CAN you change the past by changing the present? Would Hinduising Faizabad, Allahabad, Ahmedabad, Aurangabad, Hyderabad and so many other great Indian cities help wipe out the country’s rich Islamic past? After all, every inch of the land carries the unmistakable imprint of the rich Muslim contribution to the great Indian civilization.
Ironically, this ire against India’s former rulers pointedly ignores the exploitative role of the British and historic injustices meted out by our last colonial masters. The manufactured Bengal famine alone killed 3 million people, not to mention tens of thousands brutally killed for standing up to the British during the first war of independence in 1857.
Yet the saffron fury is solely directed against the 1000-year long Muslim rule. This notwithstanding the fact that unlike the British, who conquered the world only to plunder and pillage it, the Mughals and other Muslim dynasties made India their home. They loved this land and its evidence lies in every part of this beautiful country. But then this had never been about an accurate understanding of history. This is about power and this “reinventing” of India spree suits the BJP’s narrative of Hindu victimhood, presumably earning it the support and votes of the majority.
Will this mindless obsession to paint India saffron and wipe out its Islamic past help solve any of the country’s myriad problems though? But then that’s the whole point of the exercise. The renaming fad, at a staggering cost to the exchequer, is the opium that would help a billion people forget their immediate woes and feel instantly good about themselves and the country.
This is about making ‘us’ feel potent and powerful and showing ‘them’ who calls the shots. This is the shortest route to reflected glory.
No cost is too great when such exercises in political expediency can be useful distractions. But why now?
Only weeks ago, six months before the General Elections, this government was seen as having reached its tether — the economy in meltdown; unemployment at its worst, farmers killing themselves in their thousands and scams like Rafale blowing up in the face of someone who vowed ad nauseam ‘na khaunga, na khane doonga’ (I’m not corrupt and won’t tolerate corruption).
Virtually every institution, from the Supreme Court to the Reserve Bank of India to Central Bureau of Investigation — critical to the wellbeing of the republic — is unravelling at the hands of the saffron clique.
Opposition parties are also finally getting their act together after waking up to the threats, not just to the republic but their own survival. The dramatic victory of the Congress-Janata Dal coalition in Karnataka by-polls last week sent a strong message to the BJP and the rest of the country while reminding the opposition it could take on the BJP if it stayed united.
All that has now been relegated to the background as the whole country stares, as if in a trance, at the colourful balloon sent up by the clever apparatchiks and spinmeisters of the Parivar.
Modi and company sit back and enjoy as a billion people work themselves up into a tizzy earnestly debating the old and new names of cities in question and their etymology.
There are few who think like Kirti Deolekar who in her tweet has slammed the renaming spree as the “height of insecurity and idiocy.” Another angry citizen on Twitter, a resident of Faizabad (now called Ayodhya) has called out the BJP for turning “a melting pot of diversity into a microwave of hate.”
These are solitary voices of reason in an increasingly dark and depressing landscape. Coupled with the boiling cauldron of the Ram temple, this renaming exercise, the Parivar hopes, may once again help it reap a windfall in the ongoing elections in 5 states and General Elections next year.
Things have already been heating up on the Ayodhya front. Top RSS-BJP-VHP leaders, including central ministers, openly threaten the Supreme Court, demanding a favourable verdict in the “interest of Hindu sentiments.” The highest court in the land is being pushed to “respect the Hindu sentiments.” Or else…
In other words, justice must be administered not on the basis of the merits of the case or the Constitution but because the majority says so!
Some others favour bringing in a new law granting the land where Babri Masjid once stood to the Hindus. Then there are others who are more candid as they ask the Muslims to just give up their claim on the mosque site demonstrating their “respect for the Hindu sentiments.”
Having razed your house to the ground, the neighbourhood bully now wants you to hand him over the land respecting his sentiments!
One doesn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry over the state of the nation.
Meanwhile, an excited media announces the good news that 50% of the carving work on pillars of the Ayodhya temple is completed. The media long ago gave up pretending to be an objective observer. Many TV hosts see no irony in backing the hotheads’ calls to the SC demanding the verdict they want.
Not to be left behind, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has promised a magnificent statue of Lord Ram at the entrance of the temple town.
This is a simple yet successful formula — one that has repeatedly helped the BJP swell its ranks, mutating from a 2-member outfit to the largest political party in the country.
Floundering on all fronts and running out of ideas, it is but natural that it should go back to its original agenda of spreading sweetness and light, fanning an absurd sense of insecurity in the majority against a voiceless minority. As a matter of fact, the agenda never changes; only tactics to play, underplay and obfuscate it do according to the demands of the situation.
And right now, painted into a corner by a resurgent Congress and cocky Rahul Gandhi who just wouldn’t shut up about the Rafale scam, touted to be the biggest in history, and incredible mismanagement of the economy and runaway inflation, the Parivar has concluded that only Lord Ram and stark religious polarisation can rescue it.
What’s most unfortunate about this whole business is that the Parivar gets away with this brazen exploitation of religious sentiments in the world’s largest democracy, again and again. This despite the fact that the Constitution expressly forbids the use of religion in politics under Section 123 (3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Yet the BJP has repeatedly flouted it by playing on the beliefs of a deeply religious society. Indeed, its whole worldview is based on the exclusivist Hindutva doctrine in which minorities, especially the Muslims, have no place. The very raison d’etre of the RSS, BJP’s mothership, is open hostility for all things Muslim. Yet successive governments, especially those of the Congress, treated it with kid gloves, allowing the BJP to grow to monstrous proportions at their own expense.
The Election Commission and the courts also looked the other way as the BJP went about peddling hate and bigotry, deliberately dismantling the secular fabric of the country. Today, the party and its Parivar have emerged as the greatest threat to the idea of India itself. The Congress and secular parties have to blame no one but themselves for this state of affairs. The day is not far when they may rename India itself.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a former newspaper editor. Email: . Twitter: @AijazZaka