If you need to understand the shallowness of Indian political secularism, the recent fuss over Narendra Modi is an eye-opener, assuming we need one more eye-opener to acknowledge this phenomenon.
Last week, Samajwadi party leader and Urdu journalist Shahid Siddiqui was declared persona non grata by his party for having the temerity to interview Modi. What would normally have been considered a coup for any journalist – for Modi rarely gives interviews - was seen as a sin in Siddiqui.
He should have known what was coming. Even before the party got into the act, Teesta Setalvad, who has converted Gujarat 2002 into her life’s work, told prime-time viewers on Times Now that Siddiqui would pay a political price for his act – and this even before she had seen that interview in Nai Duniya.
A Muslim interviewing Modi? God forbid. That’s communal.
Siddiqui has now been reduced to defending his actions and he has been trying hard to tell everybody that he asked Modi tough questions - and which he did not answer convincingly. His party, meanwhile, is busy denying he even joined them.
Next, we have had Team Anna suddenly excoriating Baba Ramdev for allegedly sharing a dais with Modi and praising him. Ramdev apparently said: “Everybody is asking me about corruption in Gujarat, but I couldn’t find anything of this sort.”
Now this is hardly the same say saying there is no corruption in Gujarat. If Ramdev did not find corruption in the state, it’s probably because he did not look hard enough. But his statement was hardly something to get apoplectic over. People routinely say nice things about their hosts.
But it was enough to get Sanjay Singh, a member of Team Anna, to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude. “We were never in agreement with Modi. We are not in agreement with Modi now. Narendra Modi is a murderer of humanity. Ramdev will have to clarify on this issue."
Singh should hark back to last year, when Anna Hazare himself praised Modi and Nitish Kumar for their development work. Nobody objected to what he said about Nitish, but Modi? No chance. Soon Anna had to recant; he had to make a trip to Gujarat and formally announce that there was lots of corruption in the state.
Sanjay Singh’s statement must be seen as Team Anna’s increasing worry that Anna and Baba Ramdev may join forces. They want to keep Ramdev out.
On Sunday, a Congress MP – Vijay Darda – praised Modi as a “tiger”, given his tigerish commitment to his work. Another newspaper said Darda called him a ‘lion” rather than a tiger. Despite this confusion over the species Darda was referring to, one gets the drift. He was certainly lionising Modi – not for 2002, but his subsequent achievements.
The Congress party has got into a flap over this, and the party’s trouble-makers are busy trying to get authentic copies of what Darda said so that he can be adequately chastised.
A few general conclusions can be drawn from these events.
First, Narendra Modi is clearly India’s Untouchable No 1. Earlier, it was only his party, the BJP, or the Sangh Parivar, that was untouchable. But after six years in power under Vajpayee, that untouchability is more or less gone. But Modi is the new mascot of pariahhood. In politics you need an “other” – and that other is Modi.
Second, secularism has been reduced to a simple test that anybody can pass. Are you for Modi or against him. You can be the most bigoted or corrupt of Indians – you can beat you wife, kill you daughter for marrying outside the gotra or caste, loot crores from the public treasury, abuse Dalits and bash them up – but if you are against Modi, you are a Jolly Good Fellow. You pass the test of political acceptability. CPI(M) leaders can extol Stalin’s murders and even approve of party leaders in Kerala taking about murdering their political opponents, but all that is kosher.
Third, secularism is no longer about what you are, but what you profess in your public statements to the media.
A genuinely secular party does not need to disown a party member who merely interviews Modi. Only a party that is not secular has to go to such public shows of secularism to claim the tag.
This is a farce. The sooner we get rid of this hypocrisy, the easier it will be to really tackle communalism in all its forms.