Inventive Nationalism as explained by Ian Talbott in his book “India and Pakistan” (Inventing the Nation) appears to be challenged by the latest socio-political developments of South Asia. Communalism and intolerance is spreading. Militancy in Pakistan, the likely resurgence of a civil conflict in post-US Afghanistan, Buddhist militants gunning Muslims in Burma, judicial incrimination of pro Pakistan elements in Bangladesh, Muslims hounding Buddhist and Hindus in Bangladesh, Zionism, Takfiri Islam, and the rise of Daesh and oil politics is an explosive mixture. The Saffron wave created by BJP and its allied rightist groups complete the cycle to make a lethal broth. The dynamics threaten the concept of an inclusive majority in Indian democracy and the security of India’s neighbours. The region has its own mini clash of civilisations at hand. If Indians do not dare to challenge the trends, disruptive forces of intolerance and communalism will engulf their shining India.
A modern secular India tediously crafted by Jawaharlal Nehru is under the siege of the Saffron Ideology (The Hindu Right). Symbolised by the rise of celibate Narendra Modi, they believes that the lost glory of Hindutva can be reclaimed. The trend and proliferation of this vedic thinking poses a potential threat to all neighbouring countries and marginalises the minorities of India. The Hindu left and seculars are under the watchful eyes of resurgent Hindus; if they dare challenge. Fearing their own safety, many notable Indian thinkers and historians are in recusal. Corporate media with astronomical returns is silent.
In the past eight months, over 600 acts of violence against dissidence have taken place in Uttar Pradesh alone. These include the murder of a Muslim software engineer by a radical organisation, criticism of Muslim Madaris by Sakshi Maharaj, Yogi Adityanath and other BJP leaders and a statement by Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) calling India a Hindu state. The notion and colour of Saffron is being used to propagate pro Hindu sentiments while ridiculing and marginalising others. BJP policies aim at rewriting the entire ideology and vision of India. Ironically, the BJP policy also aims to expose the chinks and double standards of Patel and Gandhi and the ‘Discovery of India’ written by Nehru.
But how has this come to pass? How has the fabled democracy of India evolved an ideology that exploits the electoral majority to quarantine the minority and threaten to reduce liberal thinkers to nothingness? Dr Shiv Visvanathan laments the idea that Mr. Modi has liberated India from the hypocrisy of secularism. He fears that in reasserting itself, it also defines intolerance for minorities. In the process, the silent majority that had to suppress its sense of religion and the folklore of a secular modernist space has ceded to fill the void with contempt.
The ascendency of the right was predictable. BJP has been on the rise since the mid-nineties. Nuclear explosions were a stepping stone to this symbolic ascendency. Ironically, the nadir was Modi as Chief Minister. The Gujarat massacre of Muslims by Hindu mobs and Godra tragedy have popularised the ideology. The wave is now threatening the political power houses as far away as Bengal. But without a doubt, the foundations of the rightist Hindu wave are built on the foundations of the Muslim massacre in Gujarat. But the question any commentator would ask is; was the concept of secularism in the largest democracy of the world so fragile as to crumble without a whimper before the Saffron Wave? It also reiterates the idea of a democracy as in Nazi Germany producing narrow nationalism.
Perhaps one cause and effect can be found in the dynastic politics and double standards of the Congress Party that failed to live up to the rigours of fabian socialism, Nehruvian secularism and poverty alleviation. Manmohan’s economic doctrine was based on liberal capitalist markets that resulted in very narrow but steep pockets of development interspersed by very broad voids of poverty. Economically, India rose as an economic juggernaut in the hands of too few, whose interests in liberal capitalism are now irreversible. Their interests now lie with Modi’s economic model and will bankroll efforts to keep it that way. The Indian media is quiet on these issues because of the tremendous economic potential corporate media houses have at stake. As an extension of the wave, the Indian diaspora has also put its weight behind Modi. Dr Shiv Visvanathan sums up his fears by writing, “a nationalist diaspora, a weak party system, a silent media, a majoritarian democracy, a vulnerable minority —democracy faces threats from within.”
The notion of a deprived and fringed Hindu community with bright saffron is too luring to ignore. To fillip it further, Indian domestic politics is heavily premised on the notion of an enemy (Pakistan), a theme that whips passion, hate and uproar with ripples that effect Indian Muslims. Political nepotism, dynastic politics, hate and capitalism have all served to make the Hindu right stronger and popular. Thinkers like Professor Romila Thapar are far and few to challenge this wave as a “charter myth” of Vedic Ritualism. Perhaps the notion of secularism was mere lip service. The notion of Bharat Versha was always a premium.
An inquest into Indian development shatters the myth of Modi’s economic miracle in Gujarat and its presentation as a panacea for redressing India’s lack of broad based development. During the same period, Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab, Kerala, Bihar and Tamil Nadu did even better. Bihar had a much bigger GDP than Gujarat. Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra had a bigger per capita income. Gujarat was declared the most polluted state in 2010. There were accusations of crony capitalism amidst lack of transparency. According to Subhash Gatade, “the Gujarat model walks on two legs. On the one hand neo-liberal development giving free play to the market forces and simultaneously on the other leg, marginalising and ghettoising minorities.” He goes on to say that BJP is now extending this two legged policy to the rest of India. He dilates the mantra of RSS in the broader context; a moderate Vajpayee versus a hardliner Advani and now a soft Advani against a hardliner Modi. He likens the Sang Parivar of BJP to a symphony of Hindu Rashtra played by different instruments. His fears like many others are not ill founded.
There is no denying that India under Modi is creating ironies and paradoxes it may have to contend with and endure in future. Communalism, militancy, a surge in separatists’ movements and linkages with outside militancy are some logical consequences. Is someone in India extending imaginations beyond the obvious, or is the lure of the dream too romantic to dismiss?
Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.