I get many telephone calls almost every day from Pakistan and a few from Bangladesh to inquire about the polling in the Lok Sabha elections. Their fear is that Narendra Modi might be India’s next Prime Minister and destroy the democratic polity which they envy. I hope Modi does not head the next government.
True, most opinion polls give the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP and Modi, a clear majority. But their tally is unreliable because there is not even a ripple, much less a wave, in favour of Modi in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Odisha. Even in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where regional parties sway the voters, the BJP’s showing may be poor. As for the other parts of the country, the intemperate language used by certain leaders, blessed by the RSS, is alienating the intelligentsia and those sitting on the fence.
It has become a fashion in election rallies to threaten the Muslims and then saying that the leaders have been misquoted or that their remarks have been picked up out of context. It was good to see the BJP expressing strong disapproval against the party’s provincial leader who said that those who did not support Modi would be sent to Pakistan. The party would have earned credibility if it had ousted the leader from its organization. However, the comment by Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah that he would rather go to Pakistan than stay quiet against Modi is immature in nature.
Moreover, the BJP and its mentor RSS are misreading the people’s response. They do not want to be divided into Hindus and Muslims. The society does not want a person whose politics is divisive and whose thinking may well be authoritarian. I believe that Modi would not be able to disturb pluralism whatever the RSS and the BJP may say. His complicity in the anti-Muslims riots in 2002 cannot be hidden even though a magistrate court in Gujarat has given him a clean chit. As the state’s chief minister he is overall responsible and has certain obligations to fulfill. The security of minorities is important. He even refuses to say sorry, much less seek forgiveness. A few days ago when he had an opportunity to express regret, he refused to do so.
Still there is every possibility that a pro-Hindutva person heads India. Modi’s speeches, however jingoistic, have not mentioned Pakistan. But he continues to use development as a cover to hide his communal agenda. Some believe that Modi may face the reality of the country’s diversities and turn out to be another Atal Behari Vajpayee, the most popular Indian leader in Pakistan.
Whatever is Modi’s agenda, he cannot afford to be on bad terms with the neighbouring Pakistan. He may well initiate the talks which have not moved after the terrorists’ attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Modi and the BJP, whatever their rhetoric, realize that a working relationship with Islamabad is in the interest of New Delhi.
Pakistan, where the shadows of fundamentalism are lengthening, is in the midst of attack by extremists on the media, bold and behind the democratic forces. Hamid Mir, an independent journalist, was injured by the bullets fired by the fanatics. However, the people are increasingly feeling that normal relations with India will give a fillip to democracy and liberal thoughts.
A Pakistani student from Oxford met me at my residence a few days ago. He had visited Pakistan and felt no hesitation in suggesting that Islamabad should normalise relations with India. This was the only alternative his country had because of the menace of the Taliban and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. His regret—and mine too—was that even known liberals preferred to remain quiet. I told him that India was also a prey to that. A soft Hindutva was contaminating more and more people, I said in reply. We both agreed that there was no go from good, amicable relations between the two countries.
My disappointment is that a democratic and pluralistic society in India is not playing its role in the region. There is too much of tit for tat. Our foreign ministry has officials who have a particular mindset on Pakistan and take the narrative to the partition days for their chauvinistic stance. The youth is especially bewildered. They want employment or openings in business that a big country like India can provide. What hampers progress in that direction is the enmity between the two countries. People are not to be blamed, the establishments and intelligence agencies are.
The few callers from Bangladesh did not doubt India’s secular credentials but the prospects of Modi’s success made them unhappy. Despite the growth of Jammiat-i-Islami in their own country, the Bangladeshis have seen how secularism during the liberation days has got eclipsed. They have never imagined that the fundamentalists, who were against the liberation of Bangladesh, would one day be so brazen faced that they would destroy Hindus’ temples as it is happening in Pakistan.
I think that the revival of religion, which is taking place even in the west, is bound to be duplicated in the subcontinent. India is a target of Hindutuva forces. They would want the country to be Hindu rashtra. But this is not possible because the people of different faiths have lived together for centuries. Hindus and Muslims have shared the land for more than one thousand years.
Regretfully, there have been communal riots. The recent happenings in Muzzafarnagar in UP remind us that we live on the edge. The victims have returned home and the business is as usual. All realize that they are Indians first and Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs later. The feeling of Indianness binds north with south and east with west.
The spirit of accommodation and the sense of tolerance are lessening because of parties like the RSS-BJP and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Yet the constitution has brought about unity. The current Lok Sabha election testifies the faith of Indians in parliamentary democracy. One has to see how strong this feeling remains if and when Pakistan and Bangladesh come to be dominated by the fundamentalists. Modi’s supporters are aping them. Those believing in a pluralistic society should realize that their fight will begin if the country takes a right turn. EOM