19 Dec 2019


The writer is an author and historian.
The writer is an author and historian.

OUR subcontinent has fallen victim to a condition called ‘saffronoia’. It began in India and has spread unchecked. No country in the region is immune to its side effects — neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh, not even Afghanistan.

Developed in the petri dish of the RSS’s sectarianism and tested on the BJP, its formula has been now patented by law in Prime Minister Modi’s government as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

This latest piece of legislation burrows a tunnel into India for persecuted minorities, spe­c­ifically Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Par­sis, and Christians. Under it, had Guru Nanak and Zoroaster been alive, they would be eligible for Indian nationality. Muslims are specifically excluded. They have not been forgiven by the RSS for the ‘heresy’ of conversion.

This latest constitutional amendment sho­uld not come as a surprise, no more than the revocation of Article 370 abrogating the status of India-held Jammu & Kashmir ought to have been. (In 1963, as an afterthought, Nehru admitted that Article 370 was a “temporary provision”, subject to “gradual erosion”.)

Who will be the beneficiaries and victims of Modi’s latest move?

Both constitutional changes were foretold in the BJP election manifesto of 2014. Mr Modi knew then that majorities are not secured by pandering to minorities. His Hindutva agenda aimed at making nationalism synonymous with nationality. But are they in fact interchangeable?

The Dalit leader Dr B. Ambedkar who helped frame the original Indian constitution did not think so: “One can have nationalism without nationality.” Punjabiat is one example, Jewry another. Nationalism without territorial nationality, though, (in Lord Acton’s words) is like “a soul in search of a body”.

India found that body in the independence movement. Ambedkar felt that the pre-1947 Hindu politician “knew that if he was to succeed in his demand for self-government for India, he must maintain, even if he could not prove it, that India was a nation”. Therefore, ipso facto, if the Muslims in India were a separate nation, then, of course, India was not a nation. To Hindu politicians, the prospect of Jinnah’s Pakistan was like ‘a stab in the back’.

Who will be the beneficiaries of Modi’s accommodating largesse? Pakistani Hindus, for sure. For them, migration to India has always been a magnetic option. Not many exercised it. In 2014, a Pakistani Hindu parliamentarian gave a figure of 5,000 Hindu migrants annually from Pakistan to India. There are 3.6 million or so left.

Who will be the victims of Prime Minister Modi’s saffronoia? Every Indian Muslim, from Punjab to Bengal, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Those who chose — like the 97-year-old Yusuf Khan saffronised into Dilip Kumar — to remain in India can expect to be punished for their lack of foresight. More fragile icons will have their nationalism tested every day. The violent demonstrations in Muslim universities are an indication of the combustible resentment against the CAA.

Will the Indian government’s latest legislation tempt Indian Muslims to consider migrating westwards? Certainly, but to anywhere except Pakistan. They may prefer to stay in their saffron hell than migrate to our greener purgatory.

They have good reason. We are developing our own home-grown strain of discrimination. We are suffering again the lash of authoritarianism. We are being cowed by unbridled violence, such as the unconscionable, inhuman attack on doctors and medical staff in the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore by a mob of lawyers. In an afternoon of infamy, black coats bludgeoned white coats. Oxygen masks were allegedly torn off patients. Intole­rance overpowered sanity. “He that will not reason is a bigot;” someone once wrote, “he that cannot reason is a fool; he that dare not reason is a slave.”

We are free of Hindu India, but are we in our own state free from each other? Ask anyone who feels the claws of censorship. Ask anyone who bears the manacles of discriminatory laws. Ask anyone fettered by injustice.

The other day, this newspaper you read was delivered at my doorstep. Today, the news vendor has had all his copies confiscated, and if he is caught delivering even one, all his stock of other dailies will be confiscated. Tomorrow, a sponsored mob will prevent publication at all.

Many years ago, Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay (encouraged by the IMF and World Bank) launched a mandatory sterilisation programme to control India’s population. It faltered, then collapsed when it was discovered that those sterilised were primarily Muslims.

Every free thinker or free speaker today runs the risk of emasculation. Their words will never be permitted to procreate.

Discrimination is a state of mind; censorship is slavery of the mind. But even slaves have been known to sing, if you would only listen. Wasn’t it the great liberationist William Wilberforce who cautioned: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

The writer is an author and historian.

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2019