Hope versus fear


The BJP will revive the Hindutva plank for the next election


In a book published in 2007, I wrote that "the world over, the rhetoric of modern democratic politics has been marked by two rather opposed rhetorical styles. The first appeals to hope, to popular aspirations for economic prosperity and social peace. The second appeals to fear, to sectional worries about being worsted or swamped by one's historic enemies."

The Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru generally campaigned on a platform of hope. Nehru and his party promised voters economic growth, social peace and a higher standing for India in the world. He fought three general elections by these means. To be sure, he or his party did not achieve all these goals in office. However, to his credit, to win an election Nehru never opposed India to Pakistan, or Hindus to Muslims, or low castes to high castes, or the Hindi heartland to the rest of India.

On the other hand, the Shiv Sena under Bal Thackeray always campaigned on a platform of fear. The party was founded in 1966; for the first 20 years of its existence, its main focus was on asserting that Mumbai was a city for Marathi-speakers alone. Shiv Sainiks first targeted South Indians who had come to the city to live and work; later, their focus was on keeping people from the North and East out of the metropolis. However, as the Shiv Sena sought to expand elsewhere in the state it acquired a new set of scapegoats. Now it painted Muslims as the main enemy of Mumbai, Maharashtra, and India.

Whether you stoke fear or promote hope is generally a question of character and belief. It was impossible for Nehru to ever demonize Muslims, and inconceivable that Thackeray would ever see Muslims as full and equal citizens of the republic.

Most politicians use hope or fear consistently through the course of their career. Narendra Modi is an exception. He has alternated between these two modes of campaigning. In his first few years as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi campaigned, and ruled, largely on a platform of fear. He spoke of the threats posed to his state and country by a certain "Mian Musharraf", of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origins, of the Congress's alleged pandering to Muslims and of the Muslims' own alleged campaign of demographic conquest (" Hum paanch, hamare pachees", as he put it). Modi stoked the Indian fear of foreigners, the Gujarati fear of outsiders, and the Hindu fear of Muslims - all at once. He presented himself as a bulwark against the malevolent forces which threatened Gujarat in general and Gujarati Hindus in particular, insisting that he, and only he, could save the state from going under.

Halfway into his second full term as chief minister, Modi began re-presenting himself as a Vikash Purush, a Man of Development, who would bring growth and prosperity to the people of his state. He held Vibrant Gujarat summits at which industrialists promised thousands of crores; and he began to boast about his state's achievements in energy, infrastructure and agriculture. The investments were mostly unrealized; and the achievements were somewhat exaggerated. Nonetheless, it was clear that from about 2010 onwards Modi began moving away from the rhetoric of fear toward the rhetoric of hope. The move was not complete; he still remained somewhat suspicious of Muslims (as when he refused to wear a skull cap offered to him in 2011). Nonetheless, it seemed that some sort of brand makeover was underway to make the man appeal to more than the core constituency of Hindutva.

In his campaign for the 2014 general elections, Modi further underplayed communal issues in favour of economic ones. He promised 'Achchhe Din' for everyone and for young voters in particular, saying he would create crores of jobs for them. He also spoke of standing for 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas', implying that religious minorities would also benefit from the economic growth his regime claimed it would bring.

After Modi won the elections and became prime minister, some commentators thought that he had finally shed his hard-line image. They hoped that he would now reconcile conflicting groups, rationalize archaic laws holding back our society and economy, and enhance India's standing in the world. They were further swayed by his grand slogans of 'Start Up India, Stand Up India', 'Make in India', 'Made in India'.

Indians under Modi were indeed starting new enterprises; but of lynching innocent men, not of manufacturing objects for export. Those commentators who had cheered him to victory now urged him to 'rein in the fringe elements'. He was unwilling to do so; meanwhile, his party president was happy to let the polarization proceed apace. A rash of hateful statements against Muslims were made by MPs - chiefly from UP - who had been hand-picked to contest elections by Amit Shah.

Then, in March 2017, one of those chosen MPs was made chief minister of his state. He had a track record as a baiter of minorities; and he was no promoter of development either. Despite five terms as an MP, his constituency was an economic, social, educational and medical disaster. In office, he continued to make incendiary statements aimed at the minorities. Yet, not only does he remain in office; he is sent by the Bharatiya Janata Party to other states to spread his message of hate and division.

Suspicion of those who are not Hindus is intrinsic to the institutional and ideological structure of the sangh parivar. Modi himself imbibed this early; witness the adulatory essays he wrote in praise of M.S. Golwalkar. For his own instrumental purposes, however, Modi shifted from demonizing Muslims during his 2014 campaign. Now, however, since Achchhe Din have manifestly not arrived, the party seems set to revive the Hindutva plank for the next election.

Consider in this regard the debate around the National Register of Citizens in Assam. When the first draft was released, the home minister, Rajnath Singh, said this was a preliminary list, and all those excluded would have a chance to apply again and appeal further if even then they didn't figure. This was both sober and sensible; for the Indian bureaucracy has a legendary reputation for incompetence. Soon, many cases of legitimate citizens being excluded came to light, including many respected Assamese professionals, the family of a former president of the republic, and even a BJP MLA.

The BJP president, however, immediately declared that all those not named in the first draft were infiltrators and needed to be deported. His remarks were picked up and amplified by his acolytes in other states. Leaders of the BJP in Rajasthan, Bihar, Bengal, Mumbai and Delhi have all asked for the identification and deportation of 'foreigners' in their state or city. Lest they be dismissed as the 'fringe', let me note that in Jharkhand, a Harvard-educated and McKinsey-primed Union minister has called for such deportation too.

'Foreigners' in this context is, of course, a code word for 'Muslims'. With farmers in distress, Dalits angry, millions of young men still looking in vain for dignified employment, the BJP appears to have decided to fight the next general election on a platform of generating fear. Voters in different districts and states will be warned of the Assam example, and told that even the jobs they have are at risk because people of that other and foreign faith are against them.

It is likely that in his own speeches the prime minister will not emphasize communal language, or at least not excessively. Rather, he will stoke fears of another kind; that if he is not given a second term, a khichdi coalition led by some self-seeking or corrupt regional satrap will blow away all the promises he has made to the nation, perhaps blow away the nation itself. So, while the cadre will tell voters to fear those who are not Hindu, the leader will tell voters to fear other leaders. Having, in 2014, falsely promised Achchhe Din, Modi will now tell voters that his rivals are capable only of bringing Burre Din.

e.mail : ramachandraguha@yahoo.in

courtesy : “The Telegraph”, 18 August 2018


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

"A little knowledge is a dang'rous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not of the Pierian spring"

— Alexander Pope

For those who, like me, who would wish to be enlightened as to what is the "Pierian spring", I have looked up Wikipedia on behalf of all of us and there it says, "In Greek mythology, it was believed that drinking from the Pierian spring would bring great knowledge and inspiration". A literary critic, Susan Eiche, has further elaborated (Richmond News, August 27, 2014): "Pope is saying that a little knowledge will only befuddle, misleading us into thinking we know more than in fact we do". 

Such rumination on my part is principally in consequence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama having startled me and my ilk by his wholly unwarranted assertion that "I think Mahatma Gandhi-ji was very much willing to give the Prime Ministership to Jinnah. But Pandit Nehru refused. I think it was a little self-centred attitude of Pandit Nehru that he should be Prime Minister. Mahatma Gandhi's thinking, if it had materialized...then India, Pakistan would have been united". 

It must be quickly added that within a day, His Holiness graciously withdrew his charge, saying, "I apologize if I said something wrong".

Nevertheless, this faux pas does offer the opportunity to clear the air about the circumstances in which Mahatma Gandhi made the offer of Prime Ministership to Quid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and what followed.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama said that India and Pakistan would have remained one if Pandit Nehru had accepted Gandhi-ji's choice of Muhammed Ali Jinnah as the country's first PM

On April 1, 1947 (I am deliberately not saying April Fool's Day), Mahatma Gandhi paid a call on the newly arrived Viceroy, Rear Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma. 

Mountbatten recorded that Gandhi-ji opened the discussion by giving the Viceroy a "brief summary of the solution which he asked me to adopt." The solution was that "Mr. Jinnah should forthwith be asked to form the Central Interim Government with Members of the Muslim League". Readers (and His Holiness, if he so wishes) might note that this was not the offer of the Prime Ministership of independent India to Mr. Jinnah, but an invitation to him to head the interim government till Independence was proclaimed (then scheduled for over a year later, by June 1948). 

Technicalities aside, Mountbatten recorded that "the solution coming at this time staggered me". Had Mountbatten been better acquainted with our Freedom Struggle than he evidently was, there was no cause for him to be "staggered". For the Mahatma had been repeatedly making this offer to Jinnah since at least 1942. As cited by Stanley Wolpert in his admiring biography of Jinnah, "Jinnah of Pakistan" (OUP, 1984, p. 208), Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, on August 8, 1942, on the very eve of launching the Quit India movement: "the Congress will have no objection to the British Government transferring all the powers it exercises to the Muslim League on behalf of the whole of India". Gandhi-ji added: "And the Congress will not only not obstruct any Government that the Muslim League may form on behalf of the people, but will even join the Government in running the machinery of the free State." He emphatically concluded: "This is meant in all seriousness and sincerity".

"Staggered" or not, Mountbatten took the precaution of seeking Gandhi's "permission" to "discuss the matter with Pandit Nehru" but "in strict confidence". The Mahatma readily agreed.

The very same afternoon, Nehru met with Mountbatten. Mountbatten recorded: "Pandit Nehru was not surprised to hear of the solution which had been suggested". Indeed, there was no need for any surprise because, as Nehru pointed out to Mountbatten, "this was the same solution that Mr. Gandhi had put up to the Cabinet Mission" (that had visited India in the summer of 1946).

Mahatma Gandhi with Jawaharlal Nehru during a Congress Party meeting (August, 1942)

Indeed, Nehru could have pointed out to His Excellency (which is how Mountbatten loved to be addressed) that since almost the morrow of the Muslim League's Lahore resolution of March 23, 1940, the Congress had been attempting to persuade Jinnah and his League not to press the Pakistan demand as the Congress was more than willing to ensure that, to avoid partition, post-Independence, the reins of power could be passed to the hands of Jinnah and his League. In August 1940, five months after the Lahore resolution, Rajaji floated the balloon through an interview to the Daily Herald saying that "if His Majesty's Government would agree to a Provisional National Government being formed at once, he would persuade his colleagues in the Congress to agree to the Muslim League being invited to nominate the Prime Minister who would form the National Government as he might consider best." 

This was followed by a letter from Gandhi-ji to Viceroy Linlithgow saying he was welcome to form a Cabinet "composed of representatives of different parties" and "the Congress would be content to remain in opposition". Obviously, any such non-Congress Cabinet would be headed by a nominee of the Muslim League. Who else but Jinnah? 

This shows that neither Gandhi nor the Congress had deviated from the offer made to Jinnah over the long period of two years from 1940 to 1942. 

The question of who would lead the government of a united India did not arise during the Jinnah-Gandhi talks of September 1944, which were focused on whether India would remain united or would be vivisected. But, as Nehru noted in his April 1, 1947 conversation with Mountbatten, Gandhi-ji did revive his proposal for a Jinnah-led government to the 1946 Cabinet Mission. The Cabinet Mission, however, "turned down" the suggestion "as being quite impracticable". Nehru had nothing to do with either making the proposal or turning it down. 

It was not Nehru but Jinnah who rejected Gandhi-ji's offer. As Wolpert puts it, "Such an offer might have tempted Jinnah if he believed in or trusted Gandhi". He did not. Instead, as he told the press, "Mr. Gandhi's conception of 'Independent India' is basically different from ours", adding, "Mr. Gandhi by independence means Congress raj". Gandhi-ji understood this so well that even in his April 1, 1947 conversation, in reply to Mountbatten's query about what Jinnah would say to such a proposal, Gandhi-ji himself wryly replied, "If you tell him I am the author, he will reply, 'Wily Gandhi' ". Mountbatten, attempting to be equally witty, said, "And I presume Mr. Jinnah would be right?" Pat came Gandhi-ji's reply, "No, I am entirely sincere in my suggestion." 

Jinnah became the founding father of Pakistan when the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947 following India's independence from British rule

In this connection, VP Menon, constitutional adviser to the Viceroy, recorded a detailed note that is unfortunately undated but readily available in the Mountbatten Papers. Menon wrote to Mountbatten that Gandhi-ji "knows full well that similar offers have been made to him (Jinnah) in the past as well and that Jinnah never took them seriously". He adds, "No one - least of all the Muslim League - took this offer seriously; the joke, if it was a joke, failed to amuse the Congress world; and it thoroughly annoyed the Hindu Mahasabha". To, therefore, suggest to a new generation of students born decades after these events that Nehru opposed Gandhi-ji's suggestion because he, Nehru, was hungering to become PM is both cruel and unfair and totally unhistorical. It was Jinnah who refused to countenance Gandhi-ji's suggestion.

A staff meeting followed on April 5, 1947. Lord Ismay, chief of staff to the Viceroy, opened by reporting on his one-hour meeting with Gandhi-ji following Gandhi-ji's call on the Viceroy. "The salient features of this scheme," said Ismay, "were that Mr Jinnah be given the option of forming a Cabinet of his own selection; and that if he rejected the offer, the same offer should be made mutatis mutandis to Congress". Ismay went on to stress, "Mr. Gandhi's proposition had already been put up to Mr. Jinnah who had rejected it and would do so again." Of course, Gandhi-ji knew Jinnah would reject the option. But if he did, the way would be opened to Congress forming the Cabinet.

Following the Mountbatten-Gandhi and Mountbatten-Nehru meetings of April 1, the senior staff of the Viceroy, after consultation among themselves, "had come to the unanimous conclusion that Mr. Gandhi's scheme was not workable". The reasons the staff cited for the proposition being unworkable included: "Mr. Jinnah's Government would be completely at the mercy of the Congress majority"; hence, "every single legislative or political measure would be brought up to the Viceroy for decision, and every action the Viceroy took after the initial stages would be misrepresented." Thus, to save the Viceroy's skin, the staff begged him to not pursue this any further. Nehru had nothing to do with any of this.

British Governor-General Lord Mountbatten (centre) and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as they witness the raising of the Indian tricolour for the first time at India Gate in New Delhi (August, 1947)

Mountbatten, however, over-ruled his staff's opinion and insisted that the Gandhi option be included in the panoply of options he proposed placing before Jinnah. Accordingly, on April 6, 1947, Lord Ismay drafted the "Outline of a Scheme for an Interim Government pending Transfer of Power". Readers may please note that this was not a scheme for the exercise of power in an Independent India (with or without Pakistan). The Outline said at point one, "Mr. Jinnah to be given the option of forming a Cabinet"; point two said, "The selection of the Cabinet is left entirely to Mr. Jinnah". The other points need not detain us further for Jinnah rejected the Gandhi option as presented to him by the Viceroy.

On April 7 and 8, 1947, Mountbatten met with Jinnah twice.

While it was Mountbatten's insistence on partitioning Punjab and Bengal that troubled Jinnah most, on the question of his becoming Prime Minister, "Jinnah referred that the Viceroy had said that he (Note: The Viceroy, not Gandhi) wanted him to be Prime Minister, but as he had opposed the Cabinet Mission Plan, the chances were no more of it". By April 10, even Mountbatten gave up, recording, "Mr. Jinnah was a psychopathic case". On April 11, Gandhi-ji wrote to Mountbatten that he wished to be "omit(ted)" from the Viceroy's "consideration". His proposal was thus not pursued further.

Hence, it was not Nehru's aching desire to be PM but principally Jinnah himself, Mountbatten and his staff, the Congress Working Committee and eventually a despairing Gandhi-ji who gave up on this will o' the wisp of keeping India united by making Jinnah PM. That should end such damaging forays into history as, alas, the Dalai Lama allowed himself to make. The nation should be grateful to His Holiness for withdrawing his remark before further damage was caused.

(Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)

Published: August 15, 2018


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features