A NEIGHBOUR in Delhi, who happens to be a Narendra Modi devotee, asked me which leader Pakistanis would want as India’s next prime minister.
I’m no clairvoyant, I told the elderly gentleman from Punjab. There are Pakistanis and Pakistanis. The ones I know better — and they are mostly in Karachi, and a few in Lahore — wouldn’t mind seeing Manmohan Singh come back.
A fresh mandate (who knows) could spur Dr Singh to confront his obstructive bureaucracy and a self-regarding military to build durable bridges with Pakistan. It is another matter that his neo-liberal economic policies have brought wrack and ruin to millions of impoverished Indians.
Since my neighbour may have been seeking insights into the Pakistan Army’s mind, which many Indians regard as Pakistan’s God-given saviour (to the chagrin of most Pakistanis I know), I said that particular institution would heartily love to see Mr Modi as the new Indian prime minister.
I said India-baiters in Pakistan, led by its army, could not dream of a more effective and inexpensive way to harm India grievously, possibly even more fatally than the thousand cuts they had threatened to inflict through surrogates in Kashmir and elsewhere.
Pakistan only has to bet on a total sway of religious fanaticism in India, which buoys Mr Modi. India’s fascism has flourished on a successful campaign of religious revivalism that was set in motion even before 1947 by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh with generous help from Muslim leaders, though everyone from the left to the right was complicit in its growth.
It was the Indian communists who shored up governments in which the Hindu right gained, usually at the left’s expense. Communists promoted Hindu festivals such as Durga Puja in West Bengal as a cultural facet of a liberal ethos, which it claimed to advance. It was a far cry from the left’s initial promise of excluding religion from state patronage.
In Kerala in 1957, for example, an authoritarian Congress under Indira Gandhi evicted the communists from power when they sought to limit the intervention of the church in the state’s educational curriculum. Times have changed, so has the left, perhaps. Motifs it deemed to be benignly cultural have been converted into a political asset by the right.
The new assertive Indian middle class is not just the Pakistan Army’s close ally, it also elevates India’s military to the status of the holiest of holy cows. In a perverse way this is what the Pakistan establishment would prefer. The more the urban classes growl at Pakistan the more they help the armies on both sides to become assertive vis-à-vis their civilian rulers.
Both militaries demand a greater role in framing policy while seeking untenable budgets. The new urban Indian is no longer concerned that over 70 per cent of his countrymen are robbed of their future by the elite’s consumerist obsession with security.
It is Navratri these days, a nine-day Hindu equivalent of Lent, or Ramazan. Just as khuda hafiz in Pakistan became Allah hafiz under Zia’s puritanism, in India the colloquial Ram-Ram turned into Jai Shri Ram. And Navratri has turned into Navratra in the Hindi belt, evidently to check forbidding regional challenges.
The gyms in Delhi are mostly empty as are the restaurants in Navratri. I’d thought that gym-users who were mostly gossiping about stock markets, cricket-politics and movie stars in the daily routine of pumping iron would be averse to the mumbo-jumbo of religious rituals.
But times have evidently changed. The seeds perhaps go back to the 1980s when colour TV brought mythological serials like Ramayana and Mahabharata to the urban classes, and subsequently to the rural masses. The streets were empty when the serials were on. The insidious religious offshoot took time to be noticed.
Much of urban India today seems committed to emulate post-Zia Pakistan when Islamisation was planted firmly in an otherwise multicultural country. In India too, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh identities are stronger than ever before.
An Indian relative who visited his cousins in Karachi during the Zia era came back with the following observation. “Lovely people, very hospitable, lots of money and imported cars. But there are far too many Muslims there.” It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that there are far too many Modi-fied Hindus in India today, overwhelmingly so in the influential electronic media, far more than Nehru or Gandhi could have provisioned for.
The hatred the Modi-loving middle class nurtures is not only towards Muslims. There are strong signs of other filters of prejudice. Dalits and tribespeople were commandeered as the sword arm of Hindutva in the Gujarat experiment against Muslims in 2002.
They have to be won over elsewhere for the Hindutva project to succeed. Militant and secular Dalit or tribal movements are wary of encroachment on their natural resources by state-backed corporate houses, which are spearheaded by religious hordes. They will test Modi’s alliance with the business captains against his revivalist moorings.
If there was one Indian leader Pakistan’s army feared and hated, it was Indira Gandhi. She wrecked their country in 1971 and turned the global issue of Kashmir into a bilateral discussion with Islamabad.
However, I believe she mocked Pakistan even more by adding two clauses in the preamble of India’s constitution four years after the Bangladesh war. She added ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ to define the Indian Republic, the opposite of where Pakistan was headed. Now Pakistan can count on Modi to dismantle the preamble no matter how spurious it already looks against today’s free-market reality.
A combination of civilian and military rulers helped to convert Pakistan into a religious state. Fire-breathing Modi, admired by the military, is the best candidate to blow India’s floundering Nehruvian tryst to rubble. And the West should be there to applaud, as it once did for Pakistan.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.