From the British Raj to the Hindu Raj
Saeed Naqvi has taken on many world leaders in his long and successful journalistic career, but in his new book, he targets something far bigger: the betrayal that is the Indian state
Dhruba Basu Delhi
It was at the book launch of Saeed Naqvi’s Being The Other: The Muslim in India that the significance of the book became crystal clear. The event, held at India International Centre, saw Murli Manohar Joshi, Mani Shankar Aiyar, and Salman Khurshid in attendance and Mark Tully and Pavan Varma joining Naqvi on the panel. The grandeur was but expected; Naqvi is a journalist of almost unparalleled standing and has interviewed over the course of a career spanning more than half a century now the most prominent personalities of world politics. In his own words, he has had ‘the most wonderful innings of any journalist in this country’.
Which is why the surprise was how little actual weight those present seemed to attach to what Naqvi was saying, both in the book (which admittedly and clearly most hadn’t read) and on stage. Rather, the audience seemed intent on disagreeing with any suggestions that India was less than a haven for pluralism and secularism and raising lusty cheers for the motherland. Naqvi was advised to refrain from going after Nehru or Gandhi. Not one person was willing to take a critical look at the founding fathers of the nation, who of course must first be recognised as unquestionably great.
The shame is that men of influence today are too busy jumping into the Right (BJP and allies) vs Centre-and-Left (Congress and regional parties) arena instead of identifying this disturbing, lopsided continuum
In a strange way, nothing could have thrown into starker relief Naqvi’s reasons for writing this timely, measured and thought-provoking book, part-memoir, part-political-history, and in sum a call for Indians who have some sincerity vis-à-vis the constitutional ideal of secularism to treat the reality that has unfolded ever since Independence with skepticism. Because, and this is the crux of the book, in its very genesis the Indian nation state took a form indistinguishable from that of a Hindu raj.
Naqvi sets out to explain how the machinations behind the cataclysmic Partition—involving top leaders like Mountbatten, Nehru, and Patel—established beyond a shred of doubt what ideology was set to rule the roost after the eviction of the British, who were of course responsible for fanning the communal flame to begin with. He frames the accession of Kashmir after the Pathan invasion as anything but an unproblematic event, preceded as it was by the largely unreported ethnic cleansing of Jammu to make it a Hindu-majority province and pregnant as Nehru’s personal correspondences were at the time with his personal ambitions and a sense of ownership, rather than any consideration of the state’s interests. He points out that communal riots in this country, in which the numbers of Muslim victims invariably top those of Hindus, have always been linked to electoral considerations, with no efforts by any governments, Congress, BJP or others (such as the Samajwadi Party), to pre-empt the violence because nothing spells pre-poll ‘vote consolidation’ and ‘blame game’ like a riot. He discusses the disturbing fact that the Prime Ministers of the country, those that have had the privilege of serving out their full terms, have done nothing to alter the majoritarian dynamic. While PV Narasimha Rao was brazenly Brahmin-friendly even Manmohan Singh was able to do nothing about the Sachar Committee Report about the socioeconomic plight of Muslims in the country, which had been prepared at his behest and under his watch.
In other words, the fact that India is today a country ruled by a Hindutva party, where only 11 states actually allow the slaughter of all cattle and more and more people are being persecuted every day in the name of cow politics, where district politicians belonging to the ruling party boldly announce the need for ridding the country of the Islamic scourge, should not come as a surprise to anyone. The grounds for this were laid by the power-hungry, Brahmin-dominated Congress in the 43 years that it spent at the helm of affairs before a BJP government finally took control at the centre for the first time. Naqvi also points out that all of this is consistent with global anti-Islamic propaganda, a bandwagon India has been only too happy to jump onto since 9/11. The hounding of militants and terrorists on the basis of insufficient and contrived evidence should not be misinterpreted as anything else.
India is today a country ruled by a Hindutva party, where only 11 states Actually allow the slaughter of all cattle and more and more people are being persecuted every day in the name of cow politics
The argument put forward may not be groundbreaking (see, for example, Perry Anderson), but it is elegantly personal and objectively political. The shame is that men of influence today are too busy jumping into the Right (BJP and allies) vs Centre-and-Left (Congress and regional parties) arena instead of identifying this disturbing, lopsided continuum. Saeed Naqvi is the first to admit he is a privileged son of the soil and could easily have rested on his laurels, looking back on a bejeweled career. That he has chosen not to is telling. That the audience at IIC on June 22 chose not to listen is unfortunate; perhaps not for them, but most definitely for the India that they claim to adore.