Secularism is a fig leaf. We’re more Pakistani than we think
May 15, 2016, 12:00 am IST
Aakar Patel in Aakarvani | Edit Page, India | TOI
The decay of the Congress has produced a predictable, observable effect. It has revealed our majoritarian instinct, exposing it to the world, from which it had been hidden.
Our previous inauthentic assertions of secularism and tolerance are now gone. This change was of course the demand of the movement that brought Narendra Modi to power. It has produced an unintended (for the Hindu majority) consequence that we shall touch upon later.
The change being referred to is observable on two sides. First on the side of the state. Here the majoritarian impulse was restrained since 1947 under Congress which insisted on Nehruvian secularism as the cornerstone of our democracy. This may have initially been from belief but it later also came out of necessity. The Gandhi family’s Parsi, Italian, agnostic roots make them outsiders. They can hardly stand by anything other than tolerance of religious diversity.
State secularism was a top-down imposition on the Hindu upper class which was never enthusiastic about it.
The non-Congress formations at the Centre were dominated by socialists who subscribed to the same inclusive instinct. It showed in their uncomfortable partnerships with Hindutva. When Hindutva showed its inflexibility on first principles, these alliances broke nationally three times. At the state level, it happened more often.
We can accurately accuse these regional parties of hypocrisy. But it is true that they have never actively subscribed to Hindutva because they feel repelled by its aggressive, majoritarian thrust.
And so whether it was these socialists or the Congress that ruled Delhi, the nature of the state was not dissimilar. And even in opposition, the Congress was in the past big enough and influential enough to protect its legacy. Both at the Centre and in regional governments. No longer.
Today, it has become different, under a Hindutva government with an absolute majority. For the first time, the Indian state is comfortable expressing its majoritarian nature. The BJP government is echoing its constituency, and feels no shame in doing this. This is an observable fact. The resentment and anger that its voters feel against the appeasement of Muslims, the proselytisation by Christians and the mollycoddling of dalits and adivasis, all of this the government also feels.
The uncompromising nature of this sentiment has meant the government no longer reaches out to assure its weaker citizens that it has their interest also in mind. Today, when the state feels the hurt it will retaliate with violence.
One example will suffice: Ishrat Jahan. The state is openly justifying its murder of a citizen because it suspected her of mala fide intent. More interestingly, the media has backed this justification.
Till very recently, our media cleaved to that tolerant ideal mentioned earlier because newspapers tend to be liberal and are disengaged from much reader feedback. Today TV stations scan social media in the afternoon to determine the angle of attack on their evening debates. The average user of this social media is anglicized, urban, upper class and upper caste: Hindutva’s base. It should not surprise us that its view and its anger have come to dominate the mainstream media. Through twitter, the soul of this nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.
Elsewhere, the Hindu majoritarian instinct has always controlled the cultural space (it is why there is zero dalit, Muslim, adivasi representation in our popular culture — meaning the characters of film, television and advertising). This instinct is no longer suppressed by authority. Its consequences are no longer effaced, and not even an attempt is made to counter them, if only through platitudes.
The Congress decades hid an essential fact: subcontinental man is not tolerant. He is majoritarian. In his ideal state, the minorities exist on sufferance. His model constitution is the Pakistani one, because it puts minorities in their place by law and not only by practice. It is this model that Hindutva aches for, the one that legitimizes the mistreatment of others.
That is the unintended consequence referred to earlier. We have revealed ourselves as being no different from Pakistanis, whose bigotry we used to juxtapose against our tolerance. A Pakistani poet wrote this about India:
“Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle
Ab tak kahan chhupe the bhai?
Woh moorkhta, woh ghaamarpan
Jis mein hum ne sadi ganwai
Aakhir pahunchi dwaar tumhaarey
Arre badhai, bohot badhai!”
I will not attempt a verse translation, but the lines say: ‘You turned out to be as stupid as us.’
Congratulations to us, indeed. Our true nature is finally out: we are not secular, we are Hindu.