In the communal politics of the 1990s, a searing slogan was “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain”, or “let us proclaim with pride that we are Hindu”.
India’s 187 million Muslims deserve a round of applause for the diligent docility with which they have allowed themselves to be the “Other”, against which the divisions within Hindu society have been composed into an ever increasing expanse of saffron. In geological time there will also be harmony in this expanse.
By stealth, the Congress created the platform from which the BJP is now finishing the game with a flourish. We must not forget it was Rajiv Gandhi who broke the locks of the Ram Mandir, promised ramrajya from Ayodhya on the eve of the 1989 elections and allowed the brick-laying ceremony for the temple in total violation of a court verdict.
The seed of what we are witnessing now was sowed at the very outset, in 1947. My school friend, the late Vinod Mehta, as honest an editor as ever entered the profession, put his finger on the nub of the matter. “We have had 800 years of Muslim rule, 200 years of British rule and we have given Muslims a brand new country, Pakistan.”
He paused. “What would you say if the Hindu sometimes feels shortchanged?”
Having known Vinod as a buddy for 60 years, I knew exactly where he was coming from. The full import of that conversation would take a book. Let me come to the point on which we came to an agreement, and lowered our voices. If the Congress was so fiercely opposed to the two-nation theory which stated that Hindus and Muslims constituted two nations, how did it suddenly accept the creation of a Muslim Pakistan? Clearly a vast majority of Hindus would feel cheated because if Pakistan was kosher, so too should Hindustan have been?
An honest Hindu state would have been better than a dishonest secular one which brought Muslims down to the lowest possible rungs of the socio-economic ladder reflected in the 2005 Sachar Committee report. It is argued that a Hindu India would have been an illiberal theocracy. Is Narendra Modi supervising a model secular state? Britain is an Anglican monarchy which guarantees equal opportunity to all its citizens, irrespective of colour and creed. Sadiq Khan is the mayor of London and Sajid Javid, as UK home secretary, may be in line to become Prime Minister.
Instead of gliding seamlessly from the British Raj to Hindu Raj (Hindustan), Jawaharlal Nehru insisted on secularism to which his colleagues were opposed. Purushottam Das Tandon, Babu Rajendra Prasad and Vallabhbhai Patel never shared Nehru’s vision. Indeed, even Mahatma Gandhi differed with Nehru. “I support Khilafat because that is Mohammad Ali’s religion,” he said. “And he will hold back the Muslim from killing the cow, which is my religion.” Gandhi was a Hindu to the core but he also preached a secularism that was sustainable in a deeply religious land. His eccentricities, his tolerance of caste, one would have grappled with, but his would have been a benign Hinduism. That admirers of his murderers are now in Parliament is mind-boggling.
The first beneficiary of this politics was the BJP’s Atal Behari Vajpayee. As Prime Minister, he moderated the national mood by accelerating relations with Pakistan, reaching out to Kashmir and being on talking terms with Muslims. He lost in 2004, opening the way to Dr Manmohan Singh’s 10 years as Prime Minister.
Mr Modi appeared on the scene as the post 9/11 world was in the grip of wild Islamophobia. He saw advantage in sailing with this current. His hardline communalism fitted neatly with the global mood. He followed a hard line with Pakistan and Kashmir, a high tolerance level for Muslims being lynched by mobs for allegedly selling and eating beef and marrying non-Muslims. Brutalities against dalits rose because they turned to caste leaders opposed to the BJP. Also, their increasing self-esteem angered castes above them on the scale.
Despite this state of law and order, dismal economic performance, rural distress, record unemployment and countless other failures, how did Mr Modi return to power with a thumping majority?
In the communal politics of the 1990s, a searing slogan was “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain”, or “let us proclaim with pride that we are Hindu”. In his very first speech in Parliament in May 2014, Mr Modi put his finger on the cause for this inferiority complex. He took upon his shoulders the task of lifting the Hindu “from 1,200 years of ghulami”, which means “serfdom” or “subjugation”. The score of 1,200 years of Muslim and British rule had to be settled to reclaim self-esteem. A national mood of resentment, valour leading to pride, had to be sustained.The media was monopolised for this purpose. This is where crony capitalism comes in. A personality cult reserved only for saints or gods was to be promoted.
That is the key. The Hindu mind elevates what in other societies would be known as “respect” to the level of “reverence”, which leads to deification. Imagine a visage beamed repeatedly on every channel, of a leader whose relentless incantation is the following: “your every vote will go into Modi’s account”. This he says by pointing his finger at himself. People sit around their TV sets as around an altar or a god, mesmerised.
The Congress, in its arrogance, played a supporting role by sparing Mr Modi and targeting allies like the SP-BSP in UP, Trinamul Congress in West Bengal and AAP in Delhi — exactly the ones in the thick of battle. Family and friends set Rahul Gandhi on a wild goose chase. He is only 48; by the time he is 68, prime ministership will be his for the asking, he is being told. Good luck!