Creation myths

Updated December 15, 2019

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The writer is a barrister.
The writer is a barrister.

IT started as a murmur. “Amit Shah’s insinuation, that Muslims shall not and cannot be safe and secure in India, will be widely acclaimed in one country: Pakistan,” wrote Indian historian Ramachandra Guha.

This was some months before Kashmir and Ayodhya, and days before India re-elected Narendra Modi in the largest turnout in its history. But as the Fourth Reich began to take hold, the murmur became a mantra: ‘a Hindutva version of Pakistan’.

With this latest legislation, it rose to fever pitch. For context, India’s citizenship bill is part of a one-two punch: it offers amnesty to non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan; India’s National Register of Citizens will then swoop in on the Muslim illegals left over. Anticipating Hindutva heaven, the lotus boys are already setting up concentration camps all over Assam.

This is important for other reasons. Like anything else, fascism runs on rules. Despite the visuals coming out of New India — lynchings and evil yogis and Shahrukh Khan’s hostage videos — actually setting up a Nazi apparatus takes time. Armed with a second term, Modi is now remaking India’s institutions.

At long last, India cannot externalise its monsters.

But instead of a crisis of the spirit, the Indian response has been to drag in their neighbour. “India has just cast itself in Pakistan’s image,” wrote journalist Barkha Dutt. “It will reduce us to a Hindutva version of Pakistan,” said MP Shashi Tharoor.

It’s almost as if the rumours were true: the Indian left might not be intellectually robust enough to take on the goblins at home.

But amid the deepest denial, this is a worthy coping mechanism. And it flows from a story that Indian pundits never tire telling themselves: long ago, the genius of the people shone through secular heroes like Gandhi and Nehru, while Jinnah and Savarkar were on the fringe — two sides of the same communal coin. But hate won over hope; a combo of Congress complacency, Muslim resentment, and canny chess moves saw Jinnah win Pakistan. With the rise of Modi, Savarkar’s sons will now do away with India’s secular antidote too, and turn it into an extremist republic. Hence the ‘Hindutva version of Pakistan’.

It’s a good story, but like most good stories, it gets everything backwards: though easy to forget now, India’s pre-eminent young nationalist in the 1910s was not the Mahatma; it was the Quaid (to say nothing of comparing a man like Jinnah to a mutant like Savarkar). By injecting religion into the freedom movement for the first time, Gandhi managed to wrest the stage away from Jinnah, and root it in religious tropes: ‘satya’, ‘ahimsa’, ‘dharma’, and the majoritarian flood that came with it. Jinnah’s calls for sanity were shouted down by a populist beast he could no longer recognise. He realised that there was no other way but a separate state.

This ties in with the second story: that Prime Minister Modi upended secular India. For anyone who was listening to the screams in the distance, Sanjay Gandhi was busy sterilising Muslims (euphemised as ‘the poor’) during the Emergency, minorities were being massacred in Assam and Bihar, state-sponsored pogroms wiped out thousands of Sikhs in Delhi, and then nearly a thousand Muslims in Gujarat.

Unique to India after Indira, the electorate rewarded mass murder with thumping re-election victories both times — for Rajiv in 1984 and Modi in 2002. India was always a majoritarian project. Now it’s a Hindutva one.

That leaves us with the third and last creation myth. “If Pakistan had not been created,” asked Shashi Tharoor, “could India become what it is today?” This fantasy also prevails among Pakistan’s far-left and far-right: that an undivided India would mean strength in numbers for the Muslims and prevent their marginalisation. But today’s India is home to the most Muslims in the world after Indonesia, and may top that list in 40 years. Its only Muslim-majority (occupied) ‘territory’ is an open prison called Kashmir — courtesy the secular Nehru — where the people face extermination. Its first-past-the-post system obliterates Muslim representation, not that they vote en bloc anyway. Finally, it’s a what-if counterfactual, which means there’s zero evidence to support it.

At long last, India cannot externalise its monsters. In Pakistan’s own battle with militancy, the tide turned when it was diagnosed — that these demons were our own. But India has chosen to elect its demons. It’s time for a better diagnosis.

And as for Pakistan, proving better than the Fourth Reich is hardly cause to smirk. Lahore, Ghotki, Gojra, Joseph Colony, Hazara Town, All Saints — from terror attacks to criminal conversions, these names have faded from memory. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s promise to grant citizenship to Pakistan’s children remains unkept; Justice Jillani’s judgement safeguarding minorities remains unimplemented.

India has vindicated Jinnah. It’s high time that Pakistan stop failing him.

The writer is a barrister.

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2019