The other day, a dear friend of mine living in the United States appealed to all his Facebook friends to comment on his remark: “An unimaginable number of Indians have voted the BJP into power. That ironically includes a significant number of my JNU friends. My only question is: do they consider the BJP to be a communal party or not? (Communal here implies an anti-Muslim Hindu nationalism—what the BJP calls Cultural Nationalism)”. My friend, let me reveal, is not a typical communist of the Jawaharlal Nehru University of our days; he can at best be a Left-Liberal. But he seems to be an unabashed critic of the Bharatiya Janata Party in general and Narendra Modi in particular. He is emphatic that Modi is rabidly communal, though mercifully, he is unlike another US-based close friend of mine who has threatened not to come to “Modi’s India”. Predictably, an overwhelming majority of his Facebook friends has told him that dangerous times now await a Modi-led India. My friend is afraid that Modi is going to impose BJP’s “cultural nationalism” which, in his opinion, does not have place for the minorities, particularly Muslims.
Some of the reactions to my friend’s post also highlighted the logic propagated these days by habitual Modi-critics that nearly 70 per cent of Indians do not have faith in India’s new Prime Minister. They are now demanding that India’s present electoral laws must change to thwart the onward march of the monster called Modi. They are showing that the BJP got 31 per cent votes in the just concluded elections. But in so doing, they have badly exposed their moral bankruptcy. For one, it is misleading because they are not taking into account the vote share of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as a whole that fought under Modi. The NDA got more than 39 per cent of popular votes. For another, the Modi-bashers are not saying which government of India had majority support of the voters in the past. In fact, no government in India has ever got 50 per cent votes of the electorate; not even the one under Rajiv Gandhi, despite the extraordinary sympathy vote for his mother’s assassination in 1984. Rajiv had got about 49 per cent of votes of the 65 per cent of the electorate who exercised their voting rights.
I personally am terribly opposed to—and I have often argued it in this column—the existing first-past-the-post system, which has immensely benefitted all those believing in identity politics. Its advocates have justified that the system is the best safeguard against majoritarianism. As a result, leaders and parties have done spectacularly well by mobilizing their respective vote banks of Muslims, Yadavas, Dalits etc. Because, under this system, even if you get 20 per cent of votes, you can have a huge majority in the legislatures, something the likes of Mayawati and Mulayam have done a number of times. If you build your vote-bank, you can safely discard the voices of the rest of the polity. Such a system will not make him or her accountable as long as he or she has the support of a particular community intact. He or she will simply not bother about what the overwhelming majority of his or her constituency demands. In fact, he or she simply does not need to care about their sensitivity. That is why you see Lalu Yadav, who despite being convicted of corruption, dreams of recapturing Bihar. He openly says that he is not bothered about anybody as long as Muslims and Yadavs (MY) are with him. Therefore, I am in favour of a systemic change of having two rounds of elections as in France—the second round is between the top two candidates of the first round—so that the victor will be having more than 50 per cent of the votes. That is true democracy for me, because here a victor has to talk of taking everybody or every community along; he or she cannot afford to shed his or her crocodile tears for one or two communities. And if this change is made in our electoral system, then I can bet that the likes of Modi will do much better electorally and those like Lalu, Mamata, Mayawati and Mulayam will close their shops. So will be the case of other parties that are critically dependent on Muslim votes as a block.
The pursuit of the identity politics has been most bizarre while championing the so-called secularism. Of all the minorities, it is the Muslims who because of their number constitute a vote bank. So when you hear the so-called secularists in India talking about secularism, he or she only means Muslims. Take the record of the previous UPA government under Manmohan Singh. Despite being a minority himself, he said that it was the Muslims who had first claim over India’s resources. His government prided in the fact that it brought about the Right of Information Act (RTI), but this act is not applicable to Muslim-run educational institutions. His government was playing with fire by threatening to bring about the so-called communal violence bill, which presumed that Muslims could never indulge in riots. In the midst of the electioneering, it is Manmohan Singh’s Congress party that came out with a second election manifesto demanding reservation of the jobs and educational seats for Muslims. It is the Manmohan Singh’s government which wanted to enumerate religious affiliations of the Indian soldiers. It is the Manmohan Singh’s government that planned special Muslim-only fast-track courts for trial of terror cases. The Manmohan government even asked all chief ministers to set up special screening committees to look at cases where minority youths had been jailed, following up on a communication in September 2013 by the Union Home Minister to all chief ministers to ensure “wrong arrests” of minorities were not made.
Classically speaking, secularism implies the separation of religion from the State. In India, unfortunately, this is not the case, thanks to the identity or vote-bank politics. The State, or the governments, both at the centre and in states, have brought about laws that control the Hindu temples and their assets. But similar laws do not apply to mosques and churches. In fact, many a time, the money is collected from the temples and spent on the state-sponsored activities for the minorities. I have come across a piece in one of the national dailies that says: “West Bengal, governed by the ‘secular’ Trinamool Congress, has provisioned a monthly allowance for Muslim clerics and imams, costing a near-bankrupt state government Rs.126 crore per year. In October 2012 the Mamata Banerjee government also gave Rs.50 crore to Aliah University, a Muslim-only university, in addition to creating six Industrial Training Institutes and six polytechnic colleges exclusively for Muslims. The chief minister also gave 794 bicycles and over Rs.5 crore in loans and scholarships to Muslim students.” The same writer also points out: “Karnataka, which used to be governed by the ‘communal’ BJP till May 2013, has also turned suitably ‘secular’ since the Congress government led by Siddaramaiah took office. Within two months of taking office, the chief minister announced a housing scheme for homeless minorities, financial assistance of Rs.50, 000 each for marriage of minority-community girls, and minority-only education scholarships too. The state Congress chief G. Parameshwara said in October 2013 that ‘it didn’t matter if minorities did not repay loans to the government and it was part of the development process”.
Interestingly, “secularism” has been never defined by its champions in India. Though the 42nd Amendment in 1975 by Indira Gandhi’s Congress government did incorporate the word “secularism” in our Constitution, it did not define what secularism was. Ironically, her Congress party, which dominated the then Rajya Sabha in 1978, foiled an attempt to actually define secularism as “equal respect to all religions” by defeating an amendment-Bill that had already been cleared in the Lok Sabha during the Janata regime of Morarji Desai.
In other words, for most of our secularists, including my friends in the US, one’s secular credentials are primarily dependent on his or her concerns for minority rights. In the US or the West, the Indian Muslims do not find any problem with common civil code, but in India they must have one, even though the same Indian Constitution, which talks of secularism, wants a civil code common to all the Indians. Why cannot our so-called secularists say that the Muslims of India are Indians just as much as the Hindus, or for that matter, the Christians, Buddhists and Sikhs, are and that the minorities have just as much the right to India as those of the majority?
Let me conclude with my friend’s subsequent intervention in the Facebook debate that Modi’s cultural nationalism, as mentioned in the BJP philosophy, is really frightening. This forced me to have a look at BJP’s cultural nationalism in Wikipedia. It has two main points. First, the natives of India share a common culture, history and ancestry. I do not find any problem with it. Because, if this is not the case, then why should India be treated as a distinct country? After Pakistan was created on the basis of religion, what is the commonality on the basis of which India can justify itself as a nation, if it is not culture? Secondly, when BJP talks of cultural nationalism, it clarifies: “It is inclusive of all who are born and who have adopted Bharat as their Motherland, including Muslims, Christians and Parsis.” I cannot understand why should my friend in the US mind this definition?
I only hope that my friend recovers soon from his Modi-phobia.
By Prakash Nanda