By Sukant Khurana:
The far from perfect union of India, as it stands today, makes for an ideal playground to conduct divide and rule politics. This kind of politics comes from the conflict-ridden history of South Asia. In 1947, the far right communal Hindu and Muslim ideologies, combined with the weakness and eagerness of Congress to come to power, allowed for the wine-guzzling and pork-eating Anglophile Jinnah to carve a nation out of British India, all in the name of Islam. The fault lines of that bloody partition are still disturbingly active on both sides of the artificial divide, aÂ lack of loyalty to a united Indian subcontinent but one’s ethnicity is even older than the 1947 partition and not limited to any particular religion, so much so that apart from the 1911 partition of Bengal, hardly any other redrawing of boundaries already occupied by the imperialists was ever significantly contested.Â Even the Bengal partition was largely opposed by Bengali upper caste Hindus whose interests were hurt, another small bunch of patriots, and not much by the rest of the country.
The assumption of loyalty based on ethnic categorization has been so pervasive in India that even the supposedly grand unifier, Gandhi, roped in the support for Turkish Khilafat to get fundamentalist Muslims to support his movement, instead of using solely the principled appeal of nationalism during the First World War. This preservation sentiment of the old Ottoman order in a minority of Muslim section was more pervasive in India, than even in Turkey, showing the character of sickly higher loyalty to an imaginary foreign structure more than one’s own motherland. It is not something unique to any religion or ethnic group. One does not have to look far to see the damage done by the Sanghis and Khalistanis to our Matre Vatan, Hindustan. Petty ethnic loyalties and nostalgia of a bygone somewhat imaginary past is something that is endemic to India. We know all about mythologies, but not so much about history. When it came to tossing the fate of Pathans, Gandhi assumed that the nationalist Khudai Khidmatgars (commonly known as the Red Shirts) of Ghaffar Khan would have no problem in Jinnah’s Pakistan due their religious bearing. This pandering and ‘throwing under the bus’ of individuals based on their ethnic division was not limited to the apathetic treatment of Muslims alone – it is an Indian curse, not limited to one particular religious group or sect.
If I were to document the long list, it will take the time and space of a complete novella. Needless to say that acts of men in Khakhi chaddis and separatist mullahs were far worse than Gandhi’s in their gratification, separatism and betrayal. I have used his example to show how even the most sacred cow of Indian politics perpetuated the same negativity as others. The later manifestation of Gandhi’s isms or those cashing-in on his name can easily be seen in the communalism of Congress in caste, religion and regional politics.
The treatment of individuals on the basis of their ethnic community and not on their belonging to the same country is a sin which hardly anyone in Indian history is exempt from, including the so called secular champions of the CPM. Other than the progressive revolutionaries of the likes of Bhagat Singh, who wished to throw religion and other divisive forces in the dustbin of history, their contemporary counterparts have a different agenda in mind. Tracing further back, one can find evidence of divide and rule by Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Sikh rulers alike on narrow ethnic lines, with equal treatment and unity being an exception rather than the rule.
This ethnic split has predominantly not been due to personal conflict, but has been convenient for the suited rulers. The poor have been miserable under all rajyas, whether in the name of Islam, Ram, Congress, BJP or various third fronts. There has never been a Ramrajya for the poor, and if one does give votes in the name of Ram, they are only guaranteed more ethnic schisms leading us to the state of a Hindu version of Pakistan.
Ethnic divisions have always been convenient tools for rulers to divert attention away from real social and economic injustices, class differences, and to create loyalists amongst the subjugated strata — the aam admi. In a nation with a long notion (not a real memory) of history and still longer and stronger attachment to mythologies and taboo on intermarriages among other things, creating ethnic divisions is not a tough task. Unfortunately, even after independence, the spirit of unity is still far from mature and it faces frequent attacks from politicians. Compared to the artificially carved out Pakistan, which can only hold off weak external explosive breakup attempts by dangling its tiny nuclear wily but fails to show much natural immunity to its internal ethnic implosions, India has fared a lot better in dealing with its internal strife. The relative saving grace for the democratic India, despite its fair share of ethnic conflicts, is its secular and multicultural character.
In the post-colonial era, the secular and diverse character of India has been under siege from religious fundamentalists, casteists, son of soil fanatics, and language-based regionalists. This attack gains more intensity during every election cycle. Members of ethnic groups, who buy into this hate politics, feel that some other group is to blame for their ills. Such misguided masses think that if the other group(s) vanish or are put in their place, everything would be all right.
When the inheritors of India, historically one of the richest civilizations on earth – a land with immense potential, see their children languishing, they need reasons for their ill fate. When people fail to find real reasons, they then settle for imaginary ones. It is easy for poor to be misled but it is not just the poor who fall for this divisive politics. When the middle class looks at the spectacular flight of the Chinese Dragon, they wonder if the Indian elephant is merely asleep or dead. They wonder if it will fly one day. Finding scapegoats is not difficult in such a situation. Divisive politics is not limited to religion but to caste, region, language and anything that can set aside two ideologically different people.
Stop! Have I told you anything you did not know? If you are from India and have not been hiding in a cave then you are most likely to have been well versed with the ground reality. So instead of belaboring on the Indian disunity further, let me get straight to my question and then make a humble suggestion.
In this election cycle who would your fear vote be for? If you are a Hindu blaming Muslims for ills of India, would you run to Modi? Or if you are a Muslim afraid of specter of Moditva, would you run to a corrupt Congress? If you are Tamil, would you vote for Tamil language centric parties that cannot see agenda beyond Tamilnadu? If you are a Maratha manus despising Biharis taking your job, would you vote for Shiv Sena or an Asamiya hating Bengalis stealing all the opportunity, would you vote AGP? Who will get your fear vote this time around?
My humble suggestion is to give hope a chance. Â Please do not confuse hope with unquestioned reverence. My hope vote is for AAP. It is not a blind support. In fact, I was ready to stop pinning any hopes on them after they took Congress support to form the Delhi government but I have seen them fight on with courage, honesty and tact that is needed to survive amongst the sold out alligators of Indian politics. They are hardly perfect but for the first time in my life, I see the first step of a thousand mile journey being taken in the right direction. In fact, it is an ecstatic feeling to be back in Delhi after years away from the homeland, at the time of a second Indian freedom struggle. I will walk with AAP until they walk their talk and when they don’t, hopefully this AAP experiment would have changed India enough that there will be better options and not just the specter of BJP, Congress and regional parties to choose from. I urge you to vote for hope and not schisms of petty ethnicity. I hope you give hope a chance, as Indians first and Indians last.