It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
The famous opening line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is perhaps an apt description of India of the last twenty-five years. It is a story of economic growth and spread of democracy, but one that contains communal violence and institutional decay. Dotting this narrative is the demolition of two mosques separated by twenty years of political history.
The Babri masjid has festered in our collective conscience as the symbol of a crumbling pluralist ethos. But the alleged demolition of the unnamed mosque at Kadalpur in Uttar Pradesh can emerge as symbol of resilience in the face of both communalism and corruption.
By integrating the twin concerns into a single powerful narrative, it can hold them up as accomplices in curbing democratisation as well as development.
The suspension of IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, ostensibly for taking on the local sand-mafia, strikes at the heart of an India reeling from the dismantling of institutions. However, what situates this story outside the routine frame of corruption is the clever use of communalism as an antidote to charges of political malpractice. In the past, communal sentiments have been whipped up by political parties to secure votes. But this time, the communal card is being played to thwart any attempt to rupture the cosy alliance of business interests and local power holders.
It is important to note that sections of the media reported the officer&’s order to demolish a temple even before she became involved with the mosque. According to these reports, both structures were illegal constructions occupying government land. But given the political imperatives of the Samajwadi Party, the mosque was swiftly summoned to justify the suspension of Durga Shakti Nagpal. Reportedly, the Muslim community in the village has distanced itself from the matter, while the UP Wakf board has gone to the extent of denying her role in the demolition.
Until now, the media as well as various sections of the political class have denounced the suspension as an act of political arrogance. In fact, they have also cautioned against dragging communalism into the picture. However, there is much to be gained from crafting a brand new political narrative made possible by this unforeseen marriage of communalism with corruption.
The two mosques are symbols of political reinvention. In the 1990s, India was re-imagined by a new set of political forces. The emerging elites rejected the socialist rhetoric of the Nehruvian era in favour of economic reform and capitalist growth. Unexpectedly, this optimism of upwardly mobile Indians was complemented by the political project of Hindutva.
This is because the two agendas reflected the aspirations and angst of the elite, who felt enervated by the upsurge of intermediate and lower castes in the corridors of political power. The Babri masjid emerged as a symbol of their reinvention of the idea of India.
India of 2013 needs political reinvention. The anti-corruption agitation has provided the context for viewing the nexus of business and politics in sharp relief to a state that has failed its citizens.
The mosque at Kadalpur tells us that communalism is really no different from corruption. It tells us that politicisation of religion, no matter who indulges in it, is merely another tool for the perpetuation of political power. Both corruption and communalism lead to alienation of the average citizen from the state and constitute the chief impediments to inclusive growth. The slaying of India&’s twin demons at the hands of Durga can only enhance the poetic appeal of the cause at hand.
The writer is a London-based political scientist.