Two claimants clashed for India’s soul in freedom.
One wanted a separate Muslim ‘mulk’. The other, a Hindu ‘rashtra’.
The goal of the first, thanks to a Gujarati barrister called MA Jinnah, was reached on August 14, 1947.
The goal of the second, thanks to another Gujarati barrister called MK Gandhi, has remained unrealised to this day.
India’s Constitution proclaims the equality of its religions. Other than assuring their equal status, the Indian State has nothing to do with religious beliefs.
The Hindu rashtra’s original advocates, who believed India was for Hindus, have long since passed away. But they have been succeeded by a new generation that has augmented the Hindu rashtra idea. It has added to it: India as a super power, India as a space power, India as a cyber giant.
And Corporate India has “signed up” for that agenda quite effortlessly because it is a Brahmin of its own kind, the upper crust, which believes it is pre-ordained to privileges and to influence if not power.
Hindu rashtri-s and India’s corporate “princes” saw a glimmer of “leaderly” hope in the poetic personality of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But a rare fibre of decency kept him, both as an opposition leader and as Prime Minister, from making non-Hindu Indians feel insecure.
Atalji, as a wordsmith, spoke with style and spoke to win people. And win them he did, with his voice.
If his Prime Ministership had one thing, it had a voice – his.
It listened and it spoke.
Silence is the sound of our times today.
And the silence reaches its decibel nadir, an utter and irreducible acoustic numbness, when it comes to the Prime Minister.
Not that Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not speak. He does, to telling effect.
He is, in fact, an orator. At mass NRI gatherings abroad , he is magnetic. He is also impactful when speaking into the box. When he came on the air waves on Teachers Day, millions of students listened to him rapt if also captive.
But this is not about his speaking methods, rather, about his speaking mind.
It is one thing to boom, another to speak.
One thing to “reach”, another to reach out; one thing to pronounce, another to persuade.
One can proclaim, herald, blazon forth with the style of trumpets, and yet fail to convey, to communicate. One can be a triumphant megaphone and not move a single pulse of feeling.
One word from our Prime Minister saying a Hindu rashtra is not the government’s overt or covert goal, ‘ghar wapsi’ is not a government programme, that all religions are equal and equally great, and the nation will thank him for being where he is.
A word from him, a Prime Minister’s word, that whether or not India becomes a super power, it should be a just nation, will win him our hearts.
But will such a word come?
I ask myself: In the year he has been Prime Minister has his voice brought:
Comfort to the insecure Christian
Reassurance to the scared Muslim
Confidence to the political dissenter
Strength to the iconoclast writer
Courage to the bullied journalist
Trust to the intimidated tribal
Justice to the unempowered Dalit
Protection to the whistleblower
Dread of the law in the power-wielding corrupt
Fear to the illegal miner
Chastisement to the tobacco lobby
Admonition to the plastic lobby
A sense of being heard to the climate change educator
An incumbent to the office of the Chief Information Commissioner
The answer is a “No”.
Prime Minister Modi’s first year in office has been a year of icy silences.
Resistance can come from the most unexpected sources.
A blow has been delivered on silence’s solar plexus by Arun Shourie’s frank words.
Sau sunar ki, ek luhar ki.
As Narendra Modi enters his second year as Prime Minister, I felicitate him and urge him to look at a picture of a very differently silent Mahatma Gandhi during his tour of riot-torn Bihar. And ask him to explain the difference between the Republic of India and a Hindu rashtra. And the difference between the hush of agony and the silence of arrogance.
But will his event organisers let him look at history?
(Gopalkrishna Gandhi is distinguished professor in history and politics, Ashoka University. The views expressed by the author are personal.)