By Ranjona Banerji
Sep 13, 2014
It’s a tough life being a liberal these days, but someone has to do it... Or, in other words, anything is better than being a bigot.
Some in India have been mocked and scorned at for being “pseudo-secular”, a phrase which means that they are people who pretend to be “secular”, but are actually pro-Muslim (and/or “pro” other religious minorities) and, thus, anti-Hindu. But this phrase has lost its currency, much like L.K. Advani, the Bharatiya Janata Party doyen who coined it, and has been replaced with “sickular”.
Secular means division of church and state. But in the Indian context it means all religions are equally wonderful, or horrible, and no one religion will be favoured over another. Since the now less than new, but more than 100-day-old Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, treated September 5 more like Children’s Day than Teachers’ Day, perhaps one could look at this problem from a Nehruvian perspective. After all, what was once known as the Nehru jacket has already become the Modi jacket in BJP circles. And much as people might like to compare Mr Modi to Indira Gandhi, one hears that he has set his sights on surpassing her father’s legacy. So why should Children’s Day continue to be on Chacha Nehru’s birthday? It could well be whenever Chacha Modi thinks it should be.
In Nehru’s eyes, the “majority” religion had the responsibility not to overshadow and overwhelm the smaller religions. That is why, from Nehru’s point of view, the state had to look after the rights of minorities. A majoritarian democracy is, at the end of the day, not a democracy at all — equal rights do not mean the rights of the majority trump everyone else’s. Of course, it is not just Nehru who felt this way and nor is this view unique to Indian “sickulars”. But for those of the non-Nehruvian persuasion, Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi are responsible for all this secular nonsense.
In the eyes of Chacha Modi and his friends, anyone who is “sickular” is anti-Hindu and, therefore, anti-national. Ever since he became Prime Minister, Mr Modi does not talk to us as much as he used to. But he did reveal his view of “sickular” folks when he said in Japan, while gifting a Gita to the emperor, that his “secular friends” might object. Because “sickulars” presumably cannot bear it when much revered Hindu scriptures are given any attention. Might have been interesting to see the reaction of the Japanese emperor had the Prime Minister used the popular “sickular” instead.
How does this anathema for the secular, even if presented through a little mocking on an international tour, translate on the ground in India?
There’s the incredible assertion that Muslims in Uttar Pradesh in particular have decided to woo Hindu women into Islam to increase the Muslim population and, therefore, vote bank. “Love jihad” might sound like a remarkably inefficient way to do so, but the BJP is all set to fight an election based on this anyway. And now a BJP politician from Madhya Pradesh has declared that Muslim men should not be allowed to dance the Garba at the upcoming Navratri festival in case they practise “love jihad” on the Hindu women of his state.
Only a “sickular”, it has been said, would question the BJP’s concern about “love jihad”. Or take exception to BJP MP Yogi Adityanath’s extortions to Hindu men to marry 100 Muslim women, be sceptical about claims of stem cell research being found in the Vedas, as discovered and revealed by Dinanath Batra, or worry about RSS’ comments about Hindustan being a Hindu country where all Indians are Hindus, whatever their religion. Indeed, question any of this and you are likely to be instantly labelled as a follower of the Islamic State!
In another world, though, where the Constitution still guarantees a few fundamental freedoms, being secular is still a permissible state of mind and being, regardless of what self-appointed uncles, aunties and their non-secular friends might think. In fact, in that world dwell tribes far worse than “sickulars”. They are liberals, fiberals, and left liberals. Given their hatred for anything that contains “lib”, you’d imagine that those who hate these tribes are also allergic to libraries, books and such like. You would be right and you would be wrong. They like books written by Batra; they cannot abide books by Wendy Doniger.
To be honest, it is not clear exactly what a “fiberal” is. It could be one who fibs, or it could be a feminist liberal. This lot is far worse than the common or garden liberal, because to be a feminist means you have crossed the “Lakshman Rekha”, as so many BJP MPs are happy to point out, no matter what Chacha Modi might say from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
If you veer to the right of the political spectrum, your biggest enemies turn to the left. Therefore, any liberal needs be “Left”. That Lefties themselves have so much in common with right-wingers we must not discuss, or our budding friendship with China might be affected. (Is this something the two Chachas have in common?) Lefties of a particular ilk after all once read nothing but Mao’s Little Red Book...
Can someone then spare a kind thought for the liberals stuck in the middle? Cannons to the left of them, cannons to the right of them, sitting in the valley of death and being charged with just about every crime... Or if you want a more insensitive description, then a wishy-washy — “everyone has rights, even the people whose views I hate” — brigade. What sort of a position is that to take, ask those who go to gyms set up by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to pump their Hindu biceps and plan their next move against some religious minority or the other.
It’s the only way to win this battle that’s being waged on the streets of Pune, Lucknow, and Madhya Pradesh… It’s the only hope that better sense may prevail. And in any case, not all of us will look good in a Chacha jacket. Whichever Chacha you think it belongs to.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist who writes on media affairs, politics and social trends