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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 1 New Delhi December 26, 2015

Time to Rally / Insanity Enthroned / Wanted: Statesmanship of Highest Order / Ayodhya and Hindu-Muslim Unity

Saturday 26 December 2015, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

Time to Rally

There is nothing unusual for a nation with complex problems to face to go through difficult times, and a great nations like ours with myriads of problems to clear can hardly be expected to enjoy all the time an even tenor of development. Challenges are inevitable for it to encounter, and as it overcomes them, it comes across new heights to climb in its journey ahead.

What is being witnessed today in our country is, however, much more serious and intractable. The challenges before us can hardly be compared to any that had to be faced in the past. Each one of these by itself threatens not only the stability of our politics but practically the entire spectrum of the nation’s life. A brief reference to them brings this out clearly.

The economic situation is grim. With five years of profligate spending by the previous regime, serious efforts at recovery have been thwarted by the unexpected Gulf crisis imposing back-breaking burden, which is faced by the people in the form of exorbitant price rise.

There were protracted periods of unrest in Kashmir in the past. There were grievances galore, shortcomings glaring, but there was never a concerted assault on the very proposition of Kashmir being part of this Republic. Pakistan’s military and political attacks were warded off effectively whenever they were made in the past. But never before was there such a palpable defiance by militant secessionists, openly proclai-ming their resolve to effect the secession of the Kashmir Valley from India, as could be noticed since last year. Not only that. All political activity has come to a standstill except that of the pro-secessionist groups. Barring those who would prefer to bury their heads in the sand, it would be deceiving ourselves if we do not acknowledge that the government’s authority today in the Valley is maintained almost wholly by the force of arms and nothing else. Obviously this cannot go on for long.

In Punjab, the situation may not have deteriorated to that extent. The secessionist Khalistanis constitute a small band, but the militant Sikh youth, unreconciled to conventional politics, resent what they call the Delhi raj; and as it happens in such situations, the moderates are paralysed and the militants dominate.

There have gathered in the North-East dark lowering clouds as various types of discontent are now converging into one formidable challenge of secession taking to the classical form of armed guerrilla action. It is an eerie unquiet that prevades over the seven sisters of the North-East.

Disturbances bordering on anarchy have become the order of the day and primordial loyalties are taking over losing sight of national objectives. An attempt at a modest degree of alleviation of traditional inequities, fostered by a caste-ridden dispensation, has brought out angry and violent offensive by the powerful upper-caste interests as could be seen in the last two months with the govenment decision to reserve government service posts for backward classes as per the Mandal Report.

Looming over it all has come a massive campaign of blatant communalism spearheaded by the BJP with its ally, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, clamouring for the dismantling of the old Babri mosque to make room for their projected Ram temple. Despite all the patience and reasoned implorings by the government and the over-whelming section of public opinion, the leaders of the BJP have persisted in their dangerous course which would have inevitably led to the enthrone-ment of theocracy and the displacement of democracy in this country. It was to the credit of Vishwanath Pratap Singh and his government that they preferred to risk the renunciation of power rather than give in to such communal blackmailing.

With all these fearsome challenges converging at the same time, the nation today indeed faces a multi-dimensional crisis. To deal with it requires superhuman endeavour. Those who indulge in liberal attacks on the present leadership of the government forget that the current crisis can hardly be tackled by any single party, even if it had not been beset with frustrated traducers from inside and unscrupulous adversaries from outside. Here is a crisis which can be faced only with the united, determined will of all the patriotic forces, committed to the upholding of democracy. Pettyfogging sniping at each other must cease and opportunism abjured and principles upheld. If the political leaders have demonstrated their inability to come upto the mark, it is for all the patriotic forces to rally together and take the nation out of these turbulent times. 

(Mainstream, Annual Number 1990)

(October 27, 1990)

Insanity Enthroned

After forty years of the foundation of our independent republic, the Frankenstein has appeared again—the monster that is out to destroy democracy and plunge this nation into civil war that shall rend asunder thousands of towns and villages of this great country.

The term, communalism, does not convey the gravity of the crisis that confronts us today—let it be bluntly stated that what we face today is the demon of Hindu-Muslim hatred. Over a large part of this land, particularly in the northern States, straddles today this monstrous hatred in the majority Hindu against the Muslim who must be subjugated and, if unbending, then liquidated. In response to that, the minority Muslim, in deadly despair, tries to hit back as a means of survival.

The map of India today is dotted with bloodmarks—bloodmarks of brothers fighting brothers. Bhagalpur, Bijnore, Hyderabad, Aligarh and Kanpur have today turned into not only the disgrace-points but danger-signals for India’s nationhood. The rule of the knife and the bomb has taken over from the so-called guardians of law and order. At every one of these places—and many others yet to come under the spotlight of the media—frenzied hatred has been spread with cynical design to fan the flames of insensate violence in which neighbours of yesterday have butchered each other, and the administration itself got affected in the orgy.

It does not require any academic research to point the finger at the agitation over the temple-mosque controversy at Ayodhya for having polluted the political environment in which communal antipathy has become the order of the day. And once the wind of hatred spread, the flames of violence have caught on unimpeded. The BJP leaders plead innocence, that their plea was for the building of the Ram temple only, but they cannot exonerate themselves from the responsibility of having unleashed forces that have taken to killing and loot. Inevitably, the minority community faced with such a grim situation has, at places, hit back. Hence, mutual hatred spread far and wide.

The time is over for the ideologues of the BJP to come out with the thesis that Islam does not fit into the national mould. They have to realise that the ponderous labours spent in building up such a thesis is being turned into good use by those indulging in killing and looting in the frenzy of communal violence. All the prattle about pseudo-secularism have only added grist to the mill of those who are wielding the long knife in the dark night that has descended over a large stretch of this beautiful land of ours.

For leaders of major political parties too, this is the hour of truth. The hands of a number of them can hardly be regarded as clean as they too in the past have sometime or other indulged in pampering communal urges to secure votes, and quite a few in their respective camps are ready to do so again, once the elections are on the agenda. That is a matter for them to settle with their conscience. What matters today above everything else is that the beast of communal hatred has been let loose and is playing havoc. If this ghastly apparition is allowed to roam about unchecked, there shall be no question of democratic functioning, no elections to legis-latures and Parliament, no civil liberties, but the drum-beat of communal fury with goose-step marching of the hatchet-gangs out to destroy civilised conduct of public life.

At this cross-road of India’s destiny, we put this question to our leaders of all parties, those in office and those outside: Can you not bury your hatchets and join hands to stir the vast multitude of this great nation so that the fiendish forces of communal hatred are put down and chased out of our public life for good? This is the moment when your patriotism needs to be tested. Let all other differences and squabbles, allergies and misunderstandings, be set aside, and all, really all, together come forward at the call of the nation.

For heaven’s sake, join hands and march shoulder to shoulder to fight the enemy that has entered the gates. Mother India beckons us all. 

(Mainstream, December 15, 1990)

Wanted: Statesmanship of Highest Order

The demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6 inflicted severe damage on our relations with Bangladesh and Pakistan. Whether the demolition squad that brought down the 450-year old structure had any idea about the consequences of their deed, it would be unfair to think that the government could not anticipate that there would be such a virulent outburst of anger over this vandalist act in our two neighbouring countries.

Perhaps the intensity of the flare-up has been more than was expected, but the chain reaction to Ayodhya was inevitable. For years the Babri mosque issue was a festering sore, but with the unlocking of the gates in 1986 by a local Court order—left unchallenged by the Congress Govern-ment of the day—it attracted extraordinary attention and became almost the touchstone of Hindu-Muslim relationship in this country. Hence, the spontaneous nationwide condemnation of those responsible for the misdeed and the reproach of the Central Government for its failure to protect the structure.

If things are allowed to drift and the government chooses to be a helpless bystander instead of taking fresh initiatives to recover the lost grounds, it will not only devalue its authority but the present state of embittered communal misunder-standing would be further accentuated. The instant reaction of the Centre has been to take certain drastic measures at the administrative level—the arrest of some of the leaders of what’s called the Sangh Parivar, followed by the banning of five organisations—three Hindu and two Muslim—and ultimately the dismissal of the BJP-ruled State governments and the imposition of President’s Rule on them.

These steps have the stamp of being amazingly haphazard. The inclusion of L.K. Advani in the list of those arrested has invited adverse comments by many who can by no means be regarded as friendly to the BJP. The general feeling is that as the accredited Leader of the Oppsition he should have been politically arraigned by the Lok Sabha instead of being detained and then hauled up before a tribunal which can hardly find any evidence of his direct complicity in the demolition of the disputed Masjid.

The clumsy manner in which the ban on the five organisations was clamped down—four days of advance notice, with sufficient loopholes in the charge-sheets—that it hardly redounds to the credit of the Central Government. Compare this with the lightening thoroughness combined with discernment that marked the ban on the Commu-nists in 1948—when the Communist Party as such was not declared illegal but its specific units and organs were.

While nobody has remotely questioned the dismissal of the UP Government since it failed to honour its commitment to the Supreme Court for the protection of the Babri Masjid and the disputed area adjacent to it, the ouster of the three other BJP-ruled State governments of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh by the imposition of President’s Rule has been widely criticised even by cricles generally known to be friendly to the Congress. There is little doubt that the action offends the spirit, if not the letter as well, of the Constitution, since one can hardly prove that there was any breakdown of gover-nance in all the three States.

While the public facade put up was that the Congress was determined to oust the BJP from all political vantage points as part of an all-out crusade to combat communalism, one has to take into account the calculation of the hard-headed Congress politicians. With the imposition of President’s Rule, the Congress itself would be the virtual ruler of the States concerned. And since all parties in the Opposition are today united in opposing the BJP, the Congress leaders expect that there would be no splitting of non-BJP votes, which will ensure the Congress coming back to office when the elections follow the end of President’s Rule. It is not that the Congress leaders are thinking of a coalition with other parties: what they are interested in is to avoid the splitting of votes, which will enable the Congress to emerge as the party with the largest number of seats in each of the affected four States.

The miscalculation in such an anticipation lies in the almost sure possibility that the BJP will reap the harvest of being a martyred party for having upheld the honour and prestige of the Hindu community—the more so when it has the advantage of a well-knit cadre provided by the RSS. No doubt, Congressmen in these four States will be active in the coming months to present themselves as devout Hindus, but there is little chance of the Congress beating the BJP-RSS establishment in the game of one-upmanship as the champion of the Hindu cause.

In fact, the boomerang is already felt. While some of the senior Ministers have been talking during these days about disqualifying the BJP from the election process, Atal Behari Vajpayee’s powerful speech in the Lok Sabha has received wide appreciation in many quarters which are firmly anti-communal. Virtually offering regrets for the tragedy of December 6, he asserted not only his commitment to constitutional politics but the right of his party to function within the four corners of the Constitution. The Delhi Administration’s ban on his holding an indoor rally and his subsequent arrest, release and Home Minister Chavan’s formal assurance to let the BJP carry on its functions as a lawful party—all this has brought out the fact that the government in this crisis has been moving without any strategy while betraying an amazing innocence about the tactical handling of a complex situation.

Faced with a difficult challenge such as the one that confronts it, one would have expected the government to try to placate the moderates and isolate the extremists in the camp of its adversary. This was the failure of the Centre in Punjab in 1983-1984 when, by its maladroit handling, the moderate Akali leaders were pushed into the arms of the militant extremists. And such a handling of the situation, step by step, led to the ‘Operation Bluestar’ which in its turn led to the assassination of the then Prime Minister herself. This grim lesson from Punjab should have gone home to the Congress leadership, but there is no sign of the Congress leaders behaving better than the Bourbons. Any mature leadership of the government would have promptly grasped the significance of Vajpayee’s outstanding intervention and thereby could have gained by setting its target only on the extremist hotheads in the Sangh Parivar.

Statesmanship is called for in many directions in today’s crisis. While active mass campaigning for communal harmony is discernible on the part of a large body of concerned citizens outside the orbit of the ruling establishment, it is imperative on the part of the govrnment to seriously work out immediate steps to improve relations with our two neighbours, particularly with Pakistan.

It is a truism to say that the security of the Muslim minority here and the strengthening of the Hindu-Muslim accord have become the essence of our good relations with our two neighbours. This is dictated by historical circumstances and can hardly be wished way. While the stand that whatever has happened is a matter of India’s internal concern is protocol-wise correct, the hard reality is that the maintenance of Hindu-Muslim goodwill acts as a decisive factor in the building of good neighbourly relations with Pakistan and Bangladesh.

To demarcate between Atal Behari Vajpayee and Ashok Singhal, and to discuss with Nawaz Sharif every thorny issue from Kashmir to Ayodhya—are not mutually contradictory. Rather they are called for by the very dialectics of the present complex situation. A crisis of such an unprecedented dimension that faces this country today demands statesmanship of the highest order.

Can this be the order of the day for a government in disarray? 

(Mainstream, December 26, 1992)

Ayodhya and Hindu-Muslim Unity

With December 6 only a month behind, it is too early to assess its long range fall-out. After the instant outburst of violence in different parts of the country, one could however gather reactions from different walks of life.

A dominant feeling among a fairly large section of what may be called the intellectual community that regards itself liberated from the shackles of religious obscurantism, is an overwhelming sense of gloom, of dark despair, that the basic values that they so long cherished, have all crashed. They view the Babri Masjid demolition as a hideous demonstration of fanaticism, and some go further and regard it as the onset of fascism. Talking to a good cross-section of them, one gets the creeping premo-nition that what happened on December 6 might turn out to be the beginning of the disintegration of the country—religious communal fanaticism leading to actual break-up of the country’s territorial unity. If such a well-knit authoritarian system as the Soviet Union was, could break up and disappear without even a whimper, what guarantee is there about India not going the Yugoslav way when we could demonstrate such gross insensitivity about each other’s feelings and concerns?

The structure of thinking of this elite among the intelligentsia is dominantly based on modern Western education and culture which admits of no communal urges and outlook. Even if a good number of them acquiesce as they do in caste rituals and taboos, they keep away from communal responses. While they participate in social festivals of the community, they as a rule keep away from, or look down upon, any form of community activity. This is true of the intellectual elite of both the communities, Hindu and Muslim. Under the circumstances, there is hardly any space for community interaction between Hindus and Muslims at the intellectual level, barring of course honourable exceptions.

This trend of community alienation began before independence—perhaps in the late thirties as the present writer can recall from personal experience. And it was certainly reinforced by the partition and its blood-soaked aftermath, which wreaked the most grievous damage on the inter-relations between the two largest communities in this subcontinent, namely, Hindus and Muslims.

In the period immediately following indepen-dence, the major concentration of the nation’s energy and attention was focussed on economic development and the functioning of a constitu-tional, democratic system. Issues relating to communal diversities, caste barriers as also of the vast sprawling adivasi world were left in a state of laissez faire. The understanding was that with economic development, communal and caste issues will, on their own, be weakened, if not obliterated; at the same time, the expectation was that the bitter alienation generated by the partition would gradually fade away as yesterday’s bad dream.

It is worth recalling that when the Mount-batten plan of partitioning the country was accepted by our national leaders, they genuinely believed—at least the top ones among them—that with independence, communal antagonism would progressively weaken and would be finally eliminated with economic development. Hence, there was calculated neglect of the task of fostering inter-communal activity, the means of knowing each other. The intellectual elite, which took such a conspi-cuously active interest in the freedom struggle, even to the point of actually participating in it by many of its adherents, totally neglected their respective communities, leaving these to the exposure to conservative, obscurantist elements. The fact of the matter is that though they opposed the so-called ‘two-nation theory’, they acknowledged in practice the principle of partition along communal lines. Since neither history nor geography permitted the wholesale transfer of either of the entire communities, what followed in practice was that the minority community of either of the two countries became largely suspect in the eyes of the majority community in both the countries.

Here was a major failure in nation-building in the decades since independence. The national leadership did not seem to realise the pernicious after-effect of partitioning the country along communal lines. Jinnah felt it in the very morrow of the partition when his mandate before the National Assembly—that in the new state of Pakistan all citzens would be equal—was totally brushed aside and he himself soon faded out of political authority quite sometime before he actually passed away. In the case of India, Gandhi, who had not only demurred with the decision to accept partition but persisted on campaigning for Hindu-Muslim unity, was shot dead less than six months of independence by a young man for whom the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity was anathema in partitioned India. Although police measures were taken at that time against fanatical elements including the RSS, the national leadership undertook no nationwide mass movement to generate the national consciousness that the two commu-nities would have not only to live together but actively work together to build the new India as the proud inheritor of a civilisation enriched by many streams of culture, that there can be no Indian ethos based on the perceptions of one community, however strong in numbers it may be. In the fortyfive years since independence, the issue has been taken up as a ritual and not as an urgent imperative on the national agenda.

This laissez-faire approach could be seen on many issues. When the question of a common civil code was considered as a basic pillar of our democratic structure, the Muslim community was excluded from it—not because the national leadership had sought to look down upon that community, but because it was felt that the orthodox leaders of that community would know best what’s good for that community, and since the Muslim orthodox leaders like their Hindu counterparts were opposed to the idea of a civil code, the proposed legislation excluded the entire community from its purview. The national leadership confined its fight for social justice only within the precincts of the majority community to which they themselves largely belonged.

The same mentality of inverted communalism could be seen when Hindu rituals were performed on ceremonial occasions relating to official functions in which Ministers and even the Head of State also participated: there was little understanding of how such ceremonial rituals would have an impact on the minority community. On the one hand, the attitude of don’t-touch-the-Muslim community as it must not be made to feel that it was being pressurised by the majority community; and on the other, carry on even in public affairs in a manner that pleases the majority community.

Out of this strange mentality came the compulsions of election politics. In our func-tioning democracy, we are proud that we have been holding regular elections from Parliament to the panchayats. But the system that has come into operation has encouraged the tendency to appeal to caste and communal loyalties of the voter. As the system itself has got corroded over the years, this tendency has been strengthened; hence the emergence of communal/caste vote-banks. And as the vote-banks flourished, there has emerged a whole tribe of brokers in both the communities. As brokers they have a stake in keeping the community under their keep apart from any endeavour at forging a national approach as distinct from the communal or caste approach.

Since no ideological imperative for Hindu-Muslim unity has been built up after the demise of Gandhi, it is but natural that the communities by and large would come under the spell of religious leaders addressing their respective flocks. But the religious leaders are on thier own unconcerned with political activity. And here the political operators flourished in communal garb, claiming themselves as the custodians of communal interests. They have grown as political brokers in the two communities managing their protfolio accounts in the vote-banks. What happened on December 6 at Ayodhya was like the bursting of a scam in the political stock exchange. But it does not follow the brokers are all exposed. The brokers in the minority community are equally active as their counterparts in the majority community.

In the unfolding of this sordid drama, the intellectual elite, without having built a foothold in his own community, finds himself in a state of helplessness. His cry for secularism, for fight against fascism are no doubt well-meaning and they do have some effect, but that could only be a marginal effect—a sort of salvation army squad in the face an earthquake disaster. But marginal relief is also welcome.

What’s, however, called for is to bestir those noble souls who have roots in their respective communities. They have to come out of their cloistered eminence and lead their flocks for Hindu-Muslim unity—which alone can provide the bedrock for India’s regenerated nationalism.

(Mainstream, January 9, 1993)