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Hindustan to Modistan, simply impossible!
January 14, 2003
'Don't say that one lakh Hindus and one lakh Muslims died; say that two lakh human beings died. That two lakh human beings died is not such a great tragedy after all; the tragedy, in truth, is that those who killed and those who were killed both have nothing to show for it. After killing a lakh of Hindus, the Muslims may have thought they had finished off Hinduism. But it lives and will live on. Likewise, after killing a lakh of Muslims, the Hindus may have exulted that this will have killed Islam. But the truth is before you: this hasn't managed to put even a scratch on Islam. They are foolish who think that religions can be killed by guns. Mazhab, din, iman, dharam, faith, belief -- all these are found in our soul, not in our body. How can they be annihilated by butcher's cleavers, knives, bullets?'
Sa'adat Hasan Manto (in the short story SAHA'E)
Manto was obviously referring to violence during Partition. He might as well have been speaking about Gujarat 2002. In more than 50 years we haven't learnt any lesson.
Indeed, what do those who killed in Gujarat have to show for their deeds?
Yes, Narendra Modi won an impressive electoral victory. But after a while he will have nothing to show. In 1947 also the communalist thought the killings were a small price to pay for a lifetime of stability and prosperity. They were wrong. It was secularism that brought stability and some prosperity, while communalism has only led Pakistan to chaos.
Modi's victory, like the 'victory' of Muslim communalists in 1947, will not last long. Indian secularism will survive Gujarat, as it survived 1947.
'I wish I was an eternal optimist like you, Sajid,' said one of the responses to my email arguing that while the Gujarat results are disturbing, I don't see any possibility of Hindustan being converted into Modistan.
My 'eternal optimism' about Indian secularism is based on a solid fact. India is not secular because the Constitution says so. India is also not secular because the minorities want it to be so. India is secular because vast numbers of Hindus want it to be so. Period.
That certainly does not mean the Muslims and other minorities did not, or do not, play any part in keeping India secular. Hindus and Muslims have been living together for years in harmony and Indian Muslims have played equal parts in keeping the relationship that way. But what I am saying is that no matter how secular a minority community may be, it is the majority that keeps a country secular. That is precisely why India is a secular nation.
So the obvious question is, what happened to the vast number of secular Hindus in Gujarat who gave Narendra Modi such an impressive victory?
Frankly, I do not have an answer. The first thing I did after watching the electoral trends from Gujarat was to switch off the TV. It was too depressing for someone like me who has always had unquestioned faith in Indian secularism.
Maybe in Gujarat it was not fanatic Hindutva versus secularism. It was -- thanks to the Congress's disastrous, self-defeating strategy -- fanatic Hindutva versus soft Hindutva. Secularism was not given a chance. Many political analysts had predicted the BJP's victory in Gujarat the moment the Congress panicked and appointed Shankersinh Vaghela as its state president. The Congress paid for it; the BJP obviously gained. As Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: 'You can't speak against the Sangh Parivar and appoint its former member as your head.' Journalist M J Akbar, who calls Sonia Gandhi 'the best insurance policy the BJP can have', was once again proved right.
Whatever be the reason (even if we believe that the Gujaratis have endorsed the Sangh Parivar's Hindutva agenda), the Gujarat result is not the end of Indian secularism, simply because Gujarat is not India.
In the 1995 Maharashtra election (which followed the 1992 riots and the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts), the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance came to power with similar Hindutva rhetoric. But what happened in the next election? If Hindutva could ensure continuing success in electoral politics, the Shiv Sena would never have lost Maharashtra.
But that did not happen. The Sena-BJP alliance lost the 1999 election (though, as Bal Thackeray recently said, the Shiv Sena, unlike the BJP or the VHP, never abandoned Hindutva).
It is important to analyse the Shiv Sena's performance. It lost heavily in other parts of Maharashtra, but did impressively well in the Konkan region. Why? Unlike the Congress, most of the leadership of the Shiv Sena comes from the Konkan. So in five years of their rule, there was visible development in the region. For which they were rewarded.
But there was also one more important political development in the Konkan (at least in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts). The Sena tried to reach out to the minorities. Muslims, looking at the reality of Maharashtra politics, responded. In 1999, the Muslim vote played a vital role in the Sena's impressive performance there.
Hindutva alone couldn't guarantee success for the Shiv Sena. What did was development work and carrying all sections of society together. Thackeray may not have abandoned Hindutva, but he is too clever a politician to ignore the truth. Hence, it was interesting to read his initial reaction on the Gujarat election. He suggested that while he was happy with Modi's victory, the latter should take the prime minister's advice and follow raj dharma.
Thackeray knows, perhaps better than anyone else, that hate does not always guarantee electoral success.
Going by his first press conference, Modi seems to have heeded that advice (which, to be fair, also came from the BJP's central leadership), proving that the roots of Indian secularism and multi-culturalism are too deep to be shaken by one election.
But that does not mean everything is right with Indian secularism. We cannot afford a repeat of Gujarat 2002 elsewhere. And heaven knows there are forces out there that want to do just that. Even a national party like the BJP is tempted to 'repeat Gujarat's success' in other states.
That has to be stopped. Because even though society remains largely secular, if the establishment falls into the hands of communalists, there will be only chaos all over.
The prime minister in his yearend musings said: "We chose to remain wedded to secularism even when Pakistan was carved out on the basis of the spurious and communal two-nation theory." If there was a need to remain wedded to secularism then, it is greater now. The example of Pakistan after discarding secularism and democracy is there for all to see.
If majority communalism on the part of the ruling establishment could result in stability and prosperity, Pakistan should have been the most stable and prosperous nation on earth.
Pakistani society, like ours, is largely secular. Islamic fundamentalists never won more than 5 per cent of the votes. It took a political blunder by the general-dictator (ironically, a man who fancies himself as Pakistan's Ataturk), who banned mainstream political parties, that resulted in significant gains by fundamentalists in the recent elections.
But in Pakistan, the real power has always lain with the military, which was (especially in the post-Zia-ul-Haq phase) more than willing to fan majority communalism. The result has been sheer chaos, instability, and economic backwardness.
India has a choice: do we want stability and prosperity or do we want chaos, instability, and backwardness?
The BJP has a choice too: does it want to become a national party carrying all sections of society together or does it want to grab power with the help of Hindu jihadis and lead India into a phase of instability and chaos?
The Congress, ditto: can it afford to sleep while fanatics and religious bigots come to power? Or does it want to re-invent itself and offer a better alternative to the people?
We, the Indians (Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, all of us) have a choice too: do we want to remain silent, as did the Pakistanis, while fanatics decide the fate of our nation? Do we want to make India a Hindu version of Pakistan?
India, collectively, has always made the right choice. That is why I remain eternally optimistic about the strength of Indian secularism.