gill writes wonderfully well, with great clarity and force.
SATURDAY MARCH 4, 2006
Jaundiced vision of secularists
The Indian politician, it appears, is entirely uneducable, incapable
of learning from history. Today, virtually all the parties in India are divided
into two broad camps - the 'communal' and the 'secular'. The former category,
including virtually all minority community political parties - such as the
Jamaat-e-Islami, the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, the Indian Union Muslim League
(IUML), the Akali Dal, and the constituent groups within the 'Sangh Parivar' -
are explicitly communal in their orientation, seeking a crystallisation of their
own identity through a polarisation against others.
But the 'secular' parties are, in fact, anything but that; they practice
an insidious and opportunistic 'reverse communalism' that has historically done
incalculable harm to the nation, and continues to undermine India's progress,
security and stability.
An interesting manifestation was the anti-Bush demonstrations orchestrated
during the American President's brief visit. The most vociferous protests among
the 'secular' parties came from the Left formations, particularly the CPI(M) - a
coalition partner in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Government. They have, of
course, the right to protest and to project their perspectives - though the
incontinence of language and the crudity of attacks launched by some very senior
leaders is poor testimony to their cause and their conviction.
What is significant, however, is that, despite the extraordinary
'cooperation' of the media - specially the proliferating television news
channels, who held tiny crowds of a few dozen, and occasionally of a couple of
hundred in very tight frames, helping substitute an artificial frenzy for
numbers - it was clear that the 'secular' protestors had rather poor support.
Failing to mobilise adequate support from their own ideological
fraternity, the CPI-M had no compunctions in falling back on the stratagem of a
'multi-party' demonstration that relied overwhelmingly on the capacities for
communal mobilisation of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, and it was only through the
efforts of the latter that the substantial gathering at the Ramlila grounds at
Delhi could be cobbled together.
A look at the various photographs and video images in the media
demonstrates that the crowd at the Ramlila grounds was overwhelmingly Muslim -
with hardly a peppering of 'secular' protestors. Much of the ire of the
communally mobilised protestors was directed against the 'Danish cartoons' and
other issues somewhat distanced from the context of President Bush's visit to
Critically, however, when 'secular' parties hitch their wagon to communal
mass mobilisation on emotive sectarian issues and an 'Islamic' anti-Bush
platform, they participate in a dangerous and subversive trend, contributing
directly to the greater radicalisation of sections of the Muslim community, and
enlarging the centrality, within the national political space, of communal
formations such as the Jamiat. This is not the first time that the Communists
have made an ideologically irreconcilable compromise with communal forces, as
their (and the Congress's) extended partnership with the IUML in Kerala
The conduct of the top leadership of the ruling Congress in the run-up to
State Assembly election in Assam is another case in point, and will have
disastrous consequences for the security and stability, not only of this State,
but also for the wider Northeast, where illegal Bangaldeshi migrants are
continuously expanding their presence.
The pronouncements on bringing amendments to the Foreigners' Act to
'protect' the Muslims - including the very large number of illegal aliens in the
State who have acquired voting rights and are courted by the Congress as a
vote-bank - fall into the same category of misconceived communal manipulation
with disastrous long-term consequences. Once again, the Congress is being misled
by immediate electoral calculations to act directly against the national
In Uttar Pradesh, we see a deafening silence among the 'secular parties'
on the issue of the 'reward' of Rs 51 crore announced by a Minister for anyone
who 'brings him the head' of the Danish cartoonists who had dared to caricature
the Prophet. Interestingly, while 'secular' parties invent convoluted
justifications for the failure to implement the country's law for this act of
incitement to crime, and while some of the Minister's coreligionists flock to
congratulate him for his 'courageous' defence of Islam, the Organisation of
Islamic Countries has seen fit to condemn all such 'fatwas' and announcements
calling for the death of the Danish cartoonists as 'un-Islamic.
The fact is, all major 'secular' parties in India have had the
consolidation of the 'Muslim vote-bank' as one of the crucial elements of their
political and electoral agenda, and they have tended to believe that supporting
the extremist - rather than the moderate - Muslim stance is more productive in
delivering the 'Muslim vote'. The 'Hindu vote' is believed to be split across
the various national and regional formations along caste, language and parochial
lines, as well as between the 'secular' and 'communal' camps. It has,
consequently, been accepted - outside the Sangh Parivar - that communal mass
mobilisation of Hindus is either not possible, given the fragmented nature of
the community, or that it is, in some sense, not politically desirable.
Despite overwhelming evidence that the Muslims are also an enormously
diversified community across regions and classes in India, the same
considerations have not guided perspectives on the country's principal minority.
Interestingly, communal Hindu formations are also increasingly vulnerable to
this intellectual blindness - witness, for instance, Mr LK Advani's and, more
recently, Mr Jaswant Singh's pronouncements on Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
This blindness has afflicted Indian politics for decades, and the
affliction has extended to some of the nation's greatest leaders. Gandhi, the
Mahatma on so much else, was utterly wrong in his orientation to the Muslims and
this was abundantly clear even in his first major and disastrous intervention in
the country's politics, the Khilafat Movement.
The then famous Ali Brothers, who are now entirely forgotten by all but a
few historians specialising in the period, with whom Gandhi formed a partnership
of dishonour to lead the Movement, openly stated that a Muslim thief was better
than Gandhi, simply because he was Muslim; Gandhi swallowed the insult in
silence. When there were rumours that the Afghans could invade India, one of the
brothers, Mohammad Ali, declared: "If the Afghans invaded India to wage holy
war, the Indian Mohammadans are not only bound to join them but also to fight
the Hindus if they refuse to cooperate with them." Gandhi had no comment on
this. Worse, Gandhi, the apostle of ahimsa, repeatedly justified Muslim
In the wake of the collapse of the Khilafat movement, the Moplah Rebellion
broke out in Kerala, with Muslim mobs inflicting untold savagery and rapine on
Hindus. Gandhi first denied these atrocities and later, confronted with
incontrovertible evidence, described the Moplahs as "god fearing" people and
declared that they "are fighting for what they consider as religion, and in a
manner they consider as religious".
It is these double standards that created India's eventual partition.
Regrettably, they survived that catastrophe, and continue to dominate India's
'secular' polity even today. There is, in fact, a comprehensive failure among
the Indian political classes - across ideological and partisan boundaries - to
understand the minority psyche.
The backwardness and abysmal poverty of the Muslim community in India even
58 years after Independence is a symbol both of the decline of its own
leadership, and of the bankruptcy of the exploitative vote-bank politics of
secular formations. You cannot fill people's stomachs with religion and silence
their real needs - health, education, productive capacities and skills - with
dogma. This, tragically, remains the unqualified agenda and objective of India's
But the tokenism of 'representation' in the Army and Government services
and the continuous manipulation of communal sentiments will go no way in
correcting these distortions. The solution lies in non-discriminatory efforts
for the development of all the poor in India, and that includes the country's