I actually did, I exploded four of them. And I don’t care if doing so proves BJP supremo Amit Shah right in warning Bihari voters that if his party lost state assembly elections there, celebratory firecrackers will be set off in Pakistan.
The BJP did lose those elections. Badly. And, I, for one, am celebrating it.
Here are my reasons for each of the small celebratory bursts I had in my courtyard:
The rise of the religious right in India vindicates the Pakistani right’s narrative of our history.
From primary school textbooks to the daily dose of local media, we have been told countless times that it was the overbearing, intolerant and narrow-minded Hindus which made it impossible for the Muslims to live peacefully with them. These ‘storytellers’ have bent over backwards to dig out one ‘historical evidence’ after the other in their support.
Then came the Modi baghats and made life easier for them as now, all they need is a copy of a daily newspaper. If you still harbour any doubts, they would be willing to also share a convincing video clip from social media which shows how terribly India is treating its Muslims.
Who did what and why in the past? If this was only an academic question, one could simply move on. But, we are hostages to our history. In subtle and not so subtle ways, it shapes our present political selves.
The rightist stranglehold on both sides of the border brings forth the worst of us; downright venomous, intolerant and violent. And our worse selves stand to gain from each. They pump up and inflate each other as one party’s weakness is considered the other’s strength.
This has us stuck deep in a perpetuating and vicious ‘jinx of history’. This jinx must be broken to give a peaceful future a chance. And I do believe it will break, one crack at a time. Bihar is one such crack.
Here goes my first firecracker. BLAM!
The myopia instilled by rightists does not only make the common Indian and Pakistani suffer in their own contexts, it also hinders our coexistence as two countries.
Whatever the history, Pakistan and India are now two independent, sovereign countries and above all, we are neighbours. In this age of integrated economies, neither of the two can make substantial progress without having at least decent working relations with the other. Like it or not, such is the determinism of our times.
So, what bars us from holding our hand out to the other?
Simple. The internal politics on both sides has invested heavily in jingoistic nationalism, primarily based on notions of religious identities. It has accumulated great political capital that is cashed by the parties at the electoral booths and the media counters.
BJP has made it worse by equating Indian Muslims with Pakistan.
The governments formed by these parties or the ones vested in the same ideology do not afford to betray their mandates and decide to ‘sleep with the enemy’ even though they acknowledge its economic growth potential.
That’s the sole reason why attempts at thawing our relations have turned back from the brink so many times in the past.
Unless the jingoistic religious nationalism snaps and is deprived of its authority to propel a party to power, or help it cling on, there is no way the two countries could live as tolerant neighbours. Bihar has loudly refused to be stirred up by that narrow nationalism.
So, I light a match for my second firecracker. POW!
When the viciousness associated with religious nationalism holds sway over society, it hits the believers in ‘other’ religions first and the hardest.
It is always the ‘other’ religion that bears the brunt of patriotism and piety of believers of the mainstream religion.
The ‘non-believers’ in the state become aliens in their homes, foreigners in their countries and infidels in their places of worship. They are encircled by mobs with stones and these mobs travel with them everywhere they go.
Buddhist monks in Myanmar justified their persecution of Rohingya Muslims as Taliban desecrated statues of Buddha in Afghanistan. The Hindutva brigade in India says it is merely righting the wrongs done to Hindus by Aurangzeb. Mian Mitthu, the notorious pir-politician abettor of forced conversions of Hindu girls in Pakistan, believes that he is merely rendering meritorious services to Islam and Pakistan.
Our people do not deserve to live, and die, of each other’s miseries.
The voters in Bihar not only rejected Hindutva politics, they also dumped All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen that has lately risen in India to cash in on Muslim insecurities. It’s heartening to note that the Biharis didn’t budge in the face of a double-edged attempt at their ‘otherisation’ – one side trying to frighten them into submission and the other trying to capitalise over the same fear.
That’s the way forward for all the communities that have been turned into ‘minorities’ by the politics of religion in South Asia.
This firecracker is for celebrating the feat of these very communities. BOOM!
The BJP did not usurp power. It rose through a legitimate electoral process. At best, a critic can say they were cunning enough to have manipulated the weaknesses of the system in their favour.
But, that does not tantamount to being non-democratic. Don’t they then reflect the will of the people? That shakes one's belief in democracy as a progressive political process.
BJP’s victory last year was a popular verdict. It was dyed in saffron but it wasn’t all about cows, pujas or whether or not Tipu Sultan was a tyrant.
Is it then this easy for the democratically-elected to betray their mandate? Are mandates carte blanche and the winners free to do as they please? Is there no course-correction possible once the mandate is awarded?
Bihar tells us that if democracy can hurt itself, it has self-healing powers too. It is not only the king-maker; it is a king-slayer too. So, have faith in democracy.
So here is my fourth firecracker. Won’t you help me light it?