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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 50 New Delhi December 5, 2015

An Existential Threat to Secular India

Sunday 6 December 2015

political notebook

The Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was demolished on December 6, 1992. The forces that demolished the historic mosque have become far stronger today and are threatening to demolish the entire edifice of India’s secular and democratic polity. The insecurity that the members of the minority community felt at that time has grown manifold. There is a pervasive fear among them. Witness the cold-blooded lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq of Bisada village near Dadri in UP in late September on the mere suspicion that he had stored beef in his house and eaten it.

Witness the verbal tirade let loose against such eminent film personalities as Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan and the gratuitous advice given to them to ‘go to Pakistan’. Witness the smearing of ink on the face of Sudheendra Kulkarni, a close associate of BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani, for committing the ‘crime’ of inviting former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri at a book release function in Mumbai. Indeed, majoritarian triumphalism is having a field day today and making no secret of its aim of burying the Constitution and declaring India a Hindu Rashtra. It is an irony of history that the dramatis personae of Babri demolition have themselves been totally marginalised in their own party.

When noted litterateurs, academicians, sociologists, scientists and film personalities return the awards they had received to assert their democratic right to protest against rising intolerance, they are subjected to scorn and contempt by the powers-that-be. Their protest is dismissed as a ‘manufactured’ protest. The award-wapsi is condemned as a deliberate attempt at blackening India’s image abroad, as if the statement by the government’s Culture Minister that A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was a nationalist even though he was a Muslim brightens India’s image in the comity of nations. Or, another Central Minister comparing the burning alive of two Dalit babies with ‘someone throwing stones at a dog’ and saying the government is not responsible. The instances can be multiplied.

The Sangh Parivar, headed by the RSS, has not learnt any lesson from the series of electoral debacles the BJP suffered from the Bihar Assembly elections onwards. Their commitment to Hindutva (which is as different from Hinduism as chalk from cheese) and their determination to morph India into a theocratic state remain as firm as ever. Secular and democratic forces have their task cut out: to face unitedly the challenge of Hindu communal fascism. It has to be understood clearly that the challenge of communal fascism is basically an ideological one rather than a political one (just as the challenge of jihadi Islam is basically ideological). It has to be fought on an ideological plane.

This is a much larger question than winning or losing a few seats in this or that election. The pracharaks of Hindutva preach their ideology day after day, year after year, drawing ever new adherents to their credo. The champions of secularism and democracy have, till now, left the field free for them. There is no counter-movement at the grassroots level for combating their pernicious ideology, especially among the youth.

Much water has flown down the Ganga since the Babri Masjid demolition. The monster of communalism has grown to menacing proportions. It poses a threat not only to the minorities but even to those in the majority community, the Hindus, who refuse to accept the Sangh version of Hindutva.

Hindutva has nothing to do with religion. It is a political movement, just as jihadi Islam has nothing to do with Islam. It is a political movement with a political objective. Neither Hindutva nor jihadi Islam permits dissidence within its fold. Both impose a rigid, regimented and totalitarian straitjacket on their followers. Opposing it or differing with it means apostasy inviting banishment and worse. The concept of a liberal, democratic, tolerant society that permits people of different faiths, languages and cultures is alien to them.

The twentythird anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition is an occasion for taking a retrospective view of all that has happened in the intervening period and analyse the factors that contributed to the growth of communal forces and the inability of the democratic and secular forces to stem the tide. Unless this is done it will be difficult to strengthen the unity of the secular forces. It is regrettable but true that most of those swearing by secularism put their party interests above national interest. Otherwise it is hard to explain why the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar and the Left parties should opt out of the Laloo-Nitish-Congress alliance in Bihar, split the anti-BJP vote and indirectly help the very same communal forces they fume against. The BJP failed miserably at the hustings, but that does not mitigate the gravity of the political blunder those parties made.

The task of all those who believe that the unity of this country can be protected only by preserving its diversity, its plurality and its catholicity must reaffirm their faith on the day of the Babri Masjid demolition and vow to carry on an uncompromising battle against what is euphemistically called ‘intolerance’. It is necessary to understand that to call those who are carrying out one intolerant act after another as ‘fringe’ elements is to play down the danger they pose. Indeed, they constitute the core of the Hindutva stormtroopers, out to establish a Hindu Rashtra on the ruins of the Secular, Democratic, Socialist Republic of India. They pose an existential threat to India as we have known it for millennia.

December 1 B.D.G.