The real threat to India

Published February 26, 2019
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

IT is in the nature of fascism to find a scapegoat for the gross imperfections of capitalism. A BJP supporter in my neighbourhood buttonholed me on the eve of the 2014 elections and asked which candidate would Pakistan want to win.

I said Narendra Modi, and deliberately didn’t say that I.A. Rehman or Mubashir Hasan or the late Asma Jahangir or Sheema Kermani and millions others would prefer a left-of-centre coalition to emerge victorious, while the mullahs and the generals were likely to have an opposite view — a habit that goes back to the anti-left crackdown of Ayub Khan. I calculated it would be too fine a point for an Indian adult with a closed mind to grasp.

The media is sanguine in its ignorance that, as with India, a complex skein of ideas — often mutually hostile ideas and interests — constitutes the polity of Pakistan too.

“Why would Pakistan support Mr Modi?” the neighbour asked. I said neither Pakistan nor China could harm India with their military might as the BJP candidate could do single-handedly by destroying the idea of India. And since the essential idea rested on India’s secular, socialist and democratic constitution —- that has beaten Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders by decades — the only way to wreck India was by destroying the soul of its hugely disparate, intensely beautiful and mostly abused people.

Are the corporate puppeteers, who back Hindu fascism, also prescribing the divisive route that the Congress is taking?

Actually, the cross-border kinship that I discussed with my neighbour has a telling past. Indira Gandhi liked Mujibur Rehman and was fond of Badshah Khan. But she was allergic to Gen Zia. So Zia took his revenge by according Pakistan’s highest civilian award to her rival, Morarji Desai. Claiming to fight for democracy in India, Desai was happy with the military dictatorship in the neighbourhood, and stubbornly turned down appeals to intervene against Bhutto’s hanging.

That was also the context of India’s first right-wing foreign minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan in 1978. Ironically, liberals on both sides celebrate it as a landmark event. Vajpayee’s tour included a warm meeting with Zia, but not a word on the condemned Bhutto. Indira Gandhi went hoarse in her futile effort to save Bhutto.

The late Fahmida Riaz had guessed that Pakistan’s mullahs were Hindutva’s kindred spirits, not its adversaries. The bear hug accorded in Delhi to their patron saint from Saudi Arabia was not misplaced. The dialectics of ideological kinship applies to the tragedy of Pulwama. Whoever has committed the dastardly act has lent the right-wing ruling establishment in India a helping hand in an election season. Does the Indian opposition have the wherewithal or even the will to staunch the widely feared adverse fallout?

In my view, the opposition’s shortsighted disunity is a bigger setback for democracy than any war drums can create. Unlike Pulwama, the Mumbai carnage, the plane hijack, and the parliament attack were acts of terror that callously targeted unsuspecting civilians. Yet terrorism failed to ruffle India’s democratic soul.

Let me say this upfront. I don’t believe the tragedy in Pulwama or its militarist echoes can harm India or defeat the opposition. What can damage democracy irreparably are the shortsighted and self-harming manoeuvres of the Congress party and the communist-led Left Front. Just when they were expected to offer sacrifices to save India, they seem so absorbed in eyeing their own electoral chances that they have seriously weakened opposition unity.

Are the corporate puppeteers, who back Hindu fascism, also prescribing the divisive route that the Congress is taking? Let’s not forget that it was Dalit leader Mayawati’s game-changing move to throw her weight behind her former bitter rival in Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, that first punched gaping cracks in Mr Modi’s invincible veneer. She promoted Akhilesh and didn’t put up her own candidates in critical by-elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The defeat of Modi’s handpicked parliamentary candidates in the BJP’s strongholds of Gorakhpur and Phoolpur was rightly accepted as the way forward for the opposition. The unselfish experiment was repeated in Karnataka where the Congress support enabled a local ally to form the government against the BJP’s bid. That alliance is now living dangerously with reports of petty squabbles between Congress satraps and the regional ally over power-sharing.

Who are the strongest suits for the opposition in the populous states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal? In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress should be helping Mayawati and Akhilesh to trounce Modi, but it is curiously going separately. The Rahul-Priyanka duo may make a novel team, but by going it alone they would cut into the tested combine that could defeat the BJP.

In West Bengal, the Congress was reportedly talking to the communists to weaken Mamata Bannerji, a strong opposition asset. In fact the communists have declared Mamata an enemy at par with the BJP. That and not the fallout from Pulwama should worry democracy-loving Indians.

To make it even more curious for the opposition’s strategy, the Congress has so far refused to join hands with Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi. Kejriwal is reportedly ready to surrender all seven seats in Delhi if that is what it takes to defeat the BJP. Kejriwal had taken a staunchly anti-corporate position. Is the Congress being guided by that? While trying to come together in West Bengal to waylay a fellow opposition leader, the Congress and the Left are fighting each other in Kerala.

We hear that Modi will use Pulwama to win the elections. One can’t see how that should adversely impact on Mayawati or Akhilesh or Lalu whose men died in the Pulwama tragedy. Modi may or may not use the tragedy, but the self-destructive opposition parties will certainly need it to explain their defeat, should they miss a great opportunity to defeat fascism. There may not be a second chance.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2019


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