. It is not clear whether this too was one of the terrorists’ set goals, but they have achieved it nonetheless.

Kumar Ketkar is the chief editor of the Mumbai daily Loksatta