Ominous, objectionable, offensive, obnoxious and odious were five epithets used by some ‘secular’ friends when I tried to raise the issue. Another one said that my dislike and distaste for UPA-2 which he reluctantly shared has started colouring my perceptions and world view. Of course, there are many who say I am basically a closet Khakhi Chaddi masquerading as a liberal. So be it. But there are times when discomforting and disturbing questions have to be raised, no matter how unpalatable they sound. Otherwise, we are condemned to keep repeating history, never as a farce and always as a tragedy.
Let’s start with some facts first. Barring some ‘stray’ incidents, India has been spared the specter of communal riots since 2002 – the one exception being Kandhamal in Orissa in 2008. A lot of us had started thinking – I now realise stupidly – that Hindus and Muslims had both realised that they were being used as cannon fodder by political and vested interests through ‘engineered’ communal riots. We thought, gone were the vitriolic and vicious days of Shah Bano and Babri Masjid. We thought we are maturing as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society and democracy. Looks like we thought wrong.
It started with Gopalgarh in Rajasthan where communal violence and police firing led to many deaths. Predictably and parrot like, we blamed the RSS types for it. Then communal violence erupted in Hyderabad, which has an inglorious history of communal violence. We again blamed the RSS types for it. Then came communal riots near Mathura in Uttar Pradesh soon after the ‘ultra-secular’ Samajwadi Party came to power. Incidentally, both Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh have Congress governments. Then came communal riots in Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. And now we have communal riots in Congressruled Assam. I won’t be surprised to hear the likes of Digvijay Singh foaming at the mouth that the RSS types have instigated Bodo tribals, who are largely Hindu, to riot against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, who are largely Muslim. In between all this, we have seen Digvijay Singh offer the moon, the sky and the stars to Muslim voters in the recently held assembly elections in UP. Of course, we had Salman Khurshid allegedly claiming that the Empress of India had actually cried after alleged terrorists were shot dead in the Batla House encounter. In between, we witnessed thundering silence from secular warriors and large sections of mainstream media when a so-called Grand Mufti of Kashmir ordered a Christian priest to appear in his “court” to answer charges that he was converting innocent young Muslims. The priest was subsequently arrested and locked up by the J&K government and since has been effectively banished from the valley. In between, we had the higher judiciary slamming the Andhra Pradesh government decision to “reserve” a sub-quota for Muslims within the “reserved” category as unconstitutional. And how can we forget the ultimate in between – the Draft Communal Violence Bill prepared by the deluded National Advisory Council that basically says that the majority community is automatically the offender and the accused if there is communal violence and the minority community automatically the victim. Now if this were law, the government would be duty-bound to arrest and prosecute Bodo tribals from various relief camps. Nobody seems to have the actual facts but even secular warriors are reluctantly admitting that both Bodo tribals and illegal Bangladeshi immigrants have been victims in massive numbers in this latest instance of history repeating itself as tragedy.
You might ask: why I am sounding like Sadhvi Rithambara or as a propaganda tool for the RSS. Well, let me clarify. I think the RSS world view is totally wrong and unsuited to the Indian civilisational ethos. Till it retains its ideology of portraying Mulsims as the ‘other’, it will never gain the respect of a majority of Hindus. And I think, it is delusional to say that poor Mulsim peasants, artisans and workers are “invading” Assam as part of a grand ISI hatched conspiracy to conquer India. The primary reason for Bangladeshis entering India illegally is economic. You really need to check yourself into a lunatic asylum if you think a desperately poor Bangladeshi dying to feed his family is a Jihadi who has planned and plotted his invasion of India. It is like saying Biharis planned and plotted an invasion of Mumbai. Or to say that Spanish speaking people from Mexico and other Latin American countries have planned and plotted an invasion of Arizona, Texas and California so that they can reclaim the land their ancestors had lost to the White people. [American states like California and Texas were actually provinces of Mexico for hundreds of years before they became part of the United States.] But let us not forget: identity does play a part. Immigrants have been known to cheer Mexico in Texas and California when the Mexican team beats the American team in soccer. Some of my friends there tell me that immigrants often say that what the Whites captured through guns and subterfuge will be recaptured through demographics as Spanish speaking Catholics eventually outnumber the White Anglo Saxon Protestants. Something similar happens in Assam when illegal immigrants use religion and state complicity and duplicity to start thinking less as migrants in search of livelihood and more as a group whose faith and identity is in danger. Of course, by winking at illegal immigration, the Indian State is also sending a message to people in Bangladesh that they can come and get voter I-cards and grab land and opportunities. Would you – in a similar situation – forego the opportunity?
So there I have confessed that a lot of RSS and VHP types are loonies. The problem is, I think a lot of our secular warriors are worse than loonies and even more dangerous. Their basic problem is selective secularism. They absolutely refuse to apply the same yardsticks to minorities; the yardsticks they use to condemn most Hindus as blood thirsty and bigoted oppressors of minorities. And they are so blinded by their hatred for the BJP and the likes of Narendra Modi that they prefer to look the other way when a Congress leader or government is culpable or when minorities, like fundamentalist Muslims in the Kashmir valley, want to impose Sharia. Or when fundamentalist Catholics persecute a rationalist for saying loudly that the Church is hoodwinking people. The real problem is: this kind of selective secularism makes the loony Hindutva types even stronger.
That is where I come to those days of Shah Bano when thethen Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi used the brute majority of his party in the Parliament to overturn a Supreme Court verdict that said even Muslim women in India are entitled to alimony and maintenance after divorce. Not much had been heard about the VHP and Bajrang Dal before that. The so called Ram Mandir movement was still a fringe affair that an (L) December 6, 1992; Ayodhya: Hindu nationalists (supporters of VHP, Shiv Sena and BJP) tearing down the Babri Masjid mosque. In the nationwide riots caused, more than 2,000 people were killed; (R) August 18, 2010; Bareilly: Riots and curfews on a regular basis symbolise the fierce and noisy antagonism between the Hindus and the Muslims in this city (SMS your views with your name and topic to 0-9818101234) overwhelming majority of Hindus preferred to ignore. But what happened after Shah Bano? VHP, Bajrang Dal and Ram Janambhoomi suddenly became mainstream. Thousands of bureaucrats, armed forces personnel and others started loudly talking about Hindus getting second class treatment in their own country and started joining the BJP. All this actually helped the BJP capture power in Delhi. Of course, secular warriors say that all those bureaucrats and army officers who joined the BJP were actually bigots who came out of their closets. Many were, no doubt. But to say that a guy like Maj. Gen. (Retd.) B.C. Khandhuri – the man who has been responsible for the National Highways success – is also a closet bigot means you need psychiatric treatment. But then, there are secular warriors who firmly believe that a majority of voters in Gujarat who keep voting for Narendra Modi are bigots.
My fear is very simple: the UPA regime has seen the writing on the wall. Suddenly, there is a real possibility that the Congress might face political exile for at least five years, if not more. Desperate situations call for desperate measures. And my fear is that this UPA regime will try damn hard to ‘scare’ minorities into voting for the Congress since they wouldn’t want a hostile government at the centre led by the BJP. It doesn’t matter at all, if most Muslims haven’t got any decent opportunities at anything since 1947. Lip service and scaremongering are deemed to be enough. What this kind of posturing does is to encourage fundamentalist Muslims as well as fundamentalist Hindus. If you think that is cock and bull, just try and answer why Hindu-Muslim riots are breaking out all over India since last year after almost a decade of ‘peace’? If you think only the RSS types are responsible, then why were the RSS types not successful for almost a decade and what has suddenly made them such a potent force?
India, and the Congress are once again playing with fire. It will consume many more innocent Muslim and Hindu lives if we don’t stop this dangerous game right now. But then, if even the Partition and hundreds of riots after that have not taught us any lesson, I guess we Indians deserve the bleak future that awaits us.