November 28, 2015

Surjit Bhalla on Incredible ‘Intolerant’ India: Good governance is in actions, not in “abolishing” religious holidays of minorities

Indian Express, November 28, 2015

No proof required: Incredible ‘Intolerant’ India
I further felt that this would be a healthy development, given that it would replace the elite with a feudal, dynastic mindset with an elite with a middle-class mindset.
Written by Surjit S Bhalla

What is happening is predictable, unfortunate, and so avoidable. When the BJP won last year, some observers felt (including myself) that one very likely outcome of the Congress defeat and BJP victory was that the structure and composition of India’s elite would change. I further felt that this would be a healthy development, given that it would replace the elite with a feudal, dynastic mindset with an elite with a middle-class mindset. This clash of elites would not be pretty, given that no one is willing to give up the trappings of power so easily. But I couldn’t have forecast, and I didn’t, that this clash would turn out to be as ugly as it has turned out to be.

There’s consistent talk that over the last year or so, communal tensions and intolerance have increased. Although data on communal violence doesn’t support this inference, it would be wrong to infer that intolerance in India is not at its peak today, a year after Modi and the BJP assumed power.

The ugliness most likely started with the unexpectedly large victory of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. No sooner had the election ended that the buzz went around that the victory was made possible by two factors: First, that RSS karsevaks had come out in hordes to coast the BJP to victory in UP and, second, that Modi’s victory in India, and UP, had a lot to do with the acumen of master political campaign strategist Amit Shah. Hidden, but barely, was the suggestion by the BJP that it had won so handsomely in UP because of its campaign of polarisation. Remember the Muzaffarnagar riots and the knighting of the BJP leadership suspected of being involved in the UP polarisation?

This was the beginning of the BJP’s suicidal strategy for winning hearts, minds and votes in Delhi 2015, Bihar 2015 (and UP 2017?) — “Remember UP 2014, and go for the traditional BJP winners like Hindutva, anti-Muslim rhetoric, etc”. Temple politics got replaced by morality and cow politics — “clean” living, bans on whatever the Hindutva fringe/ mainstream didn’t like, for example, comedy shows, eating practices, and the encouragement of anti-Muslim propaganda like ghar wapsi, love jihad, and the communal refrain “If you don’t like it here, you can always go to Pakistan.” The intolerant atmosphere was considerably enhanced with the gross insensitivity shown by the BJP leadership to Mohammad Akhlaq’s killing by the Dadri lynch mob.

Coincidentally, the intolerance debate began (and ended?) with the Bihar election. As a run-up to the election, awards were returned, feelings of Muslim insecurity were emphasised, and a well-coordinated campaign by the political opposition (with ample support from the English media) was in full gear. The old elite was at work, and the new elite, unaccustomed to power, voluntarily fanned the communal flames, believing it would help them politically.
Intolerance is not in the statistics on communal violence, but in the atmosphere — an atmosphere of fear, an atmosphere that encourages conformity, that even emboldens the police to bring down an “art paper cow”.

Let us have our disagreements, our political preferences, and even the goal of bringing the old elite down to size. But you cannot do it by behaving irresponsibly and intolerantly. And you cannot assume away the problem by defining intolerance the way Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani did — India is not intolerant because PM Modi forgave me even though I had criticised him!

We all know about the intolerance shown by those belonging to the BJP — Hindu conservatives with more emphasis on the Hindu part. The media is ever eager to pounce on any “intolerance” on the part of Modi, the BJP, etc. And so it should. But maybe the intolerance shown by the motor mouths of the so-called right will be a lot less if the left would be just a bit even-handed in doling out analysis and criticism from its lofty perch, and equated the motor mouths of the left with their brothers on the right.

Let me mention just four areas of the left’s intolerance. First, thou shalt not evaluate conversions to Christianity. I strongly believe, as the intolerant left should, that every individual has the right to choose her religion and convert if they are convinced. But why is it politically incorrect to estimate the magnitude of conversions? I got very intolerant abuse (in this newspaper and on Twitter) because I had dared to suggest that a large part of the high population growth rate of Christians was most likely due to the evangelical practice of conversions.

Second, why is the moral left so intolerant of discussions about the discriminatory nature of the reservation (education and jobs) system? Why does it eagerly criticise the RSS’s Mohan Bhagwat for correctly suggesting that the reservation system should be reviewed? And not criticise Lalu Prasad for lying and misquoting, and politically exploiting, caste reservations in the Bihar election?

How is that any different from Amit Shah’s equally reprehensible comment about fire-crackers in Pakistan? And finally, why is the intolerant left not so keen to recognise that the one community immensely hurt by job reservations are Muslims, who are mostly excluded from jobs rightfully theirs? Clearly, Muslims are okay for a vote bank, but not for education and job justice.

The intolerance of the left gets worse. Third, one of their “philosopher” icons (Irfan Habib) has the gross insensitivity, not to mention inaccuracy and stupidity, to equate the Hindu right, the RSS, to the demonic Islamic left, the IS: “Intellectually, there is not much difference between [the] RSS and IS.” They are comparable in the same sense as the CPM is comparable to the IS. But you won’t catch the masters of condemning intolerance saying that.
And while on the IS, why is there a deep lump in the throats of the “liberals” when it comes to criticising the grossly inhuman and anti-Islamic nature of the IS? Indeed, IS apologists (how different from Nazi apologists?) go as far as to suggest that “condemn the IS if you must, but remember the American invasion of Iraq”.

Last, how is an alcohol ban any different from a beef ban? The latter, wrong as it is, has been “sanctified” by the Hindu Constitution, but a ban on alcohol is by a secular-liberal icon, Nitish Kumar. But where in the Constitution is there prohibition on the sale of beef? And if cow slaughter is banned, can Indians eat the beef of cows that die a natural death? Or imported beef, made from non-socialist, non-secular cows? Most importantly, how is it secular to impose conservative eating practices of a small Hindu upper-caste minority on everybody?

How does intolerance end or begin to get back to the levels prevailing in the “good old days”? When Modi begins to move to being a statesman on the domestic scene to complement his successful attempts at being one on the international stage. It will be good for India, good for regaining tolerance, and especially good for Modi’s popularity and political career. He should remember that in a vibrant, incredible democracy like ours, the people will tell you where to get off. As they just did in Bihar. The road to victory is paved with freedom and not bans — not bans on books, cow slaughter, or alcohol.

And please, PM Modi, give us back our Christmas. Good governance is in actions, not in “abolishing” religious holidays of minorities.
The writer is chairman, Oxus Investments, and contributing editor, ‘The Indian Express’

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