The Indian Express
Because in new India, you cannot have your communal canape and eat it too
by Srijana Mitra Das
| April 19, 2017
A month down the road, the dust — or,
given the backdrop, should one say, the cow dust, the godhuli (that
beautiful term, resonant with bells, red earth, fading sun, a setting we
have now turned into a horrific lynching park) — settles over the
announcement of Yogi Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister. But
the outrage, by India’s “liberals”, has left a mark. For, with UP’s new
CM, it seemed that — yet again — the idea of India had come crashing
down. Yet again, Indian pluralism, freedom, even Hinduism, were under
attack; majoritarianism (fascism too) waft like cloying hair-oil in the
air. These awful times are so fatiguing, we must “conserve our
strength”, a liberal guru advises, as we build resistance (a la those
WW-II intellectuals); indeed, many of “us” are so overwrought by the
“mounting assaults on secularism”, we even forget to tell cook to chill
Of course, given the Yogi’s pre-CM pronouncements, such lamenting is
fine. But why didn’t such visceral, gut-wrenching despair dog, say, Rajiv Gandhi, despite his reluctance to battle brutal 1984? Many mouthed Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s
“raj dharma” admonition in 2002; but how many asked him, or L.K.
Advani, what price raj dharma — also, the strong shielding the weak — in
Perhaps raj dharma, like communalism, lies in the beholder’s eyes.
This suppleness of ideals, this selective sanctimony, is liberal India’s
saddest truth, for it reflects how lovingly we nourish the split
infinitives of our history: Snobbery, nestled with an inferiority
complex. Both show in how fast we overlook, forgive, forget, accept
communalism by everyone we’d rather like to party with. “No one parties
as much as the Indian upper classes,” Noam Chomsky reportedly said. He
could well be thinking of India’s liberals.
Thus, in Indira Gandhi’s
era, even as Kashmir and Punjab choked, an invitation to tea, a
coterie, a committee, was much sought. A call from Rajiv delighted a
liberal heart, although Black Thunder boomed outdoors. Lalu Prasad
courting caste was cute. Bihar’s Muslims remained too wretched to even
kidnap. But Lalu was such a sweet subaltern, desiring acceptance at
Delhi’s clubs. Compared to the right’s charmless determination to bend
society to its will, subalterns like Lalu, flaunting the skullcaps, the
lungis of street theatre-secularism, were cool.
Such “earthy” leaders made great party stories — or party partners —
for India’s Westernised snobs, whose communalism comes with a fake Brit
accent. For liberals, when leaders with the right accent evoke
communalism, it is, somehow, ok. It is awful when a “vern”, bereft even
of Hindi kavita, does so. This explains the puzzle then; how, despite
ten years of a non-BJP government, and six years of a non-Modi sarkar
before, did communalism grow, unlamented? In 2013, the Ministry of Home
Affairs recorded a 30 per cent rise in communal incidents, worst-hit
being UP (under the SP) and Bihar (under Nitish Kumar).
In 2012, Kokrajhar in Congress-run Assam saw riots displace 79,000
people. In 2011, Congress-run Rajasthan’s Bharatpur shook; in 2010, on Mamata Banerjee’s watch, the Deganga riots broke out.
Yet, as pressures — land, jobs, reservations, passions — began
curdling into hate, not one incendiary communal law, not even the beef
ban, was sought to be repealed. Not even, when in 2002, five Dalits were
lynched in Haryana, on suspicions of cow slaughter. Why didn’t the
liberals lament the “idea of India” then? Were we partying that hard
with the charming in charge, enjoying high culture’s kebabs, kneaded
with power’s grease? Now, when the kebab is literally in danger, we
discover, so is the party itself. And we wail.
But not many are impressed. For even as the liberal speaks endlessly
about the end of free speech, India has changed. It remains deeply
concerned with justice and peace, but it is wise enough to see whose
peace is of a piece with a biased view. In this India, citizenship isn’t
just ahimsa over foie gras, drinks at the club bar, an exclusive
seminar. It is a circus — a website, a theatre, a metro, a mall. Here,
as symbols and cymbals clash, even the best faux accents aren’t revered.
Here, just because you can say it with elan, you can’t have your
communal canape and eat it too. No wonder some of “us” are feeling