By Kshitij Dhyani:
Since the beginning of the entire national level debate on intolerance, the recent case of Aamir Khan (and following events) come out as the most shocking one. It is so not just because of the animosity in retaliation from Sangh-BJP camp, but because quite ironically they are willing to go to any extent of verbal and physical violence to prove those people wrong, who think India is turning intolerant. Even the tolerance march organized by Anupam Kher was marred by the incidents of violence and intolerance. Now I don’t wish to talk of any pre-2014 golden age (or ever in history) of Indian culture of harmony and universal brotherhood, because it never existed. However under the current regime, the issue of intolerance has not only become the elephant in the room but one which if you try to point at, you will be forced to accept its absence of through aggressive political ganging. With the Aamir Khan issue, our political orientation and affiliation have finally reached a level where they supersede the influence of pop culture icons, without attaining the intellectual maturity such a position demands. Due to the nature of this debacle, I am forced to see this as a case of cognitive bias based mass hysteria, as opposed to second political awakening of India since the Quit India Movement, a la Achhe Din.
To understand the psychology of current Indian populace, we need to put things in the context of the great political-ideological shift the nation went through between 2002 and 2014, leading to the victory of BJP under current PM Narendra Modi (who commands a cult of personality). We must also take into account the polarization that was engineered around it by certain politicians, think tanks, corporate, and media houses, and the amount of money thrown into it. It is difficult to pin down the responsibility of this shift on any one party, group or person, since the history of communal divide in the Indian subcontinent has been perennial, and of consistently violent and aggressive nature; only to be broken by brief periods of harmony. The current public shock and concern, hence originates from viewing this cultural shift as a watershed event. A major section of political-social thinkers today see it as an end of the era where influences of seminal Indian political leaders like Nehru, Maulana Azad and Tagore, working and writing during the Raj to generate national communal harmony (which was much needed to generate a political movement to overthrow the British colonial rule), has died in public consciousness. The air of uncertainty borne out of this cultural-political shift as well as the daily influx of inflammatory statements from Sangh-BJP leaders, though much loved and cheered by their voters, is at the root of the fears being expressed around even otherwise rather banal exercises like renaming a city or a road.
I would like to begin with the event we know today as the “Partition of India”, into two (and later three) nations in 1947. It is important that the event is still viewed and talked about as a partition, as against political unification and integration of numerous princely states, British provinces, states and union territories which constituted the British Raj with varying amount of autonomy, into two different nations. A quick study of historical maps and literature may reveal that India, for most of its history was referred to as a subcontinent, the way Europe is referred to till date, over a political entity that we like to believe. The partition that really happened, was majorly of Bengal and Punjab, and had happened earlier under British Raj too. To think that any semblance of what we today recognize at a political-geographical level as India existed before 1947, outside of the ambitions of contemporary thinkers and leaders, is a figment of imagination. This imagination today can only be used to either fuel the pains in the hearts of those who were dislocated during the unfortunate series of events, or massage the egos of those muscle flexing Hindutva-wadis who still harbor wet dreams of an Akhand Bharatha. This kind of a narrative builds in the hearts of an average Indian, a sense of victimization and vengefulness, and an attitude of us vs them.
Amidst of all this, the Sangh is trying to create the identity of an ideal citizen of a minority community, and if you are waiting for any surprises, I am afraid it is of one who lives by their trademark “Hindutva” way of life. Only other options provided are to either flee India for another nation (need more surprises? Well it’s Pakistan), live as a second class citizen in the ghetto of your community, or face the wrath of the majority. Examples provided for an ideal minority community member are of relatively socio-economically privileged minority sections like Sikhs, Parsees, Jains etc. because they are not the ones who have the social, financial need to take away anything from the privileges of a common middle-class Hindu Brahmin Male. However, it must be duly noted, that Sangh ideology and its affiliates are in no way tolerant of the members of these minority groups either. It is just that historically the Sangh has always decided to choose blinkers to focus their wrath on Muslims, even in the times when our common oppressors were the British.
It may also be noted, that there is a clear difference in the workings of post-2002 and post-2014 Modi. Though quite like the former, the latter allows his leaders to make inflammatory remarks while himself walking around in the robes of a universalist-Hindutva-wadi; the latter is more benevolent, politically correct, and inclusive in his public addresses towards minorities and other underprivileged sections of the society. The new Modi has learned that immediate subjugation of minorities is not possible, and hence he needs to pacify them for a bit longer, while allowing his own party members along with others from Sangh to systematically push them to invisibility from the national political discourse, through a clever use of threat and self-victimization.
To witness the Sangh ideology in practice, there is no better example than renaming of Aurangzeb Road in Lutyen’s Delhi, to Dr. APJ Kalam Azad Marg. The two identities played against each other are a direct representative of the aspirations of Sangh from Muslims, and completely disconnected with the kind of aspirations Muslims may have from themselves, individually or as a community. Now to be fair, both of them were fairly accomplished personalities, but with due respect to his career, Dr. Kalam embodied that ideal minority member that Sangh propagates the idea of. A Hindu deity worshipping (hence not perfectly Muslim), unmarried (hence not contributive to population growth), nuclear scientist (thus nationalist), Sangh admirer (he was the President during Vajpayee government); is a direct contrast to what Aurangzeb represented.
Even the idea of Aurangzeb is a challenge to the status quo that Sangh wishes to establish in the sub-continent, for he is a Muslim who stood victorious against numerous Hindu (and to be fair, some Muslim) kings of his time. The politics is thus not merely of naming a road, but of identity. Hence it comes as no surprise that the re-naming happened in such an opportune moment, i.e- right after the demise of Dr. Kalam, when the populace was most emotionally charged; tide of which Kejriwal unwittingly tried to ride.
This incident resonates of exactly the kind of fear that the secular and liberal ideologues of the nation spoke of while commenting on the Aamir Khan issue. A successful Muslim man with an opinion that does not match with the group in demographic majority and political authority, and who is not afraid to voice it, is seen as a direct challenge to the status quo Sangh wants to maintain in the country. Aamir not only represents the aspirations of each Indian through his monetary and social success, but through his prominent presence in the popular culture, is also a proof for millions of Muslims that they can achieve his status in this country despite belonging to a minority section. By attacking him, we are diminishing this ray of hope, and evoking threat and anxiety among Indian Muslims, exactly what Jinnah spoke of. Hence, it can’t be emphasized more, that if there is one “cause” that Sangh has done the most to prove right, is that of the person who divided this nation in their own opinion. Why then is it wrong to say that current regime is standing on the feet of sectarianism, acting as a direct hindrance to the aspirations of a common Indian Muslim?
I would like to end by emphasizing that in our democratic constitutional framework, there is no space for a government that does not represent the aspirations of each and every Indian, and BJP falls short of that by a large ideological distance.
Featured image source: Reuters
The politics of identity is not new to India, read Aurangzeb To APJ Abdul Kalam: What Does The Renaming Of A City Or Road Truly Represent?