Sagarika Ghose has been a journalist for 20 years, starting her career with The Times of India
, then moving to become part of the start-up team of Outlook
magazine, subsequently joining The Indian Express
as Senior Editor. She was anchor of the flagship BBC World programme Question Time India
A new lexicon is needed to create a new relationship
Old ghosts have a way of re-appearing. Manmohan Singh has warned senior police officers that the communal situation has become dangerous and "miscreants" are using social media to provoke religious hostility between communities. The Assam riots and subsequent exodus showed that the phantoms of religious polarisation are stalking us once again.
It was social media and bulk smses that led to that exodus of thousands of north easterners from metros. There is constant outrage at "Muslim appeasement" among "nationalist Hindus" on social media. Social media also disseminated morphed images that contributed to almost twenty thousand Muslims congregating in Mumbai's Azad Maidan. Clearly the role of social media in mobilising thousands and whipping up extreme religious sentiments, particularly among youth, cannot be ignored.
Now a terror plot supposedly centred in Bangalore has led to the arrests of 17 young Muslimmen, among them, a journalist, a chartered accountant and a DRDO employee. One of them apparently plotted to kill a "Hindu right wing" journalist, active onTwitter. Already in Bareilly, there have been 5 communal riots in 75 days. MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi has spoken of a "third wave of radicalisation" of Muslims. VHP leader Praveen Togadia has written to the prime minister saying Rohingya Muslims have "infiltrated" up to New Delhi with the help of local Muslims.
As a high stakes general election draws near, on both sides of the religious divide,those who see political gain in religious polarisation just be becoming active again. Muslim rage and Hindu hate are feeding off each other. As mirrored in social media, there is competitive radicalisation of youths in both communities. Fringe groups, spoiling for street battles, are waiting for opportunities.
These are assertive angry times. As the economy contracts, the potential for massive social turmoil increases and the appeal of religious hotheads grows. The law has punished Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi for their role in the Gujarat riots, but the sad reality of Gujarati society as written about insightfully by Vadodara-based academic JS Bandukwala is a total lack of any reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims, ghettoization, continuation of hatred and prejudice, in fact a religious apartheid.
The Hindu-Muslim relationship desperately craves a modern new direction, away from both the language of quotas and the language of conflict. After all, "appeasement" and "communalism" are words born in the last century.
Muslim victimhood drags at the feet of the community, bringing protestors out in thousands only against attacks on religious identity. Leadership by clerics has meant there are no similarly passionate agitations against educational backwardness or plight of women. A perpetual sense of separateness means that Muslims have not yet built alliances with other minorities. AUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal has been accused of creating a fear psychosis around identity to build his party.
To not see the Muslims-in-India glass as half full, to fail to recognise a growing secularised ethos in which even Hindu nationalists will confess to being fans of Shah Rukh Khan, is to ignore the many small successes of secular India.
Yet a modern political leadership that shuns quotas on the one hand and extremist rhetoric on the other, is still missing. The fact that the Congress promise of 9 per cent Muslim sub-quota brought no rewards in the UP polls, shows that quota politics maybe exhausted. Just as quota politics needs to end, politics of prejudice needs to be junked too. Although it claims to have already done so, the BJP needs to give up on identity politics. In a fast changing world, slogans of "minority appeasement" will anyway soon pass their sell by date.
The BJP must now become a secular conservative movement like the UK has. This means locating right wing ideology not in religion but in a movement that favours fiscal consolidation, encourages individual responsibility, supports private investment and generally believes there should be less government involvement in all walks of life. Rising above identity politics, this movement should differentiate itself from a Left-of-centre, subsidies inclined Congress and bury its Babur ki aulad complex. Mohan Bhagwat recently said the RSS is not the HR manager of the BJP; but the RSS is the guiding force of the Sangh whose cadres and foot soldiers (if not leaders) still mobilise primarily on an anti-Muslim platform and historical vendettas against Islam.
Trapped in the politics of quotas or the communal riot, politicians are not inclined to provide any leadership on how the Hindu Muslim relationship can be managed in a situation of competitive assertiveness in a new India. The two main political parties still define their identities not on competing visions of governancebut on sectarian stances on minorities. For them minorities remain a cultural/ideological issue, not a governance issue centred on justice and impartiality from police and judiciary. Assam Chief minister Tarun Gogoi's assertion that Assam's Muslim population is growing because Muslims breed more than Hindus, shows that politicians do not have a new vision of co-existence.
Politicians will fight their narrow battles, but as a society we need to take the lead in staring down the bloodthirsty ghosts that regularly haunt us. The Hindutva movement has undoubtedly forced a re-think on "official secularism". Argument and counter argument about uniform civil code, Kashmir, Babri Masjid are by no means settled. Former Bengal cop Nazrul Islam's book Musalman der karaniya (What Should The Muslims Do) may have become controversial, yet it is precisely a fearless open debate, free of mutual suspicion,that will keep religious hatred at bay.
Religious pride may be increasing on both sides but "proud Muslims" and "proud Hindus" of India must make a common covenant with modernity. They must refuse to be provoked by divisive campaigns and be unafraid to re-start the Hindu Muslim dialogue as argumentative Indians. For this, the Hindu must first shed his prejudice, and the Muslim his anger.