Swamy taunts us again. We couldn’t care less

Politics in advanced democracies is often characterised by conservatives on the one side and liberals on the other. In India, even though we follow a multi-party system, the political pendulum often swings from the right to the left, with a vast swathe of centrist space between them.

We have liberals all right, but we have cultural zealots for conservatives. We don’t really have principled intransigents, such as the Reps or Tories.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a nationalist right-wing party, has not been able to evolve into a real conservative party of consequence. If conservatism is about principled intransigence and opposition to “non-negotiable” liberal demands related to politics, economy, taxation or foreign-policy matters, the BJP has so far showed proclivity for only cultural conservatism. Cultural nationalism remains the BJP’s only calling card.

Obviously, the standards set by the BJP are adopted or excelled by its adherents in other like-minded parties.

The one-man Janata Party’s chief Subramanian Swamy recently wrote a hate piece in a newspaper, calling for suspension of voting rights of Muslims until they accept and take pride in their alleged “Hindu past”.

Swamy appeals to all the Hindus of the country to unite against radical Muslims. I wonder why he counts Muslims out. He asks them to take inspiration from the Jews. He also wants Hindus to “propagate the development of a Hindu mindset.” This is the mindset of Neo-Nazi radicals in Europe and elsewhere too.

Two years ago, I bumped into Swamy at Deoband, the small UP town where Darul Uloom, an important Islamic seminary is located.

At Deoband’s circuit house, I spent an hour with him over tea. He didn’t appear half as fanatic as he usually is. He also took pains to convince me that he is not against Muslims, going on to even say how his daughter is married to a Muslim family. (His daughter Suhasini Haider, an anchor with CNN-IBN, is married to a son of Salman Haider, former foreign secretary and external affairs minister.)

My instant thought was that Swamy should not have referred to his daughter, because marriage is a very personal decision. In any case, a father whose daughter is married to a Muslim household can hardly be the evidence for not being a bigot.

Since Swamy had no compunction in bringing up his daughter’s marriage into a Muslim household in our conversation, I now think if Swamy is serious about his macabre revisionist agenda, then he may have to start at home. Swamy and his ilk are products of India’s poorly conceived political conservatism.

What, exactly, is demanded of Indian Muslims by people like Swamy? They are always asked to “mainstream” themselves. To belong in the mainstream is a good thing, but what does it mean in this context? It means Hindu nationalists want Muslims to stop being who they are and start becoming one of them.

I wonder why Muslims alone should be shifting boundaries. What is the much-vaunted mainstream doing to spread its margins so that it integrates us, one would like to ask? The “mainstream” is not a one-way street. We reject Swamy’s demand to mainstream. We rather stand for integration with equality.

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