From pseudo-secularism to a liberal cultural nationalism
Mr. Modi must do well on the economic front, and there is a lot to be said there. But he must also purposefully move to scrap Article 370, institute a Uniform Civil Code and remove (or universalize) Article 29/30. He should respect the judiciary on Ayodhya and not push for any beef or conversion bans despite his record and rhetoric. If he can strengthen the law and order situation and empathize on non-electoral issues as well (say, listen to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on Section 377), he can be reelected not once but twice and surpass Nehru and Indira as independent India’s most towering personality ever.
The people of India responded to Mr. Modi’s “Congress-mukt Bharat” slogan and have just delivered India’s first non-Congress simple-majority Lok Sabha. What a momentous day for India. Congratulations are due to the Bharatiya Janata Party and as a country we can hope for a brighter future, and work towards it. But it is also a very tragic day given how divided India is. That some in India continue to believe that their fellow citizens voted in a communalist, and that these citizens are “blood-thirsty” is a not uncommon refrain. The international media is also playing up that theme of India turning towards a soft fascist future. Mr. Modi has so far balanced between his base and the young, moderate voters that he has attracted on the message of development. This balance will be a difficult one to maintain and the solutions can only be nuanced, detailed not broad-brush ones.
Ignoring this during this electoral high may seem tempting right now, but would be very wrong. Numbers, especially in a first past the post system, are not moral or immoral by themselves – the amorality vacuum still has to be filled in, even as such a thumping mandate is respected. For BJP supporters who are more likely to be “practical” right now, let me incentivize you by saying that while Mr. Modi needs to get his economics right – something about which I will write a lot more, but one starting hint is here by Dr Shourie given the situation in the Rajya Sabha for the next couple of years – to get re-elected, but to get re-elected with an even bigger margin, he also needs to get his “culture wars” right.
I have written against Hindutva as I see it [here, here, here, and here] and I stand by my views. I wish I had delved on the difference between state and society more [as I did with my prolific co-author Rajeev Mantri here, and then here] because a non-statist form of Hindu nationalism being smaller than, but at the core of, Indian nationalism is not so much as an argument but a reality given what happened in 1947, and has happened since in Kashmir mostly but also in Punjab, North-East and via the religion of Maoism in the heart of India.
I do not necessarily wish this cultural nationalism to become smaller, but I do wish Indian nationalism to become larger. In other words, a “Hindu Rashtra” is acceptable if it is akin to India being like the United States of America – a country with a classical liberal constitution calling itself a Judeo-Christian country where Biblical idiom in politics is common. But if it is to be “Hindu Rajya”, as opposed to Rashtra – that is, if laws with disparate impact are deliberately made that restrict individual freedoms – then India must oppose it, because it is wrong for India’s minorities and also because something beautiful in Hinduism would weaken if that were to happen.
Many agree with this broad thesis, but feel that Modi is the wrong step for such a direction. I disagree, and only time will tell. Let us quickly recap what happened in 2002, as that is what really drives the ire against Modi. Some extremist individuals from the minority community burnt alive some people from the majority community at Godhra, and the law and order situation completely went out of hand as violent mobs from the majority community went out to get “revenge” and at least hundreds of innocent citizens, mostly from the minority community, died.
This was one of the blackest periods in the history of our republic though of course riots have been unfortunately frequent and blaming only one party is inaccurate andhypocritical. Now, one can believe whatever one wants to about what happened but there is not a single FIR regarding the 2002 riots against Modi. He was not technically exonerated by the SIT as he was not even charged.
In effect, the Supreme Court of India-appointed body did not even find enough evidence to initiate legal proceedings against Modi. From 2004 till now, the Congress was in power in Delhi. And I for one refuse to believe that they did not try their best to fix Modi. That they could not means one thing – the Congress, despite its best efforts via the CBI etc – could not find anything on which to fix him.
Given that the Javed Anands and Teesta Setalvads of the world have been funded by the Congress in the past and have admitted so, I refuse to believe their relatively late anti-Modi allegations via a most probably well-meaning but clearly “coached” Zakia Jaffri and other victims. This is insensitive blasphemy for Modi detractors, but important at least for me because even in this massive victory, the “move on” rhetoric is unconvincing. Justice is paramount, it is slowly but surely being delivered, but justice cannot be only that ruling which some want.
But there is a larger unease with the BJP’s cultural agenda. Here, it is important for the party to separate its agenda into two parts – one which just undoes the appeasement of minorities [Art 29, 30, 370 and lack of UCC etc.], and one that appeases the majority [beef and conversion bans, HUF tax benefits, etc]. One can undo the first and anybody who attacks that can be asked to explain his or her motives for opposing, but if the party also proceeds with the latter even its liberal agenda items like 370 and UCC will be seen as hypocritical [read this and this].
Simultaneously opening markets, creating a smart welfare-based and transparent state will be the triumph of triangulation and will not allow Mr. Modi’s political opponents any breathing space. If there is one thing Modi does not lack, as we saw during the campaign, is a capacity for hard work. He can do all this, knowing it helps the country as well as the party.
“Har Har Modi” was a slogan we often heard of, and many of us – including the man himself – cringed. But if Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi, the next Prime Minister of the biggest democratic republic in the history of mankind, were to again convert adversity into opportunity and drink the poison in Indian society that is all too evident and absorb chunks of it in his own self, then maybe – just maybe – that slogan would in retrospect not look that far off the mark. For even the myth of Neelkanth must have come out of the story of a great but imperfect man.
But for that to happen, unlikely as it seems right now, Narendra Modi, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar that he represents if not leads would have to realize that in the case of India, liberal nationalism and cultural nationalism, both properly understood, are not antithetical. Indeed they are one and the same. More on this sometime later.