In Yogi Adityanath’s world, ironically like Sophie’s World, words mean something different from normal times. Munshi Premchand, who wrote the wonderful short story, Idgah, about a little boy who worried that his mother burnt her fingers in preparing roti for him and, therefore, spent his money on buying a pair of tongs instead of sweets like the other children, would have scarce imagined that abba jaan could be used as a pejorative term. But that is exactly what has happened. People using the term of respect for their fathers are labelled with those words to describe having taken more than their share of subsidised rations. Of course, not only is the allegation palpably untrue but it is clearly directed against Muslim families to cause provocation of hostility. On the other hand, Premchand’s stories highlight the essential humanity of our experience.
People ask me what theme the Congress will project in the coming elections in UP. It must inevitably be to counter and defeat the coarseness and harshness of the ruling party ethos, the divisive tactics to polarise communities, the insensitivity towards the most vulnerable, the shameless repudiation of the idea of India. This we hope to do with the comforting touch of Premchand, imbued with the reality of human condition but committed to gently chiding the insensitive, and steering the unknowing towards happiness. People also naturally want to know if we have a CM face. Once again, our response is that we, of course, have a face but why for CM alone? Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has taken up the challenge of revitalising the party after its roller-coaster ride of 33 years out of power, but more than that to reverse UP’s slide into a cauldron of human values where life has no price and welfare is all about the volume of votes it can garner.
The abba jaan clan are not the only ones to be attacked, as accidental Hindus suffer a similar fate. A universal religion is now sought to be made a monopoly of some, its profound inclusive principles that have been the backbone of Indian secularism twisted into an unrecognisable mass of anger, hate and violence. Yes, Hinduism is in danger but sadly from within. It is the duty of all who cherish the Hindu way of life as indeed those who celebrate the idea of equal space and dignity of all religions, to join the battle to protect faith. Since the adversaries of humanity have sought to divide Hindus and Muslims amongst others, it is the beholden duty of good Hindus and Muslims to come together and defeat the evil designs.
Some people say that the problem is that the bulk of Hindus have chosen to reject the secular project but that is a mistaken view given that the BJP (and their allies who do not all subscribe to the entire range of issues) got only one-third of the total vote in the last general election. There is thus space in the majority community, perhaps it would be correct to say, to support an alternative to the BJP.
Whilst the Hindu, liberal and conservative, will indeed play their part in the defence of India, it is important that the minority communities, particularly Muslims, too play a constructive role to unite the major sections of the non-BJP electorate instead of making myopic, temporary adjustments with entities that can acquire local pockets of power but in real terms are unable to, or are unwilling to, offer a nationwide alternative to PM Modi’s new India. There is no gainsaying that Muslims along with Brahmins and Dalits formed the bulwark of Congress politics till the developments of the past 30 years changed the landscape. Recurring communal riots and the demolition of Babri Masjid contributed to the gradual attrition of vote with periodic reversal of the trend. The Sachar Committee was a far-reaching, visionary exercise but its ground impact was at best mixed. But even then, the BJP let loose a barrage of criticism that now raises its head afresh in the abba jaan affair.
In challenging the BJP dominance, no regional party can be expected to sacrifice its political and physical territory but enlightened adjustments will need to be made. But more than that, communities that feel concerned about the model of governance implemented in the country over the past decade, too, need enlightened reappraisal of their options. The “here and now” outcome approach has not given any satisfactory results thus far and is not likely to do any better in the future. Imagined or real disappointments with the Congress, combined with no questions about the empty words of other parties, is not the recipe to address the anguish and anxiety being felt by people due to the short-sighted or devious policies of the present government. The matter is complicated further because the slightest discussion on this score itself is dubbed appeasement and discrimination.
Debate and thorough discussion are the basis of democratic choice, but the concerned groups have to choose in silence because the very mention of a choice triggers outrage contrived to disturb rationality. Thus, the choice made helps the chooser less and the adversary more, an example of a political forced error. It seems that we all have to learn from the errors made and not continue to make them repeatedly by preoccupying ourselves with the blame game.
This column first appeared in the print edition on September 22, 2021 under the title ‘Making a choice in UP’. The writer is a senior Congress leader and former external affairs minister