Why Narendra Modi's 'burkha of secularism' is an apt description

by R Jagannathan  Jul 16, 2013 14:39 IST

#Ajay Maken   #BJP   #communalism   #Congress   #InMyOpinion   #Narendra Modi   #Secularism  

Let us, for argument's sake, accept that Narendra Modi's "puppy" and "burkha of secularism" statements were communally insensitive and inappropriate.

I am not sure about the puppy analogy, since it can be subject to varied interpretations, but the "burkha" reference was certainly entirely appropriate in the context of what the BJP has been alleging all along about pseudo-secularism, especially when it comes to giving Muslims a free pass into the secular club.

Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. AFP

Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. AFP

The BJP, and surely Modi, believe there is a one-sidedness to how communalism is tackled by the Congress and Leftist elite. Hindu communalism bad, minority communalism (let’s skip that). Confirmation of this came from Congress spokesman Ajay Maken, who said the "burkha of secularism" is better than "naked communalism". Reason: “While communalism divides, securalism binds,” Maken said.

Here’s an effort to latch on to the word secularism, while inadvertently pleading guilty to the practice of “burkha” politics.

Personally, I would be happier knowing who is communal, than not knowing whether someone is really secular. A back-stabbing secular friend could be worse than a known and plain-talking communal enemy.

In Kerala, every community works communally – there are Muslim parties, Ezhava parties, Christian parties and Nair parties – and the net result is workable secularism. Ditto with Malaysia, where we have a Malay Muslim party, a Chinese party and an Indian one – all working together in a pre-set coalition without submerging their communal identities.

Indian politics needs to head that way – at least in the short run, where our communal and caste identities are more important to us than a synthetic nationalism. In the long run, a salad bowl nation will metamorphose into a melting pot.

This is why the Congress notion of synthetic secularism is meaningless.

Consider what Kapil Sibal, Communications Minister and a lawyer who surely knows the import of words, has to say. Writing in The Indian Express today, Sibal said about the puppy and backseat driver analogy: "The members of a community cannot be unwitting victims of an accident. Therefore, in the best case scenario, the man sitting behind was aware that the driver was rash and negligent in snuffing out the life of hapless victims. What would a good Hindu do? First, he would have immediately dismissed the driver...". And so on. You get the drift.

Now, there is the inadvertent assumption about “one community” being the sole victim. No prizes for guessing which community he is referring to. We all know that though Muslims had a greater share of losses in the blood-letting, but many Hindu lives too were lost - about a fourth of the total. This wasn’t the case in 1984, where only one community lost lives.

Sibal did not stop to face the obvious point about whether the Congress ever did what he hoped Modi would do as a good “hindu.” Did the Congress "dismiss" Tarun Gogoi for the Assam communal violence last year, never mind showing Rajiv Gandhi the door in the now tired comparison of the 1984 killings? And was the Shah Banu legislation anything short of an attempt to reinsert the "burkha of secularism" into a clearly secular court verdict?

When Sibal goes on to score semantic points about how Modi thwarted justice to all in Gujarat and how Modi's complaint about the Congress using the CBI for its own political purposes is wrong. But we need not detain ourselves here since we are primarily looking at the secularism angle.

Criticising Modi for his statement on being a Hindu nationalist since he was born a Hindu, Sibal makes this point: "First of all, Modi does not understand the distinction between patriotism and nationalism. It seems that the chief minister believes that every born Hindu is a Hindu nationalist. With respect, there are some born Hindus who are anti-national. Some born of other faiths are also anti-national." (Italics mine)

There are several hidden problems with this statement for nationalism itself has several meanings. If one person believes that fake encounters are okay to save a country from terrorism, another may believe that nationalism involves exposing such people. So a person believing in Hindu rashtra is anti-national only in the context of his beliefs, and his willingness to murder and kill, just as he may think others holding the opposite view are anti-national too, especially if they too are willing to maim and kill.

But Sibal's "burkha" of secularism stands exposed from his statement that "there are some born Hindus who are anti-national. Some born of other faiths are also anti-national."

He is not coy about identifying "some born Hindus as anti-national" but anti-nationals of “other faiths” will not be identified with their faiths. Is he talking about Parsis or Buddhists here?

It’s quite clear, for the Congress party, Hindu communalism is the only for of communalism. The “burkha of secularism” protects the rest of the bigots.