If you have read this column more than once you will find this disclaimer unnecessary but here goes. I despise Hindutva. By this I mean the Hindutva we have seen since Narendra Modi became prime minister, not the original version. I despise this new Hindutva because it has unleashed upon India a species of upper caste, Hindu Indian whose DNA seems made up entirely of ancient hatreds, grievances and a very ancient inferiority complex.
Indians of this species always existed but a powerful BJP Prime Minister and the spread of social media have emboldened them to emerge from the shadows into the harsh light of the public square. The ‘values’ on which this species of Indian bases his faith and nationalism are these. Islam is an evil religion, all Muslims are jihadists, secularism is sickularism, liberals are anti-national and Hindustan must be for Hindus. People of other faiths can stay in this ‘new India’ only if they accept subservience.
The world, when viewed through the warped lens of this Hindutva, makes even something as horrific and sickening as the rape of little girls into a Hindu-Muslim issue. Hindutva warriors tweet hatred on Twitter almost every minute of every day, but when there is a trigger, they tweet up a tsunami. We saw this after the rape of that little girl in the temple in Kathua. And, last week the trigger was Salman Khurshid’s brave admission that the Congress party had Muslim blood on its hands. It does. And the list of massacres in secular Congress decades is long and saddening. But, what no Congress leader will ever admit is that it was our oldest political party’s twisted secularism that gave birth to Hindutva as we know it today.
Sonia Gandhi recently justified her son’s spate of very publicised visits to temples and the equally publicised news that he is a Shiva bhakt who wears the sacred thread of baptised Hindus. She said it was to rectify the false impression created by the BJP that the Congress had become a ‘Muslim party’. She seems to have forgotten the many occasions on which in the name of secularism Congress prime ministers have gone out of their way to play to the Muslim gallery.
Rajiv Gandhi changed the law to deprive divorced Muslim women the right to maintenance and it was because he gave Muslims the right to use Shariat rules in domestic matters that Hindus supported L K Advani’s chariot excursion to Ayodhya. It was his slogan of ‘One constitution, one law’ that resonated more than the promise of a temple to Ram where the Babri Masjid then stood. If that is ancient history from a time when Soniaji was not yet a politician, then she could do well to remember that her chosen prime minister said clearly during his second tenure that Muslims had first right on India’s resources.
At the 52nd meeting of the National Development Council, he said, “We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably the fruits of development. These must have the first claim on resources.” During the good doctor’s second term in office, when Rahul Gandhi became the Congress party’s heir-apparent, WikiLeaks reported Rahul telling an American ambassador that he was more troubled by Hindu terrorism than the jihadi kind.
The truth is that none of these things was ‘appeasement’ as Hindutva hysterics like to call it. Real appeasement would have been if the Indian State had done something to help Muslim communities economically. If more jobs had been created for skilled Muslim craftsmen, more schools for Muslim girls and more basic amenities like clean water and electricity. On a long drive through rural Bihar two weeks ago, I found that nearly every time I saw a desperately poor village built of thatch and mud, it turned out to be a Muslim village. So if Modi had stuck to his promise of ‘parivartan’ and ‘vikas’, I personally have no doubt at all that in 2019 Muslims would have voted for the BJP in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where there really are Muslim vote banks that make a real difference.
It is Modi’s misfortune that he failed to notice that along with big failures in the area of healthcare and education, one of the biggest failures of decades of Congress rule was its treatment of Muslim communities. Instead of giving them what they really needed, ‘secular’ Congress prime ministers gave them the sort of tokenism that made them a target for Hindutva rage. If Muslims still believe that they prefer to trust the Congress and not the BJP, it is because Congress prime ministers did not permit cabinet ministers to spew hatred and venom. Several senior ministers in Modi’s government have done this unrestrained. A small difference maybe but a difference it is.