The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Gujarat should compel thoughts about salvaging the nation’s integrity

One or two post-meridiem thoughts on Gujarat seem to be desperately in order. Such musings are perhaps irrelevant for the Bharatiya Janata Party and its parivar; they know their mind, they have set their target, they have a time schedule, Gujarat has been only an early milestone they have reached on schedule. If anything, Gujarat has confirmed their belief that competent marketing of the dark epoch is the road to total success.

No, the thinking is called for those others who would like to salvage, if not the whole of India, at least a substantial part of it, for rational discourse. Gujarat has proved one point beyond any shadow of doubt: effete medievalists are no match for the crusaders of aggressive obscurantism. It has been a clincher: the Puranic times of Lord Rama will any day win hands down over Nehru-Gandhi dynastic fantasies. Mindlessness has to attain a breathtaking pit before it can any longer assume that even the most innocent rustic Indian would feel his life and living vindicated by the phenomenon of, for instance, Indira Gandhi’s granddaughter producing another baby. This will be so even if the Italian factor did not add a further complication. What is worse, the straightforward issue of secularism versus sectarianism could not be highlighted in the Gujarat battlefield. The Congress was half-apologetic about its secular credentials; its campaign, the record says, had undertones of me-tooism on the crucial issue of Hindu-Muslim divide.

An ominous season is therefore ahead. Should the BJP persist, as it is only too likely to do, with the Gujarat agenda in the forthcoming assembly elections spread over nine states, it will prima facie enjoy a runaway advantage. It will park itself on the comfortable arcadia of communal polarization and, holy, holy, holy, sing all the way the glory of Hindutva.

It will not need to opt for any fundamental re-ordering of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution either. Precedents will be there to go by. On paper, India still remains a socialist republic; this has not prevented the votaries of liberalization to proceed merrily with the wholesale destruction of the public sector. Besides, few will forget that the initial thrust for privatization came from respectable Congress ranks; this party had, less than a dozen years ago, told the nation that an unlimited supply of milk and honey was contingent upon the government’s agreeing to descend from the commanding heights of the economy.

The BJP therefore comfortably combines religious fundamentalism with the invocation of man’s animal spirit in a free milieu. The electorate in significant parts of the country is expected to be bewitched. The relevant article of the Constitution will continue to affirm the secular nature of the Union of India; never mind if in practice it will be a full-fledged Hindu state. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty will not stand a chance against this onslaught. According to the grammar of historical times, feudalism is a much later phenomenon than the Stone Age. But attempts at putting the clock back are not altogether unknown in the annals of the human race.

Given these circumstances, those pinning their hope on the Congress mounting an effective offensive to restrain the Hindutva brigade are living in a fool’s paradise. Moreover, the two supposed combatants overlap each other as much in covert ideology as in behavioural modes: Congress chameleons change into BJP colours at the drop of a hat. A shift in the reverse direction was till now quite on the cards, but is likely to be increasingly a non-event since there will be little percentage therein.

The onus of serious thinking accordingly devolves on those who still want to salvage the country, or at least sizeable chunks of it, for tolerance, sanity and progress. Short term political coalitions, essentially of a patch-up nature, will hardly do. For, even in this particular game, the BJP has proved itself remarkably skilled: the party which flaunts Manuvada has been able to rope in for its cause the headmistress reigning the huge Dalit constituency. That apart, the miserable ragtag crowd, who love to describe themselves as champions of equity and equality, do not mind joining the Hindutva bandwagon; some crumbs of office are all they are after. Awareness of social reality has not percolated down amongst the masses inhabiting the vast stretch of Aryavarta — and even beyond; the spectacular spread of information technology notwithstanding, the situation is unlikely to change in the immediate period.

Hardly any scope for illusion anymore. Ideologues and activists wanting to extricate India, or as much of it as is possible, from the fate of a future with the imprimatur of claustrophobic pre-history stamped all over, have their work cut out. Even while assuming that the BJP sweeps the state elections in the calendar year 2003 — the worst-case hypothesis so to say — all will not necessarily be lost. Pockets will still exist in the country where state administrations will be controlled by parties or combinations of parties wedded to secularism and rationality. They will have following not just in their own regions, but also in those other parts which have, even if temporarily, been buried under the Hindutva avalanche. These persons and groups have to re-assert their allegiance to the original social contract defining the Union of India as inscribed in the Constitution. They must fight and fight again to ensure that the principles underlying this contract get reflected in the country’s foreign and domestic policies.

A majority of the Indian electorate may have, for the present, moved away from the nodal point of self-reliance and secularism. It does not follow though that those whose views are otherwise should quietly give in. On the contrary, leaning on the dictum that the principle of the policy is the best policy, they should insist on having their say in the formulation of statecraft. Should they be rebuffed, they would be fully justified to demand the revocation of the original social contract.

If, for instance, the part of the nation crossing over to Hindutva would like to re-introduce legislation sanctifying sati on a national scale, the dissenters must have the courage to declare their intent not to go along. If the Hindutva rabble would love to proclaim their eternal, undying loyalty to the United States of America’s hegemonism, those not subscribing to the doctrine of servility must assert the prerogative to write a foreign policy of their own. In case necessary, they should call for a revision of the Constitution permitting individual state governments to chart an independent course in international relations.

These thoughts may appear to be excessively provocative to some opinion-makers. Some others may think otherwise. But, after Gujarat, the time has certainly come to worry over where exactly the responsibility for preserving the unity and integrity of the nation lies.

At this juncture, it is useful to look at the map of India as it has evolved over the centuries. It has been a shifting political geography all along. The subcontinent, as we have been accustomed to know it, was the outcome of certain British administrative decisions. The imperial regime is gone, and that subcontinent is already split into three. The Hindutva rabble should be forewarned: a three-bit entity can as conveniently break up into as many as nine or twelve or twenty splinters. If the Manuvadis would still love to provoke anarchy, they are welcome to do so.

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