After slaying the ghost of Babar, the government is now time-travelling to redo Partition. There were many, including Dr BR Ambedkar, who had argued that the creation of Pakistan should involve the transfer of minorities from both countries. ‘That the transfer of minorities is the only lasting remedy for communal peace is beyond doubt,’ he wrote in Pakistan or Partition of India. But there were also many idealists led by Gandhi who refused to accept the finality of Partition. And Gandhi’s martyrdom did put an end to the riots which were forcing the Muslims to migrate to the newly-created Pakistan. Unfortunately, riots, continuing forced conversion and much else resulted in the dwindling population of Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. The subcontinent’s worst communal crisis after Partition occurred when Pakistan army’s unspeakable atrocities forced one crore refugees — Hindus and Muslims — into eastern India. This is a historical reality, which ghost-slayers seem set to alter.
Babri Masjid demolition was a blood-soaked metaphor. The replacement of a mosque with a temple to create a muscular Hindu persona was possible because it was political drama. Soon, there will be a huge temple where the mosque once existed. But can the Partition be redone in a similar fashion? The difference between the demolition of the masjid and enforcing NRC is that the first merely involved one mosque, whereas the second impacts every citizen who already has an Aadhaar card, a voter identity card, a PAN card, a ration card, a driver’s licence or some other proof of identity.
The demolition of a faraway mosque was more of a hurtful memory that did not affect the day-to-day lives of Muslims; but an exercise that threatens to take away one’s citizenship would inevitably turn every Muslim against the Indian State. An average Indian, educated or otherwise, hates to step into a government office, which remains the most inefficient, corrupt and oppressive aspect of our society. Now, NRC would force every self-respecting citizen to prove his citizenship in a country where he or she was born. After the enactment of CAA, the NRC exercise will unfortunately be designed to keep all communities, except Muslims, feel safe and counted. In such a situation, NRC implementation will only push the Muslims into a corner, forcing them to get radicalised or subdued.
The BJP as a political entity had benefited immensely from the demolition of the masjid and the ensuing polarisation. But that is not the whole story. In the 1980s, all dominant political formations were practising identity politics, trying to carve up the Muslims, the OBCs, the Scheduled Castes, and the Scheduled Tribes. If the winning caste combination for the Congress was Brahmin-Muslim-SC in UP, it was Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim in Gujarat, Muslim-Yadav for Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Yadav in Bihar and UP, and something similar for every successful political formation in almost every state. It was this cynical misuse of identities that resulted in the total polarisation of communities, which inadvertently resulted in the creation of a Hindu identity.
Now, with the Pulwama attack and the Balakot air strike having created an electorally conducive atmosphere for the BJP in 2019, it probably assumes that anything that polarises communities could turn out to be an election clincher. It may not be true. Those who had given Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav several opportunities might not have wanted to give them another term, but that does not mean that they are turning away from the SP and the BSP because of their hatred towards Muslims. In fact, Hindutva cannot test the voters’ patience in largely Hindu-dominated states, where the only reason for BJP victory was hope for change and prosperity. Even in the 2019 General Election, the Congress-led Opposition could offer no effective alternative, resulting in Congress’ pathetic performance, saved solely by an equally dismal show by its Left opponents in Kerala and its allies in Tamil Nadu.
The BJP’s communal polarisation using NRC can succeed electorally only if the Opposition continues to play its cynical politics of minority consolidation. Cynicism has run its course in Indian politics. Now, the old politics of minority vote-contractors and regressive religious preachers, with their overt identity markers and road-blocking prayers, will only trigger a counter consolidation. No wonder the PM referred to the clothes of the protesters. Any intelligent analyst ought to take note of this reference because it was not a casual remark, but a political assertion which results in an assured electoral consolidation.
But cynicism can be countered by idealism. The Sangh trumpeters believe that theirs is a just battle against corrupt politicians who have been pandering to vote banks — what they call minority appeasement. Its only response is Gandhian idealism, which in the first place resulted in India remaining a composite nation. What was on display all across the country this past week was Gandhian idealism in its pristine form. Youngsters, mostly women, coming out to assert their belief in peaceful and prosperous coexistence made the visuals on TV and social media look like the re-run of the eruption of idealism which we saw in 2011-12, during the Hazare-led anti-corruption movement. The only sore thumb, this time around, in the public outpouring of anger and hope was Left politicians — the tail that wags the Congress leadership.
Last time, Arvind Kejriwal reaped the rich harvest of idealistic exuberance, resulting in an unprecedented landslide in Delhi and a good fight in Punjab. Who would be the winner this time? The youngsters are ready. They want change, and they are in a hurry. But there still is no political alternative, nor leadership, which could lead that change.