THE LOK Sabha elections 2014 are different from all previous elections. This is mainly due to the fact that the BJP, the principal opposition Party in the existing Parliament, has nominated Mr. Narendra Modi as its PM candidate, a person who has the blotch of the 2002 Gujarat riots on him as he was CM then and when over 2000 Muslims were killed.
Whatever the Courts may say on technical, legal grounds, the perception remains among a considerable section of Indians and especially among Muslims, that Mr. Modi not only failed to stop the massacre of Muslims, rather he connived in it. Thus, his nomination as PM candidate filled the Muslim community with fear and apprehension and created a divide not experienced even in the elections after the Babri Masjid demolition. His speeches in the previous Assembly elections in Gujarat and during these elections have only given strength to that perception. Adding fuel to the fire are the statements of his close aides, Mr. Amit Shah, who exhorted voters in Muzaffarnagar, scene of recent communal riots, to cast their votes as ‘revenge’, and Mr. Giriraj Singh, saying that those who don’t vote for Modi will be sent to Pakistan; the statements of his opponents, like Mr. Abu Azmi, saying that Muslims who do not vote for the Samajwadi Party against Modi are not true Muslims and their DNA should be tested, have only complemented the aforementioned statements.
The media hype created by Modi for the last one year accompanied with, what many call, doctored/manipulated/paid opinion polls, has even cast aspersions on a large part of our media. The language of political discourse has also touched an all-time low, with leaders of most parties, with perhaps the exclusion of the Left, engaged in a mudslinging match. That they will ‘stoop to conquer’ is obvious with their personal comments; wives, mothers, husbands, friends of the opposite sex, nothing has remained taboo.
In the midst of all this, the minorities, especially the Muslims, have mostly been caught in this cross-fire of words. Vote-bank politics at its worst is being witnessed; but the Muslims are bewildered because they lack a strong, sane and liberal voice from amongst them – Mr. Modi making even the most liberal Muslim feel apprehensive. This kind of polarisation does not augur well for the future of our great nation whose strength lies in secularism. The relevant dictionary definitions of secularism are: a) a system of doctrines and practices that rejects any form of religious faith and worship; and, b) the belief that religion and ecclesiastical affairs should not enter into the functions of the State, especially into public education. The first definition is not acceptable to the average Indian and in its place ‘sarva dharma sambhava’ or equal respect for all religions, has been substituted. The second definition has been accepted in principle though not fully in practice. After the unfortunate event of the partition of India and the communal violence that accompanied it, the Hindu-Muslim divide in secular, independent India became hard to bridge. A big hurdle in this direction has been the recurrence of communal riots in different parts of the country from time to time. For much of this, vote-bank politics is to blame. Political parties have always flirted with hard line, conservative elements and religious leaders for the sake of votes.
With the passage of time, secularism has become one of the most misused and abused terms. Nowadays, an individual/political party can become secular/communal overnight simply by switching over to a particular political party/coalition. This has made a mockery of secularism.
Reform in a particular community has to come from within. If someone belonging to another religion points out certain shortcomings in a particular community, it will only meet with resistance and hardening of stances/attitudes. If we examine the scenario dispassionately, there is enough evidence to prove that whenever fundamentalist voices have been raised among the Hindus, there have been as many, rather more, voices raised against them from within the community. This cannot be said to be the case, to a considerable extent, with Indian Muslims, who, it appears, have not yet been to wriggle out of the stranglehold of religious leaders/institutions, primarily due to the relative lack of liberal, modern education amongst them. A fear against the majority community inculcated in them by vote bank politics is leading to their ghettosisation. With Mr. Modi’s emergence on the scene, this fear has been compounded to a large extent, not unjustifiably.
I think the BJP missed a huge chance this time of getting considerable Muslim support and votes. The people, including the Muslims, largely angry with corruption and price-rise during the UPA-II government, would have rallied round the BJP, had they projected any other leader, some moderate face amongst them, like Sushma Swaraj, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Rajnath Singh or even L.K.Advani. That they missed this chance is unfortunate.
However, even if Mr. Modi becomes PM, which I still believe is unlikely, secularism will still survive because it is the very back bone of our nation and part of our dominant culture. India is, in essence, liberal, moderate, tolerant and secular. This is evident from our ancient wisdom and philosophy. The most important thing that we need is to reinforce our identity and strengthen our connection with our roots; in other words, Indianness. We often talk of unity in diversity in the Indian context; all of us know about the diversities, but what is that unifying force that we call Indianness or Bhartiyata? What is it that distinguishes us from the rest of the world? What is it that has enabled us to withstand the ravages of time, foreign conquests and alien rule?
“Yunan-o-Misr-o-Roma, sab mit gaye jahan se
Ab tak magar hai baqi naam-o-nishan hamara.”
The Muslims came initially to loot the riches of India, but later made it their home; the British called it the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire. A large number of religions and their practitioners peacefully co-exist and flourish in our nation. This is because the Indian spirit is basically one of tolerance, inclusiveness and peace; it goes much beyond the superficial political rhetoric of various Political Parties. It is a world view, a way of looking at life, in which the Divine can be realised not collectively but by the individual. It is an attitude, a mindset, a view of life that is derived from scriptures like the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita. It is an integral part of us, irrespective of the religion we may profess to follow; it is in our blood, the Indian soil, the air we breathe. We may accept it or deny it, but even if we deny it, we cannot wish it away as it is imperishable. Indianness is our ancient philosophy. If India, therefore,could survive Aurangzeb, it will also survive Narendra Modi.
—Syed Ali Hamid is Professor of English at the Almora Campus of Kumaun University in Uttarakhand, India. Besides research articles/books, his publications include translation of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” into Urdu as well as translated poems in English and Hindi/Urdu, and three books of poems in English, the latest being “Desire, Ultimately” (2013).