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Upholding the ‘Idea of India’ in Difficult Times

By Md. Israr Alam

“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens, JUSTICE – Social, Economic and Political…” proclaims the preamble – the very heart of the Indian constitution. It promises the delivery of its mandate to each one of Indian citizens.

My first acquaintance with these lines occurred in the 8th class in my school when I was an immature being. As life progressed and I grew into adulthood, I got the opportunity to gauge the long established tropes of the preamble and the constitutional moralities alike. These embedded constitutional values not only guarantee but also give immense confidence to me as a citizen of this country. For people like me, these values always stood more majestic and convincing than the claims of my civic and political rights in my country. Interestingly, there were hardly any moments in my personal engagements where I felt violated in everyday life. I never bothered to refer to the preamble to reclaim my agency and space; it was very much there. To me, the ‘Idea of India’ and my identity as a ‘Citizen of India’ emerged as a vivid and profound idea, ensuring that I am as meaningful as anyone in this country. I believed in my Indianness and Muslimness with no difference. Each time when there was a conflictual situation, I reaffirmed my source of inspiration – the constitutional values – and I preferred my Indianness. With this enshrined confidence I walked alone, travelled with family, gossiped with friends, lived my moments, studied and lectured. Frankly speaking, that cemented confidence is losing its strength now. As the confidence shatters, I am haunted by the fact that my identity is poked relentlessly. This dampened confidence, to my mind, needs to be documented – the dwindling state of collective confidence of a people.

For me, the makers of modern India – Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Patel, and Azad – dreamt of a democratic country. They appreciated and promoted the profound ethnic and linguistic diversity of a nation which underpins ethos and functional vibrancy of a democratic society. They dared to dream of a nation without inequality, oppression, discrimination and violence – a just and equitable India. Interestingly, they were simply Indians for me and the other categories they may have belonged to – religion, caste or class – had no significance for me. I never thought of seeing these dreamers from a religious angle, especially categorized as belonging to Hinduism or Islam. But the political elite reminded me every time to use religious and communal lenses to look at everything and everyone, even Gandhi and Nehru.

Of late, did we not fail to distinguish between unity and uniformity? Have we not begun synonymizing the meaning of majority in democracy with majoritarianism? Hasn’t the act of disagreement and dissent come to be seen as an act of indiscipline and irreverence? When politics redefines itself only in the form of electoral games, when it starts targeting a particular community and uses it as a leverage to enjoy power, it needs serious critique. Referring to glorified histories of a nation is not always an official agenda or necessity for nation-states. It teaches us lessons to become a diverse nation. While reflecting on the ‘Idea of India’ as a diverse nation, I find it irresistible to recall what Gandhi has to offer to Hindus and Muslims both. He presented a pragmatic curriculum to both the communities – to interact with each other, to love each other, to build a symbiotic relationship with each other. To nuance this further, let us look at how Gandhi particularly urged Hindus to approach Muslims. He urged them to give Muslims solace in the aftermath of the Partition, to regain their lost confidence to enrich the diversity of this country.

After 70 years of India being a republic, I find it both relevant and critical to examine how far we have travelled, what we gained and what we lost and how we have treated Muslims of our country. The slogans that were chanted during the Partition which one had thought were erased from public memory have been resurrected and ferociously brought back to our public psyche. A different kind of narrative is being constructed around Muslims and their identity during electoral campaigns. Consent is being manufactured to question Muslims’ loyalty towards the nation forcing them to confirm in certain stereotyped ways, for example, coercively asking them to chant ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Jai Sri Ram’. Muslims have become an integral and substantial component of the manifesto of political parties. Among them, the far right and radical BJP took its mandate to a different level to craft its politics around Muslims. To justify their present politics, they have gone to the extent of poking and stoking history, civics, science, cinema, and art, destroying everything which carries the possibility of expanding the notion of diversity and fraternity. We have witnessed distancing and a prolonged movement of ‘othering’ of Muslims as a community.

With its second term in power, the ruling party, i.e. BJP is seemingly aggressive in making and changing laws. With a well-defined strategy of using and strengthening Islamophobia and playing with religious sentiments, they are constantly infusing hate against Muslims. Over the last six years a discourse has been built, consent has been manufactured, an enemy has been created and everyday vocabularies have been invented: Deshbhakt-Deshdrohi, Shamshan-Kabristan, Gau raksha, Jansankhaya Virdhi, Jinnah, Pakistani, sickular, so on and so forth. Ranging from speeches of senior and top leaders subscribing to Hindutva ideology who openly use insulting, inflammatory, intimidating and unconstitutional idioms and phrases during electoral campaigns to win elections to portraying Muslims as invaders, cow-eaters, temple-destroyers, love jihadis, polygamists, fundamentalists, desh ke ghaddar and terrorists. In many of their speeches, the top members of the ruling party regularly attempt to establish a Muslim = Terrorists = Pakistani link only to arouse sentiments along communal lines with the express purposes of electoral games and gains. The incidence of Easter Sunday Blast in Sri Lanka was exaggerated on the pretext of national security where an attempt was made to merge two identities together, i.e. Muslims and Terrorists.

When leaders with the image of hardworking-nationalist heroes deliver such talks, it contributes to the seeding, breeding and legitimization of narratives like “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”. These narratives are normalized and made part of popular commonsense through the process of fabricating history, geography and theology. In the Indian Republic of 2020, VIP hate speeches have become a standardized practice where right-wing leaders are competing with one another in humiliating Muslims so as to prove that they are more loyal than the king. The latest is the filthy and severely stirring remark by a minister during the election campaign in Delhi testing the limits of toxic communication where he fearlessly provoked people with the line “Desh ke ghaddaron ko, goli maro salon ko” referring to protesters against the CAA at Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi. And we all know what happened the next day! A teenager opened fire on peaceful protesters near Jamia Millia Islamia chanting, ‘Main Dunga Azadi’. From where did he get this confidence and authority? In fact, provocation and encouragement from people holding constitutional positions encourages lumpen elements take pride in killing innocent people. They do not even fear killing police officers on duty with the firm belief that slogans like ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ will definitely protect them from being punished. This is not surprising if we consider that people accused of lynching walk free from jail and are welcomed as if they have won a battle for the nation.

No wonder, new phrases like mob lynching, something that very few citizens were aware of few years ago are normalized and added to everyday vocabularies of ‘New India’!

Well, when I introspect, the following questions disturb me as a citizen of India:

Is this the country our forefathers have sacrificed their blood and flesh for?

Is this the freedom that we had tryst with 70 years ago?

Is this the reason we have chosen this piece of land as our body, heart and soul, as our destiny?

Is this the justice, which the architects of the constitution intended to confer on us

No, of course Not!

Because when people celebrate songs like “Jo na bole Jai Sri Ram, bhej do usko Kabristan”, when persons holding respectful constitutional positions cheer stage plays on Babri Masjid demolition by school children, and when a high ranking police officer threatens people to go to Pakistan, we can certainly infer that the ethos of the republic is being eroded. It is clearly evident that strategic and systematic efforts are made to attack the composite and plural character of India by singularly polarizing Hindus against Muslims. The Citizenship Amendment Act, an insinuation of Government’s majoritarian bigotry, clearly challenges the very structure of the Indian republic. The broken glasses of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University tell the story of a splintering nation and remind me of ‘Kristallnecht’ during Nazi’s Germany.

Is this the beginning that will shape and execute ‘Indian Kristallnacht’? It bothers me a lot because it soaks our rich values of diversity and shared pluralism which we celebrated for long. We must question before these ruptures tear us apart. So I assert my Indianness and Muslimness as Rahi Masoom Raza firmly asserted in his masterpiece novel Aadha Gaoon in his peculiar style:

The Jan Sangh says that Muslims are outsiders. How can I presume they’re lying? But I must say that I belong to Ghazipur. My bonds with Gangauli are unbreakable. It’s not just a village, it’s my home. Home!! This word exists in every language and dialect in this world, and is the most beautiful word in every language and dialect. And that is why, I repeat my statement – because Gangauli’s not just a village; it’s my home as well. ‘Because’ – what a strong word this is. There are thousands of ‘becauses’ like it and no sword is sharp enough to cut this ‘because’.”

I too assert that so long as these thousands ‘becauses’ are alive – I shall remain INDIAN. I do not give anyone the right to say, “You do not belong to India, so get out and go!” As Rahi said, “Why should I go, sahib? I will not go.”

Md. Israr Alam
teaches Social Work at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.


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4 Responses to “Upholding the ‘Idea of India’ in Difficult Times”

  1. Abu Osama

    It is a nice commentary!!
    It would have been more worthwhile reading if had the columnist provided some theoretical proposition to get rid of this situation.

  2. Mohd Shahid

    Well said. Idea of India evolved and sustained against the rush for “Train to Pakistan” and it shall sustain because, we have this ‘because’ . …


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