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Opinion

May 11, 2018

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This is not about Jinnah

Seventy years is a long time in a nation’s history. You would think it is enough to heal the wounds of an unforgiving past. In Europe, which witnessed the bloodiest war in history with more than 80 million deaths, the bitterest of foes have been able to bury the past and embrace a peaceful and rewarding future.

They have not just banished the demons of war to make the most of ensuing peace, but have also done away with inconveniences like borders altogether, ushering in unprecedented growth and prosperity.

In South Asia, however, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Indeed, things seem to be getting worse with each passing day. It is as if the sands of time have remained frozen all these years.

The division of India and Pakistan 70 years ago – traumatic as it had been for millions of families on both sides – had been seen by many, including the then leadership of the two countries, as unavoidable. It was accepted as necessary so Hindus and Muslims could live in peace.

Has that goal been achieved? While Pakistan is a reality today and most Pakistanis, at least their second and third generations, seem to have moved on – preoccupied as they are fighting monsters like endemic corruption, poverty and militancy – we in India are still stuck in a time warp, bickering over issues like mandir and masjid, cattle and other familiar themes of the ancient conflict. The issues that hogged the spotlight before Partition in the last century are still very much alive.

As Pratap Bhanu Mehta argues in The Indian Express, the core problem that Partition was meant to solve remains festering: “South Asia is not the zone of freedom it was meant to be; instead, its politics is marked by simmering resentments over identity. In Pakistan, this insecurity has fed the legitimacy of a self-destructive militarisation and orthodoxy. In India, the view that India can avenge Partition by establishing majoritarian domination and marginalising minorities has gained ascendancy since the BJP came to power.”

Indeed, the ‘core problem’ that led to the separation of ways in 1947 has been given a new lease of life with the ascendancy of a rabid BJP led by a rabble-rousing, dangerously opportunistic leadership that would stop at nothing for power.

Many see a Karnataka poll connection to the manufactured controversy over a hoary, forgotten portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah in the office of the Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union (AMUSU) that has been hanging there since 1938, the targeting of Friday prayers in Haryana, and growing attacks against Muslims. They are probably right.

A brazen attempt to queer the communal pitch and polarise the electorate and society has been the predictable pattern of the BJP’s game plan on the eve of every election over the past four years. Prime Minister Modi and BJP President Amit Shah themselves lead these attacks, encouraging their rank and file to follow suit.

But there is another method in the madness and it has nothing to do with elections. Perpetual hatemongering, barefaced lies and an incendiary rhetoric have become a daily affair with this order – election or no election. It seems that every day is a good day to spread the joys of bigotry and hate and the BJP and its Parivar pass up no opportunity to make use of it.

Things have come to such a pass that perhaps for the first time in their history many Indian Muslims are seriously beginning to worry about their future – and that of their future generations – in a country that has been home for more than a millennium.

In the face of the overwhelming challenges that they have faced for all these years on numerous fronts – from political and economic dispossession to communal riots and blatant discrimination – they have never lost hope or faith in the idea of a plural and democratic India or ever toyed with the idea of moving elsewhere. The idea of life elsewhere has been simply unthinkable.

The people of my generations and even those of my parents’ generation grew up long after Partition and have fortunately been spared the chaos that claimed millions of lives and scarred millions more forever. For us, India is more than a country.

For all its warts, endemic problems and inherent institutional weaknesses, the idea of India remains at the core of our existence and identity. This is the land of our ancestors; this is where our parents, grandparents and their parents and grandparents are buried. This is all we have.

This is the place we come home to no matter where and how far we go. We will always come home to India. It is home and will always be, no matter how hard it is for the BJP and RSS bigots to fathom this simple reality.

No place on earth is more beloved to us.

Demonising Jinnah as the architect of Partition all these years while ignoring the historic guilt of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel, the Hindu Right as well as the Congress have deliberately peddled a narrative that blames the Muslim League and, by extension, all Muslims for the creation of Pakistan.

This despite the fact that the majority of Muslims today – around 200 million – or their parents deliberately and consciously chose to stay on in India when they had an opportunity to migrate to the ‘newfound land’ in the 1950s and 1960s.

Ironically, with all the hate attacks and violence by the ruling party targeting an already besieged minority, the saffron clan is only helping validate Jinnah’s Two-Nation Theory and the argument that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations that cannot coexist in peace.

More worryingly, if some Indian Muslims are today for the first time beginning to ask themselves if Jinnah had been right after all and whether their parents should have moved to Pakistan, you know who to blame.

This is no longer about the future and survival of Muslims in India. At stake is the very future of India and the Subcontinent.

This debate is not about whether Jinnah’s photograph belongs in the AMUSU or not, along with other leading lights of the freedom movement. It is about Hindutva’s perpetual witch-hunt of a helpless minority, under some pretext or the other. If it is Jinnah today, it was Aurangzeb, Alauddin Khilji and Tipu Sultan yesterday. If it is not the holy cow, love jihad and other familiar holy excuses, then we can trust the resourceful Parivar to discover new sticks to beat the usual suspects with.

In the words of Mehta: “It is about creating a context where an assortment of organisations that now carry the mantle of Hindu nationalism are looking for any excuse to create communal trouble. The cow, namaz, historical monuments, an irrelevant picture of Jinnah, are all a series of pretexts; they have no bearing on genuine concerns for India’s well-being. Unless there is a political backlash to the BJP, the Subcontinent stands poised on the brink of another communal explosion, fuelled by majoritarian forces”.

Indeed, unless India returns to its sanity and good old common sense for which it has always been known, we could all end up paying a far heavier price than the temporary shutdown of Aligarh Muslim University.

The writer is an independent writer and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]

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