Essay

India's fascist challenge

Print edition : July 19, 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking in the Lok Sabha on June 25. Photo: PTI

The secular vision of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was largely forsaken by his successors, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi. In this photograph, the three of them are seen together. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

January 31, 1948:(From right) Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Lady Mountbatten and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur watch the flames of Mahatma Gandhi’s funeral pyre on the bank of the Yamuna. Photo: The Hindu Archives

A farmers’ march in Mumbai on March 12, 2018. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

If the masses are aroused, they will be better prepared to face Modi’s onslaughts on democracy, fundamental rights and the rights, specifically, of the downtrodden.

On the morrow of his election victory in 2014 Narendra Modi declared that the country had been liberated from a thousand years of slavery. The claim was widely criticised. It was an assertion of M.S. Golwalkar’s thesis that the Mughal rule was Muslim rule. Implicit in it was a promise that Hindu rule would be established. If this was the high point of the 2014 speech, the speech on May 31, 2019, after the results of the general election were out, had an even more menacing remark. None, he said, had spoken of secularism in the last five years. Implicit in it was a note of triumph, a threat and an ominous pledge. He is happy that secularism has been sidelined. Even Congress leaders at the top, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, did not fight for it during the election campaign. This is coupled with an implicit threat. Its “remnants” can expect no quarter from him in the days ahead.

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its political department, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have always been restive about secularism. On October 2, 1990, L.K. Advani complained that “secular policy is putting unreasonable restrictions on Hindu aspirations”. Three days earlier, he had boasted: “Henceforth only those who fight for Hindu interests would rule India.” The people of India proved him wrong. In 1991 the Congress was returned to power as it was again in 2004 and 2009. Modi is not invincible.

But, let alone secularism, the Constitution itself is not absent from the RSS-BJP’s wild plans. In January 1993, the then de facto RSS supremo, Rajendra Singh, wrote: “The present conflict can be partially attributed to the inadequacies of our system in responding to the needs of the essential India, its tradition, values and ethos.... Certain specialities of this country should be reflected in the Constitution. In place of ‘India that is Bharat’, we should have said ‘Bharat that is Hindustan’. Official documents refer to the ‘composite culture’, but ours is certainly not a composite culture. Culture is not wearing of clothes or speaking languages. In a very fundamental sense, this country has a unique cultural oneness. No country, if it has to survive, can have compartments. All this shows that changes are needed in the Constitution. A Constitution more suited to the ethos and genius of this country should be adopted in the future (Indian Express, January 14, 1994).

On January 24, 1993, at Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, M.M. Joshi, the then BJP president, “reiterated the demand for a fresh look at the Constitution”.

On June 5, 1947, B.M. Birla wrote to Vallabhbhai Patel: “I am so glad to see from the Viceroy’s announcement [of the Partition of India] that things have turned out according to your desire. It is no doubt a very good thing for the Hindus and we will now be free from the communal canker.

“The partitioned area, of course, would be a Muslim state. Is it not time that we should consider Hindustan as a Hindu state with Hinduism as the state religion? We have also to strengthen the country so that it may be able to face any future aggression.” Pate’s retort was swift. He replied on June 10, 1947: “I also feel happy that the announcement of June 3 at least settles things one way or the other. There is no further uncertainty.… I do not think it will be possible to consider Hindustan as a Hindu state with Hinduism as the state religion. We must not forget that there are other minorities whose protection is our primary responsibility. The state must exist for all, irrespective of caste or creed” (Durga Das, Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, volume 4, page 56). If a Hindu state was excluded, what other state had Patel in mind but a secular one?

The Constituent Assembly Debates shows that the members of the Assembly simply took secularism for granted and saw no need for its explicit mention. The Supreme Court has also held that secularism is part of the unamendable “basic structure” of the Constitution. What is more, the judges explicitly referred to the 42nd Amendment of 1976 and said that it only made explicit what was implied in the Constitution. Consult the Debates and the Supreme Court’s ruling, and the BJP’s sophistry becomes all too clear. Member after member said, months before the Constitution was adopted, that India had “declared” secularism as its credo.

On December 3, 1948, Professor K.T. Shah moved this amendment. “The state in India being secular shall have no concern with any religion, creed or profession of faith; and shall observe an attitude of absolute neutrality in all matters relating to the religion of any class of its citizens or other persons in the Union.” He acknowledged: “We have proclaimed it time and again that the State in India is secular.” Members agreed with that. There was no need to state the obvious. The amendment got nowhere. (Constituent Assembly Debates, volume 7, page 815.)

On the same day, Lokanath Misra also said: “We have declared the state to be a secular state” (ibid). On December 6, H.V. Kamath said: “We have certainly declared that India would be a secular state” (ibid, page 825). He was followed by Pandit Lakshmi Kanta Maitra, who said: “By secular state, as I understand it, is meant that the state is not going to make any discrimination whatsoever on the ground of religion or community against any person professing any particular form of religious faith. This means in essence that no particular religion in the state will receive any State patronage whatsoever. The state is not going to establish, patronise or endow any particular religion to the exclusion of or in preference to others and that no citizen in the state will have any preferential treatment or will be discriminated against simply on the ground that he professed a particular form of religion. In other words in the affairs of the state the processing of any particular religion will not be taken into consideration at all” (ibid, page 831). On December 7, 1948, M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar, later Speaker of the Lok Sabha, acknowledged: “We are pledged to make the state a secular one” (ibid, page 881).

Nuances of secularism

Jawaharlal Nehru’s exposition of the provisions brings out the nuances of secularism. He said on August 12, 1949: “One word has been thrown about a lot. I should like to register my strong protest against that word. I want the House to examine the word carefully and it is that this government goes in for a policy of appeasement, appeasement of Pakistan, appeasement of Muslims, and appeasement of this and that. I want to know clearly what that word means. Do the honourable Members who talk of appeasement think that some kind of rule should be applied when dealing with these people which has nothing to do with justice or equity? I want a clear answer to that. If so, I would only plead for appeasement. This government will not go by a hair’s breadth to the right or to the left from what they consider to be the right way of dealing with the situation, justice to the individual or the group.

“Another word is thrown up a good deal, this secular state business. May I beg with all humility these gentlemen who use this word often to consult some dictionary before they use it. It is brought in at every conceivable step and at every conceivable stage. I just do not understand it. It has a great deal of importance, no doubt. But, it is brought in all contexts, as if by saying that we are a secular state we have done something amazingly generous, given something out of our pocket to the rest of the world, something which we ought not to have done, so on, and so forth. We have only done something which every country does, except a very few misguided and backward countries in the world. Let us not refer to that word in the sense that we have done something very mighty” (CAD, volume 10, pages 398-401).

The Congress was pledged to secularism since its birth. The Sangh Parivar, in its various avatars, opposed it and opposed the freedom movement itself. The Supreme Court put the imprimatur of its approval on “secularism” as part of the unamendable “basic structure” of the Constitution.

Indira Gandhi’s insertion of the word “secularism” in the preamble to the Constitution through the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1976 was an injustice to the ideal. It was worse than unnecessary.

The letter of the Constitution is one thing. Far more relevant is the outlook of the people and their representatives, especially the Members of the State Legislatures and Parliament. The political clime saw a sea change in favour of secularism in the years from 1947 to 1964. S. Gopal wrote in his biography of Nehru: “As the leader of a free people, Nehru could not rely on the unqualified support of his Cabinet. Some of the members, such as [Maulana Abul Kalam] Azad, John Mathai, [Rafi Ahmed] Kidwai and Amrit Kaur, were with him; but they carried little influence with the masses. The old stalwarts of the Congress, however, such as Patel and Rajendra Prasad, with the backing of the leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, believed not so much in a theocratic state as in a state which symbolised the interests of the Hindu majority. Patel assumed that Muslim officials, even if they had opted for India, were bound to be disloyal and should be dismissed; and to him the Muslims in India were hostages to be held as security for the fair treatment of Hindus in Pakistan” (Jawaharlal Nehru, Oxford University Press, volume II, pages 15-16).

Did things change much thereafter? Morarji Desai said, as late as on November 29, 1964, in New Delhi: “The Hindu majority is clean-hearted and fair-minded. I cannot say the same about the majority of the Indian Muslims” (The Hindustan Times, November 30, 1964). This explains why, as Home Minister, he refused permission to Jamshid Nagarwala, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Bombay, in-charge of the Bombay CID’s Special Branch, to arrest V.D. Savarkar after Madanlal, who had exploded a bomb, was caught and was interrogated. Had Morarji not refused permission, Gandhi might have been spared the assassination. Worse, on a crucial point, he gave evidence in Savarkar’s favour at the trial.

The fact that A.C.S. Hameed was a Muslim did not bother J.R. Jayawardene at all, but it apparently did bother Morarji Desai, who as the Indian Prime Minister on an official visit to Sri Lanka in 1979, pointedly asked J.R. why he did not appoint a Sinhalese for the important position of Foreign Minister. J.R. related this incident to K.M. De Silva in early February 1979 shortly after Desai’s visit (K.M. De Silva, J.R. Jayawardene of Sri Lanka, authorised biography, London, 1998, pages 398-399).

The country was full of such people. Ravi Shankar Shukla as Premier of Central Provinces (now Madhya Pradesh), B.C. Roy in West Bengal and worst of all, Govind Ballabh Pant of Uttar Pradesh, the architect of the Babri Masjid problem. He refused to arrest Golwalkar though the Chief Secretary, Rajeshwar Dayal, and Jaitley, a senior police officer, produced a truckload of evidence of Golwalkar’s plans to stage a pogrom against Muslims. Again, had Golwalkar been arrested, Gandhi’s life would have been spared.

Nehru’s ideological campaign

Nehru is hated by the Sangh Parivar because he changed the political clime which his communal-minded colleagues in the Congress fostered. He did so by waging a sustained ideological campaign for years in the entire country. In speech after speech, Nehru praised secular values; in villages, cities and towns, to the common people as to the elite, to teachers and students; to all, all indeed. The credo won national acceptance. Textbooks for school students spread it all over the nation. It formed the national ethos.

The RSS went on an offensive after his death. But it could not go as far as it has but for the acquiescence and betrayal by Nehru’s successors as Congress Prime Ministers and party presidents—Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Manmohan Singh gave battle for the secular credo. He received in this, as in other fields, little help from Sonia Gandhi, then the Congress president, and from the party organisation.

In 2019, few care to recall the labour behind the magnificent edifice which Nehru built. One should read Alex Traub’s scintillating article “India’s Dangerous New Curriculum” (The New York Review of Books, December 6, 2018). It is based on field research in Rajasthan where he visited a school and read the textbooks. These exposures deserve to be quoted in extenso: “Since last year, students at the Saifee School have been using new textbooks published by the Rajasthan government, which is run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that dominates India’s Parliament and State Legislatures. The new textbooks promote the BJP’s political programme and ideology. They argue for the veracity of Vedic myths, glorify ancient and medieval Hindu rulers, recast the independence movement as a violent battle led largely by Hindu chauvinists, demand loyalty to the state, and praise the policies of the BJP Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. One book reduces over five centuries of rule by a diverse array of Muslim emperors to a single ‘Period of Struggle’ and demonises many of its leading figures.

“These textbooks are part of the BJP’s ongoing campaign to change how Indian history is taught in middle and high schools. Textbooks issued last year by two other States under BJP rule, Gujarat and Maharashtra, resemble the Rajasthan books in their Hindu triumphalism and Islamophobia. So, in a subtler fashion, do updates made in May to federal textbooks.

“Since the BJP came in power in 2014, it has stacked institutions with Hindu nationalist ideologues, presided over an increase in Hindu extremist vigilantism, and replaced Islamic place names with the names of Hindu nationalist heroes. The textbook’s promotion of an essentially Hindu history provides a foundation for slowly remaking India into an essentially Hindu country.”

Secularism had lost a lot of ground before Modi began his sustained attacks. Nehru rejected Mills’ poison on division of India’s history into Muslim and Hindu periods. He knew better. Today, none accept Mills’ thesis except the Sangh Parivar.

Textbooks rejected Mills’ thesis. To the Mughal ruler Akbar (1542-1605), one book attributed “the great dream” that “people should forget their differences about religion and think of themselves only as the people of India”. This was actually the dream of Jawaharlal Nehru, a leader of the independence movement and India’s Prime Minister for its first 17 years of statehood. In his book The Discovery of India, Nehru described his homeland as “an ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously”. Such a polyglot history could form the factual basis, Nehru hoped, for each of India’s ethnic and religious groups to feel they shared a claim to a common national identity.

The great poet Raghupati Sahay alias Firaq Gorakhpuri summed up our ethos beautifully in a single couplet: “Sar zamin-e-Hind par aqwame-e-alam ke Firaq/ kafile aate rahe aur Hindustan banta gaya” (On the soil of Hindustan, O Firaq/Caravans from all over the world kept coming,/ And so was Hindustan built.)

Maulana Azad’s address

Is it not very significant that another great man should have used the same metaphor of caravans from outside which settled in India and made it their home. He was none other than Maulana Azad, and the significance of his magisterial speech lies in the fact that it was his presidential address to the 53rd session of the Indian National Congress at Rampur in March 1940. Around this time, the Muslim League adopted the Pakistan Resolution in Lahore in March 1940.

This is what Azad said: “It was India’s historic destiny that many human races and cultures and religions should flow to her, finding a home in her hospitable soil, and that many a caravan should find rest here. Even before the dawn of history, these caravans trekked into India and wave after wave of new-comers followed. This vast and fertile land gave welcome to all and took them to her bosom. One of last three caravans, following the footsteps of its predecessors, was that of the followers of Islam. This came here and settled here for good. This led to a meeting of the culture-currents of two different races. Like the Ganga and the Yamuna, they flowed for a while through separate courses, but nature’s immutable law brought them together and joined them in a sangam. This fusion was a notable event in history. Since then, destiny, in her own hidden way, began to fashion a new India in place of the old. We brought our treasures with us, and India too was full of the riches of her own precious heritage. We gave our wealth to her and she unlocked the doors of her own treasures to us. We gave her, what she needed most, the most precious of gifts from Islam’s treasury, the message of democracy and human equality.

“Full eleven centuries have passed by since then. Islam has now as great a claim on the soil of India as Hinduism. If Hinduism has been the religion of the people here for several thousands of years, Islam also has been their religion for a thousand years. Just as a Hindu can say with pride that he is an Indian and follows Hinduism, so also we can say with equal pride that we are Indians and follow Islam. I shall enlarge this orbit still further. The Indian Christian is equally entitled to say with pride that he is an Indian and is following a religion of India, namely Christianity. Eleven hundred years of common history have enriched India with our common achievements.” This national consensus inspired the Congress since its birth. Savarkar’s Hindutva (1925) was ignored, as was his thesis about Muslims, Parsis and Christians being “outsiders” who happened to settle down in India. The Red Indians in North America can well ask the Whites to get out.

Nehru’s death in 1964 robbed secularism of its bravest stalwart. The ideal was part of the Congress’ credo since its birth. He gave it form and content and fought for it in the clime of 1947 with resounding success.

Lal Bahadur Shastri was not much enamoured of the ideal. But it was left to Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, to betray her father and the ideal to which he dedicated his life. Twenty years after Nehru’s death, the BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee told James M. Markham of The New York Times (June 14, 1984) shortly after Operation Blue S tar: “Mrs Gandhi is playing a very dangerous game. The long-term interests of the country are being sacrificed to short-term gains. But encouraging Hindu chauvinism is not going to pay. As the majority community, Hindus must be above parochial politics.... She wanted to take advantage of the Hindu backlash.” These sage words could justly be applied to Advani’s rath yatra later. But between then and Vajpayee’s last-ditch stand in 1984 lay a period which saw a series of compromises by this pathetically tragic figure in Indian politics.

Unknown to him, perhaps, Indira Gandhi had concluded with the RSS chief, M.D. Deoras, a sordid pact that was thoroughly exposed by Neerja Chowdhury in The Statesman (May 1, 1986). The RSS founded the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Bombay in August 1964. A Congressman, K.M. Munshi, was one of its founders. Its aim was to “liberate” three temples: set up a Ram temple at Ayodhya by razing the Babri mosque to the ground; likewise “liberate” the Krishna “Janamasthan” temple at Mathura and Kashi Vishwanath temple at Varanasi. A myth was fostered sedulously and with considerable success that nullification of the Supreme Court’s ruling by the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, prompted Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to secure the opening of the lock of the masjid and thus revive an issue that was to blight relations between the communities and undermine secular values in the country.

Neerja Chowdhury’s reports in The Statesman on April 20 and May 1, 1986, revealed, on the basis of authoritative sources, that, in fact the sequence was the very opposite of the one in political mythology. There was a prior understanding between Indira Gandhi, and later Rajiv Gandhi, and the VHP on the opening of the lock at the Babri mosque. A decision to open the lock was taken by Indira Gandhi. It was carried out by Rajiv Gandhi and Arun Nehru after her death. Muslims were given the sop of the Bill. It was moved in the Lok Sabha on February 19, 1986. The lock was opened on February 1.

On April 8, 1984, the VHP gave a clarion call for the removal of the Babri Masjid. A rath yatra began on September 25. Indira Gandhi’s assassination led to its suspension. It was revived from 25 places on October 23, 1985. A deadline was fixed for Shivaratri on March 8, 1986. The entire episode was reported in detail by Neerja Chowdhury, on the basis of an authoritative disclosure by a senior VHP leader, in two articles in The Stateman on April 20 and May 1, 1986.

Rajiv Gandhi took over Indira Gandhi’s policy, Neerja Chowdhury reported: “Mr Rajiv Gandhi had indicated in no uncertain terms that the gates of the Ram Janmabhoomi must open to devotees before Shivaratri on 8 March 1986. The Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Samiti was planning to break open the temple lock that day and a sadhu had vowed to immolate himself if the temple doors were not flung open. A senior Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader revealed this information confidentially.

“The local administration had been prepared in advance. The court verdict was announced at 4:40 p.m. on 1 February and the rusty lock was actually being broken at 5.19 p.m. A Doordarshan team was posted on the spot to capture for posterity surging crowds entering the shrine.”

Neerja Chowdhury added: “There is evidence of a connection between the opening of the doors of the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya and the introduction of the Muslim [Bill] in Parliament, both of which have heightened communal tension in the country. This is evident from the way the Bill came to be framed according to information contained in the report of the general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board which was presented to the Board at its meeting on 23 February 1986.”

This explains Rajiv Gandhi’s recourse to a sadhu for his blessings on the eve of his election campaign in 1989. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi followed in his footsteps to defeat the Hindutva side. P.V. Narasimha Rao had established his pro-RSS credentials as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.

Is it at all surprising that Modi had an open field to conquer in Gujarat and in India (2014 and 2019) when Nehru’s own daughter and political heir sold the pass for the reasons she did? From 1969 to 1975, she presented herself as a champion of the minorities, especially Muslims. This alienated them from others. They fell into the trap. She resented their opposition to her government during the Emergency, especially after the Turkman Gate outrages. On her return to power in her own right in 1980, she had no use for the minorities. But sensing a Hindu wave, she began visits to temples and talked of Kurukshetra. The pact with the VHP was part of this strategy; she was determined to steal the BJP’s clothes while its leaders were immersed in the pool of self-admiration. The Congress has had no agenda, no ideals. Defeat has made it a headless chicken.

It would be a folly to write off the Congress completely but as foolish to rely on it to fight the battle for secularism. Rahul Gandhi’s election speeches reflected the Congress’ virtual abandonment of secularism. A structure of sorts survives and can survive the discredited trio.

This validates the view of Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, that Muslims are perfectly justified to voice their grievances. Note that none of the other Muslim politicians dare to support him. However, as Dr B.R. Ambedkar often said, isolation is the worst thing that can happen to a minority. Muslims must not build a dedh-eent-ki-masjid (a mosque built on a brick and a half). They cannot defeat Modi’s challenge alone. But, which of the other political parties is willing to lend Muslims a hand that they can grasp? There is a wide array of fields which Muslims must enter—students, women’s labour, farmers, the cooperative movement, and so on. They have few friends. They must not neglect them. It must be remembered that no political party will risk losing the Hindu vote and thereby risk its own existence by espousing Muslims’ rights too loudly. Owaisi did right to forge a pact with the Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar. He must widen this and reach out to others as well.

Ram Manohar Lohia’s is a case which demonstrates Indians’ proneness to idol worship, overlooking grave blemishes in the hero, and opportunism of the most sordid variety. This was exposed recently by a person of impeccable honesty, Madhu Limaye’s younger sister, Aniruddha, in the weekly Janata of May 19, 2019. She records in detail Limaye’s long talk with Lohia on his policy of “non-Congressism”, a deceptive label to prepare for an alliance with the Jan Sangh. Limaye opposed it but in the good Indian style. He eventually went along with that utterly unscrupulous character. She writes: “To my mind, the other immense damage that the strategy or policy of non-Congressism unwittingly did was to give Jan Sangh/Sangh Parivar legitimacy, votes and seats in 1967 (as a part of the SVD alliance), and thereafter in 1977, as a part of the combined fight that led to Indira Gandhi’s/Congress’ ouster from the Centre and the formation of the Janata Party government. The Sangh Parivar used its few years in power to influence and pack the bureaucracy, media and whatnot with its supporters and adherents to the extent possible.

“In the first three general elections (that is up to 1962), the vote share and the number of seats that the Jan Sangh got, compared either with Socialists or Communists, was a fraction. Under the banner of non-Congressism, in 1967 they emerged as a force. They suffered, like most others, in 1984. But after Mandal and Ram Mandir/rath yatra, they have continued to gain strength using their corrosive and divisive rhetoric.”

Surendra Mohan, a Socialist leader, told this writer that in prison Asoka Mehta revealed a communal outlook. H.V. Kamath was worse.

Liberals’ compromise

Keep aside fickle politicians, where else can you find men prepared for the good fight? Business, big and medium, was sold out long before Modi became Prime Minister. That excellent monthly, Caravan, has done a service in its issue of June 2019 by exposing “the liberals who loved Modi” in an article by Praveen Donthi titled “Political Affairs: The liberals who loved Modi”. These “liberals” are Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Ashutosh Varshney, Sadanand Dhume and Gurcharan Das.

To repeat, it is a wave. Neither demonetisation nor the Goods and Services Tax could stop it. The Sangh Parivar created it by exploiting the Congress’ failures and supineness. Some TV anchors lent their services readily. Sample this: on June 21, 2019, a serving senior officer in the Army publicly said that the Bhagavad Gita provides guidance for all situations, civil and military. Piyush Rai’s report in The Times of India (from Meerut) read: “Bhagavad Gita is military manual and should be read by all the youngsters, said Major General Subhash Sharan. The Additional Director General of Army recruitment in Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) and Uttarakhand added that ‘the Gita prepares us for all eventualities of life’.

“Major General Sharan was in Meerut after the first round of recruitment rally in western U.P. which was held in Baghpat’s Baraut from 25 May to 15 June, this year. The Major General further said that Bhagavad Gita contains instructions which are usually imparted on the battlefield. ‘Bhagavad Gita is not a religious book. Youngsters must read it for the simple reason that it will prepare us for all eventualities of life. Bhagavad Gita is a military manual which contains instructions which are given in the battlefield. In the battlefield, we only talk about war. Therefore, I call the Bhagavad Gita a military manual,’ he explained.”

Ask yourself a simple question. Would he have dared to speak, as he did publicly, were it not for the government in power and the wave on which it sails?

Stray incidents should make us sit up and reflect: Where are we heading to? Read this from Sreenivas Janyala from Hyderabad in the Indian Express of September 22, 2018: “Retired Metropolitan Sessions Judge Ravinder Reddy, who delivered the verdict in the Mecca Masjid case acquitting all the accused, wants to join the BJP, a party leader said.

“‘When [BJP president] Amit Shah visited Hyderabad on 14 September, the retired Judge took an appointment and met him. He wants to join the party. He said he can contribute to the party as an intellectual or join electoral politics,’ Telangana BJP chief Dr K Laxman said on Friday. ‘It is not yet decided whether Reddy would be admitted into the party and, if admitted, what his role would be,’ he added.

“‘When he met Amit Shah, he expressed his desire to work for a nationalist and patriotic party like the BJP. He said the party can utilise his services as it pleases,’ a BJP leader said.”

Both the Army and the judiciary—two institutions whose freedom from political influence was the nation’s pride—are threatened with politicisation. Others fare no better. The University Grants Commission issued a directive to educational institutions to mark September 29, 2018, as Surgical Strike Day (Indian Express, September 22, 2018). The Defence Ministry asked Prasoon Joshi to write a special poem. He is chairman of a quasi-judicial body, the Central Board of Film Certification. Need I provide a list of the attacks on Muslims in the last tenure of Modi as Prime Minister?

Regime in a hurry

Have no illusions, this is a regime in a hurry. No sooner was it sworn in than it took three controversial decisions—change labour laws to enable companies to fire their employees with ease; acquire large land banks which could be passed on to companies without facing the kind of agitation which the Left Front government faced in Singur; and make the teaching of Hindi compulsory in all schools. The last was dropped. The wonder is that it was mooted at all knowing the strong feelings on this in Tamil Nadu and other States in the South.

There is, however, no reason to lose heart. Autocrats are their own worst enemies. Narendra Modi is not invincible. The RSS does not like individuals who become larger than institutions. Modi has ruined the BJP just the way Indira Gandhi ruined the Congress. Modi follows her style.

Do not expect the three Gandhis to restore the Congress. The real test is restoration of inner-party democracy within the Congress, which was the norm set by Jawaharlal Nehru. Will Congressmen have the guts to demand that free and fair elections be held for all the elective posts and bodies from the bottom to the very top as the party’s constitution mandates? That will not only restore the hopes and spirit of the cadres but send a message all over the country and set an example for others to follow.

Mass action

We must not forget one factor which is of crucial, indeed, decisive importance. It is mass action. Take the battle to the masses; educate them about the dangers; listen—yes, listen—to their problems and seek to resolve them. Educate them about the varieties of today’s politics and how the creed of secularism encapsulates the concepts of equality and democracy. Non-governmental organisations also have a role to play. So do pamphleteers. India has a rich tradition of pamphleteering—Gandhi, Nehru, Azad, M.N. Roy and P.C. Joshi, to name some.

This brings me to the most effective weapon in mass action—mass rallies held periodically. If the masses are aroused, they will be better prepared to face Modi’s onslaughts on democracy, fundamental rights and the rights, specifically, of the downtrodden, so long ignored by our drawing-room politicians. If the time comes, the aroused masses will fight the regime’s onslaught.

The task is not easy. But the stakes are too precious to demand less. Future generations will despise the present one if it fails to rise to the challenge, boldly and consistently. To quote the Bible: If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?

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