This intolerance debate has been wrongly framed. Mainly because the opposition is not competent and the government has focused on politics. The questions we are dealing with so far are: Is India becoming intolerant? Is India less or more intolerant than before? etc. Already we can see the vagueness emerging.
Aamir Khan’s anguish, which reignited the embers, produced a fresh set of reactions including: `If India were intolerant, PK would not be a hit’ (Shatrughan Sinha), `if BJP were tolerant, it would show in PM’s ability to appreciate Nehru’ (Congress) and `if PM were intolerant he would not have forgiven me’ (Smriti Irani). Meanwhile Arun Jaitley has been educating us on intolerance in the Congress 40 years ago and in Germany some decades before that. Clearly, there is no focus, and why should anyone have to subscribe to the Gandhi clan’s ancestor worship rituals?
When Aamir said he felt uneasy in the atmosphere prevailing, the BJP produced this magnificent response: “No country in the world is better for Muslims than incredible and unmatched India, and no neighbour was better than a Hindu.“
There. Now shut up and stop whining. I could say here that I have a Danish neighbour I almost never see and certainly never hear, whom I prefer to all Hindus who have gone before him (and I doubt, based on my behaviour, whether he agrees that Hindus make for the best neighbours). But that would be digressing. A full 85% of TOI’s online readers, tens of thousands of literate people, who were polled on the matter agreed with the BJP’s response to Aamir. This did not surprise me because we Indians love ourselves, but also because the BJP fully controls the narrative. This goes: `look, stuff happens and it has always happened but India is not intolerant so please don’t say it is’.
Except that it is not India that is being accused here. Intolerance has a name, and it is Hindutva, not Hindustan.
It is natural that the BJP should seek to conflate the two but it was up to the opposition to bring clarity to the argument. In this it has failed, because it feels forced to keep defending its own blemished record. That shouldn’t hold the rest of us back because, like Aamir, all Indians are invested in it. In Parliament and elsewhere Jaitley keeps dragging the debate back to the Congress of Indira and Rajiv . Those who murdered Sikhs have no right to speak of intolerance. Does that justify the doings today of Hindutva on cow and Muslim? It is insulting for Indians to be told that the BJP must be allowed to molest us in 2015 because Congress molested us in 1984.
Jaitley has not won a single election in his life (the Indian voter showing unusually good sense there). Why is he still lecturing us? Because he is the sophisticated face of Hindutva -the assorted yogis and sadhvis we actually elected to Parliament on the promise of development and governance not being particularly presentable. Jaitley has been tasked with drawing the fire away and he’s doing that job well.
He should not be allowed to distract us. The problem is, I repeat, Hindutva. The same fires we saw in the past are being stoked, and stoked deliberately . Partly because of political benefit. Partly, this is the scary bit, because of ideology and belief. If the prime minister is seen as silent, we must not assume it is because of a lack of interest.
As an ideology , Hindutva is unappealing, unintellectual, even unaesthetic. It is not attractive enough to be supported fully by even its enthusiasts (some of them lurking nearby) who cough out their objections every so often. But my big problem with Hindutva is that it is also dangerous. The BJP is convinced it can calibrate Hindutva, and that once the benefit is milked, in Muzaffarnagar, in cow politics, it can be switched off or turned down. But we have seen that this is not always possible. And it is Indian citizens who, as they always have, will pay for the recklessness.
The vagueness of the intolerance debate has allowed the Hindutvawadis to position themselves as defenders of India against pernicious troublemakers like Muslim film stars and liberal writers. This is a lie. It should be seen immediately as being such.
This is a political matter only insofar as our ruling party is invested in Hindutva. It is a matter of social and national concern. The opposition’s failure to take the debate by the throat (child prodigy Rahul in particular putting up a poor show) mustn’t detract the rest of us from addressing it for what it is.
The intolerance debate should have a clear demand: Hindutva must stop poisoning our land.