My brother in law, who is also a close friend, sent this reaction to my two posts on secularism and what Congress should do.

“Regarding your blog, I have a fundamental question. Why should congress change in all those ways to win power? It is what it is and let it run its course. Why can’t BJP be the party to do it all and be in power? Why should we have two national parties? Why can’t we have sound regional parties to be a check on BJP the national party? Why should BJP be seen as a Hindu party, and if it is so, why is it always in a pejorative sense? I am not so sure that it is so. Why should we not push for an inclusive, humane, pluralistic party which is Hindu because hinduism is all that? Other than Godhra, which was in retaliation, where did it act with impunity in majority hegemony? Beef ban makes humanitarian, health and environment sense. The world will get rid of much of animal meat over time for other reasons even if BJP doesn’t do it for religious reasons. BJP stands for plurality too but on terms that also respects the will of the majority. What it does not stand for is a plurality that appeases the minority and runs roughshod over the concerns of the majority. Look at the nonsense in the Sabarimala issue. The judicial overreach is atrocious. The legislative ought to have peritioned the executive to moderate the judiciary. BJP didn’t have the guts to do it in an election year. Society must be dealt with by people on the merits of things as they are in time and not only as how they ought to be in theory, as per the constitution. For too long now, it has been fashionable to be left-of center as a position of moral and intellectual superiority. Nationalism has a bad rap because it is conflated with jingoism and denigrated. Look at the US too, where the Silicon Valley social liberals denigrate nationalism, lobby govt and park their profits & esops overseas while waxing eloquent about liberal values and inclusion. It’s time to call a spade a spade and spare the niceties. I believe we will be better off working to refine BJP to align with true Hindu pacifist, pluralist and tolerant values without succumbing to populism and appeasement.”

I promised him I would reply on the blog. Here goes:

  1. The suggestions I made (on what the Congress should do) can be followed by any party wishing to be a national party.  I proposed Congress only because they try to be national.  There is no need for an avowedly regional party to do any of these on a national scale. But they can try.
  2. You question why there should be another national party other than the BJP and why should we not let the BJP pretty much run things nationally.  I am quite surprised at this. Do you wish to change the Constitution, and mandate that only the BJP can function as the governing party? Such a thing is possible – look at China. Or do you wish the Singapore model where even though it is a pluralist democracy on paper, in practice only the PAP wins. I assume you do not want this to be the case.
  3. India’s regional parties run states. Running a State is a local affair. For a check on the BJP (the winner of the 2019) election, you need to be present in Parliament at the Centre. Now this can be a coalition of regional parties that are represented at the centre via the Lok Sabha elections. However someone needs to challenge the ruling party on national issues. If a regional party is able to do that, fine. But the track record is dismal.

The BJP IS a Hindutva Party, not a Hindu party. Hinduism stands for a number of universal values – just as any religion does. But if these religions gain political power the result is pernicious because the power is wielded by human beings and not by the lofty concepts that drive the religion. Romila Thapar (that much hated and reviled historian – reviled by those who have not read a word she wrote) makes a distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva. Hindutva is a political philosophy based on bringing in tenets and concepts dear to the majority. Most of these are difficult to disagree with. Even cow slaughter – but more on that in a while. The tricky bits have to do with how the proponents of Hindutva deal with people who are not Hindu.

The real question here is how is your citizenship defined. Do you need to be a Hindu to be a citizen? Or are you a premier-grade citizen if you are Hindu but children of a lesser God if you are not? Or does citizenship have nothing do with religion but based on your adherence to the expectations of the State (based on which you get certain rights that are no different from those of anyone else)?  My friend – if your answer is the last because it appeals to your natural sense of fairness (which I know you possess), you have selected Secularism as the basis of the state.

Two points in your post will be answered below in points:

  • Cow Slaughter:  Many Hindus eat beef. There are poorer people in Tamil Nadu who eat beef. It is not just a Muslim or Christian practice. Meat eating is responsible for livestock-originated methane emissions. At some point the entire human race has to give up eating meat. The reason the BJP took a position on this is not because of concern for the environment – entirely to do with Hindutva politics. It is laughable to think otherwise.
  • Godhra and Gujata 2002: It was so monstrous – this retaliation you admit – that I do not think any other example is needed. By the way the man who slept at the switch, called the refugee camps “Baby Making Camps” – is running the shop now. We can now cue “did not Congress do so” etc – but that is not what is being discussed

Everything else – well, we are not perfect and I am too old to think that a potential majoritarian government by the BJP ruling as the sole national party is going to be benevolent, benign entity.

I think you saw my blog on Congress and simply saw Red. You probably thought I held a candle for the Congress and was teaching them methods of combating this rightful, benign set of saffron-clad Hindus. Nothing is further from the truth. The BJP needs an Opposition. Someone will provide it.

In my blog on secularism  I have clearly stated that India has and had no choice but be secular, and explained why. But that does not excuse the monstrous and mala fide misuse of secularism. I cannot change the past but fully acknowledge that this should not happen again.

India has a surprisingly mature polity. Even if the BJP wins 400 seats, they will not be able to convert this into a Saffron Strong State as some people wish. The best that I can hope for is that they show future national parties what happens if the secular credo is misused or misinterpreted. You open the door for the Orbans, the Trumps and the Modis.

2 thoughts on “Reaction from a friend to my post

  1. Of course I have to comment !!

    My main comment is on the suggestion that the BJP be the sole national party and that the checks and balances be with strong regional parties. I am in disagreement with the notion of exclusively strong regional parties in the incredibly diverse and complex nation that is India. Regional parties are usually in a single state and when there arises an issue have behaved as “champions” of the state to the detriment of everybody else. The nationhood of India is incredibly precious, I submit. It is the only known instance in the world today where very diverse communities can come together as one nation. It is a beacon to the world splitting on religious, ethnic, racial lines. the nation of India requires coexistence of different states and communities to mutual benefit (and not exclusive benefit). Solely regional parties to exclusion of national parties will inevitably chip away at the nationhood of India. That is a risk, I submit, is unacceptable. We need regional parties too, but I argue for more than 3 national parties offering competing visions for the country. The electorate then makes the choice.

    The other ancillary comment is for those of us standing for a secular nation and keeping religion completely out of the political discourse. It is important to reflect on why so many Hindus feel that they are being discriminated against. Rightly or otherwise, there is a significant number of people who feel that way. This is a genuine feeling and requires some introspection and those preaching secularism. On being secular, it is important not only to be secular, but also be seen as being secular. While I disagree with the commenter you have quoted on the Sabarimala issue, I can completely understand the feeling that if this was an issue of the Muslim faith, the state government would not have acted in the way it did. Evidence is the Shah Bano case, the triple talaq case, etc etc. If the various political dispensations can be truly secular and are uniformly so when it comes to every religion, then I believe the average Indian of any faith will truly stand behind them. My strong belief is that all religions must be kept completely out of governance and public policy and they must strictly be confined to homes and the places of worship. They have no place whatsoever in the public space.


  2. As I write this response, the BJP has crossed the magic 272 mark on its own steam and the NDA will probably hit 340. Vox Populi Vox Dei. A stunning victory in any situation. The triple plank of National Security + Nationalism + Development has resonated with voters. This is the reality.

    Hindu hurt and Hindu fear have been stoked endlessly in the last few years. Our common engineer friend, whose grandfather edited Mahatma Gandhi’s Collected Works, believes the Christians are about to occupy Tamil Nadu and that the Constitution discriminates against Hindus. On facts, this is irrational. There are many more like him. What do you do in this situation? Pointing out to them that they are responsible for their own ignorance and sense of victimhood is counterproductive.

    The wishes expressed by my brother in law have come true. The BJP is now the mainstream national party. Let us hope they focus on the economy and govern in an inclusive fashion.

    As always thanks for leaving a generous comment.


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