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‘Secular’ Is Made Into An Unwanted Word

‘Secular’ Is Made Into An Unwanted Word

A Unique Achievement 

“We shall overcome,” sings President Kovind. “The best is yet to come,” echoes Modiji. “Reach for the stars,” cries Sonia Gandhi. It is all about Chandrayaan-2. All differences are forgotten for a while.   The entire country rejoices. We are all committed to a common cause: the wellbeing of the Indian people and the advancement of humanity. Madhavan Nair of the ISRO says 95% of the mission objectives have already been achieved. There is not a single voice of dissent. Political opponents embrace each other. The nation is in ecstasy.

At the same time, it is good to be realistic. The international press generally concentrated on the difficulties that the robotic lander developed than on the achievement. Former NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger clarified how “very, very difficult” it was what India was attempting. At home, Mamata Banerjee considered the entire publicity a distraction from hotter issues that were harassing the nation at the moment. As the arrest of Chidambaram drew public attention away from Kashmir, Chandrayaan-2 did so from both.

It is thrilling to rejoice in ‘Maya’ for a while. But ultimately you have to come down to what is actually happening on the home terrain. The tragedy was that ISRO lost control of the lander of Chandrayaan-2.   It is symbolic of the present economic situation in the country. Who has control over it at the moment? Delhi? Nagpur? Ambani?  

Acknowledge the Contribution of Pioneers, Preserve a ‘Secular’ Culture

Not that Mamata was not appreciative of what our scientists had achieved. But she was insistent that there should be acknowledgement of those who made it possible. To begin with our Founding Fathers were very eager that India cultivated a “scientific temper,” which they recognised to be very weak among the masses. It is precisely this ‘secular’ trait which we describe as scientific temper that the RSS think-tank and their BJP disciples are systematically trying to wipe out from our society’s public consciousness. Obscurantist beliefs, superstitions, and fear of the occult is consciously planted into the hearts of simple people with evident determination. Just think of the BJP MP Pragya Singh Thakur alleging that the Opposition leaders had used Black Magic to terminate the lives of Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley! She herself claims to have cursed the cop Hemant   Karkare for arresting her and brought his life to an early end.

It is no use blaming Thakur alone when our Prime Minister could proudly boast that Ganesh was the product of head-grafting which he claimed was possible in ancient India.   If our ISRO scientists had been lost amidst Vedic mathematics and Pushpaka Vimana formulae, we would never have had Chandrayaan-2. We have not forgotten how a University vice Chancellor claimed that the 100 sons of Dhritarashtra was proof of stem-cell research existing in India’s old days.   

A Nobel Prize winner, attending Indian Science Congress, said it was nothing more than a “circus” of archaic boasters. Does Modiji’s science ever go beyond Mahabharat fables and cow-related concerns?  His recent vaunt at Mathura was that 51 crore cows and buffaloes would be vaccinated every year at the cost of Rs. 13,000 crore. Meanwhile National Health Survey showed that 4,500 children under 5 died of malnutrition in India every day in 2017. Cattle before humankind seems to be Hindutva’s scientific formula, and it has led to the situation in which 24% of the world’s hungry people in the world live in India.

Just the other day, a witness in the Ayodhya case claimed that Lord Ram lived in Ayodhya 12 lakh years ago! Humanity itself comes into existence about a hundred thousand years ago. What species lived in Ayodhya, we may ask, 12 lakh years ago? How do such senseless statements fit in with the “scientific temper” that our Founding Fathers were longing for? After earning the ridicule of millions, it had seemed that the senior Hindutva leaders were gradually maturing, or at least trying to make sure not to give ‘masala’ to the press. There is little hope! Obscurantist ideas have been driven home too deep.   Ashutosh says, the lower-rung leaders of the RSS are so “regressive, and use terms so abusive that it is unprintable,” (“Hindu Rashtra,” Westland Publications, Chennai, 2019, pg. 11).

Modi, Amit Shah and their team have been habitually critical of the western educated, English using, intellectually alert, and socially concerned set of Indians. They consider them “Urban Naxals.” They are unwilling to admit that they themselves are the beneficiaries of the services rendered by India’s earlier intellectuals. They are profiting from the hard work of the Congress leadership that gave us, e.g. the present government institutions and administrative structures; and the collaborative spirit that they fostered.

ISRO has a future only if ‘secular’ values are sustained and promoted, which alone create a climate that can take any scientific research to success. But, “Today,” says Ashutosh, the word  “‘secularism’ has become a dirty word and polarisation around religious identities is the stark reality” (Ashutosh 115).

Undermining the ‘Secular’ Culture

Ashutosh believes that mixing of religion and politics has been the formula that Modi used for his political success. Unfortunately, Modiji has been brought up in radical Hindutva ideology which has adopted an “eternal war” with Islam as their main challenge. They despise the traditional Hindu values of compassion, tolerance, non-violence, and truth as too ‘feminine’ which led them to their subjection to foreigners for 1200 years (Ibid xiii). Initially, when they tried to get this ideology accepted by the Indian public, they were not very successful, as they were not based on facts. Generally, Indians are ‘secular’ minded. So, the Saffron sages changed their strategy, and decided to play on the majority community’s religious emotions.

If there could be a Muslim vote bank, they argued, they can also build up a Hindu vote bank (Ibid 188 ) . It was to realize this goal by working on Hindu emotions that L.K. Advani threw up a proposal to build a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, and launched a Ratha Yathra. As is well known, it ended up in the tragedy of the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. But it turned out to be the “day of Hindu awakening of truly historic import” (Ibid 187 ).

From that time, the aim of the Hindutva-BJP brigade was “majority consolidation,” by creating communal tension in a neighbourhood whenever and wherever it was needed (Ibid 193). This approach worked amazingly well, especially before the elections, both that of 2014 and of 2019. Strategies were similar: Ayodhya fury, cow fervour, anti-Muslim riots. These are not secrets any more, they are part of the Hindu Rashtra strategy, and are being proclaimed from the housetops. Add to it the strategy of ensuring an “artificial boom in election years,” as Yascha Mounk (Harvard) said is typical of sham democracies. The BJP statisticians claimed a growth rate close to 8% before the elections. But after the elections reality showed its face, and the economy dipped to 5%. Further decline is predicted.

True Features of the ‘Hindu Rashtra’

The ugly and painful realities linked with RSS-BJP-Hindutva philosophy have evoked the interest of a large number of intellectuals. More and more books are coming out about the present trend in India towards authoritarianism, autocracy, majoritarianism, Right Wing radicalism, religious polarisations, and anti-minority strategies. We need not be alarmist, but we would be doing injustice to our common destiny if we totally ignored certain early warnings, as most people in the western world did in the 1930s when Fascism was rising. What does one do when one hears authorities like Ram Singh of Chhattisgarh say, those who killed cows would be “hanged in his state”? (Ibid 36). Why doesn’t Modiji correct him rather than the minorities that have expressed fears about cow-fanaticism? In fact, Ashutosh’s book “Hindu Rashtra” has on the cover only cows, not citizens.

The recent resignation of two enlightened IAS officers can set us thinking. Kannan Gopinathan, an IAS officer originally from Kerala, has resigned after the Kashmir decision and the suspension of freedoms there. He said he wanted to “regain his voice.”    Similarly, Sasikanth Senthil in Karnataka, another IAS officer, has resigned, considering it “unethical” to continue as a civil servant when democratic principles are being dishonoured in an “unprecedented manner.”   The controversial Ananthkumar Hegde BJP has called him a “traitor.” Who are the traitors, those who dishonour the Constitution or those who defend it?

Listen now to Hindu Rashtra ethics as Ashutosh describes it. He says, in Banaras he used to hear threats like this, “If Muslims are cut into pieces, then they will chant Lord Ram’s name” (Ibid viii), “If they engage in rioting, then they will be killed” (Ibid ix). This is what really happened in Gujarat. It was perfectly in    keeping with what people had learned from their RSS pedagogues, who are disciples of Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar whose main message was, “All Muslims in India are traitors” (Ibid 9). In fact, he considered the greatest threats to India: Muslims, Christians, Communists (Ibid 8). His successors added to the list also ‘secular intellectuals.’  

We are then under such a government. Ashutosh does not hesitate to affirm, “…the Modi government is the RSS government.” Modi, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Amit Shah are all RSS (Ibid xvii). Talent is out, commitment to Hindu Rashtra is in.

Ruthlessness in Pursuit of Goals

The other day, Amit Shah warned in Guwahati that no “ Ghuspethiya,” infiltrator, will be allowed to stay in India. He has used a tricky word. UP workers in Gujarat and Biharis in Maharashtra were given the same name when ‘sons of the soil’ asked them to go home.  What is his formula for Assam? His priority, of course, is to flatter the PM, rejoicing that he had “re-written the grammar of change” in the economic field. That was precisely the time when the Indian economy was taking a dip. “ If Amit Shah is known for his strategic genius, he is also known for his ruthlessness in pursuit of his goals” (Ibid 166).  During his Guwahati visit, he had time to visit the Kamakhya temple, not to listen to the anxieties of people. Tarun Gogoi asks what was the purpose of the NRC if the government was going to give citizenship to all?

Some time ago Ramachandra Guha tweeted: this BJP government is known by vengefulness and vindictiveness (Ibid 154). When Chidambaram was sent to Tihar jail, one remembered the curious title of a book, “Revenge Made Easy.” Is Chandrababu Naidu next? What really worries most thinking people is the BJP attack on the judiciary. It is systematic, “It is part of a larger goal (Ibid 181).

Internal Quarrels, Corruption, non-Performance

And what is the BJP busy with in the states where they are ruling after toppling governments and establishing a mini-Hindu Rashtra? For example in Karnataka under Yediyurappa? They are fighting for portfolios and prominences, not looking after the needs of the people.   The state has already 3 deputy Chief Ministers.   Others want to be upgraded, more want to be made ministers. Meanwhile people are asking whether the government is for itself or for the people.

Adityanath Yogi in UP has a 62-member council. More Brahmins want to be made ministers. They say that the Chief Minister is anti-Brahmin. Meanwhile three Ambedkar statues have been beheaded in Azamgarh villages. But the main complaints about Yogi-regime are about corruption, non-performance, the neglect of the needy, and social disorder.  He accuses the earlier regime of dividing people by caste. His skill, of course, consists in dividing people by religion.

The Opposition accuses Yogi of creating a Jungle Raj and turning Uttar Pradesh into ‘Hatya Pradesh.’   Historian John Key says that Hindu society did not collapse because of Muslim aggression from outside, but because of “...economic collapse, social oppression and caste discrimination…with political fragmentation.” All these are coming true word for word in the New Hindu Rashtra. Most people are not alert to reality.

People’s “Purchasing Power” Has been Weakened

According to Rajiv Kumar of NITI Aayog, the present economic crisis is unlike any other in 70 years. Economists lament the fall in domestic demand. Congress insists on re-monetising the economy: let cash circulate. Some attribute the present ‘cash crunch’ to the delayed effect of demonetization. Shashank Srivastava of Maruti says that the fall in sale of cars is due to ‘liquidity crunch.’ In simple language all this means, people have no cash in hand. People’s “Purchasing Power” has fallen.

The reasons? The Modi government has made a number of disastrous decisions to maintain his vote bank: 1. spent lavishly on unproductive Hindutva programmes like Kumbh melas, temple-building, godmen sponsorship, cow-care etc.  2. hit the “small economy” of millions of citizens engaged in little concerns like cattle trade, leather-works, farm products, petty-trading. 3. killed “Trust” (Fukuyama), mutual confidence between religious communities, caste groups, parties, communities with any difference at all, through polarization and ghettoization, making natural encounters and spontaneous exchanges “extremely” difficult. 4. the abrogation of Article 370 has driven fear into all tribal communities, minorities, weaker sections. If the Constitution itself is not respected, the Home Minister’s promises hold no weight. All communities have gone on the defensive, searching for strategies for mere survival. 5. as the Tourist Industry has suffered in Kashmir, several regional resource-generating programmes have weakened. Constant and unpredictable interferences and things like “Tax Terror” have frozen economic initiatives. Exports are falling.

Strategies Needed for a Healthy Re-distribution of Wealth

During the elections, money changed hands briskly in bribery not in economic transactions! Markandey Katju insists that there is no redemption for the economy unless more of the money that goes to make millionaires doesn’t go to strengthen “Purchasing Power” in society. As production goes up and wealth accumulates, balanced structures and intelligent norms must be devised to share the benefit with the larger society. It may be through graded taxes on existing wealth or its annual increase; but a healthy distribution alone will strengthen the “Purchasing Power” of the average citizen. He/she in turn will strengthen the domestic demand through his/her brisk purchases, encouraging production and stimulating the economy.

Increase in the number of crorepatis and billionaires can ruin our economy, if some strategy for balanced wealth-sharing is not devised. Re-distribution must go with productivity, and excessive accumulation must be corrected with tax-balancing.  Knowledgeable people fear that the problem today is “Systemic,” structural. Manmohan foresees “protracted economic slowdown;” ten million may lose jobs shortly.

Is not the country putting crores into Kashmir only to silence the people?  Are not Indian resources being sucked into reckless arms deals and the glamorous foreign trips of the PM to explain India’s aggressiveness? Ripun Bora, the President of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee feels that “the ruling party is whipping up war hysteria.” Political standards are sliding down. Ashutosh has no hesitation in calling certain political tactics of the BJP “vulgar.” He refers to Goa, Manipur, and Karnataka (Ibid 196).

Kashmir Crying

Chandrayaan-2 may be important. But Kashmir has its own importance; it cannot be blacked out for ever. The Kashmiris are our fellow-citizens. If the world’s interest in the Indian Market has silenced international protests for a while, a day will come when global opinion will hold the present Indian leaders accountable for silencing millions of their fellow-citizens for too a long time. The moral stature of India is being eroded day by day.

Negative consequences are felt in other parts of the country too. When some Meghalaya MLAs expressed their anxiety about the possibility of something similar happening to their State, they spoke of “wounds of the repeal of Article 370”; they realized that the “rights of a State and its people can be crushed overnight without the consent of the State legislature.” Feebler tribal communities are trembling for their land. Minorities have gone mum. What do you choose? Hindu Rashtra or ‘Secular’ India?

Sitaram Yechury was forthright in his criticism of the situation in Kashmir, “Kashmir has the highest concentration of armed military anywhere in the world….This is part of the RSS plan to convert ‘secular’ democratic India into a Hindu Rashtra.” Ghulam Nabi Azad has been growing more anxious. He says, the country is “not a democracy anymore.” Control of media “are signs of dictatorship and autocracy.”   If mighty China re-thought her Hong Kong plans and gave the green light to Carrie Lam to withdraw the Extradition Law after prolonged protests, how is it possible that our leaders can be unperceptive of the immeasurable damage to India’s prestige for their mishandling of the Kashmir issue? Modiji, on assumption of office, had promised he would value the views of his opponents, earn the Minorities’ vishwas. Has he tried? Will he? Will he listen to others’ point of view on Kashmir?

Ashutosh reveals a forgotten detail of Jammu’s history that may provide a background to people’s pain. He says, that in 1947 October “approximately two lakh Muslim citizens were killed in the Jammu area.” It is alleged that Raja Hari Singh and his Hindu supporter had collaborated. Thus, Muslim proportion in Jammu came down from 61% to 34% (Ibid 92). Memories do linger. Pankaj Sharma and Popimoni Sharma wonder whether India has pushed Kashmir to a point of no return, without any chance of reconciliation?

There is hope. A Pakistani scientist, Namira Salim cried when he observed Chandrayaan-2, “All political boundaries dissolve in space.” That was a “secular” voice. We fondly wish that a message like this comes from Chandrayaan-2 “Long live ‘secular’ India!”

(Published on 23rd September 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 39)