Mr. Advani has predictably raised a storm back home with his Jinnah/secular remark in Pakistan. See news stories here and here. From what one knows of his habits, Mohammad Ali Jinnah was obviously no fundamentalist. Even in his political life, there are two phases: one where he was purely supporting the cause of Indian independence (somewhat desultorily, by many accounts) and then, when he was made the urbane spokesman of the two-nation argument. Be that as it may (this posting is not about whether Jinnah was secular or not: secularism, as only a very few realize, should not be about EQUAL treatment to all religion by the state - which is impractical - but should be about being BLIND to religion in matters of state), I am extremely pleased with this development – and, to the extent that we won’t see another backtracking of the type “I have been misquoted; what I really meant was the exact opposite of what you heard”, this is a (or the beginning of a) momentous development in our politics.
Till date, we struggled to choose from Congress-I (center-left, old, ever willing to pander to all kinds of minorities in the name of secularism and social justice, corrupt, centralized, autocratic), regional parties (parochial, rural focused, state-as-a-gravy-train mentality), BJP (extreme right-wing, old, corrupt) and the Left (irrelevant but refuses to die). With this development what I see is – shorn of all (and there will be many during the transition) complications – the emergence of the first center-right national alternative (while the NDA was, arguably, center-right in its conduct, that was much more due to the compulsions of coalition politics than there being a unifying center-right ideology to begin with).
It is imperative that, over time, we reach a point where (with economies of scale kicking-in for the political process) the electorate has clear choices to make between center-left and center-right alternatives (should the 2-3 party kind of system truly take root, they will each be somewhere close to the center), instead of choosing from numerous competitors and then leaving the bartering (with all attendant shenanigans) to the elected representatives (or, to their leaders/brokers). This is required for our executive (as long as the executive comprises a sub-set of the legislature) to be incented in taking a pan-India, development-focused view on issues.
I have been – and, as of now, remain – strongly against BJP policies (e.g. education, role of religion in public life, swadeshi vs. free-trade, etc.). But, as this drama plays out – and it will take years, not months or days, I hope to be one of the many who will have a real choice between two parties that have the same warts (the two-party system won’t necessarily take out corruption, centralization-of-power etc. issues) but different promises on (goals of and path towards) social and economic development.