Politics of Identity and Aspiration
Political lexicons across the world have unique local flavors. India’s no exception. But I’m flummoxed when secular fundamentalists’ charge the Congress of practicing soft Hindutva. Those who confuse political tactics for ideology fail to see the wood for the trees.
The Congress’s consciously timid response to the Liberhan Commission’s report on the demolition of the Babri Mosque is no proof really of it having abandoned secularism as a way of doing politics. The approach is a well-thought ploy to deny the religious rightwing another opportunity to whip up mass emotions over the dispute that fetched it huge electoral dividends after the sordid 1992 razing down of the 16th century structure by Hindu mobs high on the opium of religion.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is increasingly moribund and directionless since the 2009 poll debacle. The party that ruled India from 1998-2004 sees the Liberhan report as a doze of steroids. Its panacea is in replicating the frenzy that made Hindu zealots dismantle the Mosque Mughal Emperor Babbar built in 1528 after allegedly leveling a temple that celebrated Lord Rama’s birthplace.
The historicity of the claim is under adjudication, the Hindu fringe claiming it wasn’t a legal but an emotional issue. The government’s anxiety to keep the protracted face-off from again spinning out of control came through palpably in a two-day parliamentary debate. It consciously desisted from advocating punitive measures against top-notch BJP leaders Justice Liberhan has held culpable for the crime against the Constitution and the country’s ethos of religious tolerance.
The Congress-led regime’s game plan makes eminent sense. No punishment for the putative guilty men, none of whom showed any remorse or expression of regret during the debate, could be more severe than their political isolation from non-Congress groupings dependant on or desirous of Muslim support. The BJP leaders in the dock might want to be jailed to become martyrs to the cause. What they actually deserve is political oblivion—incarceration being another name for new life in the Indian political milieu.
But isn’t the Congress running the risk of alienating Muslims in its desperation to avert a Hindu backlash? How’d the numerically largest minority react to the government letting off those who defiled India’s secular credentials? Is there an intellectual defense for such obstruction of justice or the rule of Law?
There are no easy answers. But secularism cannot be practiced in isolation. For it to be real, it has to be an article of faith with a majority of Indians. And who constitute the majority in our country? The Hindus. Without their support, no government, regardless of its numbers in Parliament, can ensure equal rights and opportunity for the minorities. The media boom and the concomitant availability of real-time information in the country’s remotest corners has blended identity with aspirations.
People across communities are proud of their faith, caste or language that define identity. But they aspire no less for a quality life that comes with education, equal opportunity and prosperity. These avenues aren’t available in societies divided by religious or parochial prejudices. Inter-faith, inter-community peace is the real promenade to prosperity. So let the ghosts of yore be consigned to where they belong — the dustbin of history. The people who carry the baggage of past have no future.
Perhaps for that reason, the Congress’ emerging star, Rahul Gandhi chose to be with students at the Aligarh Muslim University while parliamentarians dug and hurled the debris of Babri Mosque at each other. An inquisitive young girl there asked the scion of Nehru-Gandhi family about his prime ministerial plans. Rather than sharing his own, Rahul decided to stoke her aspirations. “Why don’t you prepare to be PM,” he quipped.
The young MP’s reply floored them all. He said Dr Manmohan Singh wasn’t the PM because he’s a Sikh. He’s there because he’s capable. Lessons here for the BJP!