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The dying light of freedom
Darkness descends. The idea of India gutters. The light that lit our freedom struggle and so defined the nature of our nationhood is going out. We are at a moment of history that can only be compared to Lahore, March 23, 1940, when Jinnah persuaded one section of our society to accept that India was comprised of two nations because nationhood had to be founded in religious identity. Thus was conceived a Muslim Pakistan. But Gandhiji resisted India cloning that example with a Hindu India. For that, he had to pay with his life at the instance of the very forces that are today most avidly celebrating Narendra Modi’s victory.
The campaign has shown the incoming prime minister insisting that for any Hindu, India is his rightful home, thus equating India with Hindudom and reducing to sufferance those who regard India as their home but not Hinduism as their religion. My closest Muslim friend, viewing the imminent catastrophe, asks, “Was it for this that our parents decided to remain in India?”
I have reassured her that even if over a third of Indians voted for the BJP, nearly two-thirds did not. This is a low moment for us, but if Indian secularism is not a Nehruvian whim but the consequence of that secularism, that plurality, that inclusivism being woven into the warp and woof of our millennial civilisation, then this is not a moment of defeat but a moment of challenge.
We have to be on our utmost guard to spot the new government awaiting its Godhra opportunity. Godhra was to Modi what Marinus van der Lubbe’s attempt to set fire to the Reichstag was to Hitler. It gave them the occasion to ride a wave of public anguish to accomplish the deepest purpose of their political lives. We have been forewarned, therefore, we must be forearmed. This is not a moment for armchair secularism. The issue is not a philosophical or polemical one. It is a red alert to be vigilant and activist. We must convert Modi’s Reichstag moment, when it comes, into our Belchi moment. In the Congress, the Sadbhavana Sena died with its first and only chairman, Sunil Dutt.
That needs to be revived and converted into a rapid action force that reaches the spot the minute news comes in of a communal flare-up. Moreover, the sena must concert with other secular forces, irrespective of differences. India’s secular nationhood is too fundamentally important to be left hostage to other considerations.
There are two other fronts on which vigilance is called for. One is development. The so-called Gujarat model blazed the path to unashamed crony capitalism. That is why those thousands of crores of rupees of doubtful provenance poured into the coffers of Modi’s campaign, just as Krupp and Thyssen funded every step of the march of the corporal from the Beer Hall Putsch to the German Chancery. Hitler repaid them with the biggest bonanza ever. Modi waits to confer similar bounty on his benefactors.
Even as the nation’s secular majority must concert its efforts to preserve the quintessence of our nationhood, so must the forces of equity, social justice and human development concert their efforts to keep the country from being gifted to robber barons. The Congress may be in reduced numbers in Parliament but along with others not on the treasury benches, the voices of fair play for the aam aadmi will not be lacking in number. The socialist Lilliputians might yet tie down big business Gullivers and their political cohorts.
That brings me to the next, and related, imperative. Parliamentary institutions have been severely mauled in the BJP’s clambering to power. The last Lok Sabha was rendered by their antics the most non-functional ever. The Rajya Sabha followed suit — and often led the way. The incoming opposition, of which the Congress constitutes the largest single fraction, must unchain the speaker and chairman and insist that both Houses function in accordance with the rules and regulations of the House, its propriety and precedents, with dignity and decorum. Happily the saffron shouting brigade is on the treasury benches.
Hence the opposition can ensure that democracy is restored to its throne. The priority of the largest opposition party must be to restore Parliament as the nation’s highest forum for debate, not demonstration. And it is in Parliament that we can best thwart every effort of the incoming government to move towards its nefarious ulterior agenda.
On the external front, the first duty of every parliamentarian in this centenary year of the start of World War I must be to read all he or she can on the vainglorious strutting of jingoistic leaders that led those the Cambridge historian of the war, Christopher Clark, has called “The Sleepwalkers” blundering into a slaughter they never intended nor wished, a slaughter that began in 1914 and, with but a short interregnum, ended only in 1945, after nearly 50 million people had lost their lives. Shrill and narrow nationalism, as Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore warned, are the worst enemies of peace and humanism.
Yet, those two qualities are precisely the stock-in-trade of the party now coming to power. There is no Atal Bihari Vajpayee — surely the last Nehruvian — to rein in the chauvinism of what passes for “patriotism” in that party. The ideological extremists have taken over and will seize every chance to convert external events into the grand opportunity for flag-waving and mindless brinkmanship. Catastrophe worse than the two World Wars awaits this subcontinent, if those fortunate enough to not be on the treasury benches fail to be ever-vigilant and ready to risk immediate popularity for the larger cause. We have our work cut out for us. Let us put our shoulders to the wheel.
The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP from the Congress