Changing the idea of India : The Tribune India

Changing the idea of India

IT is typical of the political environment we live in that ace actor Aamir Khan’s remarks at a press awards function in New Delhi last Monday on the prevailing sense of insecurity and intolerance should have been hijacked by politicians and parties of various stripes.

Changing the idea of India

Can India afford to be a photocopy of Pakistan?



S Nihal Singh

IT is typical of the political environment we live in that ace actor Aamir Khan’s remarks at a press awards function in New Delhi last Monday on the prevailing sense of insecurity and intolerance should have been hijacked by politicians and parties of various stripes. For Bharatiya Janata Party spokesmen, they were part of a conspiracy to defame the government. To the opposition parties, on the other hand, they represented the truth.

Aamir’s disquiet, earlier voiced by his equally famous Khan fellow actors, expresses a sense of foreboding following the coming to power of the Modi dispensation that the space for dissent is shrinking. It is not a mere question of one outrageous speech or another by the BJP faithful, but a sense of empowerment by the Sangh Parivar that their time to build a Hindu India has arrived.

What lends credence to this feeling is the inability of Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly to strike down these scandalous statements by his party men and women. Whispers by BJP “sources” that these persons had been given a dressing down by the party president are totally inadequate. They merely reaffirm public suspicion that what these worthies have been saying cannot be contradicted because they represent mainstream BJP thinking.

Nothing has contributed more to Aamir’s, and others’, sense of foreboding than the Prime Minister’s delayed and inadequate reaction to the dreadful Dadri incident in Uttar Pradesh, in which a Muslim man was lynched to death on suspicion of storing or consuming beef. It was not a question of legal jurisdiction but of the nation’s leader sharing the sense of shock felt by the country over the barbarity of the act. The formula adopted by Mr Modi of periodically declaring that all Indian citizens being equal is no longer adequate.

What is enunciated by the Sangh Parivar at various levels is an expression of the BJP’s and its mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS’) aim of building a country very different from the idea of India the nation has come to accept over 67 years. Although the BJP leadership feels it is unable to proclaim just yet the new Hindu India it wants to build, its followers are impatient and want to broadcast their victory far and wide.

Apart from Muslims, some 172 million strong, there are important other minorities, including Christians, who have expressed their fears and unhappiness over the new order. And there are many members of the Sangh Parivar willing and unapologetic about expressing their joy over the near fulfilment of their dreams.

This perpetual cycle of provocative statements and their inevitable consequence of making minorities feel insecure goes on. BJP spokesmen suggest that the Prime Minister cannot be expected to react to every statement. Rather, the problem is that Mr Modi has never publicly savaged an outrageous statement made by a member, on occasion a minister, of his party. It was as if he were unable to cross the red lines laid down by the RSS.

Prime Minister Modi and his party and government have first to determine at what stage the country should be told that the moment has arrived for scrapping a secular India for Hindu rashtra. (Home Minister Rajnath Singh has broadcast his own aversion to the word ‘secular’ in the Constitution.) A formal proclamation would represent a sea change in the political evolution of a nation of many religions and ethnicities, with Hindus roughly 80 per cent of the population.

The failure of the BJP in the recent Bihar Assembly election has set the party leadership thinking because the old formula of making the Prime Minister himself the chief protagonist disdaining naming any state leader did not work. The question on everyone’s lips is whether the famed Modi wave that took his party past the winning post in other Assembly elections (bar Delhi) had waned.

These considerations seem irrelevant to the bulk of the followers of the BJP. They continue their propagation of the advent of the Hindu rashtra seemingly unmindful of the hurt and embarrassment it causes — after all, those who dissent can always go to Pakistan. They would rather make India a photocopy of Pakistan.

If the BJP leadership is embarrassed by the disquiet expressed by the icons of the Indian film industry, the super heroes, it should call a chintak baithak (contemplation sesson) to debate the issue after clearing it with the RSS. In as varied a country as India, painting everyone with a saffron brush will not work. The BJP is already jeopardising the education of an entire future generation by handing the education ministry to a novice guided by the RSS. And the less said about the culture minister the better. Despite these efforts and the packing of historical and research organisations with ideologues, converting India into a Hindu rashtra will not work. For the BJP, such institutions were previously filled by the left and Communist sympathisers.

How then will the Prime Minister and his party resolve their dilemma? Perhaps they will come to the conclusion that they must be patient and show results. One problem is that their followers are supercharged and cannot wait to proclaim their joy. It is well understood by the BJP and the RSS that the latter’s foot soldiers at election time are instruments of the party’s victory and cannot be trifled with.

Can Mr Modi then postpone, if not set aside, the advent of Hindu rashtra perhaps for a second term, if he wins? It is a question only he and time can answer. In the meantime, provocative and outrageous statements from the Sangh Parivar will continue.

Compared with his stint in Gujarat, the nation’s governance presents greater problems. In any event, the Bihar election result gives him time to devise alternative strategies. The race to gain more seats in the Rajya Sabha to alter the BJP’s minority status is proving to be a long one. One contradiction Mr Modi has to face is his acerbic campaign speeches in Assembly elections throwing convention to the winds and seeking the Opposition’s cooperation for passing essential Bills.

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