Minority-focused secularism will not work
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s electoral victory has been extraordinary despite the Opposition’s attacks on him on various issues: farmers’ distress, youth unemployment, poor implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), demonetisation, lynchings, Hindutva, assault on institutions, media gagging, intimidation of intellectuals, tampering of electronic voting machines, politicisation of the armed forces and the Rafale deal. But the country was not swayed by these accusations.
The refrain of the secular, Left-liberal circles that with increasing intolerance, the “Idea of India” (unilaterally defined) is being destroyed had no impact either. The Opposition misread the public mood because with such comprehensive denunciation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) should have lost miserably. One hopes that instead of persevering with the same analysis and discourse as before and impeding the National Democratic Alliance(NDA)’s task of governance by agitations and negative politics, the Opposition will participate in consensus-building in areas of national priority such as judicial, police, parliamentary, electoral, agricultural, banking, labour, educational, land acquisition and energy-market reforms.
The secular/Left-liberal circle in India influence how the liberal western circle looks at India. Their depiction of Modi since 2002 as an anti-Muslim Right Wing Hindu nationalist, a product of the sinister Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Hindutva ideology, has made many in the media, academic, literary and civil society circles abroad believe the propaganda about “fascist” trends in India, damaging India’s soft power.
Unsurprisingly, The Economist, the New York Times and Liberation (French) have written disparagingly about Modi, frequently through Indian-origin commentators. One can expect these Indian commentators to continue feeding negative thinking about the country under Modi’s stewardship, despite the massive endorsement by the electorate.
Modi is now frequently equated — albeit absurdly — by Indian and western commentators with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and United State’s President Donald Trump as a populist, nationalist leader. Xi heads the world’s most powerful single-party authoritarian regime that incarcerates minorities in re-education camps. Erdogan has jailed senior editors and dismissed thousands of academics and civil servants after the failed coup, and weeded out or jailed numerous military officers. Trump is using American power to disrupt the global system, bullying allies, repudiating international agreements, and imposing sanctions. Bracketing Modi with Putin, whom the West demonises, serves a dual purpose.
The secular, Left-liberal lobby accuses the BJP of “majoritarianism” but democracy is based on “majoritarianism”, in the sense that whoever gets a majority, even a relative one, in an election, rules. Wasn’t the decision of former Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron, to hold the Brexit referendum a case of “majoritarianism”? A party that wins the elections has to implement its agenda. Even now the Left-liberal forces want the government to follow their agenda to justify its majority.
The Left-liberal lobby has transplanted western ideas of “secularism” and “nationalism” to a politically distorting effect in India. Secularism in the West is rooted in the struggle between the State and the Church over temporal power. Secularism in this sense has no indigenous roots in India where the concept has got associated with the issue of communalism, non-interference in Muslim personal law, granting of special privileges for Muslim (and Christian) institutions, suppressing politically the identity of India as a Hindu-majority country and Hindu-baiting by some “secular fundamentalists”.
Nationalism was viewed historically as a great revolutionary force, a source of pride, unification and defence of territory, but with the rise of Nazism in Germany, its genocidal acts and the massive devastation caused by World War II, it is now seen in Europe as noxious and destructive. Europe has sought to transcend nationalism through the European Union, though nationalist thinking remains a powerful reality there.
This is reflected in the Brexit movement and the rise of nationalist parties across Europe as a reaction to loss of sovereignty to Brussels and migration issues. For a country with our linguistic, cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, nation-building is a huge task. More than a Constitution is needed to build a nation. Britain has none; Chinese nationalism is not being built on its Constitution, nor is Russian.
Buddhism defines the identity of many Southeast Asian countries. With 80% of the population belonging to the faith, Hinduism can be a unifying factor, but the religion itself is divided into innumerable sects. If Islam divided India, a Hindu identity is seen by the BJP/RSS as the principal source of keeping today’s India united, strong and capable of surviving its many internal and external challenges, without transgressing the principle of equality before law of all citizens.
Minority-focused secularism has not been the source of nation-building anywhere. To pejoratively label the BJP and Modi as Right Wing Hindu nationalists with fascist tendencies, implying thereby that they belong to the same category as Nazi-type forces that caused havoc in Europe, is preposterous.
Kanwal Sibal is former foreign secretary
The views expressed are personal