Sunday, April 6, 2014

India- Hindu or Secular?

Obviously none of the above, since (a) Hindus are not one united volk governed by a Pope and a scripture and (b) Secular is a meaningless word used to play off one community vs. another (to the detriment of all concerned). Adding to the general harm is the blast of a blasphemy law. There is no point in requesting the powers that be to remove religion from the public square because that would prevent politicians from grandstanding in their desire to seek votes.

As the D-day approaches the world is sitting up and finally noticing that there will be an election of enormous consequence in India.

It is billed as the biggest election on Earth. In the world’s largest democracy, an electorate of 815 million will troop up to 930,000 polling stations in 28 states in nine phases over five weeks, starting Monday and ending May 12. If vote counting goes as swiftly and accurately as has been the norm in India, results will be announced May 16. Then would begin the real tamasha (show, entertainment, drama) over who would form the next government.

Polls show the centrist Congress government would be wiped out. During a recent trip to India, I found no party stalwart who doubted that prospect, so palpably angry is the public at Congress misrule that has been marked by corruption, dynastic rule (under the Gandhi family), government gridlock and stalled economic growth coupled with nearly 9 per cent inflation.

The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is widely expected to win. Yet its leader, Narendra Modi, is no shoo-in as the next prime minister for both prosaic and profound reasons, the latter relating to the identity of India: is it a secular nation of 1.3 billion with Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and other minorities totalling as many 200 million, or a Hindu nation with a Hindu ethos that the minorities must acquiesce to and assimilate in, as Modi’s most fervour supporters believe?

That is the real story of this election. What makes it particularly Indian and deeply democratic is that the most passionate defenders of secularism against Hindu communal forces are many Hindus themselves.

No party has won a majority since 1986. Smaller parties routinely scoop up about a third of the vote and a third of the seats, an apt reflection of the steady rise of regionalism. The best projected scenario for the BJP is for 213 seats in the 543-member lower house of parliament. That would necessitate enticing or outright bribing 59 others to get to the needed 272 seats to form a coalition government.

There is no strong third party to forge an arrangement with. This may change with the rise of the populist Aam Admi (common man) Party, “the Tea Party of the left,” with its campaign against corruption and culture of entitlement. But it has already said it won’t partner with BJP. Several regional parties would come with about 20 seats or less, each wanting to exact its price. But even some of those ready to back a BJP government may not back Modi as leader of India, so polarizing a figure he has been.

Whereas the party has held office before (1998-2004), its prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was a moderate who was expected to and did keep the BJP zealots in check. But Modi is seen as hopelessly divisive.

He is chief minister of the western state of Gujarat where under his watch there was a communal conflagration in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people were shot, hacked or burnt to death, an overwhelming majority of them Muslims.

For secular Indians, that stain cannot be washed away by his explanations — he had nothing to do with it; several inquiries were not able to pin any blame on him directly; there have been no more sectarian riots since; the Muslims of Gujarat have benefitted from the unquestionable economic boom that he has brought by attracting Indian and foreign businesses.

His critics, however, note that one of his caucus members was jailed for 28 years for being what the court called “a kingpin” in the murder of 97 people. The federal inquiry that did not find sufficient evidence to charge him did not exactly exonerate him for his criminal negligence and moral culpability in failing to stop the days-long riots, in which state police and civilian authorities were accused of complicity.

Modi has refused to recant. His supporters argue he has nothing to apologize for. He once refused a Muslim kufi cap offered him at a public meeting, whereas he routinely dons various regional headgears for photo ops. He continues to cater to Hindu chauvinism. He has chosen a federal riding not in his home state but rather in the Hindu holy city of Benares. He repeats the BJP mantra of doing away with all the “special deals” for the disputed (Muslim) state of Kashmir on the Pakistan border, constitutional and other commitments given for historical and strategic reasons. He says Muslim terrorism suspects should be prosecuted, not mollycoddled (reacting to a federal minister who said that long detentions without charge should be looked at).

“Modi represents everything that’s evil in Hinduism,” says Mani Shankar Aiyar, former Congress minister, a Hindu who calls himself a secular fundamentalist. Echoing Indian secularists, he told me: “India is not, cannot be, Hindu India. It is a constitutionally secular nation, with a long history of a composite culture.”

The real drama of the election would unfold after the election, he said. “I am selling tickets on my veranda to see the parade of politicians who’ll be horse trading — and battling with their conscience.”


1 comment:

  1. "Obviously none of the above, since (a) Hindus are not one united volk governed by a Pope and a scripture" So.... you've established that Hindus are not Catholics? Genius Sid, genius!