Despite international media’s outrage, the India elephant should move forward
I would be the last person to highlight the compulsive Hindu- or India-bashing as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of our nation. But almost as striking as India’s achievements are some of our mean and mealy-mouthed detractors. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for a genuine introspection, even far-reaching criticism, especially if the latter is constructive. What better conjuncture than our Independence Day for such conjecture and reflection?
But the bellyaching niggling and whining, especially of our celebrity pedants and self-proclaimed prophets, is in such bad taste on such an occasion. “India at 70, and the Passing of Another Illusion” by Pankaj Mishra (11 August, New York Times) is an example. The entire piece is one unremitting jeremiad on “religious-racial supremacists,” “xenophobic and racial” Hindus, “lynching of Muslims,” “assaults on couples,” “threats of rape against women,” “Hindu supremacists’ troll army,” “mob frenzy,” “jingoistic television,” “nationwide hunt for enemies,” “reactionary upper-caste Hindus,” “India’s lynch mobs,” and so on. The damning conclusion is as predictable as it is prejudiced: “Mr. Modi’s rule represents the most devastating, and perhaps final, defeat of India’s noble postcolonial ambition to create a moral world order.” As if this were not enough, Mishra asks us to “mourn this Aug.15 as marking the end of India’s tryst with destiny or, more accurately, the collapse of our exalted ideas about ourselves.”
“Ourselves”? Mishra must be delusive. If not in solitary confinement, he stands isolated with a few fellow doomsayers, similarly marooned in their solipsistic, if not sponsored, splendour. Married well or highly privileged, talented writers like Mishra routinely fall into the gadfly trap—or should I say, trip? Do they consider themselves the divinely ordained conscience keepers of a people who would remain eternally benighted but for their gloomy auguries? Of course, it pays to trash India. What other motive can we ascribe to such egregious self-reproach? But these disgruntled Hindus don’t seem to do it purely for the money. They are not your ordinary sepoys or mercenaries. It is their passion, even pathology perhaps. But complain as they may till they go blue in the face, their carping amounts to little more than baying at the moon. For all practical purposes, India has passed them by.
In Mishra’s case, by tracing the rot way back to 1948, via the 1984 Congress pogrom of Sikhs in Delhi, he seriously undermines his condemnation of Modi. If, as he alleges, “up to 40,000 Muslims were killed,” under Jawaharlal Nehru’s watch in the police action on Hyderabad in 1948, how is Modi responsible for the demise of the idea of India? With the ravages of Partition and creation of a theocratic Muslim state, wasn’t Nehru’s tryst with destiny already a disaster? How could 15 August 1947, in the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, be celebrated “as the greatest historical date” in modern times with the lonely Mahatma fire-fighting Hindu-Muslim riots in Calcutta on this very day instead of presiding over the honours in the Viceregal Palace? If the idea of India was still-born, then why blame Modi for killing it?
If Mishra’s sense of history is wrong even more is his ethical inclination mistaken. In the case of Hyderabad he confidently maintains that the 40,000 killed were Muslims without substantiating either claim. The Razakaar atrocities and excesses on Hindus, the Nizam’s plan to create another Pakistan within India, Hyderabad’s appeal to the UN Security Council against India—all this is conveniently elided. If his figure of 40,000 killed is from the Pandit Sunderal Committee, then the actual number in the report is between 26,000-40,000, with the religion of the casualties not clearly identified. Mishra shows himself up not as a true critic, let alone friend of India, but as partisan, motivated, and unreliable.
Don’t commentators listen when President Ram Nath Kovind pitches for “compassionate society” or Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorts citizens against religious intolerance or hatred? Why don’t they find a single positive thing to say about India’s numberless achievements? Why does international media subject India to such scathing criticism when failed states such as Pakistan or authoritarian regimes such as China are seldom held accountable? Whenever anyone needs an excuse to sledge us, it is such unbalanced India-trashers who are sure to be quoted. No wonder Mishra earned the sobriquet of “general hater-in-chief of anything Indian.” But as he himself once confessed, “My dominant feeling every day is one of great ignorance.” We should take him at his word here and discount his rants.
To end on a positive note, a great civilization, society, or state must not be overly touchy. Such hypersensitivity only reveals our own insecurities. To so seek the approbation and sympathy of friends and foes alike is unnecessary. This, indeed, was Jawaharlal Nehru’s undoing. An elephant does not slow down, let alone, stop at every barking cur. Similarly, India must move forward calmly, purposefully, and confidently to reassert her economic, cultural, political, and military power, not only in the region, but also in the world. But in doing so, we should never deviate from the path of dharma or righteousness. Therein lies our manifest destiny.
Makarand Paranjape is a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University
The views expressed are personal