between the lines ~ kuldip nayar

Politics in India may not be the same again. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has charged the agenda. It has introduced pure communalism to the soft Hindutva that prevailed so far. By appointing hardliner Narendra Modi, Gujarat Chief Minister, as the panel chief for the 2014 parliament election, the party has dropped every bit of ambiguity over secularism. It is stark Hinduism for all to see.
Apparently, the old leadership resisted the decision. LK Advani had even submitted his resignation from all the posts he held in the party. Yet, the irresponsible younger cadre was in no mood to accommodate the sober point of view. For them, sharper communal politics was the minimum. Advani had reportedly warned behind the walls that Modi was not a proper person for India.
The atmosphere may become more bitter when the BJP propagates the Hindu Rashtra openly. True, the concept goes against the very grain of the Constitution, which envisioned India as a secular democratic republic. But the BJP has derived no benefit from it. In future, the very word secularism will find different interpretations. Parties, however parochial in outlook, will claim to be secular.
Therefore, Modi&’s acceptance speech was understandably vehement against the Congress, the largest political party which has come to be associated with secularism. He wants the party to disappear from the scene so that there is no confusion between the BJP, a Hindu outfit, and the Congress, with secular credentials.
This may or may not happen, but the BJP has embarked upon the task of wiping the slate clean with no mention of secularism whatsoever. Since independence, even long before it, the freedom struggle was based on the idea of an independent India that would know no difference on the basis of community or caste.
The leaders immersed in that struggle agreed to India&’s partition but not to the thesis that religion could be mixed with politics. Secularism is thus the cornerstone of the structure that India has tried to raise after Partition. It has not been an ideal effort. Yet, it has kept the country together, with no recurring example of communal divide.
In the process, the nation has also come to recognise the distance between the communal forces and the secular elements. It has resulted in a healthy development: secular political parties have generally kept away from the BJP and tried to stall its capturing power at the Centre. The induction of Modi may not defeat the process. But it will definitely confuse the Hindus who, barring some, are animated with cosmopolitan thoughts. They stopped the BJP from winning in the last two parliamentary elections because when the time for casting votes came, they put their weight behind the liberal forces that had kept the country more or less midway ~ neither left or right. The danger of its veering towards the right has increased now.
The RSS, which has initiated and supported Modi, sees in him someone nearer to their ideology of Hindutva and an anti-Muslim. The real Modi was exposed when he blessed the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat a decade ago. Not a word of regret even after years only underlines his anti-Muslim thinking. How can India have a person like him as the Prime Minister?
The repercussions of such a person at the helm of BJP, not possessing even a semblance of liberalism, can be dangerous. Obsessed with driving a wedge between Hindus and Muslims, he can vitiate the young mind. With liberalism or idealism already receding to the background, bigotism and extremism will permeate what is left of India&’s composite culture.
When I was India&’s High Commissioner at London, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had asked me the secret of India staying together for centuries. I had told her that we did not believe that the country was divided into black and white. We believed that there was a vast grey area. We went on expanding that area. That was our secularism. The idea kept the nation together. She was reportedly impressed with my explanation and told Soviet President Gorbachev as much. Gorbachev, in turn, had sent a delegation to India to study the strength of this grey area ~ secularism.
Modi will make black further bleak and shut every opening for the grey area to expand. In the last few decades, the BJP has purveyed the impression that it is looking for a space that will give it an image of being right of Right ~ of being pro-Hindu but not extremist. Modi will stop such an ideology from developing. It will be saffron all the way.
The BJP has foolishly come to realise that it would have to sharpen differences with the Muslims to appear different. It believes that if there is any time to play the Hindu card, it is now. This is wrong    thinking, and leaves no space for even small gestures for conciliation, although Advani&’s presence evokes hope.
The greatest beneficiary of Modi gaining importance will be the Congress. Not that it is intrinsically secular, but it has the reputation of being so. The Muslim electorate, nearly 15 per cent, will move towards the Congress and adversely affect large parties like Mulayam Singh Yadav&’s Samajwadi party, which has a large Muslim following in UP. The party&’s image is also secular.
The Congress will gain because the next election is not for an Assembly, but for the Parliament. The Muslims know the importance. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), comprising BJP&’s allies, may break apart and allies may sever their ties with the BJP.
The real loss, however, is that of the Indian nation. At a time when it seems various elements have found their identity within the country, Modi&’s image of parochialism will come out in the open. The idea of India will be jeopardised. It is a pity that the country will be unsettled when it is settling down to an ideology that may not be purely secular but does not disturb people of different faiths from living a life of their own in their own way.

The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator