Debating India


Chartering the course of hate in India

Saturday 15 April 2006, by NAYAR*Kuldip

By Kuldip Nayar, Special to Gulf News

An intelligence report says that L.K. Advani’s rath yatra (chariot ride) in 1990 caused the largest number of killings after the partition riots in 1947. Yet, he has the audacity to say before embarking on another yatra that the last one was peaceful.

The Bharatiya Janata Party chief Rajnath Singh, a new convert to yatras, wants to prove that his brand of Hindutva is more virulent than Advani’s. Such clamorous street rallies have a disturbing effect on the public. They are injurious to the health of a country tha claims to be a true democracy.

Whether Advani will damage India’s plural society more than Rajnath Singh is difficult to predict at present. Both are determined to widen the chasm found between Hindus and Muslims in urban India and deepen the hatred the RSS parivar (family) has spread in BJP-ruled states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan with the set programme of destroying every bit of commonality.

The Rajasthan government has gone a step further and armed itself with an anti-conversion law to forcibly sideline the small minority of Christians from the mainstream.

I am told that at one stage former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was not happy over reviving yatras, probably realising that they have served their "purpose". Advani even made Vajpayee’s scepticism public.

But then Vajpayee is atal (firm) only in name. He changes his mind when he finds the RSS and its coterie in the BJP are opposed to his thinking. It is widely known that he wanted to remove Narendra Modi after what he as the chief minister did to Gujarat.

Vajpayee dropped the idea when the RSS told him not to disturb Modi. Instead, Vajpayee attacked Muslim countries in his next stop in Goa. That Vajpayee has blessed Advani and Rajnath Singh does not mean that yatras have come to acquire better credentials.

It only confirms that Vajpayee is a chip of the old block. He, or, for that matter, his party has given yet another proof, if it was needed, that they are bent upon destroying the secular ethos of India.

Divide and rule

Only in whipping up sentiments against Muslims does the BJP see its future in election. It feels it has a chance in the country if it can divide it on religious lines as the pre-partition Muslim League did. The country has withstood attacks on its secular ethos in the past. It will do so again.

What disappoints me is that at a time when India requires all attention to grapple with the ill-effects of development at the cost of social justice, the BJP is resurrecting the Frankenstein of communalism. It does not mind even if the country goes to pieces in the process.

The BJP should realise that it is already losing its base. Advani and Rajnath Singh cannot retrieve a party that wants to take India back to the middle-ages. When it came to power at the centre, it was not because people returned the party in election but because some regional secular parties jettisoned their ideology to join the BJP government for loaves of office.

The situation has changed now. State leaders like Mulayam Singh in UP and Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh believe that they can capture power at New Delhi by amalgamating with other regional leaders.

Dominance of regional parties

The BJP is ruled out on yet another count: the crucial Left will back only those regional parties that have no truck with the BJP. The next parliament may be dominated by regional parties, some of which have seen the BJP in its true colours. As for yatras, the response has been poor because an average Hindu is not taken in by the propaganda that the minorities will swamp him.

The BJP has played the mandir (temple) card too often, much to the exasperation of people. In the last general election what hit the party was the countryside’s abhorrence over changes in the fields of education, culture and information.

The worst was the distortion of history. The BJP does not realise how deep the roots of pluralism in the country are. The latest book, Blood Brothers, by M.J. Akbar, an eminent journalist and author, has pointed this out. Akbar’s is a saga of an Indian Muslim family, a story of three generations.

He brings out boldly and objectively the innate strength of the subcontinent’s common heritage. It is not one culture, not one language but a myriad of cultures and languages. Their accommodative living has made what India is open, tolerant and cohesive.

Akbar’s span is wide. He explores Islam and Hinduism that mould lives in India and impress their image on the history of times. The book deals with religion as a living element in today’s culture, not as a museum piece.

Akbar underlines the spirit of tolerance that has woven Hindus and Muslims into a mosaic that mirrors different thoughts while keeping it one.

Take a small passage from his book: "Dinner was placed before the guests; biryani for Muslims and dishfuls of savouries for the Hindus purchased from a Hindu sweetmeat shop. It was the best available";

Akbar does not harangue or lecture to make the point about the sense of accommodation. He quietly tells us how solicitous the Muslims were about the Hindus’ belief in caste. The former purchases "savouries for the Hindus"; from a Hindu sweetmeat shop. An era of sensitivity, the book traces from times immemorial.

Can Advanis and Rajnath Singhs ever imbibe that spirit? If they do not and continue to chip away at the country’s institutions like pluralism they would be responsible for the harm to the society. They should understand that there can be no democracy without secularism.

Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian High Commissioner to the UK and a former Rajya Sabha MP.

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