We should worry about ourselves not India
Is Narendra Modi a Hindu hardliner? Does he want to turn India into a Hindu state? This shouldn’t bother us. We are a hard-line Muslim state. Use the word ‘secular’ or say that religion should have no place in politics and most of us take fright or reach for the nearest stick. So if India under its present rulers is moving away from secularism and towards a polity where there is more talk of religion and Hindu supremacy, instead of being worried we should be flattered. For India belatedly is following the path we delineated with such clarity and vigour long before.
The founding principle of Pakistan was the glory of Islam, Muslim separatism the philosophical basis of the demand for a separate Muslim homeland. We were different and Hindus were different and never the twain would meet or be able to co-exist in peace. It was imperative therefore that we had a homeland of our own. We succeeded in this and India was partitioned.
As long as the Congress Party was in power the RSS and its fellow-travellers on the right were fringe elements on the Indian political scene. They were there, carrying out their military drills and spouting their brand of rhetoric, but they were not to be taken too seriously. It’s different now. The Indian political scene is utterly transformed with the very elements which were once on the fringe becoming the mainstream.
Secularism is still there in the Indian constitution but just as in the United States where the laws and the constitution are still the same but the mood and spirit of America with the coming of the Trump presidency has changed, in India too with the coming of Narendra Modi there is a distinct change. India has shifted to the right and Hindu exclusivity—the belief fiercely propagated that India belongs to the Hindu majority—is the reigning ideology. The BJP’s sweeping victory in the Uttar Pradesh elections is a watershed event, putting the seal on this transformation.
All this should be more than familiar to us. We were the pioneers, the first travelers down this road. Where we led India is following. But there is one vital difference. Muslim extremism frightens the world because after 9/11 it is associated with such things as violence, bombs and ‘jihad’. Hindu extremism may have uncomfortable connotations for us but for the outside world it is somewhat cute and exotic. Al Qaida turned ‘jihad’ into an international brand. ISIS or Daesh gave it a further spin. Hindu extremism is not against the West or Christianity. The object of its hatred is not even the Muslim generally but the Indian Muslim or the Pakistani Muslim. So if Hindu firebrands say that a Ram temple must be built on the site of the Baburi Masjid the rest of the world remains largely unconcerned.
Furthermore, the image of Hinduism, whether moderate or extremist, is softened by music, dance and yoga. The new chief minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath, may be a fire-breathing Muslim-baiter but in his saffron robe and with his shaven head he is more likely to titillate the curiosity of outsiders than arouse any kind of fear and alarm—except amongst the Muslims of UP who know him and his politics. But who is bothered by the plight of UP’s Muslims?
UP’s present-day Muslims are the victims of one of history’s great upheavals. UP was the home and centre of Indian Muslim civilization. Everything associated with that culture—poetry, dance, conversation, gracious living—came to a head in places like Delhi and Lucknow. The torchbearers of that culture were the Muslim elites who first took up the slogan of Pakistan and were in the vanguard of the movement for Pakistan. When Partition came about all these elites, or at least most of them, moved to Pakistan. Many among the less privileged classes were left behind. The Muslim population of UP today is made up largely of these less privileged strata which now, deprived of the right kind of leadership, have to live with a resurgent and more assertive Hindu nationalism for which the bogeyman is the Indian Muslim.
It’s a measure of BJP confidence, or arrogance, that it fielded not a single Muslim candidate in the recent UP elections despite the fact that Muslims constitute 20 percent of the state’s population. The BJP appealed to the Hindu vote and in the process consolidated it—just as Donald Trump in the US made his pitch to the white working class and blue collar vote and consolidated it. Trump had no use for ‘liberal’ ideas and Modi did not bother to appeal to Muslim sentiment.
These are the wages of history and they are not to be changed. When Pakistan was in the process of coming into being our then leaders, pressed by the rush of events, did not have the leisure to think about the plight of the Muslims who would be left behind in India. It takes an effort to realize that if the population of Pakistan is 200 million, the number of Muslims in India is 200 million…and their condition is not what it should be. There is nothing we can do about this. But at least we can do something about our own condition.
The rise of Hindutva ideology in India is an opportunity for us. If India is becoming a more intolerant society, if religious exclusivity is on the rise there, the best answer to this lies in Pakistan becoming a more open and tolerant society. We embraced intolerance and narrow-mindedness and we have seen where this took us. Let India look to its own secular-vs-religious debate. But let us move in the opposite direction, making this a tolerant and harmonious society with no battles fought in the name of creed, sect or denomination.
We need to become a more rational society. We need to invest more in education. Our multi-layered education system—one for the haves, the rest for the less well-off—is a scandal. Unless we get rid of it we can forget becoming a progressive nation.
But such things don’t happen just like that. This is where leadership comes in. Somebody has to come and yank the nation from its present path and push it in another direction. America never solved our problems—in fact it made them worse. China is not going to solve our problems and CPEC is not the means of salvation we are making it out to be. We have to be our own salvation.