Con­tra­dic­tion in terms?

Business Standard - - ISSUES AND INSIGHTS - MIHIR S SHARMA Email: mihir.s.sharma@gmail.com; Twit­ter: @mi­hirssharma

We are now a very an­gry coun­try. In fact, we’re so an­gry, so of­ten, about so many dif­fer­ent things that it can be hard to keep track. It is there­fore no doubt my own fault that I am com­pletely and ut­terly mys­ti­fied by the fury be­ing ex­pressed at Shashi Tha­roor’s warn­ing that the Bharatiya Janata Party might, if al­lowed to, “turn In­dia into a Hindu Pak­istan”. Even by the stan­dards of In­dian news tele­vi­sion, this seems to me to not be suf­fi­ciently as­tound­ing a state­ment to merit the usual line-up of boot-lick­ing an­chors, apoplec­tic spokes­men and omi­nous back­ground mu­sic. And, oddly, most of the anger was not at Tha­roor’s ac­cu­sa­tion against the BJP. It is now gen­er­ally ac­cepted, even cel­e­brated that the BJP’s pro­gramme is hard­core Hin­dutva in a way that was alien to the BJP of Va­j­payee’s time. No, the anger seemed di­rected at the phrase it­self. Some­thing about it was wrong — was a “con­tra­dic­tion in terms”, as one an­chor com­plained.

What does the phrase “Hindu Pak­istan” im­ply, any­way? It con­tains in it the fol­low­ing as­sump­tions. First, that Pak­istan was formed as a home for a par­tic­u­lar re­li­gious com­mu­nity, in a way that In­dia was not. Sec­ond, that some­thing in the na­ture of Pak­istan’s for­ma­tion or his­tory has caused it to lose its way — to flirt with fail­ure as a state, to mis­treat its mi­nori­ties, to si­lence its lib­er­als. And third, that such could hap­pen in In­dia if it for­gets its found­ing prin­ci­ples and those things in its his­tory that set it apart from its neigh­bour. So, I ask again, what on earth is there in th­ese as­sump­tions that is ob­jec­tion­able?

I have in fact heard ob­jec­tions to the phrase “Hindu Pak­istan” be­fore, but not from the Hindu right. Some ar­gue that us­ing the phrase as a warn­ing min­imises the de­gree to which the treat­ment of mi­nori­ties, for ex­am­ple, in In­dia now mir­rors that in Pak­istan. I my­self do not hold this view, and be­lieve there is am­ple ev­i­dence to jus­tify my be­lief that we’re still do­ing bet­ter than Pak­istan in this re­spect. Yet, I know sev­eral In­di­ans who, in spite of be­ing fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties in Pak­istan, are con­vinced it is worse in In­dia. How­ever, this is not, I sus­pect, what an­i­mates the BJP’s anony­mous in­ter­net trolls and its of­fi­cial spokes­peo­ple — two tribes that are rapidly be­com­ing in­dis­tin­guish­able.

It seems what ac­tu­ally has caused this in­dig­na­tion is two-fold. First, that any­one could dare claim that Pak­istan has strug­gled in so many ways be­cause of the pri­macy it has given to religion. It is clear to them that Pak­istan’s strug­gles are not be­cause it has never given sec­u­lar lib­er­al­ism a real chance, but be­cause it is a Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­try. Ergo, noth­ing can hap­pen to In­dia if it aban­dons the thread­bare rem­nants of its com­mit­ment to sec­u­lar lib­er­al­ism, since it is a Hindu-ma­jor­ity coun­try. It’s Is­lam that is the prob­lem. This be­lief also causes the ap­palled fury that greets ev­ery men­tion of the phrase “saf­fron terror”. For them, ter­ror­ism is a phe­nom­e­non that is in­her­ently Is­lamic. The mobs roam­ing our coun­try­side string­ing up Mus­lims in the name of cow pro­tec­tion are not, of course, in­dulging in ter­ror­ism. They are merely act­ing in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the law. So, yes, ev­ery­one who ob­jects to Tha­roor’s phras­ing is, in essence, the worst kind of il­lib­eral bigot. But then, you al­ready knew that.

The sec­ond as­pect of this anger is es­sen­tially at Tha­roor for ac­tu­ally point­ing out the plan to be­come a re­li­gious state, and com­par­ing it dis­mis­sively with Pak­istan. We should ac­tu­ally wel­come the no­tion of be­com­ing a re­li­gious state, in other words. We have pro­gressed so far that a com­mit­ment to a Hindu Rash­tra is taken for given, and must not be chal­lenged or de­meaned in th­ese terms. The BJP is no longer apolo­getic or furtive about it; it has reached that phase of its dom­i­nance where it wishes to si­lence ob­jec­tors.

Ah, if only Tha­roor had said “we might be­come a Hindu Is­rael” in­stead, he would have run into no such trou­ble. Those who agree with him that lib­er­al­ism and sec­u­lar­ism are im­por­tant would have nod­ded gravely at the warn­ing about religion can­ni­bal­is­ing the state, while the en­tire swathe of in­ter­net trolls who now ap­par­ently serve as the ide­o­log­i­cal brains-trust of the BJP would have looked at each other in puz­zle­ment, think­ing: What kind of warn­ing is that? Lock­ing up Mus­lims in small en­claves, en­sur­ing that Mus­lim mem­bers of the polity are sus­pect and can­not rise be­yond a cer­tain level, giv­ing con­trol of the state to a unique na­tional re­li­gious tra­di­tion — what’s wrong with that? Sounds like a plan.

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