My esteemed friend, senior journalist, and former Chairman of Prasar Bharati, A Surya Prakash, wrote a thoughtful and reasoned op-ed in these pages on July 15 titled ‘Coming to terms with the ‘NEW’ Hindu’. His central argument, also the article summary, was that “The Hindu has realised that if his religious assertion does not match that of the Abrahamic religions, Hinduism will die. In other words, to survive, the Hindu has mutated.”
His article is premised on blaming the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, for the deterioration of India’s social fabric: “Congress must take full responsibility for the corrosion situation because having lost political power at the national level, the Nehru-Gandhis, who own and control the party, have been stoking the communal flames since 2014.”
He concludes his essay by advancing the following four postulates: “1)That India is a secular, democratic nation because the Hindu majority willed it to be so; 2) that “secularism” cannot be a one-way street, all religious groups must adhere to the secular ideal; 3) every kind of teaching and preaching which promotes hatred against other religious groups must be banned in all madrasas and such religious schools, and 4) the Hindus have as much a right to religious assertion as the adherents of other religions.”
Commenting on the Prophet vs Kali outrage, another eminent journalist and friend, R Jagannathan, comments, “In this one-upmanship, where the name of the game is my-outrage-is-more-important-than-yours, it is the country and the common citizen who lose.” Jagannathan advocates dialogue between Hindus and Muslims as the way forward: “We need the two communities – at local and regional levels – to specify what is not acceptable to each and what they will ensure mutually. If criticism of the Prophet is a no-no, Hindus should accept that as a given. But equally, Muslims should agree to respect Hindu sensibilities on their gods or icons.”
These two opinion pieces, in my view, along with a few others, signify the coming of age of an alternate discourse on Hindu-Muslim relations in independent India.
I have, in my own writings, argued consistently against the politics of appeasement, as promoted not only by the Congress but by nearly every other political party of every shade and stripe, from the Samajwadi Party to the DMK. Let us face it: appeasement, minority-pandering, and divisive politics have been the watchword of nearly all non-BJP parties. It would appear, rather sadly, that they found no other formula to win elections.
On the other hand, the ruling BJP, led by Narendra Modi, offers good governance, coupled with majoritarianism, as the glue to hold India together, with the ideology of newly energised Hindutva as its watchword. Its success lies, quite obviously, in the consolidation of Hindu votes, even in erstwhile Muslim-dominant constituencies such as Azamgarh in UP. So far so good. If others want to divide India along the lines of religion, region, caste, language, and ethnicity, why shouldn’t the BJP try to bring all Hindus together in a huge, even unbeatable political formation?
What worries me, however, is the rising tide of an unstated urge, if not a nation-wide political upsurge, that favours Hindu aggression, particularly against Muslims. It is as if the nation is being engineered to swing from appeasement of Muslims to the naked and belligerent domination by Hindus. The question that I wish to raise to the entire Indian intelligentsia, not just our already polarised commentariat, is whether this is the best strategy to counter appeasement, let alone the best way forward for harmonious inter-communal relations?
The presumption, of course, is that the latter are absolutely essential for India’s economic, social, and political stability and progress in the decades to come. Bharat’s “Muslim problem” is not going to go away. Nor can crassly offensive rhetoric such as “If you don’t like it here, go to Pakistan” work. It will only further alienate and upset a significant section of the populace. What no one can deny—and I have been among the early advocates of this—is that a new covenant between Indian Muslims and Hindus is needed. But the question is what should its contents and contours be?
In my view, this new covenant cannot be based on grinding down the Muslims, constantly mistreating or berating them, let alone demonising them, as is all too common these days. Nor can it be based on the notion that Muslims are frozen in time, incapable of reform or, worse, can never be loyal citizens of India. Creating an atmosphere of constant distrust and hatred is, in my view, bad for the nation and thus, in the long run, harmful to Hindus too.
Yes, majorities will remain mighty and have their sway, which is the nature of demographics-dominated democracies. The politics of Hindu consolidation will reap rich dividends in the future too, provided the BJP delivers on development and remains relatively corruption-free. The threat to our nation is, however, deeper if we adopt a religious majoritarianism that seeks to intimidate, insult, or bully any one section of the populace, in this case, Muslims.
We must advocate and, as far as possible, try to implement and ensure an even-handed state, favouring or excluding no religious community, treating all citizens fairly and impartially. Appeasement must end. But it must not be replaced by abuse. That is not the way of our Constitution and, dare I say so, of Sanatana Dharma either. Swaraj means not just the resistance to oppression but also the restraint of one’s own power, which prevents us from grinding others, who happen to be below us, down into the dust.
By all means isolate and defang the anti-state radicals; expose and disable deep state plots to collude with our enemies; disempower the narrative of appeasement and pseudo-secularism—but treat all law-abiding citizens alike, not only in government schemes and entitlements, but also in inter-communal relations.
Alienating or targeting a sizeable section of the populace will further fracture the polity and destabilise the nation in the long run.
(All views are personal)