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The idea of India as a pluralistic, inclusive polity is under assault

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Hasan Ghias

They rant and rave; enraged, they want revenge. Their hearts are full of malice, their tongues spew invective and their hands perpetrate violence. They are emboldened by the conviction that they risk neither retribution nor punishment, but have the protection of both the administrative and political order, and possibly of the judiciary too. They feel brave in the face of feeble, defenseless and helpless targets. They are on a mission to right historical wrongs, concocted to suit their warped imagination. They have neither concern for nor any truck with truth; their enterprise is based upon a foundation of lies. They bay for blood, but keep truth at bay. Hate is their currency and death is their gain.

They want revenge against Babur ki santaan, but Babur died four hundred and ninety years ago and his supposed santaan is not his progeny. But why bother with facts when manufacturing lies serves the purpose admirably well? The alleged atrocities of the invaders make their blood boil, but several hundred years too late. They are unaware that Islam first came to India, not with the invaders from the North-West, but centuries earlier with the Arab traders active on India’s Western seaboard. But historical truths are malleable in their hands and they can bend them at will.

The one thing that must be understood about the advent of Muslim power in India is that it was not about religion but about conquest and empire. Muslim conquerors from the North-West came to India, not with the purpose to proselytize, but with the mission to rule. Framing several hundred years of Muslim rule in India purely as a period of humiliation, subjugation and forced conversion of the local population and a constant battle between the ruler and the ruled is patent falsification of history. Muslim rulers did not reach out to the deprived masses among the local population, but formed alliances with local rulers, most notably the Mughals with the Rajputs. Mughal rulers after Akbar were of mixed Mughal- Rajput ancestry. It was the Sufi saints who embraced the poor and the oppressed, irrespective of their faith, and won their affection and following. Islam spread among the local populace gradually over the course of several centuries.

But what about the unpardonable sin of the partition of India? The idea that Muslims and Christians cannot be accepted as part of the nation because they do not accept India as their Punyabhumi (Holy Land) was propounded by Savarkar in his Essentials of Hindutva published in 1923. In 1924 Lala Lajpat Rai wrote in the Tribune “Under my scheme the Muslims will have four Muslim States: (1) The Pathan Province or the North-West Frontier, (2) Western Punjab, (3) Sindh, and (4) Eastern Bengal. If there are compact Muslim communities in any other part of India, sufficiently large to form a Province, they should be similarly constituted. But it should be distinctly understood that this is not a united India. It means a clear partition of India into a Muslim India and a non-Muslim India.” This was years before Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan.

Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the RSS supremo from 1940 till his death in 1973 wrote in his book WE or Our Nationhood Defined (Bharat Publications, Nagpur 1939):

“To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races — the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.”

“There are only two courses open to the foreign elements, either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them to do so and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race. That is the only sound view on the minorities’ problem. That is the only logical and correct solution. That alone keeps the national life healthy and undisturbed. That alone keeps the Nation safe from the danger of a cancer developing into its body politic of the creation of a state within the state. From this standpoint, sanctioned by the experience of shrewd old nations, the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment –not even citizen’s rights. There is, at least should be, no other course for them to adopt”.

How safeguarded would the Indian Muslims have considered their future to be in the face of such thoughts coming from a powerful ideologue? This is the kind of thinking that put wind in the sails of the two nation theory and cast the die for the partition of India. No doubt, Jinnah was the prime mover behind India’s partition, but his case was strengthened by Muslim separatism finding its echo in Hindu communalism.

Under the provisions of the Government of India Act (1935) elections were held for the provincial assemblies in 1937 and 1946, with separate electorate for Muslims. The Muslim League performed poorly in the 1937 elections winning less than a quarter of the Muslim reserved seats. The tide turned in its favor in 1946 when it won over four fifths of the Muslim reserved seats. However, this impressive performance conceals the fact that only about fourteen percent of adult Muslims were enfranchised to vote. These election results can, therefore, not be taken to be an endorsement for Pakistan by a majority of Indian Muslims.

Lies repeated often enough acquire the ring of truth. This Goebbelsian precept was distilled into a potent and poisonous canard of Muslim appeasement. The continuous descent of Muslims down the socio-economic ladder was sought to be obscured behind a blizzard of appeasement allegations. Distortions twisted logic to perpetrate the notion that the deprivation of the majority was on account of the privileging of the minority. The garb of deceit donned by the so-called secular parties did nothing to alleviate the condition of the Muslims, but only reinforced the perception of pampering. Layer was added upon layer of resentment to build an edifice of hate that would provide no space to accommodate the hated other.

At what point does resentment precipitate into violence? When the barrel has been densely packed with the powder of hostility, it only takes a spark to set it explosively ablaze. Fire is easy to ignite, but hard to douse, particularly when it burns as hatred in human hearts. Perpetrators of evil masquerade in many guises, in many places, performing a ghastly dance of death to the rhythm of uncontrolled bigotry, hatred and intolerance. Bloodthirsty hounds tear apart our morality and numb our sensibilities, inuring us to the senseless violence that repeats itself with sickening regularity. Civil society looks helplessly on as goons seize control. Civil liberties, freedom of expression, human rights, courtesy, decency, kindness and care all seem to evaporate into a dark cloud of despair and doom.

The very idea of India as a pluralistic, inclusive polity is under assault. Falsification of history is pursued with renewed vigor in a world of ‘alternative facts’; the blatant use of sectarian appeal for political advantage is carried out without qualms. This litany of laments could go on endlessly, but what is the remedy? In the land of Gautam and Gandhi, this trajectory of turpitude can be reversed by following their creed of ahimsa and shanti, non-violence and peace. They could serve as potent antidotes to the poison of hatred that has seeped so deep into our social and political fabric. The scientific temperament that Nehru tried his best to bequeath to the nation can be fostered not by spinning myths but by establishing facts. Azad’s message of unity and harmony can still show the way to social cohesion. Ambedkar’s thoughts can yet illuminate the way to social justice. Subhas Bose’s nationalism was no mere jingoism, nor a manifestation of meaningless bravado. To salvage our cherished idea of a modern, progressive nation, governed according to our constitution and the rule of law, we must resurrect our venerated icons who guided us through our struggle for freedom and nationhood, and not allow them to be replaced and their legacy usurped by those who played no part in it.

The prestige of our nation has been enhanced by the work of our intellectuals and professionals, who have earned respect across the world for their competence. They include Nobel laureates, they head global corporations, they adorn the faculties of the world’s best universities. India arrived on the world stage, proudly taking its rightful place in the comity of nations. Are we going to allow all this to be demolished? Are we going to be led into the future not by our luminaries, but by politicians with unsavory pasts? Are we going to let fascist formations tear down our democracy and tear up our cherished constitution? Do we want our beloved nation to rest upon the foundations of justice, liberty, and equality, or to be precariously perched upon the stilts of hatred, rage and revenge? India stands at a crossroads; the choices are stark and the time to choose is now.

Hasan Ghias is a well known Indian public intellectual who is now based in the U.S.

This post was last modified on October 9, 2021 9:27 pm

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