Friday, November 06, 2015

In Response To The Confused Hindu

(A strong and wonderful viewpoint by Deepika Govind on the concerns of an average Hindu in India, is liberally strewn across my FB timeline since a couple of days.)

Given the current public discourse, Deepika has put forward the expectations of a Hindu in clear, fair and logical terms. Leave alone Hindus, all Indians will agree with her, irrespective of their political or ideological leanings. “True Secularism” is the need of the hour; we must evolve into a society that does not treat people differently based on their religion. She decries the ‘Award Wapasi’ brigade at the end, and puts forth some expectations from them. Which, howsoever justified, unfortunately seem like a directionless end to an otherwise poignant commentary.
How do we achieve our goal of a ‘Truly Secular Society”? Who will help us achieve it? Partly its our own responsibility. Driving a change in mindset. However, had this been enough, we wouldn’t go around helplessly pointing fingers at INC for their regressive, unconstitutional-in-spirit, minority appeasement politics. In fact the politics of favoring some religious minorities, even ignoring their communal acts, is probably the second biggest reason why INC is a 0-45 party today (corruption being the first). So, it only makes sense to say that the Govt and the ruling party of the country will play a strong and leading role in achieving “True Secularism”. The massive mandate to BJP was also a mandate for the hope that BJP will herald this era of ‘Truly Secular’ ideology, and steer away from politics of appeasement.
One wonders though; Is an end to ‘appeasement politics’ all that there is to being ‘truly secular’? Is there more? If yes, then has it happened? Is it being done? What actions does it require on behalf of the Govt?
For a moment, lets assume that all of award wapasi is ‘manufactured dissent’. What do we expect the Govt to do? Convince the ‘Award Returnees’ to stop, or shut them up, or prove that they are mistaken? Ignore them? [add any other solution that neutralises the ill-effects of award wapasi propaganda on the Govt’s image, because thats what the Govt seems to be most worried about] Fine. But then what? Will we have moved even one step towards achieving our goal? Do we see any concrete actionable coming out of this debate at all?
In this light, ‘Award wapasi’ begins to feel like a dwarf of an incident in the larger quest of ‘true secularism’. And there are a series of many such incidents which get undue weightage in media, only because people in media are people like you and me. They tend to digress, and focus only on whats top of mind. We need to start realising one thing - we pay the Govt our hard earned money to manage the country, and improve our lives. If at all there is anyone accountable to us, its the Govt. So, instead of questioning the motives of some fellow citizens, which may or may not lead to actionable points, may be we should ask some tough questions to the Govt. Here are a few that I would like to ask in the current context of secularism -

  1. Does the govt believe that pseudo-secularims is a problem, and a cause of social unrest in our country?
  2. Have the Govt leaders led by example, through speech and actions, that exude ‘truly secular’ attitude, so that the society can learn from it?
  3. Has the govt taken any concrete measures to bring in legislation or constitutional amendments that lead to equality across religions (rather, irrespective of religious inclinations)?
  4. Most of the points mentioned by Deepika fall under the purview of a Uniform Civil Code. BJP has been talking about it since forever. Has the Govt taken any action on it? Is there any draft law under process? Apart from Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill and Citizenship Amendment Bill, has the Home Ministry worked on any piece of legislation in the past 1.5 years. Why not? (Its interesting to note that in its 2014 Manifesto, BJP has limited its definition of UCC to gender equality and protecting rights of women. Absurd? Intentional? Either way, are they still morally obligated to implement UCC in this 5 year term? You decide.)
  5. Its understandable that the Govt could be worried/sensitive about the extremely wide ramifications of a Uniform Civil Code. In that case, should they at least bring a bill that will prohibit anyone from using religion as an eligibility criteria in any educational, professional or other institution?
  6. Haj Subsidies are provided by the centre . Many states provide subsidies on Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, Jerusalem visits, and to Christians as well. Due to a Supreme Court order, PMO ‘initiated’ action in January 2015 to stop all religious subsidies (ideally Home Ministry should have initiated it). Has there been any movement on it at all? Shouldn’t the govt be doing more than paperwork follow-up towards achieving the dream of a ‘Truly Secular’ India?
  7. While above questions have to do with Govt inaction, theres another set of questions pertaining to alleged counter-productive actions by the Govt. Unfortunately, this is where we see the ruling party and the Govt being visibly active. While a hoard of Govt MPs (Yogi Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyothi, Mahesh Sharma, Sanjeev Balyan etc) have publicly made insensitive and communal statements, I’d like to put out 3 examples which should be the cause of maximum concern since they are coming from top 3 leaders of our nation -
    1. BJP President Amit Shah: In a rally in bihar, he said “agar Bihar mein BJP haaregi toh patakhe pakistan mein phootenge!”. In a country where public discourse equates ‘Muslim’ with ‘Pakistan’, will such a comment aid or harm the idea of “True Secularism”?
    2. Home Minister Rajnath Singh: His comment on “Love Jihad”, a campaign initiated by Bajrang Dal in Kerala, and included by UP BJP in its manifesto last year, was startling. Rajnath Singh feigned ignorance about what Love Jihad means (and the room filled with laughter). Can a Home Minister have an ostrich like approach to what was clearly a law & order problem in the country at that point? Will such comments, that can easily be seen as covert support to Hindu Extremists, aid or harm the idea of “True Secularism”?
    3. PM Modi in Bihar : “Dharm ke aadhar par aarakshan nahin dena chahiye. Bihar ke daliton, maha-daliton, pichadon aur ati-pichadon ko aaj main vishwas dilata hoon, ki aap mein se ratti bhar aarakshan agar koi cheenane ki koshish karega, aur kisi aur sampraday ke naam par de kar vote bank ki rajniti karne ki koshish karega, toh modi aapke aarakshan ki suraksha ke liye, apni jaan ki baazi laga dega!”. Now the context:
      1. There is no plan by the Bihar govt to give any reservation based only on religion, so why did the PM raise this point? Twice. Isn’t this another form of reverse appeasement? Is he ushering in “true secularism” through such comments?
      2. There is a constitutional debate around, whether only a Hindu backward class is a scheduled caste, or should the definition include all backward castes irrespective of religion. Surprisingly, the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 pertaining to Article 341 has been providing religion-based reservations for more than 60 years now (it states - “No person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, the Sikh or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.”). Shouldn’t the govt work towards abolishing ALL laws that provide reservation based on religion, rather than proclaiming its dedication unto death for the backward class of one religion, thus inadvertantly ignoring the backward classes of other religions? 
      3. Shouldn’t all economically weaker and backward people (irrespective of religion) get Govt support, based on merit if need be? Isn’t that what a truly secular social fabric is supposed to be all about? By giving into the demands of Vote bank politics, isn’t the Govt itself playing to the gallery ironically created by the Congress.
We all sense that the environment is getting a little murky. Else this debate would not be happening. The question is, should the Govt be coming across as someone overtly or covertly encouraging it, or should they clearly be seen to be calming the atmosphere through sensible and strategic clearing of media cobwebs? Why should the PM & BJP President even risk using a language in state elections, that can be interpreted as an attempt to milk the secular vs communal debate? 
The final point in this debate is around Hindu extremism. Justified by many as a response to appeasement politics. We would be pulling wool over our own heads if we denied its existence. I won’t get into proving it. What I’d like to say is that the likes of Sanatan Sanstha, Bajrang Dal, VHP, Durga Vahini and other such Sangh parivar sub-units are only making it tougher for us to achieve true secularism. They are doing a disservice to the average Indian Hindu. It comes close to the disservice done by Congress policies.
While I realise I might have been a little harsh on the Govt, I believe that its a democratic necessity. The Govt is the most accountable entity in this debate. And as I said, we are paying them to manage our money and our country, to give us a better life. The fundamental questions I’d like to ask this Govt are -
  1. Is becoming anti-minority a constructive response to opposing minority appeasement? When do you plan to end all minority appeasement through legislative reforms and legal enforcement? What do you plan to do beyond ending minority appeasement?
  2. What are you doing in terms of legislations to ensure social parity irrespective of religion? Should social reforms, based on progressive legislation, be a higher priority for the Govt; or adept handling of the old school vote bank politics, to ensure the ruling party’s victory in elections?
I have no clue what this government’s response might be to either of the above questions. And that is what is making Hindus like me more tentative, not the Award Wapasi brigade. The govt could be using their massive mandate to bring in constructive legislations that will help do away with differences based on religion or cast and improve the social fabric of the country. I would go as far to say that, what this govt seems to have promoted so far, can best be described as a sense of "Pseudo Hindu Nationalism". It is upto us whether we want to go with this imposed flow, choose to get deeply hurt that our Hindu sentiments have been questioned, or seek a truly secular and Religion Agnostic Governance.

Choice is ours.

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