We are witnessing a seminal moment in our nation’s history that transcends politics and indeed, challenges our constitutional right to freedom of choice. Consider this progression.
Beef Up Vegetarianism
Several BJP ruled states impose a total ban on the consumption of beef for all its citizens, irrespective of their religion or customs. Emboldened by his party’s thumping victory in Uttar Pradesh, Narendra Modi brazenly appoints a firebrand Hindutva icon as the state’s Chief Minister – finally dispelling the myth of India being a secular country; and exhibiting total disdain for the sensibilities of the 20% of the population that is not Hindu.
The UP CM promptly orders the closure of most abattoirs in the state. He tries to cloak it in legality by pronouncing that certified abattoirs are exempt from this draconian measure – fully aware that more than 90% of abattoirs are unauthorized. His action is replicated by the remaining BJP states, which in effect, means most of the country.
On a recent television program, one of India’s most eminent and independent legal minds, Fali Nariman, was brave (or foolhardy) enough to state his opinion that the design of the BJP government was to lead the country down the path to country-wide vegetarianism.
Not to be outdone, the Gujarat state government scored a world first by redefining the status of a human being. They passed a law equating cow slaughter with homicide. This is not only regressive, it is revolutionary. It is also an absurd piece of legislation that even a banana republic would find cringe-worthy. Hindus may revere the cow – and they are entitled to – but even they cannot credit it with a modicum of intelligence. And then to equate a dumb animal with the most intelligent species on the planet is downright preposterous. To add to the lunacy, Chief Ministers – supposedly responsible gentlemen – are glibly pontificating about not only life imprisonment for “cow killers”, but hanging them from the nearest lamp post.
Honestly, is this the Wild West? In the 21st Century, hanging is considered a Barbaric practice that has been abandoned by most of the civilized nations. Even countries that have the death penalty on their statutes exercise that power with abundant caution and responsibility. What sort of impression are we creating in the international community when our leaders throw out such wild statements without a thought to their wider implications? One can understand Hindutva diehards setting themselves up as defenders of the faith; and eager to prove their loyalty to the king, but when this blatant display of intolerance towards other faiths and cultures receives the official sanction of the state, something is fundamentally rotten in the state of Denmark.
Romeo Save Me
Meanwhile, Yogi Adityanath was just getting started. He followed up his meat boycott by granting official sanction for so-called anti-Romeo squads, ostensibly meant to prevent girls from harassment, but actually a justification for moral policing of the most puritanical kind. Goes against our glorious Indian culture, you see. Boys and girls talking to each other in public – chee chee.
Taking their cue from their political masters – as often happens – a group of cops “upheld the dignity of womanhood” whom they found consorting with a young man they believed to be of a different religion, by shaving the girl’s head. Pretty soon, adopting the monkey see monkey attitude that seems to be prevalent, other BJP ruled states formed their own ‘Romeo’ squads. The ruling dispensation seems to be suffering from a split personality. Does it want the country to hurtle forward and take its place among the world’s progressive nations – as the leader has so often asserted – or regress to the Victorian era?
Hindu Rashtra : A Dream Unfulfilled?
So what accounts for this sudden and overwhelming surge towards Hindu pride? The answer can be found in one man – Narendra Modi. To be fair, Modi has never tried to hide his strong affiliation to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), or his inclination to further the RSS philosophy. Even 15 years after the Godhra riots, his “model state” Gujarat remains strictly segregated between Hindus and Muslims, particularly in the housing sector; and the state government has made no effort towards reconciliation.
Up to now, however, the PM has been cautious in taking concrete steps towards that end. After all, his sweeping victory in the 2014 election was based partly on his soaring oratory, but largely on his plank of development. His “Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas” is probably one of the most brilliant political slogans ever conceived. The Indian public lapped it up. However, the catch was that he became trapped in his declared platform; and that inhibited him from realizing his dream of Hindustan for the Hindus.
The defeats in Delhi and Bihar gave him further pause. After the UP whitewash, all misgivings were laid to rest. Modi is now confident that his power for the next seven years, at least, is assured; and he has no real competition. It is a measure of his self- confidence that he took the political gamble of not fielding a single Muslim candidate in a state which has a sizable Muslim population. It paid off handsomely. Modi has demonstrated that in spite of constituting 20% of India’s population, Muslims no longer have the clout to influence the nation’s political future; and it is no longer necessary or politically expedient to take them seriously.
Political pundits are speculating that these steps towards encouraging a resurgence of Hindutva ambition is aimed at consolidating the majority Hindu vote bank in forthcoming elections. However, I believe it goes deeper than that. It is even more than a backlash against a perceived policy of Muslim appeasement followed by previous governments. I believe Modi has tapped into a long dormant and simmering angst among Hindus that they have been passive for too long and it is time they reclaimed “their” country.
There is a certain historical logic to this belief. For almost a thousand years, Indian Hindus have been dominated by Muslim conquerors. (I do not count the British because they treated Hindus and Muslims with equal contempt.) In their mind, it is high time India reverted to the Hindustan of old.
So where is India heading? Will the secularists be able to reclaim the India we knew, in a distant future when the BJP has lost its ascendancy? I fear that the Rubicon has been crossed. And secularism is an ideal that was never fully realized anyway; and is presently under siege all over the world. Even the world’s most advanced democracy is witnessing a xenophobic surge, where the sons-of-the-soil are asserting their claim to a country they regard as their entitled domain. No, this is the new India; and the minorities will have to get used to it.
Firoze Hirjikaka is a retired civil engineer and a freelance writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org