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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 40, September 27, 2014

How is the Cookie Crumbling?

Sunday 28 September 2014, by Badri Raina

I had concluded my last article (“Troubling Times for the Constitutional Republic,” Mainstream, Vol LII, No. 36, August 30, 2014) on a note of speculation about how Modiji’s equation with the ground-level Hindutva campaign directed chiefly at Muslims and women might or might not shape in the coming days and months.

That speculation derived from the general criticism that India’s chief executive who had assumed the numero uno position within the democratic-constitutional scheme was not heard to express any sort of disapproval of some outrageously divisive and anti-constitutional expletives launched into the body politic by high-ranking members of his party, including Members of Parliament and Ministers in the Cabinet. “Is Modiji waiting to see how that cookie might or might not crumble?”—I had wondered.

Well, we know since then that the said cookie did not crumble quite in the way in which the Hindutva campaigners might have wished or anticipated. India’s marvellously alert voters across nine States, including Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, which had contributed so massively to yielding the BJP its simple majority in Parliament struck back, as it were, with one mind, handing the ruling party a determined repudiation. Many well-to-do middle class people that this writer spoke to said that they had not voted for Modiji for the implementation of an anti-“love jihad” crusade.

The by-election results, thus, could not but have brought a recognition to the first-rate tactical mind that Modiji commands that, even when nothing strong or explicit could be said by him in denigration of the Hindutva campaign which, after all, had—and has—the blessings of the RSS (a whole issue of the Panchjanya had been, as it were, devoted to this campaign, with “love jihad” on the cover), some adjustments in the dyarchic power-relations between the government and RSS ground-support needed to be made if further electoral disasters were to be obviated. Thus, an interview given to Fareed Zakaria, significantly on the eve of Modiji’s forthcoming visit to the United States, must have seemed just the right moment to begin to redress the situation, albeit in a typically paternalistic mode. Asked whether he feared any penetration by the Al-Qaeda among India’s Muslims, Modiji made the grand statement that Indian Muslims would live and die for India. A truism stated as a flourish of certifi-cation, as many Muslims have come to receive that statement. Even as others understood how positively such an averment would be received by those busybodies in the United States who pontificate on the state of “religious freedom” worldwide, even as the White House never hesitates to back the worst kinds of religioius bigotry and mayhem when it suits its purposes.

Now, much as sections of the media and some familiar public intellectuals favourable to Modiji are engaged in a “we told you so” campaign—namely, that Modiji was always a deeply fair-minded and secular person—some others are not so persuaded. Ms Mayawati, among the politicians, has been first off the block. Commenting that what Modiji has said of the patriotism of Indian Muslims “is in contrast to the character and attitude of his party and its allies”, she concludes that “it is clear that whatever the Prime Minister says is mostly politically motivated”, noting further that even as he was making that statement the student wing of the RSS, the ABVP, was busy organising girl student workshops to educate Hindu women about the dangers of “love jihad”. (See The Hindu, September 21, 2014)

As if to prove her right, a front-ranking scion of the RSS, Shri Indresh Kumar, has said that Indian Muslims have been given a "chance" by Modiji, one they never got from the Congress, to “prove” that he is right: “Muslims must accept the challenge (Modiji’s comment). They must prove it.” (See The Hindu, ibid.) The Hindu report goes on to say: “He, however, declined to answer when asked if the Sangh concurred with Mr Modi’s observations.” To recall, if Savarkar was of the view that those whose punya bhoomi (place/land of religious worship) lay outside India could not be assumed to be loyal to the country, Golwalker was to title a whole chapter in his Bunch of Thoughts, “Enemy Number One”, meaning Muslims. Indresh Kumar’s refusal thus to endorse Modiji’s most laudable, even if wholly gratuitous, certification of the patriotism of Indian Muslims falls squarely within the continuing skepticism of the RSS on the subject. A skepticism based also on the view that Indian Muslims—all of them—alone were responsible for the partition of India in 1947, not forgetting, of course, to include the Congress, Nehru especially, as a collateral accomplice to that tragedy.

It may be said with some conviction that the fate of the dyarchic play we have been witnessing as between the government and RSS will lie ulitimately in the will of the electorate as further elections are held in one State or another. Till such time as the current Indian executive remains wedded to the constitutional regime, the will of the people alone can continue to determine what views are held to be genuinely meant and what seen to be facades. I may reiterate what I had said with elaboration in an earlier article (“Republic Resilient”, Mainstream, June 7, 2014): it will be a tough, indeed an insuperable, project for any extremist force either on the Right or the Left of the Indian political spectrum successfully to displace or dethrone the Constitution of the Indian Republic, a document that has over some seven decades acquired an endorsed inevitability, given the pluralist life of India, and the not-to-be-denied-for-long federal and centrifugal impulses of its diverse polity and of the structures of power that come to represent them. However much India’s largely depoliticised affluent or aspiring classes may wish all authority to be uncompli-catedly vested in one place, and then to be enforced with no-nonsense state toughness if need be, this impulse has not only been defeated before but is likely to continue to be defeated in the years to come. Indeed, India’s capitalist class which pines for uncontestable, centralised authority will continue to have to learn to live with that reality.

This is not an idle thought or a vain faith either. Even as there are these fascicised segments of affluent Indians, there are vast numbers of others, including from the same class, who constitute a civil society equally consequential on the “other side”, if you like. And, let it be said with emphasis, Indian Muslims who are currently at the receiving end of Rightwing propaganda and social onslaught have come to be the most influential guarantors of India’s constitutional democracy. With their concerted pursuit of democratic forms of opposition and redress, and their willingness to stretch beyond community consolidation to embrace all those others who have equal stakes in the fair-minded and consistent operation of India’s constitutional and democratic promise, they have come to be a formidable force for reasoned argument and rational demand. They have little use for the likes of Zawahiri not because Modiji says so, but because their understanding of global events and of the unique value of India’s “socialist, democratic, secular” Constitution is far more felt and sophisticated than perhaps of those who pontificate to them. Not to speak of their commitment to India which more often than not exceeds provenly—even in the face of the most vulgar provocations—that of those who never fail to jingoise about India but spend their lives on lucrative foreign soils.

Is it too foolish to think that a day might come when Modiji will do more than say what he has said, namely, come to believe the truth of his words? I do not rule this out. Having read and absorbed Shakespeare over long years, a Coriolanus need not exist only within the pages that he wrote. Was there not also an Ashok? Who knows but we may be on the threshold of Modiji’s Kalinga moment. He of course must search his own heart to know best; but if that be so, how this beleaguered polity would love to hear it from the royal mouth, and, most of all, to see the royal hand chastise those who think he is still the hate monger they would want him to be.

What a beloved consummation that would be!

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.