Slippery ground of the secularism debate

A new language and strategy is needed to expose Modi’s communal agenda

Written by Sanjay Nirupam 2 | Updated: September 15, 2014 7:58:14 am
Modi promised growth and employment, but look at the impact of communal riots in Uttar Pradesh on the economy. Modi promised growth and employment, but look at the impact of communal riots in Uttar Pradesh on the economy.

Narendra Modi’s political narrative, first developed in Gujarat and now offered at the national level, is here to stay. One needs to understand the narrative well to expose it and to offer a counter. Old ideas of secularism and social justice are not enough to fight Modi; an innovative package of new and non-conventional ideas and practices is necessary to oppose him.

Economic arguments more than socio-political analysis would help to puncture Modi’s communal agenda. For instance, Modi won office promising growth, good governance, national security and financial stability. The last would include controlling prices, generating employment and developing infrastructure. The claims were bogus, but he did succeed in convincing voters that he would deliver on his promises. Has he delivered?

Modi promised growth and employment, but look at the impact of communal riots in Uttar Pradesh on the economy. Take, for instance, the riots in Moradabad, a hub of the brassware industry that annually exports products worth Rs 2,500 crore. Muslims constitute a majority of the labour force in this industry while the factories are mostly owned by non-Muslims. The Hindu-Muslim tension, engineered by the BJP in view of the bypolls, has divided the society on religious lines.

My concern is not who pelted the stones first and if the police handled the situation the right way. My worry is that Moradabad’s brass industry has been badly hit. The city is losing business as Muslim workers do not report to work due to the lack of trust in non-Muslim factory owners. Who will compensate the industry for this massive loss, a direct outcome of the riots?

A similar situation prevails in Saharanpur, a traditional wood and furniture business centre. As in Moradabad, Muslim artisans constitute the vast majority of workers here, while shops and factories are mostly owned by Hindus and Sikhs. In a recent report, Assocham estimated that the furniture business lost Rs 244 crore in just 10 days due to the riots. How can Modi, who could not prevent his partymen from fanning communal tension and the resultant destruction of the business climate in these two cities, revive the Indian economy?

But let us not fool ourselves. Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat when over 2,000 Muslims were killed in 2002. Yet, he successfully sold the so-called Gujarat growth story to the world. So, Modi’s politics has nothing to do with growth, development or good governance: it is based on the polarisation of votes. The real Gujarat model is nothing but winning elections by polarising voters along communal lines. He has done it repeatedly in Gujarat in the past 12 years.

In the last general election, Modi started with the good governance slogan and finally divided the nation with inflammatory rhetoric. Unfortunately, we lose the plot when we merely attack his communal agenda. He is happy when his critics highlight the Gujarat riots because it suits his politics of polarisation. Not donning a Muslim cap may be an unbecoming act in our view, but it is the perfect gesture for his brand of politics. Felicitating the Muzaffarnagar riot-accused may have disturbed some people, but Modi is aware that such acts pay rich political dividends.

The Sangh Parivar’s communal agenda primarily revolves around three symbols: the gai, the Ganga and the Gita. Modi and the BJP play politics with them. The secular opinion must be careful while commenting on matters involving these. When Modi gifted a copy of the Gita to the Japanese emperor, no eyebrows were raised, since all of us regard the Gita to be one of the greatest texts in the world.

However, while presenting the gift, Modi commented that “secular friends in my country will raise a hue and cry”. The comment was unwarranted and disgraceful. His intention was to provoke secular-minded people. Expect Modi and the Sangh Parivar to lay such traps.
Similarly, the Ganga is part of our national heritage. The river belongs to the whole country, not just the BJP. After all, the Ganga Action Plan was conceptualised when the late Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister. If the Modi government decides to take this mission forward with a new name, the opposition should support it. Any opposition could be turned into a communal issue.

With regard to the gai, the BJP has time and again raked up the issue of cow slaughter in the name of cow protection. The fact is, from Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Modi, NDA governments have not hesitated to facilitate beef exports. However, since the cow is the most revered animal in India, one must avoid any confrontation on the issue to prevent the BJP from taking political advantage.

A recent incident illustrates this. Recently, in Ghaziabad, after the Modi government came to power, the Go Rakshak Samiti, an offshoot of the RSS, started raising the issue of cow protection. Every other day, the samiti would hold dharnas and their delegation would petition the local administration demanding a ban on cow slaughter. Local newspapers would write about the petitions daily. The campaign slowly led to communal tension in the district. Some local Muslim youth recognised the ploy of the Sangh Parivar and formed a group called Muslim Maha Sabha and demanded a check on cow slaughter in Ghaziabad. With the possibility of a communal confrontation lost, the issue fizzled out.

It is not my contention that one must support the demands made by the Sangh Parivar, but one should be able to see through them. The secularism versus communalism debate needs to be articulated differently to ensure that one does not walk into Modi’s traps.

Doublespeak and double standards are the hallmark of Modi’s governance. He made a passionate appeal from the ramparts of the Red Fort that there should be a moratorium on communal violence for the next 10 years so that the country could focus on development. Soon after, Yogi Adityanath, the BJP MP from UP, notorious for spewing venom on minorities and disrupting social harmony, was appointed chief of the BJP campaign for the UP bypolls. Modi must be asked about the contradiction between speech and action.

During the general election campaign, Modi created a frenzy in the name of Pakistan. The ground reality is that more than 50 jawans have been killed on the border in the last 100 days. What has Modi done? What happened to his aggressive nationalism?
The BJP runs sinister campaigns to wreak the social fabric of our nation, in the name of a utopian Hindu rashtra or a national language, while Modi maintains a deliberate silence. He must be made to reveal his stand on these party campaigns in order to expose the doublespeak in his governance narratives.

For today’s youth, only aspirations matter. They dream of “achhe din” irrespective of whether the provider is communal or secular. It is necessary to explain to the youth that communal polarisation would destroy their dreams of “achhe din”.

The writer is a former MP and a senior Congress leader

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