INDIAN intellectuals claiming to be concerned for Pakistan’s Hindus accosted a Karachi journalist in Delhi recently. How was the minority community coping with the onslaught from Muslim extremists, she was collared frequently by India’s think tanks, which some see as a misnomer for a bevy of self-regarding nationalists. Excuse me, but it is Pakistan’s Muslims who are under attack, the journalist told them.
Pakistan’s Hindus, like its Christians, were a terrified lot and the extremists often targeted them no doubt, the journalist reasoned. Those incidents, however, came mostly as efforts by the zealots to hit soft targets when they were under attack from the security forces.
The terrorists’ main quarry is our mainstream Muslims, including a majority of liberal men and women be they Shia or Sunni — all tenaciously fighting the right-wing upsurge. That’s why they are getting killed. Yes, you could say that the Saudi-style right-wing Islam was originally spawned by the state itself, and there could still be extremist sympathisers lodged deep within our institutions, she confessed.
Since according to her it was Muslims and not Hindus who were the main targets of the extremists, could the journalist explain the periodically reported exodus of asylum-seeking Hindus from Pakistan into India? That’s because you will not allow Muslim asylum seekers from Pakistan into India. The rejoinder had her interlocutors on the mat though they may not have noticed.
An obvious question for India is: how do the country’s mainstream liberal Hindus perceive their own reality vis-à-vis the Hindu right? Are they up for the fight?
The exchange prompted me to ponder the much-dodged but obvious question for India. How do India’s mainstream liberal Hindus perceive their own reality vis-à-vis the Hindu right? Are they up for the fight? They write comforting editorials about the plight of Muslims in Narendra Modi’s India. They never shirk from sharing useful insights about the Sachar Commission findings, for example, which showed up Muslims as being at the bottom of the social heap. This was their lot also under Congress rule.
In economic and social scales, Muslims did not fare better under communist rule either, for example, in West Bengal, according to Justice Rajindar Sachar. I am sorry to have to describe him as one of the liberal Hindus I wish to discuss. It is this or that liberal Hindu after all who will give you a verifiable account of how Indian Christians are under attack in Orissa, or in Gujarat, and now also in Uttar Pradesh where neo-fascist Hindutva gangs have attacked churches as they deepen their hold over the nation’s polity.
Does the middle-of-the road Hindu perceive his own plight too, or does he only feel moved by whatever is happening or may be about to happen with India’s minorities? Let me frame the question frontally. I met Siddharth Varadarajan the other day. He was smoking his cigar ponderously as we discussed the rise of the Hindu right in India. It is common knowledge that Siddharth, an opened-minded secular Brahmin, lost his job as editor of The Hindu because of a reported managerial assessment that he was not giving due space to Narendra Modi as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate.
In other words, Siddharth had to vacate his job directly or indirectly owing to the worldview he had nurtured for himself as an Indian, or, for present purposes, as an Indian Hindu. I use the word Hindu in the sense you would use Muslim to describe I.A. Rehman, Asma Jehangir, Salima Hashmi or Pervez Hoodbhoy who are all facing the extremist heat in Pakistan. It is of course an unfortunate fact of our times that I must see, purely for the purpose of this analysis, widely admired academic icons like Harbans Mukhia, Badri Raina, Prabhat Patnaik, to name just a few among hundreds, as liberal Hindus.
There was a time not too long in the past when these thorough professionals would be seen as leftist or Marxist or simply secular or liberal intellectuals. I watched with horror when a pro-Modi mob in New York tore into Rajdeep Sardesai, another (liberal Hindu) journalist who lost his job for standing up against the Hindutva wave.
Why should Prakash Karat or Sitaram Yechury be left out from the purview of such a characterisation even though the thought of their being seen as Hindu would be revolting to their staunchly atheistic communist party of which they are the main leaders? Do the comrades feel, for instance, that an entire Indian cultural tradition, which comprises 85pc Hindus, is at risk with the rise of Hindutva, not just Muslims or Christians?
Or does their definition of the threat only relate to the overused sentiment about secularism? What might happen to the Muslims or Christians in India is no doubt of serious concern, but doesn’t such a limiting filter bring us close to the German reality of the 1930s when in its pervasive fear for the Jews — who were no doubt faced with a grim threat to their existence — the world almost completely failed to notice how the open-minded and genial German had turned into a helpless spectator before Nazi successes? Some later became reluctant or even conniving admirers of the Nazi regime.
Let me illustrate my worry with reference to a discussion I recently watched on an American TV channel. Journalist Brigitte Gabriel, not known to be the best friend of Muslims, said the fact that a majority of Muslims were peaceful and not radical was irrelevant. There were 1.2 billion Muslims in the world of whom, according to Western intelligence, 15pc to 25pc had become radicals. In other words, 180 million to 300 million dedicated radicals posed a threat to the world order, including Pakistan.
I asked Prakash Karat before the parliamentary election if he saw Hindutva fascism as a threat to Indian democracy. He said the Indian bourgeoisie had alternative avenues to press its agenda without recourse to fascism. For the sake of the majority of Indians to be worried for, let’s hope the comrade is not wide of the mark yet again.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014