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Farce of India's secularism

 

By Imtiaz Gul

The News Sep 05, 2009

Following the summary dismissal of Jaswant Singh from the BJP for praising Jinnah, several questions keep coming to mind as far as the Indian claim to secularism, democracy and socio-economic justice is concerned.

Is most of 'shining' India – as a mindset -- gridlocked between the desire to be lauded as a secular, liberal society, based on socio-economic justice, and the reality of a society, based on an unjustifiable caste system that stratifies human beings as superiors (Brahmans) and inferiors (Dalits)?

Is it a country that justifiably boasts being numerically the largest democracy but whose political leadership, unfortunately, remains guided by undemocratic whims and intolerant attitudes vis-a-vis its neighbours and their leaders?

These are some of the paradoxes that struck us during a brief visit to the bustling Indian capital – New Delhi -- where the controversy Jaswant Singh's voluminous book, Jinnah, India, Partition, Independence, had just erupted. Some were lambasting him for being a hypocrite.

Strangely, it is a state that raises hell when Pakistan, for instance, raises its defence budget but justifies its own almost $40 billion defence spending by pointing to a border dispute with China, which is one of its largest trading partners. This huge resource allocation flies in the face of the 38 per cent population that, according to an ex-prime ministerial advisor, S M Tendulkar (Hindustan Times, Aug 20) lives in poverty – almost 400 million souls.

Some friends dubbed Singh as an opportunist who, through his book, pretended to "speak for and expand the constituency of peace in South Asia." That is why a few Indians were surprised over the unanimous decision to expel Jaswant Singh from the party.

For some, the reaction within the embattled Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its parent organisation, Rashtria Swamysevak Sangh (RSS) and similar entities – the proponents of Hindutva -- was quite natural in view of the upcoming elections in Madhiya Pradesh.

A few analysts also took a swipe at Jaswant Singh when he described the RSS as a "shadowy organisation" and that "no political party could afford to be dictated to by such an outfit" Why did Singh not speak out earlier against RSS earlier, many quipped.

A number of friends tried to play down Singh's expulsion as a result of BJP's internal squabbling and absence of real leadership.

Some insiders also questioned Jaswant Singh's "belated love for secularism and his praise for a secular Mohammad Ali Jinnah" by pointing out that Singh's entire family was up in arms when his son married a Muslim girl and they made sure that he divorced her.

Condemnation, if not hatred for Pakistan and anything related to it, seems to cut across various sections of the Indian society. This, however, does not mean the absence of sane voices; the resignation of an erstwhile speech-writer of Advani, Sudheendra Kulkarni, or the scathing attack on the party president Rajnath Singh and RSS (Aug 24) underscored their discomfort with the treatment meted out to Jaswant Singh.

Writing in the daily The Hindu (Aug 21), Siddharth Varadarajan, made some pertinent observations regarding the chorus kicked up by RSS-BJP, underlining the contradictions that lie at the heart of Jaswant Singh's condemnation:

"In the best of times, the Bharatiya Janata Party's line and manner of comportment have borne scant resemblance to the norms of democracy. Jaswant Singh's expulsion and the Gujarat government's shocking decision to ban his book have revealed the undemocratic core of BJP's politics and diminished the stature of Indian democracy as well."

What does it mean for Pakistan and those Pakistanis who keep hoping that the right-wing nationalist Indians – the flag-bearers of the Hindutva – will gradually shun their direct or indirect rejection of Pakistan?

Javed Naqvi, another Indian journalist, offers comment in this regard: "It is a feature of India's ties with both its nuclear neighbours that whenever something positive is about to happen -- say a summit-level visit or a major meeting to settle border disputes -- something goes off inexplicably that threatens to destabilise the ties."

The noises the Indian right made over praise for Jinnah by Advani (2005) and Jaswant Singh, offers little hope for the "constituency of peace" that Singh talks about. Let us hope this grows in numbers to blunt the hawks in India.

(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad. And the author of a recent Penguin publication “The Al-Qaeda Connection – Taliban and Terror in Tribal Areas.”

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk