My dear fellow Indians of Uttar Pradesh,
In a few months we will have elections to decide the road ahead. In the usual manner discussion has commenced on who is ahead in the race. Sadly once again there is no discussion about who ought to win for the sake of the children, women, farm labour, industrial worker, youth and the deprived sections of the State. For too long have we recycled solutions for backwardness and poverty. For too long have we pretended that solutions will be found in the politics of identity. For too long have we accepted that control over the police and access to government contracts is the prime purpose of politics. The Mirzapur serials might be exaggerating the conditions but only the blind will say this is not ground reality.
The BJP came from nowhere to brute power in a matter of months riding the dragon of communalism. Even many a committed BJP follower might reluctantly agree to that proposition with the Yogi in mind. Some where the brains of the ruling party must be telling them that the UP current model is not sustainable. The exercises being conducted are about this or simply muscle flexing to concentrate power is difficult to tell for the present. The challenge being mounted against the BJP or perceived by default too is unfortunately identity based. The Congress is in the process of reaching out to some fundamentals of governance: Covid-19 mismanagement, healthcare infrastructure, education and jobs. These must indeed become the factors that tilt the scales but ultimately even with these issues we will have to tackle communalism.
The cure for communalism does not lie in ignoring it or pretending that it is not there. It certainly does not lie in resorting to a milder version ourselves. In a plural society there may be a historical predominance of the majority community but not at the cost of equal concern and respect for the rights of minority communities. Luckily there are virtually no matters of direct conflict between the communities if one abjures interference with lives of other people. Not smoking for Sikhs need not prohibit others from smoking except in their vicinity if they so indicate. Not eating pork for Muslims should not affect the eating preferences of others. The same might be said for teetotallers who keep company of persons who like a drink. Disputes, if at all, are restricted to reversing the events of history but that too can only be done according to the constraints of rule of law.
All communalism is bad and one has no difficulty in endorsing that. However people who equate majority communalism with majority communalism make the mistake that Jawaharlal Nehru had pointed out: majority communalism becomes more dangerous by passing off as nationalism. Be that as it may there is a great responsibility on all to combat communalism but even greater reason for the minority to fight it because in the short run they have more to lose. Their acts and words therefore must not give the communalist amongst themselves and within the majority a chance to distort matters in the aid of their communal agenda. Yet they must not dissipate their demographic and democratic dividend and vote in what has often been described as a ‘strategic manner’. But to correct that description, it is at best a tactical manner of ‘who can defeat the BJP?’ Strategic approach would have been, ‘what to defeat the BJP with?’ For those who find this unclear it must be made explicit. The strategic answer lies in negotiating space within the opposition line up and integrated with it rather than becoming a camp follower. Muslims must not be described as voting for the SP, BSP or Congress but as equal partners in the political project of parties and insist that the fight against the BJP must be ideological, not of ambition or convenience. Substantive, not symbolic presence amongst the ranks and file as indeed amongst the leadership line up is imperative. That is how it was when the Independence movement took on the might of the greatest power of the world, who were slyly assisted by forces that claim monopoly of nationalism in contemporary India.
Hindus and Muslims who continue to subscribe to secularism as an essential ingredient of Indian nationalism must lead the contemporary quest for peaceful co-existence. Together they must reflect upon the irritants, real or imagined, that have caused gaps between the two communities. Consensually they must underscore the innocuous but meaningful gestures that will strengthen bonding and function as confidence building measures. We need not worry about identities ( inter community ) and sub-identities ( intra community ) and see ourselves as people with common destiny and shared suffering. These persons need to ask political parties about these basic questions and judge them by the clarity or lack of it in their responses. This can change the narrative of hopelessness in UP. Let us refuse to be captives of political ambitions of political parties that take us for granted and become engines of hope in collaboration with and participation in political movements that explicitly committed to secularism instead of delving in aberrations of the past.
Waiting for good days of UP,