The national political mood is very febrile. The two big old parties had settled down to their usual battle on the secular/communalist border. Now there is a new kid on the block and the oldies are uncertain as to what the battle is about. But even so, they never miss an opportunity to miss the bus whenever the M (minority/Muslim) issue comes up. Something about the M issue makes their minds go numb and they settle into fixed positions whatever the facts.
The recent news that the Lashkar-e-Toiba was found recruiting in Muzaffarnagar had one simple fact that could have been celebrated; namely that the LeT did not succeed in recruiting anyone. Local Muslims did not behave like cardboard characters in the way both the Congress and BJP have made them out to be. Rahul Gandhi had jumped the gun and given us a garbled version of the story. His aim was to point a finger at the BJP, which had allegedly fomented the riot and alienated local Muslims, so that they were soft targets for the LeT. Not to be left behind, the BJP is breathing fire about lapses in national security when all that has actually happened is that LeT operatives were caught thanks to the locals in UP. Rejoice! Pakistan’s simplistic views about Indian Muslims are disproved.
The Aam Aadmi Party has also fallen foul of not adopting the simplistic view of India which the older parties have. When it comes to Kashmir, the older parties have a schizophrenic view. Kashmir is an integral part of India but unlike any other part of India, no discussion is allowed about its people. Prashant Bhushan, who is not an ignoramus (as he has been portrayed), wondered whether the people of J&K had a view about the presence of the Army and AFSPA. This is a question over which Irom Sharmila has been fasting for many long years. We have reports that people living under AFSPA do not like it. Why can someone not raise such a question? Is India so touchy about Kashmir that it is beyond discussion? Why does the junior gang of the Sangh Parivar feel it necessary to vandalise the offices of AAP? Is this going to be a regular if the BJP comes to power?
Let us hope not. But that may be why the old style of politics is looking so old. The older parties are still dealing with Partition. Both have problems about viewing Indians as Indians. Indians for them are Hindus, minorities or Muslims, and the nondescript rest who may be minorities but cannot be called so. Every Indian has to carry an identity which can then be treated to decide their vote bank as far as the oldies are concerned.
This is also the way the Mandal parties understand India; as a collection of exotic identities. After 1989, when the Congress hegemony ended, the Mandal parties flourished. Their history begins not in 1947, but in 1977 at the end of the Emergency. They take a narrow local view of India, much like a kaleidoscope reflecting shards of broken coloured glass. For them, more reservations for separate identities is better.
Is it not time then, 67 years after Independence, to begin thinking of Indians as Indians? This is what the message of AAP seems to be. Delhi is a microcosm of the nation. There is no reason to treat it as the old parties and Mandal parties tend to do — a collection of fragments. AAP innovated and thought of all Dilliwalas as citizens whose demands needed urgent attention. This idea can be extended across India and this is the secret behind the sudden upsurge of support for AAP.
The Congress has given up the ghost. The BJP faces a new challenge. Narendra Modi was the ideal villain for the Congress. But that fight is no longer relevant. The issue will not be 2002 or Article 370. It will be governance — but not as a code for a strong prime minister versus a weak PM. It will be governance as a problem of citizens to be solved — not from above but by harnessing the energy at the grass-roots, which can be generated if the people are given a voice. Can the BJP handle that?