By M D NALAPAT
It was expected that the Modi government would during its term rectify some of the injustices done to the majority community during the Sonia-Manmohan decade.
Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi has asked the electorate to give him time “till 2022” in order to complete the tasks he had promised during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign to fulfil. The coming elections will show whether enough voters are willing to cut enough slack for him to ensure a second term. The chemistry of the 2019 campaign will be very different from 2014, hence any effort by the BJP to repeat the arguments of that contest may prove unproductive. In particular, given the fact that no UPA VVIP has been prosecuted for the misdeeds claimed by the BJP to have been committed against them, an anti-corruption plank may backfire, as seems to be happening now. The three-fourths reduction in the Lok Sabha tally of the Congress party was caused by voter revulsion at the perception of pervasive graft during the UPA as also the skewed notion of “secularism” of the Manmohan Singh government, which—especially under Home Ministers Sushilkumar Shinde and Chidambaram—regarded manifestations of religious or exclusivist sentiment as “communal” only when originating from those who were Hindu. Fanatics in other numerically large communities in India were given a free pass, and although some of the self-declared leaders of these communities were frankly communal, and indeed preached religious supremacy, regarding only their particular faith (or its variant) as consequential and the rest as dross, such elements were coddled and encouraged, as long as they were not Hindu. Should the BJP cross the safe margin of 230 seats in 2019, it will not be because of the issue of development, but because of the continuing apprehension amongst several within the Hindu community that decades of second-class citizenship will return, should the Congress Party and others wedded to “Nehruvian secularism” reclaim the portals of governance.
Hindu backing for the Narendra Modi government would come despite very little being done during 2014-2018 to rectify some of the injustices done to elements of the majority community during the Sonia-Manmohan decade, such as the placing of responsibility by the RTE for the education of the underprivileged only on schools run by Hindus, rather than on all citizens of India. The consequence, whether intended or not, is to make it much more difficult for Hindus to run schools than is the case with Muslims or Christians. During their centuries of dominance, the Mughal Empire reduced the number of Hindu places of worship substantially, a process that got delayed in the Kashmir valley, where widespread destruction of Hindu places of worship had to wait till the 1990s. The British Raj wisely avoided direct control over mosques while building magnificent churches across India. The colonial masters took control of numerous Hindu temples, whether large, medium or in the case of some, small. The British expropriated almost all temple lands and assets in the process. It was expected that the Modi government would during its present term ensure a rectification of this historical injustice, but this seems to be among the many steps that may need to wait till the promised year of 2022 for fulfilment. And as for an issue that rests at the core of historical fault lines that saw an overtly religious state break away from secular India in 1947, this columnist has long been clear that only a historical act of grace on the part of India’s large and vibrant Muslim community would ensure that efforts at creating flames of communal hatred within the Hindu community fail in future. This is the transfer of just three sites, the Ram Janmabhumi, the Krishna Janmasthan and the Varanasi temple, all three of which existed but were taken down subsequently.
Society is a living organism, and it is far from being a done deal that India will in a brief while get transformed into the third biggest economy on the globe. A liberal culture that celebrates diversity, that assures freedom in matters of diet, dress, beliefs, speech and lifestyle, is essential within the country. As is the spread among the general population of the international link language (English) in an interconnected world where opportunities may be almost as plentiful abroad as at home. Those who seek to impose curbs on such freedoms are obstacles to the future of India, while believing themselves to be saviours. On another point, a supreme act of gracious benevolence (a quality repeatedly mentioned in the Quran) on the part of the Muslim community with respect to the three sites mentioned earlier would block into insignificance any effort to create the deadly hatreds causing communal carnage. It was expected that the Supreme Court of India would by this time render a final verdict on the Ram Janmabhumi case, but such hopes are declining by the day. If not courts or governments, the vibrant Muslim community in India needs to take the lead in ensuring that a gesture of surpassing nobility be made by one community to another in a land that is the home of both. There have been newspaper reports that Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Iraq has declared that the Shia Wakf Board should not hand over the land claimed to be in its possession at Ayodhya, “as the mosque belongs to the Almighty”. Such reports seem improbable, for as the Ayatollah knows, not just mosques but the entire universe belongs to the Almighty. Any reading of the Quran would show the beneficence and compassion that suffuses its words, and it is precisely such a spirit and not exclusivism and anger that is needed to ensure that India achieve the social cohesion and stability essential for sustained double digit growth. A Ram Janmabhumi complex and a Krishna Janmasthan would open their doors to all, welcoming not just citizens of India but every human being on the planet, the way other great locations of reverence do, including the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Hopefully this will happen by 2022.
Hopefully, so will other requisites for development, such as lower taxes and regulations. As well as a GST that has a single low rate, excludes any unit that has a turnover below US$1 million, and which is simple to file returns in. The Prime Minister announced in 2014 that he would “trust the ordinary citizen”, for instance, by doing away with the attestation by a gazetted officer of several documents. That message, of the primacy of civil society in a democracy, will hopefully become the norm by 2022 rather than continue to be an exception.