I’m told that The Idea of India is suddenly under threat. A Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the Book of Revelations, will turn the world fashioned by The Idea of India on its head.
The Idea of India, as opposed to just another jolly good idea of India, is a collection of noble and truly good ideas that’s seen to be responsible for India not having turned into a) Pakistan b) Israel c) Sudan d) Gujarat. In other words, it’s a sort of meta-software that has kept India’s pluralistic society pluralistic.
What is forgotten is that The Idea of India is an effect rather than a cause, with secular laws meant to override everything else when the lovely pluralistic bonhomie by which all of us celebrate Diwali, Eid and an Indian cricket victory goes temporarily kaput.
The BJP gained power by selling political paste in a religious tube. It was a call to correct perceived notions of Statist prejudice against Hindus, made most concrete in the demand for a Uniform Civil Code, and against the vote-bank politics by which parties use the Muslim community the way a guy uses a horror movie to get the girl to hold tightly on to him.
It’s another matter that the BJP did become the horror movie that self-styled secular parties gladly use as electoral fodder.
The BJP’s plan of action in the late-80s was hitched on to a prevailing Middle India attitude among many members of the largest religious community towards members of the second largest religious community. That it’s hard for a Muslim family to find rented accommodation outside ‘ghettoes’ even in Mumbai and Delhi has as much to do with politics as Shah Rukh and Salman being loved by millions of Modi supporters is political.
But the BJP’s exercise in political appropriation through the 90s led to The Idea of Hindu Supremacy, built on the template formed by Shivaji during the 17th century Maratha’s altercations with Adil Shah’s sultanate in Bijapur and later with Aurangzeb’s Mughal empire. Har Har Mahadev got upgraded to a more Ramanand Sagar-friendly Jai Sri Ram.
It turned out that the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the bloodflow that followed required far less than all the perfumes of Arabia to be washed away. Once the BJP came to power at the Centre, the terriers were leashed and put back into the kennels while the moderate Atal Bihari Vajpayee administration got into its professional, anti-dynasty, wise AK Hangal role that even professional anti-BJPwalas admired.
Except that some of the attack-dogs were still left running outside. When the Bajrang Dal’s Dara Singh led a mob in Orissa’s Dangs district to brutally murder the Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his 10 and six-year-old sons on January 22, 1999, the Christmas Day-born Vajpayee had been 10 months into his five-year term as prime minister, while the Congress’ JB Patnaik had been Orissa’s chief minister for four years.
The burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra in February 2002 that claimed 58 lives, mostly of Ayodhya-returning kar sevaks, led to full-blown riots officially killing 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus in Gujarat.
Communal riots and murders predate the RSS-BJP. It predates Mohandas Gandhi’s assassination by someone brainwashed by Hindu supremacist rant. Modern India itself was born in the bloody amniotic fluid of Hindu-Muslim carnage. As Muzaffarnagar shows, it continues when the occasion ‘calls for it’. And it’s hardly necessary that such violence remain in the most easily digestible Hindu-Muslim framework, as the bloodletting in Assam between (Hindu) Bodos and (Muslim) Bengalis last year proved.
These ‘disruptions’ cutting across castes, communities, gender, economic status and religion are not contrary to The Idea of India, but fall outside its beautiful ambit. The last time The Idea of India came under genuine attack was when the recipient of Nehru’s Letters From A Father To His Daughter suspended the Constitution in 1975 for 21 months. India survived that episode, as did Indira.
Modi, who failed his duties as a chief minister in 2002 as others have before and after him, has provided no clue as to whether he plans to suspend the only Idea of India that matters. Frankly, Modi won’t hit or miss the prime ministerial mark because of his Tough Love or lack of Iftar Love.
An overwhelming majority of Indians have priorities, worries and ideas other than The Idea of India — or its dismantling — that will determine their choice in 2014. And Modi is yet to comfort or scare them or matter enough, even as The Idea of India keeps glowing in bright neon lights whether they look up to (see) it or not.