A few weeks ago, we criticized Laloo Yadav's use of the suspiciously convenient Justice Banerjee report to divert attention from his family's gross mis-management of Bihar. We felt that Mr. Yadav should be judged for his family's governing record, and not that of Mr. Narendra Modi's in Gujarat.
We are now pleased to note that Bihar's voters have indeed voted away from Mr. Yadav.
Our anti-Laloo stance invited pointed criticism from some of our fellow secularists. To them, nothing Mr. Yadav has done matches the sheer evil of the Gujarat lynchings. To them, our dismissal of the Banerjee report and our criticism of Mr. Yadav were the same as supporting Hindutva?! They also found our hawkishness on Kashmir, our strong support for America's Iraq war, and our neo-conservative leanings highly disturbing. Therefore, they question our secular credentials.
This is obviously absurd. We have been quite vocal in our contempt for the perpetrators, the enablers, and the subsequent rationalizers of the Gujarat pogrom. If after all our repeated secular articulation, we're still suspect in the eyes of secular extremists, we fear for secularism in India. While we don't need certificates of good conduct from these extremists, we offer the following thoughts as partial explanation for, and re-affirmation of, our right-of-center secular vision.
Truth is we are even more fearful of many of our co-travellers on the political right who still consider Hindutva a valid ideology -- for its apparent muscularity and for its grand narrative of India as a great power. They have also long pointed to the "moderate" face of Hindutva -- Mr. Vajpayee -- as a compelling reason to be comfortable with its political vehicle, the BJP.
Now, former President K R Narayanan has publicly challenged Mr. Vajpayee's "moderate" credentials. We don't agree with Mr. Narayanan on very much -- he is an unreformed socialist, afterall -- but on this we are compelled to stand with him. Mr. Vajpayee's was a moderate mukhauta masking his true RSS face; besides he led India terribly -- for all the supposed muscularity of his Government, when it mattered most India came off as weak-kneed.
Why do we say this? All we need to do is examine his tenure as Prime Minister.
In that time, China put man in space, the infant Euro flew high, America took Baghdad, and Russia re-joined the West. In contrast, India charred its own in Godhra and Ahmedabad. Some grand narrative this is.
Similar mass murder - saffron apologists remind critics - had ravaged India before, in 1984 then 1992. But we must ask them, has India made no civilizational advance since then?
In this time, India's rivals buried their ghosts - China Tiananmen, EU two World Wars, Russia USSR, America Vietnam - leaving India alone among great powers still shackled to its past. Overturning their burdens of history, our rivals secured their futures. Benchmarked against them, India's reach for destiny still exceeds its grasp. This is the legacy of our years of saffron nationalism -- really, poisonous bigotry in nationalism's clothing.
Great powers organize around awe-inspiring grand narratives. What tryst and with what destiny did the saffron nationalists give us? Their grand narrative - rooted in history and myth - only sowed confusion. Consequently, saffron Indians fear Islamic fifth columns at home while, for example, ignoring vast tracts of Indian misery where China-inspired Maoism has now taken root.
Maoism's violent shadow looms larger than any other domestic phantom. Having imbibed the arrack of ostriches, saffron India remains in deep denial -- continuing to blame India's Muslim citizens for most of India's ills.
Denial - psychologists say - is the first stage of a dying person coming to terms with terminal illness. Saffron India - if it wishes life - desperately needs an ideology transplant.
Their poet-leader once asked - in Parliament - who set this fire? His question - targeting Muslim arsonists of Godhra - ironically also indicted his own saffron nationalist posse whose tunnel vision - a mosque in rubble, a bakery on fire - humiliated our great power dreams.
It's not that India lacks attractive grand narratives. Had Mr. Vajpayee, for example, projected our 150 million Muslims as islands of moderation in a sea of global fanaticism - instead of demonizing them - a world at war, searching for liberal Islam, would have embraced them - and canonized India - as worthy exemplars of multicultural democracy.
The saffron nationalists deliberately - and inexcusably - squandered this magical grand narrative. Their quarrels - real and imagined - with secularism pale versus opportunities now forever lost.
Their one grand achievement was India exploding the bomb. But wasn't that proud moment 50 years in the making? It was Pt. Nehru who nurtured Dr. Bhabha's atomic dreams. It was Mrs. Gandhi who put Pokharan on the map.
Pokharan 2, while necessary, changed very little for practical war and peace. Its fallout - contrary to prevailing myth - rated sub-critical in obliterating saffron nationalist insecurities. India's exhilaration soon reverted to a tremble in our knees.
Kargil and Kaluchak followed un-avenged. Hijackers in Kandahar broke our nerve. Indians were killed in their own homes, in places of worship, in schools, and outside their Parliament. Kashmiri teenagers were beheaded for not wearing the veil. All this under the supposed muscular governance of the saffron nationalists.
How did they respond? Summoning forces on the frontier they glared then did absolutely nothing. India's awesome arsenal - reportedly costing over $15 billion annually - thundered like a cloud that dares not rain. Don't think China wasn't watching. Contrast this to 1971 when India - led by Mrs. Gandhi - stared down the Seventh Fleet and shattered Pakistan forever.
Even Bangladesh - in April 2001 - brazenly killed several Indian soldiers without consequence. Could dependant North Korea dare do likewise to China?
India's saffron nationalists were by all evidence chicken hawks growling at home but cowering abroad. If - after all their domestic bullying - when they had their chance, they delivered India neither real global standing nor security from rivals and terrorists, there is something hollow about their claims. It's finally time for Indians on the political right to wean themselves off this faux nationalist arrack of ostriches.
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