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Modi's ascendancy: What it means for India

Modi
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Politics in India may not be the same again. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has changed the agenda. It has introduced pure communalism in place of...

Politics in India may not be the same again. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has changed the agenda. It has introduced pure communalism in place of soft Hindutva that prevailed so far. By appointing hardliner Narendra Modi, Gujarat Chief Minister, the panel chief for the 2014 parliamentary elections, the party has dropped every bit of ambiguity over secularism. It is stark Hinduism for all to see.

Apparently, the old leadership resisted the decision. LK Advani had even submitted his resignation from all the posts he held in the party. Yet the irresponsible younger cadre was in no mood to accommodate the sober point of view. For them, a sharper communal politics was the minimum.

Advani had reportedly warned behind the walls that Modi was not a proper person for India. The atmosphere may become bitterer when the BJP propagates the Hindu Rashtra openly. True, the concept goes against the very grain of the Constitution which wanted the country to be a secular democratic republic. But the BJP has found no benefit from it. In the future, the very word, secularism, will come under different interpretations. Parties, however parochial in outlook, will claim to be secular. Therefore, Modi's acceptance speech was understandably vehement against the Congress, the largest political party which has come to be associated with secularism. He wants the party to disappear from the scene so that there is no confusion between the BJP, a Hindu outfit, and the Congress, with secular credentials.

This may or may not happen but the BJP has embarked upon the task of wiping the slate clean with no mention of secularism whatsoever. Since Independence, even long before it, the freedom struggle was based on the idea of an independent India which would know no difference on the basis of community or caste.

The leaders immersed in that struggle agreed to India's partition but not to the thesis that religion could be mixed with politics. Secularism is thus the cornerstone of the structure that India has tried to raise after Partition. It has not been an ideal effort. Yet it has kept the country together, with no recurring example of communal divide.

In the process, the nation has also come to recognize the distance between the communal forces and the secular elements. It has resulted into a healthy development: secular political parties have generally kept away from the BJP to stall its installation at the Centre. The induction of Modi may not defeat the process. But it will definitely confuse Hindus who, leave some apart, are animated with cosmopolitan thoughts. They stopped the BJP winning in the last two parliamentary elections because when the time for casting of votes came, they put their weight behind the liberal forces which had kept the country more or less midway, neither Left nor Right. The danger of its going right has increased now.

The RSS, which has initiated and supported Modi, sees in him someone nearer to its ideology of Hindutva and anti-Muslim stand. Real Modi was, however, exposed when he blessed the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat a decade ago. Not a word of regret even after years only underlines his anti-Muslim thinking. How can India have a person like him as the Prime Minister?

The repercussions of such a person at the helm of the BJP, not possessing even a semblance of liberalism, can be dangerous. Obsessed with driving a wedge between Hindus and Muslims, he can vitiate the young mind. Liberalism or idealism already receding to the background, bigotry and extremism will go to allocate what is left of the composite culture.

When I was India's High Commissioner in London, Prime Minister Margret Thatcher asked me the secret of India staying together for centuries. I told her that we did not believe that the country was divided into black and white. We believed that there was a vast grey area. We went on expanding that area. That was our secularism. The idea kept the nation together.

She was reportedly impressed by my explanation and she told this to Soviet President Gorbachev. He sent a delegation to India to study the strength of the grey area, secularism. Modi will make black further bleak and shut every opening for the grey area to expand. In the last few decades, the BJP has purveyed the impression that it is looking for a space that will give it an image of being right of Right, that of pro-Hindu but not of extremist. Modi will stop such an ideology developing. It will be saffron all the way.

The BJP has foolishly come to realize that it would have to sharpen difference with Muslims to look different. It believes that if there is any time to play the Hindu card, it is now. This is a wrong thinking, leaving no space for even small gestures for conciliation. Advani's presence evokes hope.The greatest benefit of Modi's importance will be to the Congress. Not that it is intrinsically secular but it has the reputation of being so. The Muslim electorate, nearly 15 per cent, will move towards the Congress and adversely affect large parties like Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi party, which has a large Muslim following in UP.

The party's image is also secular. The Congress will gain because the next election is not that to State Assembly but to Parliament. Muslims know the importance. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the BJP's allies, may still part company with the party. The real loss is that of the Indian nation. At a time when it looks that the various elements have found their identity within the country, Modi's image of parochialism comes in the open. The idea of India will be jeopardized. It is a pity that the country will be unsettling when it is settling down to an ideology which may not be purely secular but does not disturb people of different faiths to live a life of their own in their own way.

True, the concept goes against the very grain of the Constitution which wanted the country to be a secular democratic republic. But the BJP has found no benefit from it. In the future, the very word, secularism, will come under different interpretations

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