As this "low, dishonest" year comes to an end, with India as we know it under siege, there are few reasons to celebrate or welcome 2003. The victors are, understandably, in mood for extravagant self-congratulation (winning, after all, is a new experience for them)—and furiously composing the epitaph of pluralism. Reading and listening to them is to believe that not just the match, but the series is over.
Secularists, pseudo-secularists, professional secularists, jehadi secularists, hate-filled secularists (oh irony, where is thy sting!) are up for target practice. Anyone who opposed Narendra Modi and Praveen Togadia is at the receiving end of blistering ridicule and vile abuse. The least demanded is a public mea culpa and scotch tape around the mouth for months to come.
Yet, now more than ever, the communal venom spread by these two individuals, first in Gujarat and now threatening the rest of the country, needs to be confronted and crushed. The victors are attempting to legitimise the "experiment" by describing it as the "will of the people". No doubt, the citizens of Gujarat are entitled to their 'will', but their will must not and cannot become the will of the people of free India.
You don't have to be a sage political scientist or ORG-MARG to recognise that election results at a given time and place have no permanent, immutable validity. Occasionally, demagogues and despots successfully manage to manipulate public opinion. Because the high-decibel propaganda in Gujarat succeeded—9 per cent Muslims constitute a threat to 91 per cent Hindus—does not necessarily invest it with ex-cathedra status. No amount of semantic jugglery can hide how Gujarat was won.
To claim that secularists are Congressmen in disguise is a half-truth. This corrupt, expediency-driven, lazy, cowardly, inept formation just happens to be the sole political instrument at hand. The pressing priority, therefore, is not to lose heart, throw in the towel, but to remain alert, combative and optimistic. Unless one has read Indian history upside down, the Hindutva project, which is nothing more than a module for winning elections, is doomed to defeat notwithstanding its ability to notch up small victories.
Definitions of Hindutva, its larger philosophical thrust, its metaphysical essence, need not detain us. They are not the issue. Just as definitions of secularism at this juncture are irrelevant. The battle is not over India's elusive soul. Dr Togadia has little interest in such mundane things. His agenda is two-fold. One, his photo-opportunities must not decrease; two, Hindu/Muslim antagonisms should rise vertically, never mind a few riots. Indeed, a few riots would ensure his favourite party triumphs with the coveted 40 per cent vote nationally so that the Hindu rashtra can be built without impediments from irksome allies.
Seasonal cheer and prophecies of doom are incompatible, so I am not predicting a civil war by March. However, if nearly 200 million Muslims and Christians are to be declared "jehadis", as they are indubitably being potrayed, then the India of Narendra Modi and Praveen Togadia's dream will be constructed on the ashes of the Indian republic. What is being defended here is not the Congress party or Nehruvianism or the separation of church from state, but the Constitution of India. Is every citizen, irrespective of religion, equal before the law?
The precise contours of the Hindu rashtra are still being sketched. Nevertheless, we have a fairly clear idea of what the final blueprint will resemble. Mr Vajpayee and Advani's party may appear to be the principal beneficiaries of this dispensation, but the dinosaur they have nurtured and let loose could easily devour them too. The dread can already be seen on the faces of the more shrewd bjp leaders.Of course, if they only had the confidence of approaching the electorate on the basis of their record in office, the dinosaur could be slaughtered.
In John Osborne's celebrated play Look Back in Anger, the cynical and morally disengaged hero, Jimmy Porter, laments, "There are no good causes left." Happily, that is not true of India 2003.
I wish Outlook readers a happy, prosperous and, above all, a peaceful New Year.
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