In the late 1970s, right after an Emergency that lasted only for 19 months, many Indians (including this writer) hoped that Morarji Desai, Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram, victorious opponents of the Emergency, would stay together and strengthen the institutions of a secular democracy. The hope was belied. A decade thereafter, in 1989, many (including this writer) hoped that V.P. Singh, Devi Lal and Chandra Shekhar would stay together and build on the democratic alliance that had defeated a damaged Congress led by Rajiv Gandhi. The hope was belied.
Twenty-five years later, in 2015, quite a few (including this never-refusing-to-hope writer) thought that Arvind Kejriwal, Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan would stay together to honour the incredible trust the people of Delhi had reposed in the Aam Aadmi Party. The hope was quickly belied. Early in March 2017, until clear indications to the contrary were available a few days before counting day, many (including this incorrigible writer) thought that the Akhilesh Yadav-Rahul Gandhi alliance could overcome the BJP machine in UP. Despite the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah aandhi that blew away the Samajwadi-Congress tent, I have not lost my faith about UP and India in the long term, though I know that “long” is not a greatly assuring phrase. May I offer an earnest word to the very large number of Indians who are troubled today, as I am, by the mounting assault on their cherished image of an India which values all its residents?
This is a testing time that demands calm reflection, and also genuine appreciation for the many who gallantly fought a battle that was lost. It is certainly not a time for hurling blame. Turn the searchlight inwards, as the Gandhi of old — the ever-fresh Gandhi — used to say. For all those who want the Indian state to remain secular and Indian society to remain pluralist and mutually respectful, the need is to conserve strength, correct mistakes and construct networks. Let spotlights be on Modi, Shah and the Mahant, let searchlights illumine our own consciences. Right now, no one, whether in the SP, the Congress, the BSP or the left, or in the ranks of their countless sympathisers across India, should look for who to blame. That’s a no-no. Let each person focus on examining his or her own record.
We should also, of course, keep a steady eye on what the Hindutva machine (a complex contraption) is saying and doing. When the triumphal results came in, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent what sounded like statesman-like tweets: “A new India is emerging, which is being powered by the strength and skills of 125 crore Indians. This India stands for development,” he said. Then he added: “When we mark 75 years of freedom in 2022, we should have made an India that will make Gandhi ji, Sardar Patel and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar proud.” Soon thereafter, the machine nonchalantly nominated Mahant Adityanath — a well-known and no doubt very popular voice of Hindu militancy — as the UP chief minister. Whom would the choice delight or make proud? Not Gandhi or Patel or Ambedkar. They would be aghast.
It is more than likely that Islamic extremists in Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf would be pleased. India seems to be imitating us, they would tell themselves, patting their backs. On the other hand, brave women and men standing up to extremism in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh — there are so many of them — have received hits from boosts to intolerance in India. Within hours of the UP results, a prominent RSS functionary, M.G. Vaidya, declared that the time had come for building a Hindu temple on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid. It will be of interest to see how Prime Minister Modi and others in the Hindutva machine respond to such calls, which were carefully de-emphasised, if not categorically disowned during the UP campaign. Will Modi back the “Wahin mandir banega” demand? Let us mark that in the 25 years that have passed since the 1992 demolition, no one so far has claimed responsibility for it. For, it was not an honourable or legal act.
If, in defiance of the sentiments of a great many Indians of all faiths, a mandir is now built on the site of the demolished mosque, will history not say of it, “Here is a structure built by revenge on a foundation of deceit”? Tulsidas tells us that, dispirited on seeing Ravana in an armed chariot while Rama was without arms or a chariot, Vibhishana expressed his deep anxiety, “Ravan rathi, virath Raghubeera!” However, Rama explained to him that a hero who has self-control, benevolence, forgiveness, discretion, evenness of mind and compassion as his weapons or horses is unconquerable.
Ambedkar, Patel and Gandhi would say to Prime Minister Modi that the future of India and the world rests on the outcome of a clash between the qualities spelt out by Rama and underlined by Tulsidas, and the opposite pulls of revenge and deceit. A final thought: The onus for defending India’s Constitutional values lies chiefly on the Hindu majority, not on an increasingly vulnerable, even if numerically large Muslim minority. The great role history asks of India’s Muslims is to play their part in the crucial battle between coerciveness and independence in the world of Islam, of which the battle between individual Indians and Hindutva coerciveness is an Indian counterpart.