POL­I­TICS OFTHE USE­FUL OTHER

India Today - - THE BIG PICTURE -

They are still dif­fer­ent, and even af­ter more than six decades of free­dom and all the plat­i­tudi­nous bunkum about the equal na­tion, they are be­yond the main­stream, marked for­ever as the “use­ful” com­mu­nity. Now that we have a his­tor­i­cal elec­tion at hand, their use­ful­ness has of course mul­ti­plied, as you might have al­ready gauged from the fever pitch of the cam­paign. The Mus­lims, when­ever they ap­pear in the stump speeches of the main pro­tag­o­nists in the bat­tle for In­dia, are an item so frag­ile that it re­quires del­i­cate han­dling. Rahul Gandhi said at a rally that he was told by an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer that some Mus­lim vic­tims of Muzaf­far­na­gar were con­tacted by That was news, and Rahul proved to be bet­ter than your av­er­age in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist. In that piece of ex­plo­sive in­for­ma­tion lies the reaf­fir­ma­tion of a stereo­type: The bru­talised In­dian Mus­lim is a Pak­istani cause. It tells more: In­dia has con­sis­tently failed the Mus­lims (who are called “In­dian Mus­lims” though we hardly hear about In­dian Hin­dus or In­dian Chris­tians or In­dian Sikhs), and the Is­lamic Repub­lic of Pak­istan is his­tor­i­cally bound to take care of them. So, even if it was won­der­ful to see Rahul break­ing news, the news it­self was not all that new. The an­gry Mus­lim youth who lives out­side the In­dian story of growth and glitz is an easy re­cruit for ISI— haven’t we heard this be­fore?

It was a vari­a­tion of this stereo­type that Naren­dra Modi played out when he said that Mus­lims and Hin­dus should fight to­gether against poverty, the com­mon enemy. What he didn’t say was: They are so in­com­pat­i­ble that they are only ca­pa­ble of fight­ing against each other. This makeover line from Modi too tells more: The ghet­toised Mus­lims have all along been wag­ing some­one else’s war, and their pa­tri­o­tism is sus­pect, and now, even at this be­lated hour, they have the chance to bat­tle for their own bet­ter­ment. Both Rahul and Modi are feast­ing on stereo­types, and both are try­ing not to be weighed down by their po­lit­i­cal in­her­i­tance. The Congress Rahul is still strug­gling to in­herit has sec­u­lar­ism as its core. In its orig­i­nal Nehru­vian ver­sion, re­li­gion was a bad word in pol­i­tics; it was detri­men­tal to the cre­ation of the sci­en­tif­i­cally tem­pered New Man. For the Congress af­ter Nehru, sec­u­lar­ism needed a vic­tim, a use­ful vic­tim. The Mus­lim fit­ted the bill. In ret­ro­spect, the suc­ces­sive Congress gov­ern­ments’ pol­icy of ap­pease­ment has only con­trib­uted to the pol­i­tics of alien­ation. The heal­ing hand of sec­u­lar­ism needs the wounded Mus­lim. The Mus­lim lead­er­ship and the Congress sec­u­lar­ists made the wound deeper. Rahul’s heal­ing touch has a hoary his­tory.

For Modi, now that he has be­come the trans­for­ma­tive fig­ure of In­dian pol­i­tics, a rewrit­ing of the back story is nec­es­sary for build­ing a best­selling fu­ture. The past is steeped in an over­whelm­ing nar­ra­tive of Hindu ex­cep­tion­al­ism. Be­fore the cult of the de­vel­op­ment man, there was the rag­ing Hindu na­tion­al­ist whose world­view was de­fined by the and when Gu­jarat burned in 2002, it was the lat­ter who was in charge. Modi 2013 has al­ready made Modi 2002 re­dun­dant. Modi of the mo­ment wants to make the leg­end of the uni­fier the mo­tif of Gen­eral Elec­tions 2014. So he says: In­di­ans want more toi­lets, not tem­ples, and Hin­dus and Mus­lims are not made for killing each other but for the no­bler cause of de­vel­op­ment. Well, Mus­lims need to be told about that; they are dif­fer­ent. Cler­ics in Lucknow and Deoband have put this dif­fer­ence on the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble. So­cial­ist-sec­u­lar­ists in Patna and else­where, mas­ters of the pol­i­tics of fear, con­tinue to har­vest this dif­fer­ence. The Mus­lims de­serve to be more than a use­ful item in the slo­gans of redeemers from pol­i­tics as well as re­li­gion.

They are not dif­fer­ent.

MUS­LIMS, WHEN­EVER THEY AP­PEAR IN THE STUMP SPEECHES OF THE MAIN PRO­TAG­O­NISTS IN THE BAT­TLE FOR IN­DIA, ARE AN ITEM SO FRAG­ILE THAT IT RE­QUIRES DEL­I­CATE HAN­DLING. BOTH RAHU­LAND MODI ARE FEAST­ING ON STEREO­TYPES, AND BOTH ARE TRY­ING NOT TO BE WEIGHED DOWN BY THEIR PO­LIT­I­CAL IN­HER­I­TANCE.

Www.in­di­a­to­day­im­ages.com

SAU­RABH SINGH/

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