Saturday, March 19, 2005

Secular Shouldn't Have To Mean Stupid

The Narendra Modi kerfuffle and the widespread and robust Indian condemnation of US' denial of his visa represent a very significant moment in our politics. A few points are worth making here.

One, US is learning first-hand that, in India, even seemingly low-hanging political fruits are frequently hand-grenades. On paper, publicly snubbing Mr. Modi should've earned the US goodwill from his vocal Indian-American opponents, the UPA Government in India, Pakistan (where Ms. Rice visited after Delhi), and secular Indians at large. In practice, US has succeeded in alienating a great many Indians of all stripes, including the UPA Government, and has turned Modi into a martyr. (Pakistani love surely can't fix this mess. Was our strong support of Ms. Rice's appointment to Secretary misplaced? We sure hope not.)

Two, Modi's visa denial has a lot to do with aggressive campaigns by his secular Indian-American detractors. They are rightly upset with him over post-Godhara riots, and with his rabidly communal politics. We ourselves have frequently articulated our contempt for Mr. Modi on this blog. BUT, for these people to cause public embarrassment to India in an effort to silence Mr. Modi, is completely unacceptable.

These Indian-Americans don't live in India, thought fit to abandon their Indian citizenship, and are (correctly) more Americans than Indians. This means they really are not part of the great Indian political dialogue. That these disconnected people are driving US agenda towards India is terrifying. That US listens to them as representatives of Indian thinking is even worse.

This takes us to our final point. There is an orthodoxy among secular Indians (and our Indian-American cousins) that is driven by a tunnel-visioned sense of the world that is, well, frequently stupid. If one doesn't abide by the rules of this leftist orthodoxy, one's loyalties are questioned.

So, if one claims to be secular, one is forced to stand behind even such ideas that one finds abhorrent. Conversely, one is asked to shut up when challenging this orthodoxy. If, for example, one condemns the US' Narendra Modi decision, Palestinian terrorism, Kashmiri separatism, Bangladeshi migrant invasion, Indo-Pakistan "peace" process, Saudi Arabia's barbaric punishments, United Nations, or the knee-jerk leftist opposition to the Iraq war, one's secular credentials are questioned.

It's finally time for sane secularists to open our eyes and to overthrow this tyranny of stupid ideas that have come to define Indian secularism. We need to base our secular belief not on secular orthodoxy's hatred of Indian nationalism (which it blames for all our ills) , but on the simple idea that there can be no Indian nationalism absent every Indian's participation in it.

This means that we will not allow minorities to be hurt by bigots among us, but this does not mean we need to pander to, or agree with, every stupid political position that minority politicians and self-styled secular activists might wish to promote. Absent this, we risk damaging our credibility among India's instinctively right-leaning people -- a harsh lesson our natural allies in Washingon are learning even as we speak.


Arun said...

My compliments on a great opinion piece. Just one jarring note - Indians are not "instinctively" right-leaning. Believe it or not, it comes from reasonable considerations. Fifty prior years of left-leaning brought them nothing. If right-leaning brought us a Modi, left-leaning brought us a Jagdish Tytler, and a Narasimha Rao who, as Home Minister, waited for three days of rioting to finish before stirring a finger.

If somewhere on your blog, you have a protest from when Tytler was named to be a minister, then I salute you, and withdraw all my criticisms.

Ashish Hanwadikar said...

See my post for a different take.

Primary Red said...


Thanks for your kind words.

On the Jagdish Tytler matter, this author is an eyewitness to the 1984 Sikh massacre in Delhi -- and with fellow IIT students, played a small part in saving a few innocent lives then.

So, while this blog was not around when Mr. Tytler became minister, we fully remember the horror in which Mr. Tytler is alleged to have been complicit in. To us, there is little difference between those Delhi riots and the post-Godhara Gujarat riots, and little difference between those in power who failed to stop the bloodshed around them.



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