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Secularist assault on idea of India

Secularist assault on idea of India

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 17, 2008

The allusion is not to the Leader of Opposition LK Advani who was forthright in his condemnation of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader's publicity-seeking utterances that led to the death of one poor Bihari migrant. Nor can we fault Hindu hridaysamrat Balasaheb Thackeray for making it clear that the Indian nation must prevail over parochial interests. In the face of a calculated assault by an interloper on the traditional vote base of the country's most enduring saffron alliance, both the BJP and Shiv Sena reacted with exemplary patriotic maturity.

Less exemplary was the conduct of those who go around shrieking "merchants of death" and pontificating about a Holocaust that never happened. Arguably, Sonia Gandhi has enough on her plate to be distracted by the antics of a small-time politician in Mumbai. There is the vexed question of her membership of the Order of Leopold Association; there is the pressure from the voodoo economists to ensure that India is bankrupted by a failed employment guarantee scheme; there is the delicate matter of a new regime in Himachal Pradesh that wants to review land sales to the first family; and, of course, there is the simmering intra-UPA (business) dispute over the destruction of Ram's bridge which could escalate into a political crisis.

Yet, despite these pressing concerns, the proprietor of the party that runs the coalition Government in Maharashtra could surely have found time to articulate her views on the panic that has gripped poor migrants in places like Nashik. Her sound of silence could indicate various things: Either she isn't aware of the problem or that her silence is deliberate and calculated. Since the first possibility is slightly remote, even for leaders who are insulated from bad news, the temptation to believe the second is irresistible.

Arguably, Sonia could have subcontracted the job to the Prime Minister. But even he hasn't let out a squeak.

It is not necessary to be a pathological conspiracy theorist to suggest that the Congress-NCP Government in Maharashtra hasn't played with a straight bat. At one level, the electronic media created a massive hype about the insecurity that had gripped the North Indian migrants - would we have seen such alarmism had there been a terrorist outrage or a communal skirmish? At another level, by creating a contrived tension over Raj Thackeray's "arrest", the administration deliberately sought to transform a paper tiger into a real tiger. The Congress seemed to be acting on the assumption that all fissures in the regional movement would unnerve the Shiv Sena-BJP and force them into competitive chauvinism. At the same time, the nervousness among migrants would consolidate the non-Maharashtrian vote around the Congress.

What was witnessed in Maharashtra was cynical politics at its worst. It followed the methodology of a party that tacitly built up Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to outmanoeuvre the Akalis and pumped up the ULFA in Assam to cripple the AGP. Consciously or unwittingly, Raj Thackeray played the Congress game and he is certain to be rewarded for it.

What is particularly despicable is the underlying bid to pervert the Shivaji legacy by making it into a Maharashtrian-only inheritance. Shivaji, it is necessary to point out, was never crowned merely a King of Maharashtra or the Deccan; he personified the Hindu padpadshahi. He became an inspiration for all Indians resisting Moghul tyranny. The immortal lines the poet Bhushan wrote on his death, encapsulated his national legacy: "Kashiki kala gayee, Mathura masjid bhaee/ Gar Shivaji na hoto, to sunati hot sabaki."

(Kashi has lost its splendour, Mathura has become a mosque/ If Shivaji hadn't been there, even the people would have been converted.)

What we are witnessing in Maharashtra isn't ordinary one-upmanship; it is the beleaguered secularist assault on the idea of India.

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