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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 1, December 27, 2014 - Annual Number

Tragedy And Conciliation

Saturday 27 December 2014, by Kuldip Nayar

There was genuine pain in India over the mindless killing of schoolchildren at Peshawar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked all Indian schoolchildren to maintain a two-minute silence in memory of the lives lost in Pakistan. He readily offered any assistance that India could render to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Such gestures transcend the borders. I wish this atmosphere could sustain between the two countries.

Unfortunately, the civil societies in India and Pakistan don’t feel concerned over their youth nourishing enmity towards each other. They, including those from Bangladesh, are the best of friends outside the shores of the subcontinent. But, in their own country, they are always in the midst of schemes to hit the other hard without realising that hostilities may become inevitable.

The Pakistanis often say that once the Kashmir problem is solved both sides will live as friends. I have my doubts. Kashmir, according to me, is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is their mistrust in each other. Even by some miracle if the Kashmir issue is solved, some other problem will crop up because of the suspicion.

The Indians and Pakistanis are carrying on their enmity to everywhere they come into contact. It is sad that even cultural events suffer from the same thinking. The Quwals from Pakistan could not sing at the Delhi Press Club, supposed to be liberal. On the other hand, India was ridiculed with obscene gestures by the Pakistani players after defeating India in a hockey match.

The visiting Pakistani MPs could not meet the Lok Sabha Speaker, although the Indian MP who arranged the meeting with the Speaker did not check whether she was free at that time. The Indian MPs should have made amends in some other manner but there was no such effort even for the sake courtesy. Such incidents indicate that even after 70 years of partition, the two countries have not settled down to normal courtesies, much less friendship. The future too does not look bright when enmity seems to reveal our Hindu identity.

Yesterday it was Sanskrit, the language of Hindu scriptures. Today, it is conversion. The conversion of some Muslims has only downgraded India in the eyes of the world, particularly Pakistan. When the ‘converted’ say that they were coerced into and promised ration card or the BPL status that gives the poor the essentials at a subsided price, things seem to be murkier than one would imagine.

That fundamentalism is spreading in Pakistan does not surprise me. A state having such blasphemous laws as can kill a liberal Punjab Governor with no action against the murderers is lengthening the shadows. It is unfortunate but when even the liberal voices are mute because of such consequences, the fanatics are bound to grow in number and in impudence.

The real point of worry is what is happening to India. The country represents a democratic, secular polity and it is respected for this all over the world. Unfortunately, New Delhi is rapidly becoming a goalpost of Hindutva, to the disappointment of the world and to the horror of minorities.

What the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has expressed without any serious challenge—that the Hindu Raj has returned to India after 800 years—is bound to question our secular credentials. I am not surprised that the BJP has enrolled four lakh members in Delhi itself. The Congress, which can stall the tide, is too embroiled in dynastic politics. But in the past, the party’s ideology of egalitarianism and pluralism was very much in the forefront, whether Jawaharlal Nehru groomed Indira Gandhi and she, in turn, Rajiv Gandhi. But today even Congress President Sonia Gandhi is seen as the Right-of-the Centre, not even the Centre.

India’s politics too is engrossed in personalities. Today, it is Narendra Modi but not what he stands for. Development is too vague to give any direction. India should have taken the initiative to develop the region as a whole. But when ideology is sought to be based on parochialism, it is neither pervasive nor egalitarian in content. The common man feels as much isolated and marginalised as he has been all these years since independence.

The ruling party may have changed at the Centre but the political culture has not. We continue to be feudal in our outlook. This trait transcends other considerations. It does not go well with the democratic temperament. But it is there and has not undergone any perceptible change from the past. Those who come to power become dictators in action. Even when they profess that power is with the people they are using it figuratively and not realistically because very few of them serve the country.

Modi has, in the process, buried Nehru’s idea of non-alignment deep. True, the movement has lost its raison d’être, the confrontation between the Communists and the democratic bloc. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the Communists lost the Cold War. Still the movement had come to represent an idea that small nations should not fear the big ones because of their size or power. Modi is a product of the capitalist world. He has neither the pull of the Nehru era of socialism, nor that of Mahatma Gandhi’s self-abnegation. Modi wants the country to develop, whatever be the means and however wide the distance between the haves and have-nots as a consequence of the economic path.

Before concluding, I must say about something which disappointed me. I mean President Pranab Mukherjee’s book. It was indiscreet on his part to release a book on the Emergency period. He knows that the office he occupies should not be exposed to political criticism. Still, the President has taken advantage of his position to have the spotlight on the book to justify what he did during the Emergency.

President Mukherjee was an integral part of the dictatorial rule at that time. He was the right-hand man of Sanjay Gandhi, an extra-constitutional authority, who almost took the country to dictatorship. That Mukherjee, supposed to be liberal, went along will always be questioned, no matter how much chest-beating he does at this time.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com