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Mainstream, VOL LV No 9 New Delhi February 18, 2017

Ayodhya and Hindu-Muslim Unity

Tuesday 21 February 2017, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

In the wake of the bid by the ruling party at the Centre for communal polarisation against the backdrop of the impending UP Assembly elections, the relevance of the following article by N.C. after the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in the State on December 6, 1992 cannot be overestimated.

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, an overwhelming feeling of gloom, of dark despair, is 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 premonition 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 independence, the major concentration of the nation’s energy and attention was focussed on economic development and the functioning of a constitutional, 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 under-standing 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 Mountbatten 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 conspicuously 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 of conservative, obscurantist elements. The fact of the matter is that though they opposed the so-called ‘two-nation theory’, they acknow-ledged 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 communities 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 functioning 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 their 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 communits 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)