Beyond communal divides

Published: March 1, 2014

The writer is a columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar [email protected]

What is one to make of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) pronouncement that it was willing to apologise for any harm the party has done to Muslims (other than to begin making a list)?

The party’s president, Rajnath Singh, said this a few days ago, when addressing Muslim voters. His party is expected to win the general elections in a couple of months and it doesn’t need the vote of Muslims in order to do this.

Different opinion polls have said the BJP holds more than 200 seats and the Congress holds only 100, reversing the position of the parties in the current Lok Sabha. The psephology has become very good in India and that means the BJP will form the next government.

Happily for it, the BJP is thought to be returning to dominate two major states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which it last did 20 years ago. Nationally, the party seems to be in better health than ever and the 200 seats will be its best Lok Sabha performance.

This is why I think it is a very good thing for Rajnath Singh to say this now. Anything by way of reconciliation is welcome from a party whose rise is rooted in its production of hate.

In the past, the BJP’s three main ideological thrusts were all negative. They were the Ayodhya issue (Muslims must not keep their mosque), the Uniform Civil Code (Muslims must not keep their personal law) and Article 370 (Muslim Kashmir must not keep its autonomy).

The pursuit of the first of these three resulted in violence that cost 3,000 Indians their lives without any benefit to anyone that the BJP can name.

In that sense, Hindutva has nothing positive to offer Hindus. It only fed them resentment. The Ayodhya movement, beloved of the Gujaratis, was always inclined towards vandalism rather than piety. This is clear from the fact that after they flattened the mosque, the BJP became uninterested in the issue.

Rajnath Singh’s statement, which despite being a good one, makes one assumption that must be qualified: that the BJP speaks for Hindus.

It is characteristic of the BJP that it assumes it represents all or most of a religion’s followers across India. And also that such a thing as antagonism and forgiveness between communities is possible and that the party is qualified to represent one of them.

Its thinking is like that of the Indian Muslim League, which saw religion as an irreconcilable difference.

The fact is that the BJP gets less than a fourth of India’s vote and that in 2009, it got less than a fifth. This means most Hindus don’t vote for Hindutva and of these many reject the party because of its beliefs and its actions.

But it is assumed by its functionaries that, as a party, the BJP speaks for Hindus, rather than all communities. Most in the party cleave to the idea of politics played along a communal divide. Things such as the riots between Jats and Muslims in Uttar Pradesh excite and animate them.

The younger BJP members don’t think differently and Varun Gandhi made some statements which got him into trouble (and where he was later acquitted, claiming the tape he was recorded on was doctored).

The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s image is so polarising that he doesn’t even need to speak on the communal issue any longer, having done it all his life.

He has sufficient credibility as a Hindutva hero for him not to lose that edge.

Muslims and many other Indians of all communities, including Hindus wary of religious division, look on the BJP with alarm. This is why is it right and proper for the party to reach out to them and assure them that they may have done something wrong in the past. And more importantly, that they will be more mindful of not doing such things in the future.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2014.

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Reader Comments (26)

  • Indian Catholic
    Mar 1, 2014 - 11:48PM

    Don’t know what the author is talking about.

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  • vande mataram
    Mar 2, 2014 - 12:24AM

    In the past, the BJP’s three main ideological thrusts were all negative. They were the Ayodhya issue (Muslims must not keep their mosque), the Uniform Civil Code (Muslims must not keep their personal law) and Article 370 (Muslim Kashmir must not keep its autonomy).
    I can say ayodhya issue might be negative, but Uniform Civil Code is one of the important issue,if india is really secular not by consititution but by law UCC should be applied in the country

    What does the Indian Constitution have to say on the subject?

    Article 44, which is one of the “directive principles” laid down in the Constitution says: “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” As Article 37 of the Constitution itself makes clear, the directive principles “shall not be enforceable by any court”. Nevertheless, they are “fundamental in the governance of the country”.

    What has the Supreme Court said on the issue?

    Very recently, while hearing a case pertaining to whether a Christian has the right to bequeath property to a charity, the court regretted the fact that the state had not yet implemented a uniform civil code. This is not the first time that the apex court has expressed itself in favour of a uniform civil code or taken a dim view of the government’s and legislature’s inability to bring it into being. There have been other occasions — like during the Shah Bano case and later in the Sarla Mudgal case — where too the apex court has come out strongly in favour of the enactment of a uniform civil code. However, none of these comments are binding on the executive or the legislature and do not amount to orders. At best, they exert some moral pressure on the Indian state to move towards formulating a uniform civil code.

    Would a uniform code affect the personal laws of only one community?

    Not at all. The perception that a uniform civil code would necessitate changes in only Muslim personal law is quite incorrect. As women’s organisations and others have repeatedly pointed out, personal laws governing different communities in India have a common feature — they are all gender-biased.

    For instance, the law pertaining to succession among Hindus is unequal in the way it treats men and women. A truly modern, secular, non-discriminatory and progressive code would, therefore, mean changes in all personal laws. The concept of the “Hindu undivided family”, at least insofar as it pertains to succession, would also obviously have to undergo a change under a uniform civil code. Similarly, Muslim, Christian and other personal laws too would have to change. This also explains why historically changes in personal law have been resisted not just by one community, but by the ruling orthodoxy in all of them.

    What had prevented a uniform civil code from coming into being?

    Since it involves a change in laws, an obvious prerequisite is sufficient support for the move within Parliament. The reason this has been difficult to achieve has been because most parties have held the view that the reform of laws pertaining to the personal domain is better done by pressure for such change from within communities rather than as an imposition from above. Further, for historical reasons, the demand for a uniform civil code has acquired communal overtones which have overshadowed the innate merits of the proposal.

    To put the delay in perspective, however, it should be added that Article 44 of the Constitution is by no means the only directive principle to have not been implemented more than half a century after it was laid down. Most directive principles continue to remain pious doctrines rather than the law of the land.

    for article 370 “if j&k really want to develop we have to repeal this article ,it is hindrance in the past of development in J&K

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  • BlackJack
    Mar 2, 2014 - 1:08AM

    Actually all three issues have been misrepresented in this op-ed.
    1. Ram Mandir – far from not allowing Muslims their mosque, there were serious offers to shift the entire mosque (called masjid-e-janmasthaan in pre-1857 India) to the neighbouring plot of land. Since Muslims don’t believe that the land on which the mosque stands is holy(and moving it 500 yards to the right would have no impact on the worshippers convenience while maintaining exactly the same structure) this could have been a win-win with mandir and masjid standing side-by-side. That said, I don’t condone the destruction of the structure by karsevaks in 1992, and agree that it has done the BJP no good.
    2. Uniform Civil Code is enshrined in the Directive Principles of the Indian constitution as a goal for us to work towards in order to achieve secularism. The author’s misguided barbs actually show how far we are from true secularism when its self-appointed guardians impugn its core principles.
    3. Article 370 has nothing to do with Muslims (who are anyway in majority only in one part of J&K – should we then remove Article 370 for Jammu and Ladakh?) but about different rules for different parts of the country and their practicality after so many years. Kashmir has had no benefits from Article 370 – the Central Government is the only major investor and the Indian taxpayer pays to support the Kashmiri regardless of his/ her religion – if you don’t mind accepting the money, then you should be willing to live by the same rules as other Indians. However, many of Mr. Patel’s ilk attempt to strengthen this feeling by calling it ‘Muslim’ Kashmir. By that standard, shouldn’t India be called Hindu India?

    Last, Rajnath Singh’s statement does not address Christians, Buddhist, Sikhs, Jains or atheists. I think the statement makes it pretty clear that he seeks to address the lack of trust within the Muslim community for the front-runners in the next general election. As the largest minority, unless young Muslims feel that they can trust their Government, we cannot integrate them into the mainstream, which should be everyone’s goal, not just that of Rajnath Singh. Of course, this kind of desperate fear mongering is in keeping with the best traditions of our pseudo-secular political outfits and English media in election season, so kudos to Mr. Patel on this piece.

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  • Toticalling
    Mar 2, 2014 - 1:29AM

    iit is so nice to hear a liberal voice about the divisions in Indian politics which is becoming more and more anti minorities than many other countries. We know the reason for the popularity of BJP is mainly because it is anti Muslim. Starting from ayodia and anti Muslim riots in Gujrat, the party is winning more and more support from many conservative hindus.
    For that reason alone, I have sympathies with congress party, although it has been very weak and ineffective for the last few years. The bottom line is that all parties are pro India and want to see it as a successful econommic power. One of the reasons why India has a good image abroad is because it is a rainbow nation like South Africa. Breaking the rainbow ideology will not do any good to India in the long run. Hate, as we Pakistanis have found out, leads to catastrophic consequences. That is not a path any well wisher of India wishes for India.
    Amanzimtoti, South Africa

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  • A
    Mar 2, 2014 - 2:42AM

    This is an ‘Aakaar’less article.

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  • rasgullah
    Mar 2, 2014 - 5:09AM

    Here is what BJP wants to offer India
    1) Governance.
    2) Nation security.
    3) Economic growth
    So its basically Ram Raj instead of mughal raj or Rome raj.

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  • rangacharya kulkarni
    Mar 2, 2014 - 6:44AM

    Modi will never become prime minister. He needs allies. He is not like Atal Bajpayee who attracted and glued together divergent allies. Opinion pools are not that accurate. Tamilnadu,Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala do not have presence of BJP. BJP will never get any seats from these states. Opinion pool for Bihar is highly exaggerated. Nitish Kumar will get a lion share. So, all these speculations and confidence will fall flat in April. Congress is going to loose definitely. BJP will never get decisive seats. Third front will get some seats. So also Aam Admi Party. It will end up in hung parliament.

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  • Syrian Christian
    Mar 2, 2014 - 7:46AM

    From South here, Hindus have not persecuted us and fully confident that they will not.We stand with Bharat Mata & its culture first and then with religion. Akaar needs to keep his Pakistani readers happy?.And to be frank, Islamic fundamentalism in India will be crushed.If the Hindus dont do it and they rarely do it, then we will.

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  • Rakib
    Mar 2, 2014 - 10:07AM

    What is one to make of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) pronouncement that it was willing to apologise for any harm the party has done to Muslims (other than to begin making a list)? (Author)

    One has to catch the cynical nuance of Hindi speech of Rajnath Singh. Appears he really believes Indian Muslims are a retarded lot! Singh was offering an apology in advance for any injuries that BJP might cause to Muslims in the future. Vote for us,we shall apologise if we wrong you-that’s the message! The aberration & the atonement both are promised in advance! It’s an assurance for tomorrow, not an assuagement for yesterday. It’s prospective, not retrospective. If ever Rajnath Singh the Prez of BJP officially apologises specifically for Babri Mosque or Gujarat 2002 or vulgar insults heaped on Muslims by Modi & his ilk, RSS & VHP will destroy the man.

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  • Indian
    Mar 2, 2014 - 10:26AM

    I am a Hindu. I relate myself with BJP and NOT “Pseudo Secular” CON & the Hindu Bashing “Liberals” like Author. I am NOT Wary of BJP but adoreit.

    Narendra Modi is talking “India First” and “Indians First”. If the Author thinks it is Communal, he can leave India. I want Modi to rule India for the next 20 years..

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  • Udaya Bose
    Mar 2, 2014 - 11:03AM

    Large sections of Indians of all communities are apprehensive of a BJP Government led by Modi, who is an unabashed Muslim hater’, coming to power.
    It will bring in its wake the increase in influence of the rabid rightwing Hindu organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad all orchestrated by the shadowy RSS.
    It cannot be good for social cohesion and is likely to increase the chances of terrorism afflicting India.
    As for Rajnath Singh’s willingness to apologise if they commit mistakes, it is like saying “We will first behead you and then if you say it is a mistake, well, we will say sorry.”

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  • mahakaalchakra
    Mar 2, 2014 - 11:04AM

    Akaar Ahmed, what is wrong if BJP propagates Hindutva in India? Hindutva or Hinduism represented a way of life of the Indian people, according to the Supreme Court of India.

    The Supreme Court in the course of deciding an appeal in an election petition, has interpreted the meaning of ‘Hindutva’ and ‘Hinduism’ as a “synonym of ‘Indianisation’ — i.e. development of uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all all cultures co-existing in the country.”

    The unanimous judgement given by the three-judge bench consisting of Justices J.S. Verma, N.P. Singh and K. Venkataswami, on December 11, 1995, has quoted earlier Supreme Court judgments and opinions of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Dr. Toynbee and others in coming to the conclusion that the words “Hinduism” or “Hindutva” are not necessarily to be understood and construed narrowly, confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices unrelated to the culture and ethos of the People of India depicting the way of life of the Indian people.
    Another important thing one must remember about India is, “all Indians except Muslims and Christians are defined as Hindus in Indian constitution.”

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  • Ak
    Mar 2, 2014 - 1:30PM

    So what is negative about having a uniform civil code. When Muslims are happy living in uniform penal code then what is wrong with Uniform civil code which dear author is part of directive principles of constitution so by that extension constitution itself is negative?

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  • BlackJack
    Mar 2, 2014 - 1:31PM

    @Toticalling:
    Although your approach is a rational one, it is historically inaccurate. Yes, the BJP represents the political right-of-centre and has roots in majoritarian politics – and their rise is closely linked to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement which crystallized the contents of what is otherwise a cesspool of castes in the Gangetic Plain. The destruction of the Babri mosque robbed them of this issue and eroded their support in North India, and the Gujarat riots lost them allies; so apart from their lack of presence in the South and East necessitating a very high strike rate in other regions, both of the above were principal reasons for their fall from power in 2004 – thus history shows that your analysis is wrong.

    I believe that their losses in 2004 and 2009 and Vajpayee’s ill-health resulted in a major-rethink in their approach towards a rapidly-changing and younger Indian electorate that did not care about the Ram temple or cultural syncretism: so while they don’t want to lose the conservative Hindu vote (who anyway has nowhere else to go), they target the educated middle-class unhappiness with brazen Congress corruption and the perception of India’s dwindling global prospects in the last couple of years, and offer a comparison of several states that are run professionally and decisively and with far less corruption, leading to a higher rate of growth. BJP has better examples of popular, proven and relatively clean leadership, and is therefore in a better position this time round, and have run an electoral campaign devoid of any identity-based issues and focused only on development.

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  • Zaid Hamid
    Mar 2, 2014 - 1:50PM

    Pakistan zindabad . Akram bhai zindabad . Congress zindabad .Recommend

  • Rahul
    Mar 2, 2014 - 3:52PM

    frankly speaking, the posts of this writer are may be the only thing on this website which i care the least.
    nonsense.Recommend

  • Dilli waala
    Mar 2, 2014 - 5:09PM

    @Zaid Hamid:

    Plz get over it..no ones is talking abt Pakistan in this article…..Have u ever realized what mess P[Pakistan is into .btw India is no less in mess with the congress in power…

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  • Aseem
    Mar 2, 2014 - 6:24PM

    Some comments are bigger than the article itself.
    I am no BJP or Modi fan but its amusing to see some people being paranoid or euphoric about his being India’s PM. My feeling is that he wont make an extra ordinary PM nor he will be a barbarian. India political system takes care of any extremities. Yes, there are incidents like anti muslim riots, anti-sikh riots and oppression of dalits etc. but at the same time India has had muslim supported govts for 60 years in its 66 years democracy. its the sikhs who are the richest community in India and the dalits have special constitutional privileges. The politics will continue to divide people on lines of caste, communal, lingual, ethnic etc. but so far the national soul is intact and united. As long as the politicians keep the essence of “INDIAN SOUL” , there is no need to fear any political party be it BJP, Akali Dal or Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, congress or any other party. India is evolving into a fine democracy. There are flaws and they will be overcome in due course including the corruption. A revolution may be a shortcut to change but India can do without it.

    @Mahakaalchakra:
    “all Indians except Muslims and Christians are defined as Hindus in Indian constitution.”
    Are zoroastrians and jews also Hindus???

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  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    Mar 2, 2014 - 11:05PM

    @Indian:
    Relax brother, bjp might win but I still support Congress. Rahul is India born and not italian and Sonia became Indian the day she married rajiv Gandhi. Modi reminds me of Adolf Hitler because I have read mein kamf and Jews have been replaced by my Indian Muslim brethren in context. They want a chance, I refuse to give chance to a controversial candidate in my vote next time in election. Rab rakha

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  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    Mar 2, 2014 - 11:08PM

    How many of you read history from a neutral source ? Or took interest in history at school. Have anybody heard of a term called “propaganda” ? Modi is not a god.

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  • s.khan
    Mar 3, 2014 - 2:15AM

    @Indian:
    Modi is raising slogans. It is very common for the politicians to mouth off
    slogans to appeal to the voters. Once elected, he will do what he and his
    soul mates-RSS, consider in conformity with their ideology. Rajnath making a
    conciliatory gesture two months before the election has to be viewed with
    some skepticism. What was BJP doing since 2002? U.P. is crucial to BJP’s
    success and Muslims make up almost 20% of the voters there. It is an easy
    calculus that securing some muslim votes will boost the chances. Having
    being disappointed for the last 10 years, Muslims have discounted Modi.
    It is too little and too late for BJP to offer insincere apology for some votes.
    If Modi becomes prime minister, the action of his government will speak louder
    than the words of Rajnath and Muslims will be watching.

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  • Jogi
    Mar 3, 2014 - 3:19AM

    I would not worry too much about Indian “muslims”. Their “minority” status is nothing but a political concoction by Congress to use them as vote banks. They are NOT native muslims and Islam is not born out of their indigenous way of life. They are nothing but Indians who opportunistically converted to Islam to gain favor among the ruling disposition at the time of Islamist rulers. I am almost sure that they will revert back once the disposition changes in India to the native religions and culture of India.

    Recommend

  • harkol
    Mar 3, 2014 - 7:15AM

    It would do great good for India if BJP won this elections.

    It’d prove to BJP itself that it doesn’t need a narrow communal approach to win big.
    It’d prove to Congress & other dynastic parties that socialism as a catchphrase has outlived its utility, what matters is creation of dignified living conditions – infrastructure, jobs & good economy.
    It’ll also prove to all political parties that what drives Indian voters is reasonably honest administration, that makes citizen’s everyday life easy – instead of just high minded words.
    Most importantly – it’ll prove India is truly a two party system now. One that’s leftist another that’s rightist. Giving India a more stable democratic alternatives in future.
    Recommend

  • Udaya Bose
    Mar 3, 2014 - 10:28AM

    @Jogi:
    I feel sorry for you. Come out of the well and look at the world.

    Recommend

  • Jogi
    Mar 3, 2014 - 6:23PM

    @Udaya Bose:
    What “well” are you talking about?!!! I do not need your “sorry” and keep it to yourself. Spare me the trash. You need it more than I do. And don’t go around dumping your marxist crap on to others!!!!

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Mar 3, 2014 - 8:35PM

    @s.khan: You say once elected – as though he has not been elected until now. Has has been thrice elected as CM of Gujarat where he has provided the things he talks about. Further he inhereted a riot prone Gujarat where everyother year there would be a riot. He has ruled riot free for 12 years. Recommend

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