A challenge to secularism-By Kuldip Nayar

THE two states which I have visited in the last few days are Kerala and Gujarat. They are hundreds of miles apart, but I saw something common between them. Kerala in the south is left of centre and Gujarat in western India is right of centre.
Both are headed by persons who are ideologically fundamentalists. Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan is committed to communism which has Stalin as its hero. Gujarat is headed by Narendra Modi, a fundamentalist in Hindutva drawing inspiration from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Mahatma Gandhi, who won us independence, does not figure in the ideology of both. Nor does his picture hang in the politburos of the two. At the Communist Party headquarters in Kolkata, you can see the pictures of Marx and Engels. At the RSS headquarters at Nagpur, photos of Shivaji and Maharana Pratap Singh are on display. Even when I have inquired about the reason for the absence of Gandhi’s portrait, they have simply shrugged their shoulders as if he does not fit into their scheme of things.

What l found most disturbing was the incipient Islamic fundamentalism beginning to creep into Kerala. Some 40 years ago, Gujarat had its first Hindu-Muslim riot. From then onwards, Hindutva forces have constantly pushed their way in by using weapons such as propaganda and at times through communal riots to be where they are. They have more or less achieved their objective as the Gujaratis themselves do not distinguish between Hindutva and Indian nationalism.

The disturbing trend in Kerala can still be stopped by liberal Muslim leaders. Instead, money is sought from abroad to finance fundamentalists to help them buy the best properties at key places. The Left is unhappy. They are the ones fighting against fundamentalists, the BJP hardly figures anywhere.

What I am expressing my horror at is the manner in which Gujarat has undergone a change. It was a secular society before the communal riots in 1969. Today, it is the stronghold of Hindutva. I am concerned that Kerala may also go the Gujarat way and become home for Muslim fundamentalists. The recent Deoband fatwa against terrorism has made the entire Indian Muslim community think.

However, the terrorists have brought back the vocabulary as if they are fighting against ‘idol worshippers.’ The Indian Muslims have preferred to stay away from the debate which the terrorists are trying to degenerate into an anti-Hindu campaign. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had said that fundamentalism among minorities could be curbed. But if the majority community were to take to fundamentalism, the country would go fascist.

India has, by and large, followed his principles of secularism. But where probably the nation has failed is in Gujarat, which is behaving as if pluralism does not suit the genius of India. In this kind of atmosphere, institutions adjust themselves to the wishes of the master. I saw the fear of Modi all around. He has been taunting the centre to take action against him for the Gujarat carnage. The centre has been found too timid to do so. Now he is blessing action against writers who point out that things have not returned to normality and that the state remains divided on communal lines.

For example, political psychologist Ashish Nandy wrote early this year that “Gujarati Muslims too are ‘adjusting’ to their new station. Denied justice and proper compensation, and as second class citizens in their home state, they have to depend on voluntary efforts and donor agencies. The state’s refusal to supply relief has been partly met by voluntary groups having fundamentalist sympathies…” I experienced this when I was at Ahmedabad earlier this week.

What Nandy has stated is the truth without any embellishment or exaggeration. Things are in fact worse. This is a blatant attack on freedom of expression. How can a free press, an integral part of a democratic society, exist if Modi is so touchy about even the mention of the riots in which 2,000 Muslims were killed? I am encouraged to see that some 170 intellectuals, including academics, writers, film makers, journalists and activists, from all over the world have issued a joint statement condemning the anti-democratic forces “that claim to speak on behalf of Hindu values sometimes and patriotism at other times, especially in Gujarat, but who have little understanding of either”.

The ball is now in the court of the Gujarati middle class, whether living in the UK, the USA or in India itself. They must speak out because it is their name that is being dragged through the mud and it is they who are being blamed for changing their values to chauvinism and narrow-minded obscurantism. At the same time, they should ensure the rehabilitation of Muslims who were ousted from their villages and were not being allowed to return. I met many who want to go back to their homes and who are willing to forget and forgive if given a chance to restart their lives.

Modi’s party, the BJP, is busy devising strategies for the next general election and coining slogans for electioneering. Probably, the Gujarat example goes down well in some Hindi-speaking states. It’s a pity that the BJP has no compassion when it comes to the Muslims. But I don’t expect even a modicum of rethinking from a party which has dreams of establishing a Hindu rashtra and anointing Modi as prime minister after L.K. Advani.

I recall the example of Bhindranwale, a Sikh fundamentalist, in Punjab. He could have been dealt with otherwise and the marching of forces into the Golden Temple was not justified. After all, the place is the Sikhs’ Vatican. At that time the Sikh community should have asserted itself and blocked Bhindranwale from occupying the space which belonged to the nation.

New Delhi’s failure to take on communal forces has created an atmosphere in Gujarat where even a person like Nandy cannot highlight the truth. Mind you, it has taken 40 years for Gujarat to be what it is today, a purely Hindutva haven. This may happen in Kerala and Islamic fundamentalists may clone Gujarat. New Delhi has so far stood helpless in the case of Gujarat. That is to be deplored. Would the centre remain inactive in Kerala and other parts where extremists use Modi as their role model to propagate communalism?

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.

Source: Daily Dawn, 27/6/2008

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