AND so Prime Minister Modi and his Man Friday, the home minister, seem to have lost the plot, which they were destined to do anyway. They had embarked on a mission from Gujarat in 2002 to “unite the Hindus and divide the rest” with a communal purpose enshrined in Hindutva.
With the widely disputed Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) they were hoping to get a clean shot at India’s secular constitution. The citizenship act was enacted to exclude Muslims from a law that would open the doors apparently to refugees of every religious stripe from three countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The chief ministers of Hindu-majority West Bengal, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal have put the spoke in Modi’s wheel. They say they won’t implement the unconstitutional law.
Rather than uniting Hindus against Muslims, what the duo have succeeded in doing is to alienate their own hardcore allies, namely the right-wing Shiv Sena and those erring Hindutva fans that had elected the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Assam. The Modi-Shah pair has thus sparked a fire that now threatens to singe them and engulf the country.
Muslims and non-Muslims have been staging unprecedented rallies in scores of cities. Two were killed in police firing in Assam and serious injuries were feared in police action against students of Delhi’s Jamia Millia University. Clearly, the BJP has bitten off more than it can chew. The Assamese and other denizens of north-eastern states may be making a regressive demand in wanting alleged Muslim migrants to be expelled. But they do not want the Hindus to stay either. This flies in the face of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s promise that no Hindu would be forced to leave the country. The battle lines are drawn.
The chief ministers of Hindu-majority West Bengal, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal have put the spoke in Modi’s wheel.
A cursory survey shows that it is no longer a Hindu-Muslim binary for the BJP. The Shiv Sena, not a great anchor of support for Muslims, walked out of the vote on citizenship amendment, calling it communal. Interestingly, the Modi-Shah duo has done something that Nehru and Gandhi must have died craving for. They managed to successfully invoke unusual praise for Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi from Pakistan’s foreign ministry of all the places. It is another matter that the expression of affection is late by 70 years when it could have shepherded history towards a revolutionary possibility. Yet, the fact that it has come at all is significant.
Modi’s opponents are challenging the essential reason for the new law, to exclude Muslims and include everyone else from the three Muslim-majority countries in South Asia. The north-eastern states see this as a betrayal, while the rest of the opposition sees it as an affront to the constitution, in particular the preamble, which promises equality to all citizens in the secular project called India.
Women have been at the forefront of the protests in Assam and elsewhere. Savour the poem by Parinitha Shetty, a much-loved woman writer-activist. The poem I refuse to be has been rather well-received (and trolled) on the social media.
The gripping lines sum up the fight majority of Hindu men and women are fighting hand in hand with Muslims against Modi’s and Shah’s majoritarian worldview. Writes Shetty:
“I refuse to be the Hindu you want to shape me into.
I refuse to be the Hindu vote which will sustain the insane authority of your power.
I refuse to be the saffron of your Hindu flag that you bear like a sword ready to kill.
I refuse to be the Hindu for whom Rama can only be worshipped in the temple you will build after reducing a mosque to rubble.
I refuse the citizenship of your Hindu Nation in which Muslims will not be my equals as fellow citizens.
I refuse to be a Hindu who does not recognise that dead soldiers are the price we pay
For dividing ourselves as Hindus from those who are our own.
I refuse to be a Hindu who is made to recognise herself in the images of inhuman monsters you hold before me and which you claim are my reflections in a mirror.
I refuse to allow you to crush the many-splendoured, many hued, glorious, joyous, infinitely spiritual, creatively mutating and deeply compassionate possibilities of being a Hindu,
into the slogan of hate
into the rhetoric of fear
into the prison of bigotry
into the law of the tyrant
into a fragmented nation.
I refuse to be the Hindu you want me to be And I will defy every effort of yours to dehumanise me And shape me into that monstrous creature you call by the name Hindu.”
The current phase of the Modi-Shah plot was recently tested in Jammu and Kashmir. Badgered Kashmiris more so today than ever before want not to be part of India, but they are stopped from acting on this quest with brute military force. Indian Muslims, on the other hand, have always taken a more involved view. They toiled to make the country work in a spirit of secular democracy as promised by the largest democracy’s founding fathers. Muslims had everything to gain from the secular statute as the guarantor of a multicultural polity, and much to lose from its disuse. They know now that they are no longer alone in the tryst.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2019