Friday, August 9, 2013

The Hindu state of Gujarat….

The TOI reports today how a mall in Ahmedabad decided to charge Muslims (mostly the youth) Rs 20 as “entry fee” to enter the mall on the auspicious day of Eid. The hidden subtext is the assumption that Muslim youths are trouble makers. The slightly milder alternative subtext is that Muslim youths are louts who spend time in air conditioned malls without actually buying anything. Would this be allowed in any state but Gujarat?

Of course, this is a “private” mall and Modi cannot be brought into this discussion. But in reality, the role of the government in shaping public behavior is apparent from this episode. What happens is this. People have certain points of view – in the case of Gujarat, an extreme wariness of Muslims – which is why they vote a particular party (BJP) to power. Then the party responds to this constituency and acts in a manner as if it represents only that constituency. It forgets that once elected, it represents everyone, and it has to become non-partisan. Such political conduct then makes the people’s regressive thoughts even more entrenched. Instead, a more liberal, a more “nationalistic” party would have tried to mould the views of its followers towards modernity. But no, the BJP doesn’t do that in Gujarat. Here, the party feeds off the people and vice-versa. Its shocking, and I have noticed this personally that anti-Muslim sentiments in Ahmedabad today are worse than they were twenty years back. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if a poll were done today, and most Gujaratis are shown supporting the mall’s action.

It’s the same with West Bengal. After 3 decades of Leftist rule (that’s almost 2 generations of people), most of the people have internalized Left ideologies and become genetically Leftist. There is very little of an alternate ideology left at all. Which is why when the people threw out the Left, it chose the TMC, which is even more Left than the Left. The Congress in WB is hardly any different from the Left and the TMC. Being pro-reforms is not the option in WB. Which is why WB gets what it gets. A Mamata after a Buddhadeb. It will perhaps take many more decades before WB opens its arms to liberal economic forces, and starts to benefit from them. Until then, it has to stay steeped in archaic Leftist economic downtroddenness.

It’s the same with the people of Gujarat. It will take decades – and that too if the government becomes far more liberal – for them to shed their anti-Muslim posturing and become more evolved and liberal minded. Gujarat may be rich, but it is very poor socially. It’s people can hardly be called liberal.

The essence of India is in its diversity. Any state or its leader that forgets that violates this very essence of the country. Just look at Modi. He proudly proclaims he is a Hindu nationalist. Clearly, he is the leader of the Hindus, the others be damned. As if this were not enough, he drives home the point by refusing to wear the Muslim skull cap. Why? Will he become impure if he wears the cap? Each one of us Hindus celebrates Eid with the Muslims, don’t we? Why can’t our leaders celebrate as well then? But in Gujarat, even Eid celebrations are muted and limited to the Muslims, unlike almost anywhere else in the country. This is what you get when politicians and the people feed off each other.

Will the government initiate an inquiry against this mall? Will it ensure that such conduct is never repeated? Will Modi speak about this despicable conduct in any of his addresses? Impossible. First, because Modi perhaps supports such things. Those wayward Muslims must be kept out. If this is racial discrimination, so be it. It will only get Modi more votes. Secondly, Modi has hardly shown the courage to speak against regressive social trends. He likes to flow with them, not challenge them. And in an election year, he will even be happy to fan them if it helps him get more votes. Net net, don’t expect any action from the Gujarat government. And by taking no action, the government will encourage others to do similar loathsome things.

There is a difference between pandering-to-the-majority and minority-appeasement, even though none is justifiable. The majority community is expected to be generous towards the minorities. It’s a way of making them feel comfortable. One is not saying that the law must change for them, but at all times, the majority community must go a little further to make the minorities feel comfortable. In fact, the majority community must be fiercely protective about the diversity of cultures that the minorities bring. It’s they who make India so delightful as a country. If they weren’t there, we would become much like an Islamic Pakistan or orthodox-Christian Ireland or the many states in the Bible belt in the US. Call this tolerance. Call this secularism. Either way, the more the variety, the multi-layered a society. It makes life rich. And us the people, liberal. That is why it’s always more fun to take a holiday in liberal Europe than in monochromatic Dubai. No matter how much cheaper than Europe Dubai is, no matter how brilliant the city’s infrastructure is, it’s always more fun to go to Europe. And this, when Dubai and its Sheikh are far more liberal than Gujarat or its current leader are.

These days, I am not surprised by any such news emanating from Gujarat. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Modi one day declared Gujarat a Hindu state. The only thing that would stop him is the Constitution. In political terms, Modi has already done to Gujarat what the Constitution doesn’t permit. But in real terms, he will have to wait till he becomes PM, and his party garners enough numerical strength to change the Constitution. Modi-lovers, work hard at this goal!

The real truth is that what happened in the Ahmedabad mall is shocking, but entirely expected from the polarized Hindu state of Gujarat. Even when its not overtly visible, this kind of discrimination against Muslims is palpable all over. Modi panders to these feelings. And wins elections. And then he rewards his people by not protecting such acts. One feeds off another. Do we want this all over India????

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