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While we were deceiving ourselves

Do we have no idea of the relentless propaganda, the dark threats, the extremists standing beside ‘moderate’ Modi?

Updated: April 25, 2014 10:22:37 am

Do we have no idea of the relentless propaganda, the dark threats, the extremists standing beside ‘moderate’ Modi?

Dilip Simeon

Shekhar Gupta’s article, ‘Secularism is dead!’ (National Interest, IE, April 19), is significant. The elephant in the drawing room is the refusal by many opinion-makers to address the violence and brutality that has rampaged through India for decades. They don’t see it — worse, they don’t think it a big deal. (The closest Gupta gets to it is his use of the word “spank” — a telling euphemism). Gupta addresses himself to those capable of heading to American campuses. But they aren’t the ones in the refugee camps of Muzaffarnagar, Jammu, Juhapura or Vatwa.

Gupta reminds us of India’s democratic traditions and institutions, and the great heart of Hinduism. But these great institutions/ traditions have been systematically undermined. Over the decades, we have been unable to uphold the minimal requirements of a civilised polity — the protection of life. The liberal Hinduism that is the bulwark of Indian secularism is under attack from those who are mobilising like never before to seize power for a Savarkar-ite programme. Why is this irrelevant to democratic concerns?

I’d like to know Gupta’s views on the RSS and its activities. And whether it is likely that any other leader could be cited as encouraging the terrorist violence referred to by Swami Aseemanand and be let-off so lightly. Why have the bulk of the mainstream media blacked out Manoj

Mitta’s book on the post-Godhra investigations?

There is indeed a link between the violence of the Congress and the RSS; a seamless thread between 1984, 2002 and 2008. Fascism’s hold on power arises primarily from intimidation, and is exhibited at the first moment that state organs tolerate or enable illegal activities of fanatical cadre or crowds. That’s why ideological links are more significant than organisational ones. The bane of political analysis today is the reduction of all matters to a partisan dimension. And the most blatant deceit has been the failure to notice that extremism has gone mainstream.

There will be talk of forgetting the past. (It’s ironical that those who ask us to forget 2002 never let us forget 1528.) And, as Gupta says, there are safeguards. But no one is arguing as if yesterday we had democracy and tomorrow we shall have fascism. Nevertheless, the polity will undergo a big change, and the RSS will accelerate its quotidian erosion of liberal-democratic values. Will the BJP discipline the man who says all critics of Modi should emigrate to Pakistan? Did not Modi use similar language about the defence minister and Arvind Kejriwal recently? Do not such utterances signify an assault on the mind? Does India deserve a prime minister upon whom no requirement of reasonable speech may be imposed? Yet Gupta tells us “this anti-Modi battle-cry is lazy and illiberal.”

When Gupta announces that secularism is dead, surely he means it is dead as practised, rather than that it is a useless doctrine in itself? A modern state cannot allow state institutions to be used for promoting communal mobilisation. Let us reflect on whether or not this been happening in India. I hope that in saying secularism is dead, Gupta does not wish it to be so.

A simple question to those who think “fascism” is inapplicable here because of the strength of our institutions and/ or Hindu liberality: How would you describe the situation from the standpoint of someone who has been mutilated or killed or seen their loved ones murdered? Is “fascism” irrelevant to them too? Or has it not come to fruition? Can they console themselves with the thought that our civilisation and institutions will survive?

The crucial test of a democracy is the maintenance of a neutral criminal justice system. Has Indian justice been clean as regards communal killings? All of us concerned about the current turn in Indian politics are not prophets of doom. The Constitution is by no means a dead letter, and needs to be defended, even though the rights promised by it are increasingly denied to millions of citizens. But when we reassure ourselves of the strength of Indian democracy, let us also remember the long line of corpses along the path towards self-proclaimed Indian greatness. Some opinion-makers speak as if they have no idea of the relentless propaganda, the dark threats, the extremists standing beside a beaming “moderate” Modi. The decades-long bloodletting, the tens of thousands killed (of all communities), the controlled mobs, the failures of justice, the vigilante groups carrying weaponry, the ghetto-fication, the forced migrations, the experience of being a refugee in your own country. We have no idea.

We speak about super-powerhood and greatness as if all these things did not exist, as if all the innocents who lost their lives were so much biomass. I have no hesitation in saying that this cynical disregard for human life runs across the political spectrum. I am not as sanguine as Shekhar Gupta about the strength of Indian political institutions. Rather, we have come to this pass precisely because they have been successfully undermined. All I hope is that at some point we will begin to speak with less self-deceit about the great Indian faultline.

Simeon is a historian and the author of ‘Revolution Highway’. This article has been excerpted and edited from

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