What good is governance that revives communal strife, jeopardises the very project of governance?
By Pavan K Varma
On June 29, 2013, Syed Zafar Mahmood, president of the Zakat Foundation of India, made a presentation to Narendra Modi on the state of the Muslims and their depiction on the official BJP website. It raised many troubling issues, including an essay which said that all Muslim women should wear mangalsutras, and the condition of the resettlement colonies of victims affected by the 2002 riots in Gujarat, located next to mile-long piles of trash, a site not visited by Modi once.
I was on a television discussion on this report and was shocked to hear the spokesmen of the BJP from Gujarat repeatedly make the point that ‘at least Modi had begun a dialogue with the Muslims’, and that he listened ‘intently’ to the presentation. Are we supposed to celebrate the fact that in his third term as chief minister, 11 years after Godhra, and 66 years after the republic was born, a leader, who has aspirations to become the prime minister of this country, did the great favour on the eve of elections of ‘at least’ beginning a dialogue with a significant segment of the very citizens he hopes to rule?
The fact is that the nation is at a crucial crossroads, and this is a time for very careful reflection. On the one hand we have the juggernaut of an ambitious politician with no expertise other than ruling one state of India, no experience of running a coalition, no reputation of a team leader, very little tolerance to dissent, and a muscular, unidimensional vision of India that excludes large segments of the citizens of this country. On the other hand we have the reality of a multireligious country, the cradle of four of the great religions of the world, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, a Christian minority, and more adherents of Islam than almost anywhere else in the world.
Our founding fathers sought to preserve the vibrant plurality of the nation, and did so not only out of idealism but because the reality of India could admit of no other option. Gujarat’s 6% Muslims might have reconciled themselves to a frozen peace, but India is not a mirror image of Gujarat. Onefourth of Kerala is Muslim; 30% of West Bengal is Muslim; every fourth person in Assam in Muslim; 30 million Muslims live in UP; some 15 million in Bihar; every ninth resident of Karnataka is Muslim. Coexistence in India, is thus, as Jawaharlal Nehru said in 1948, not an option, but a compulsion.
Some years ago, in a trend best symbolised by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP had begun to reconsider its narrow Hindutva orientation, in order to make the party’s appeal more broadbased and in congruence with the realities of India. This was in its own self-interest, since the dividends of an overtly communal profile were diminishing. The people of India, the BJP seemed to be realising, were no longer willing to be pawns of politicians who sought to divide them on the basis of religious belief. But today, the saner instincts of this party are being hijacked by one individual, thereby threatening the stability and peace of India.
Some elements of the middle class in urban India are being seduced by the argument that Narendra Modi is the only man who can deliver better governance. This is a mythology created by Modi and his formidable PR team, and needs to be rigorously interrogated. No one individual has a monopoly on governance.
In Bihar, Nitish Kumar brought a state ravaged beyond belief by 15 years of Lalu Prasad’s misrule to the top of the country’s growth charts for five consecutive years. Gujarat may have benefited in some respects by Modi’s rule, but it was always a more developed state. Even within the BJP there are other leaders, and chief ministers, whose track record of governance is as good if not better and in more difficult conditions. The Human Resource Index of Gujarat leaves much to be desired. Some corporate leaders may think that Modi is their saviour, but not more than a fraction of what he claimed to have got in the campaign of Vibrant Gujarat, has actually trickled in. And, finally – and this is something that touches the life of every Indian – of what good is governance if it revives communal strife thereby jeopardising the very project of governance?
Beyond political acrimony, therefore, the nation must think. The BJP must, in spite of the carefully orchestrated hysteria of some of its own cadres, seriously introspect, and Indian voters must very carefully decide, before backing an individual whose governance record is limited to one state and is patchy, but who has already divided a party and will polarise a nation.
In this endeavour, lines from one of the poems of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which i had the honour to translate at his request, come to mind: “What matters is this: That there be expanse with height/ So that a man/ Is not fixed and dead as a stump/ But blends in and belongs with others/ Winning some to his cause/ Falling in step with others/ My Lord! Never place me so high/ That I cannot embrace/ Those who are not my own.”
The writer, an author and former diplomat, is currently adviser to the Bihar chief minister. Views are personal.
Courtesy: The Times of India