monumental dichotomy marks the contemporary Indian situation. It is a single
thread that runs through the entire gamut of our national life today - from our
polity to economy, from governance to the tenor of media discourse.
To explain this dichotomous mode of our national existence: we have a secular
Constitution that demands equality before law, but we have a political power
structure and an administrative culture that nullify this basic provision. It is
so blatant that even former US President Bill Clinton earlier this year publicly
complained about the different ways in which the cases of the Godhra train
attack and those who burnt down the entire state of Gujarat were being pursued.
He complained that India could not hope to become the 'right kind of giant’ if
it treated different citizens differently on the basis of religion.
Anybody who has a close look at the contemporary Indian situation would be
struck by dichotomies cascading upon dichotomies through the entire spectrum of
our existence. The Constitution recognises the ethnic, linguistic religious and
cultural diversity of India and tries to protect it as a cherished asset, while
the government of the day tries to demolish it at every available opportunity by
all manner of underhand tactics, including failed attempts at introducing a
religious hymn of a single religion for all students at schools, gradually
replacing the multi-hued patterns of religious and cultural life with a dull,
monochromatic alternative. Recent attempts at changing school syllabi explain
this point well.
The emergence of this pattern as a dominant motif in our national life can be easily attributed to the rise of BJP in recent years. This point has been widely noted, including by the US State Department’s Commission on Religious Freedom. Anti-minority riots and the unnecessary brouhaha over religious conversions are only a crude manifestation of this malaise.
We had been promised that the BJP would give us “a government with a
difference”. We are yet to see the difference. The only difference that we see
is that the new dispensation is more corrupt (look at those petrol pump stories,
the financial scams, the tehelka tapes, ad
nauseum), more criminalised, more communal and more vicious than any other
in the past.
The foundations of democracy have been attacked in many more ways than we can
enumerate here in such a short time. The rulers have got people’s vote but
trampled on their aspirations and ignored their will. Remember the way POTA was
railroaded through Parliament ignoring people’s protests and even objections
by international human rights groups? It was nothing but a thinly disguised
attempt to harass the Muslims and other weaker people in much more vicious ways
than TADA was used. Even Bill Clinton has categorically and in very clear terms
noted that one group of people can’t be tried under ‘the draconian POTA’
(his words, not mine) and others under softer laws for the same offence.
Ignoring people’s will and international objections, this dispensation goes on
with its ways. It had second thoughts only when it was hoist on its own petard
as its allies like Vaiko and Raja Bhaiya were sent behind bars under this law.
Now the great admirers of this law have some second thought-jails are known to
make people sobre. We don’t know against whom these laws will ultimately be
used by future governments. Even its advocates are not safe in the long run.
That’s why we say, “don’t destroy democracy for selfish ends”.
Howsoever loudly we may plead, things are not really going to change quite for a
while, because the BJP (the NDA is only a fiction) is out to implement its Hindutva
agenda stealthily. And to hell with the NDA’s common minimum programme. After
all the BJP knows that the other NDA leaders are, in Winston Churchill’s
words, merely “men of straw”.
has dangerous implications for the future wellbeing of India as a nation and as
a state, because this Hindutva doctrine
is based on an ominous majoritarian excluvism, a phenomenon that journalist and
writer Siddharth Vardrajan calls ‘Hindu separatism’. He is not alone in
diagnosing the malaise in these terms.
Interestingly, the idea began as a part of a massive British colonial project as
early as the 1860s, soon after the anti-British uprising of 1857. People harping
on separate communal identities right from the 1860s had been (some knowingly,
others inadvertently) actually pushing the British agenda of divide et impera, rather than anything else. The trend is evident
even in the literary writings of late 19th-early 20th
trend has continued since then, gaining momentum with each passing year. Even
before the 1940 Muslim League demand for a separate Muslim homeland, Veer
Damodar Savarkar had propounded (and published) his theory of Hindutva,
or Hindu nationalism as a counterweight to Indian nationalism. Since
independence, Savarkar’s ideas have gained strength consistently. These ideas
outright reject common citizenship and common nationality on the basis of
acceptance of the country’s Constitution. The idea of Hindu nationalism is
exclunivist and runs against the spirit of India’s composite national
heritage, as the binary opposite of Indian nationalism itself. That the Centre
has conferred legitimacy on it is a sure indicator of where the country stands
Happily, the fact that a government has ideologically denied the existence of
minorities through a set of symbolic gestures does not necessarily mean that the
entire nation has shed its heritage. How tenuous is the argument of Islam being
a foreign religion is pointed out by a Western academic who says, “Islam is an
Indian religion the way Buddhism is a Chinese or Japanese religion”. Does it
really matter to the Chinese or Japanese that his or her religion is of Indian
origin, and hence less nationalistic?
These are very serious questions which have a direct bearing on the future of
our country. Academics and political thinkers cannot afford to be complacent
about these questions as they not only affect the future of Indians within
India, but also of those 20 million people of Indian origin settled in foreign
lands, many of whom have risen to be heads of government and important public
figures in their adopted countries. Vardrajan rightly points out that if we
accept the pernicious doctrine of Hindutva,
it would mean that those 20 million Indians now settled as citizens of other
countries will be condemned as traitors, simply because this doctrine says
people professing “foreign” religions cannot be true nationals. Vardrajan
asks whether Hindus in Britain, the US and Canada are following a religion
originating in those countries?
There are other very serious questions regarding the nature of the Indian state
itself. For instance, pertinent question have been raised by academics in India
on why under every stress situation the Indian state abdicates in favour of the
mob and just melts away from the scene, only to reappear as part of the mob. Can
a state survive by becoming part of an unruly mob? People have come up with very
important findings that illuminate this question. Such people could be academics
in India and the West, journalists, lawyers and judges, human rights activists,
concerned citizens, common folk.
All this shows that howsoever aggressive the project of destroying India’s
composite national heritage and its Constitution, the strength of India’s
traditions and democratic institutions is not to be pooh-poohed either.
would like that these large questions are studied in detail. Some studies have
connected the newly aggressive mood of Hindutva
to its success in Gujarat. Others have connected it to the marginalisation of
Dalits, women, minorities and the common poor people under the new economic
order. It is a larger project of dispossession of the weak (not always motivated
by religious considerations), rather than a merely anti-minority campaign.
There are legal and constitutional issues like why the Indian State joined the
mob in 1984 in Delhi, or in 2002 in Ahmedabad? And at other places and times.
How effective have been our systems in curbing dereliction of duty by public
officials, or curbing hate speech (a serious offence) by politicians? It is time
to ponder these questions.
These issues are being examined even by the best of fiction writers and creative
artists worldwide, including the US. In a recent article, novelist and
journalist Kamleshwar wonders whether the centuries-long persecution of Jains
and Buddhists that decimated most of them even before the birth of Islam is now
going to revisit upon today’s minorities of India. He says the masterminds
behind the genocide of Buddhists and Jains and their cultural extermination are
the same dark forces that are threatening our Constitution and our national life
today. He too, like many other eminent writers, poets, filmmakers and other
creative artists of today places these happenings within the larger economic,
political and military context of the emerging world order.
The enthusiasm with which the BJP-led government at Centre has agreed to become
the factotum of America and Israel is alarming. It amounts to subjugating our
economic and political interests to those of these two countries, thus turning
upside down the decades-long foreign policy laid down by our stalwarts.
So far as our
sovereignty and independent stature are concerned, our country has been in the
forefront in launching the Non-Aligned Movement in the 50s. Our country also
played a key role in shaping the SAARC into a reality. But now doubts are being
raised about our Non-Alignment and sincerity in keeping the SAARC united.
Non-Alignment and friendly neighborhood have been the cornerstones of our
foreign policy. These characteristics too have come under a question mark.
One is naturally concerned over the startling 6-part “Rediff Special” series (April 21-26, 2003), based on a
classified US defence department study “Indo-US
Military Relations: Expectations and Perceptions”. Authored by Juli A
MacDonald, the 176-page report states that the country wants access to Indian
bases and military infrastructure with the United States Air Force specifically
desiring the establishment of airbases in India. The report on the future of
Indo-US military relations, being distributed among decision-makers in the
United States and made available to a handful of senior members of the Indian
government, also speaks of the USAF’s desire for “having access closer to
areas of instability”.
“American military officers are candid in their plans to eventually seek
access to Indian bases and military infrastructure. India's strategic location
in the centre of Asia, astride the frequently traveled Sea Lanes of
Communication (SLOC) linking the Middle East and East Asia, makes India
particularly attractive to the US military," the report says.
report is the most comprehensive picture of American perspective of its military
relation with India and its future aspirations. To some extent it also uncovers
Indian military thinking vis-à-vis the US. It has quoted US lieutenant generals
as saying that the access to Indian bases would enable the US military 'to be
able to touch the rest of the world' and to 'respond rapidly to regional
The report, prepared by Juli A MacDonald, an associate at Booz Allen Hamilton,
for the department of defence, is based on interviews of 42 key Americans,
including 23 active military officers, 15 government officials and four others.
In India MacDonald met 10 active Indian military officers and five government
officials besides several members of the National Security Council, and outside
experts advising the government.
In this context, the most pertinent question being asked today is: Will the US
turn to India after emptying the arsenals of “rogue states”. Whether India
likes it or not, there indeed is an attention in the US on India’s nuclear
assets. According to The Week (April
27, 2003), “the fear is creeping even into stable and democratic India. Though
India is not a rogue state in the US perception, it is already being called a
“proliferator”. A CIA biannual report to Congress calls India, Iran, North
Korea and Pakistan “secondary proliferators”. An indication that a dossier
on India is being prepared!
This article is part of Dr Manzoor Alam's observations at All India Milli Council Convention on Challenges Before the Nation and Minorities in Independent India held in New Delhi on May 31- June 1, 2003.