The ongoing debate that is raging basically on the progressive extinction of the, “Idea of India” in the Indian Express’s the “Ideas Page” is fascinating. The debate in the newspaper was provoked by Harsh Mander to which a rather aggressive response came from Ram Chandra Guha, the noted historian and columnist. The field then somehow widened up and numerous, according to Guha’s count around 14, independent thinkers ventilated their own thoughts.
In his latest piece Harsh Mander has expressed his anguish on the wrong direction the debate was shepherded by Ram Chandra Guha. He picked up as a thread the mention by Mander of the injunction of a Dalit leader meant for Muslims not to wear burkas or skull caps if and when they happened to attend his political rallies. Mander’s anguish was born out of a general absence of appreciation of the fact of Muslim marginalization. He was appreciative of the coverage by Rahul Gandhi, the newly--crowned president of the Indian National Congress, of the country’s socio-economic condition. He, according to Mander, ably talked of everything from economics to politics in his first address to his party men at the Talkatora Stadium. But what hurt Mander was the conspicuous absence in his address of the rising tide of violence against Muslims under the current regimes at the Centre and numerous provinces.
Rahul Gandhi’s failure to mention the Muslim marginalization or attacks on them by the Hindu vigilantism could have a well-considered reason behind it, Although it is difficult to fathom the mind of a politician, howsoever green his horns might be, yet in case of Rahul Gandhi it could be conjectured that his new-found strategy of shaking off of the pro-Muslim tag attached to the Congress might be one of the reasons, or even the only reason. For too long has the country seen the Congress attempting to woo the Muslim vote by playing the card of secularism as opposed to the Hindu Fundamentalism of the BJP which the Congress always branded as communal. Come elections one would find Congress biggies trooping to mosques or for addressing the Muslim conclaves. Even in 2014 I remember Ms. Sonia Gandhi visiting the Delhi Jama Masjid on announcement of the polls.
Visiting Jama Masjid before the elections, by itself, cannot be held against Ms. Gandhi or the Congress Party. But the Congress over the years had displayed a tilt towards the Muslims while calling itself secular, whatever that meant. So, it was secularism with a tilt towards Muslims and this had come down to the Congress from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru seemed to have everything against Hindu bigotry and obscurantism but none against the Islamic varieties. His tilt was so pronounced that some political critics of his attributed ulterior motives to his resistance to the idea of exchange of population at the time of partition as, they said, he wanted Muslims in India as the vote bank of the Congress. That may or may not be true; any sensitive person would find the idea of exchange of population nothing but abhorrent – as well as impossible.
Besides, at that time the Hindu-Muslim divide, as I know of it, was not so pronounced as it is today although the partition had just taken place followed by riots and mayhem. Growing up in the princely state of Gwalior we never felt the heat generated by the partition. Gwalior was typically a secular state where the Maharaja was revered by both Hindus and Muslims and he used to participate in Hindu and Muslim festivals with equal verve and passion. After stray instances of communal killings the town quietened down and we never heard of the divide, though some people known to us migrated to Pakistan and some even came back after having been to Karachi and witnessing the turmoil there.
My father, teaching in the local college, had his best friend in Professor MA Qureshy, who, incidentally, had two brothers in the ICS and lost one of them while migrating to Pakistan. Father’s Muslim students came to see him before they left for Pakistan. In our own small younger world of schools and colleges we had Muslim friends and it never occurred to us that they needed to be shunned. That was the culture that we were brought up in – a culture innocent of the divide – and secular, if that is the right word, to the core.
This environment continued for some years and as we grew up and started our own careers we slowly became aware of the changing atmosphere. And yet, I for one, can claim with some amount of pride that my attitude towards my Muslim subordinates or superiors remained the same – respect for them as fellow humans.
However, as elections became more combative and the fights became more vicious for power than for doing good to the country everything was sacrificed. In this deteriorating milieu the Indian composite culture was a notable, if not the first, casualty. Religion was used and misused to win votes and wield the state power. As corruption increased in the government and the pickings became hefty elections became more like dog-eat-dog fights and even creamiest of ideas – including the Idea of India – were sacrificed to win power and the pelf associated with it. Ideologies, if there were any, were made to rest on shelves gathering dust. The contests became free of all niceties of culture and civilized discourse.
So, if there is a Hindu- Muslim divide today, it is the so-called netas who have to take the blame for it. One dares say that Rahul Gandhi is not helping to diffuse the tensions by changing tack and visiting temples and ignoring the Muslims. He is playing with the same poison of communal politics for the sake of power. True, the British also indulged in the policy of “divide and rule” – making the two communities fight each other but the atmosphere hardly ever became as toxic as it is today. Even at the time of partition when a homeland for the Indian Muslims was created a larger number elected to remain wherever they were. In fact, the province from which shrill shrieks for “Pakistan” emanated had the largest number who decided to stay put.
In such a country how can we sustain ourselves with mutual hatred and enmity. We belong to the same stock, only our faith might be different. One’s faith cannot be be-all-and-end-all, more so when we are economically so retarded. Our efforts need to be directed towards education and enlightenment to enable us to live meaningful lives. We cannot be obsessed with hatred for each other that generally culminates in killing of innocents.
It is time to say enough is enough and cry a halt to this reprehensible politics of hate. It certainly does not behove us. For ages we have hosted people of varying persuasions and fostered among them the spirit of brotherhood and harmony. In the current enlightened age we cannot throw those priceless values out of the window. The civil society must come together to impress on the political parties to abandon the politics of hate and work together towards people’s betterment and a stronger India which, one presumes, are the goals of all political parties.