February 28, 2016

Is India becoming a Pakistan? (Afsan Chowdhury)

New Age [Bangladesh] February 24, 2016

Is India becoming a Pakistan?

IS INDIA resembling Pakistan more and more every day? In the present BJP innings, the economic growth has gone hand in hand with the rise of RSS and other Hindu fundamentalist groups exerting their incredible political muscle to damage pluralism in a way that many thought India was immune to. It also shows that like socialism, secularism, modernism and other concepts that many hold dear, they are probably skin-deep. Economic growth and pious constitutions alone cannot guarantee a modern tolerant state if its social roots are weak. Nothing that begins at the top can be guaranteed success if the soil is not fertile.
India has never been comfortable with its multiple identities. Indian Congress’s One India/nation Theory was Delhi-centric and was imposed on other identities. Both One-Nation of Nehru and the Two-Nation Theory of Jinnah are versions of the same equation. It excluded any idea that contradicted the all encompassing political imagination from the heartland of Aryans and Aligarh. The Aryans and the Mughals were brothers in ‘imperialism’.
Bengal has had to bear the cost of One/Two Indian theory, too. In 1924, the Congress turned down the Bengal Pact developed by CR Das which was the first formula to reduce communal hostility based on affirmative action for the deprived Muslims. The second was in 1937 when Krishak Praja Party of Fazlul Haq tried to form a governing alliance with Bengal Congress of Sarat Bose. Nehru/INC turned down the proposal arguing that it was a ‘local’ solution and all such arrangements had to be ‘national/all Indian” which meant Delhi/centre-driven. The third time was in 1947, when the first attempt to form a Bengali nation-state was turned down by Nehru and Patel although Gandhi and Jinnah both supported it. The One-India theory has always been in trouble with the multiple social, economic and geographical identities of India.
Nehru’s India was a westernised socialist India in which the government was the prime mover of life ignoring Indian traditions and belief structures in the name of ‘national unity’. This included the language question with many fuming under its domination. It was to be a ‘Brown England’, he hoped. His great supporters were the Marxists/socialists and bureaucrats who ignored market forces completely instead of regulating them. For doing so, India has paid a price just as did the Soviet Union and even China is paying today, producing market fundamentalists. Culturally, there was little accommodation for traditions and diversity resulting in resentment. The leftouts did not just organise around low caste-based organisations but in hardcore Hindus zones RSS type outfits took root. So when the Nehru socialism died, market capitalism arrived in India with a bang as did the anti-pluralistic RSS-type forces, both fundamentalist in nature.
If profit is a sacred word in India today, so is Hindutva. The religious bigot lobbies are propped up by the Indian business lobby and expats. It is a curious but successful marriage which is the latest face of non-plural India.
But what surprises is the speed of their rise. What began with the beef ban and attack on minorities has become a full-scale war on pluralism. Only the Hindu is a patriot and the rest are Pakistanis/Muslims — hence, enemies. Muslim celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, etc, or INC leader Rahul Gandhi and scholars like Romilla Thapar and others are hounded and the message is clear. ‘You are either with us or the enemy.’ Totalitarianism has taken new wings in India’s lofty skies.

The JNU crisis
THE latest crisis was generated when a group of leftist students of Jawaharlal Nehru University shouted slogans, supposedly anti-national, on the death anniversary of the hanging of Kashmiri separatist leader Afzal Guru. The student leader Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on sedition charges, arrested on the basis of a video now alleged to be doctored and beaten up in the court premises by RSS-supporting lawyers as the police stood watching. But things could be getting worse. Indian media Scroll.In web site says, ‘…the focus shifts from the JNUSU president to Umar Khalid and other former members of the Democratic Students Union who allegedly organised the contentious event. The Delhi police seem to be struggling to find evidence of sedition against Kumar, and Home Ministry leaks have even suggested that the case against him was an “over-reaction”. Instead, the authorities have turned their focus to Khalid, who has been pained by news organisations over the past few days as both a far-Left radical as well as an Islamist.’
Professor Harbansh Mukhia, ex-JNU teacher and one of India’s leading historians says, ‘This minor issue has been blown up because of a conflict of worldviews. There is the RSS worldview of the singularity and eternity of the truth — that is, their version of Hinduism. Since this truth of theirs is supposed to be eternal, it must prevail over all other different opinions. It is a conflict of ideologies, so to speak. Earlier, the RSS used to work through their sishu mandirs (RSS schools) and shakhas. Since they have the state power now, the RSS wants to use it to impose its worldview on others, by eradicating all other views and dissent, whatever they may be. There is a conflation here between nation and majoritarianism. Since the Hindus constitute 80 per cent of the population, the RSS wants to appropriate the role of becoming the spokesperson of the majority community and define what constitutes nationhood. But the notion of nationhood is a very open question. All these questions — What is nation? What is patriotism? What is anti-nation? — are all open. In fact, had Rabindranath Tagore been around, he would have been put into prison for being anti-national. This because he thought nationalism of any kind is extremely destructive. Nationhood is an open question, which is how it should be.’
Pakistanis would recognise the scenario. There is little tolerance as anything that disagrees with the ‘Pakistan’ ideology is a sin. This could be Islam or threat to national integrity, not being anti-Indian enough, pro-regional autonomy, etc. And it is not just the official forces who are a threat, but many private groups who claim to be the guardian of ‘Islamic Pakistan’.
Bangladesh too is drifting towards that model where diversity is not welcomed and only a single national interpretation of every aspect of life is encouraged. The discussion around sedition law is a common thread in all three countries. In India, lawyers and supporters of the BJP and the RSS have attacked journalists; and in Bangladesh, attacking those who disagree is as common as in India or Pakistan.
The Nehruvian ideal of the government taking care of everything generated a weak, corrupt and inefficient bureaucratic state and like all such constructs ultimately self-destructed as it did in other full and quasi-socialist countries. But today, the babu has been replaced with the billionaire and the hero has changed from Stalin to Bill Gates. But neither model includes public participation. The RSS is playing on this elitist ruling class hatred deeply held by many Indians. Hyper wealth and hyper fanaticism come together. Some are wealthy but most are insecure. India is no different.
India’s secular and democratic dreams have been badly tarnished and show a lack of social roots. If this continues, instability is inevitable and it will spread to entire South Asia. It seems that pluralistic governance and intellectual arrangements are not preferred by the elite of the region, be it in the name of nationalism or socialism.
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are coming closer but not in the way many would prefer.
Afsan Chowdhury is journalist and researcher.