“You see” said the Red Queen to little Alice in Lewis Caroll’’s Through The Looking Glass, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”.
She was referring to fast moving developments and how the world under our feet moves so rapidly that we all need to keep running all the time — just to stay in the same place. The Red Queen also gave a corollary “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
When we view how the ground under our feet has moved so much and so fast, we may well appear to be stranded in some remote corner, with ever decreasing relevance.
But it still hurts when others opposed to values enshrined in our constitution make use of the same constitution to seize power and undermine the principles. On the 74th Independence Day, those who are committed to uphold the ideals of the nation may need to introspect on this development. After all, the Independence Day is not just coterminous with the seductive oratory of a proven seller of hollow words and false promises.
The Independence Day means ensuring the survival of the Independence that was gifted to us by our forefathers after several decades of sacrifice by countless patriots. We have to preserve it from being totally usurped by those who never took part in the national struggle. History tells us how the RSS had opposed the very tricolour under which one of its erstwhile ‘pracharaks’ tries to mesmerise the masses from the Red Fort. History also records how the founder of the political arm of this organisation, Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, had offered unstinted cooperation to the British Governor of Bengal, John Herbert, to sabotage the Quit India movement.
It is even more important to examine how we can double our speed as advised by Lewis Carroll “just to get somewhere” — or face obsolescence. After the widely publicised ‘bhumi poojan’ ceremony for the Ram temple, people who still believe in secularism may well feel that all is lost. Yet, when we touch our hearts and analyse, we know that it is we who failed to take remedial action in the 28 long years that separated 6th of December 1992, when Babri Masjid was destroyed, from the 5th of August 2020.
The huge upsurge of Hindu consciousness that was generated by two epic serials between 1986 and 1900 was striking indeed. Thanks to Door Darshan, Ram from religious texts and myths leapt out of the screen into our living rooms, transformed into a colourful real-life hero. Soon enough, LK Advani and his Rath started playing around with this ready dry tinder of bhakti.
The dangerous belligerence was challenged seriously by only two Yadav Chief Ministers of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (both ironically claiming lineage from Lord Krishna) for their own reasons. Among these were
their commitment to secularism, their challenge to upper caste hegemony and also to reassure Muslims in these two states.
Lives were indeed lost in this confrontation, but the numbers were far less than those killed when another CM of UP, Kalyan Singh, colluded with fanatics to stoke the simmering volcano. This highly inflammable situation was finally set on fire in December 1992 by LK Advani and his emboldened horde. Not only did Ayodhya burn, but riots engulfed the nation.
The purpose of recalling the past is to remind ourselves that even thereafter, there was time to contest and reset this divisive narrative. Stern action like punishing those who demolished the mosque, obviously through the due process of law, would have demonstrated our faith in secular principles. There is no doubt that there would be violent protests and conflagrations against such strong actions — but then the costs thus incurred may have been far less that what is being paid for now, and in the last few years.
We are all aware how communal forces have enticed the OBCs, Dalits and tribals and used them as cannon fodder for their mischief. A determined and convincing counter campaign was, however, not undertaken at the right time. But now, with disillusionment setting in among these exploited groups, it is time for renewed affirmative action. We need to ensure that not a single opportunity is spared to reveal to these depressed castes and tribes the true nature of casteist, communal forces.
Muslims in India are a terrified lot and it is incumbent on secular forces to stand beside them in their darkest hour. Distancing from Muslims for
the sake of not alienating the aggressive Hindu majority may not be a useful option even electorally. True secularists are surely expected to stand by their principles and any calculated caution is almost sure to backfire.
One can say with a certain degree of confidence that most Hindus who take pride in their religion, as everyone else does, are not genetically communal. They are simply god-fearing and do not like their deities or beliefs to be belittled — as was done by the extreme left and by over westernised intellectuals in the secular camp. Maintaining an antiseptic distance from religion in an overtly religious country does not always go well while at the same time, following copycat gestures in temples also do not always yield dividends.
Devout Hindus, instead of reacting publicly to the choreographed and sensationalised ‘bhumi poojan’ at Ayodhya or going in for a sulk, may well declare confidently that one respects religion and feels that setting up of temples or mosques are signifiers of deep faith. At the same time, we need to declare most emphatically that one does not and will not condone the destruction of either edifice. Never.
Secularism is certainly not a negotiable instrument. Come what may, plural and democratic Indians need to get together those who have historically been denied justice in orthodox India. And, along with them, we need to reassure Muslims, Christians and Sikhs that we are not overpowered by any calculated narrative which survives only through division, destruction and death.
Large sections of sensible Hindus surely feel this way and the numbers can only increase once we re-establish the sharp divide between secularism and communalism with even more vigour. Under no circumstances can liberal and secular Hindus afford to be seen as a watered-down version of religious fanatics — even if the other camp hurls abuses, as it does all the time.
It is this renewal of our tryst with secularism that can ensure that we get to celebrate Independence Days in future as well, under free skies.
(Jawhar Sircar is a former civil servant, who lives in Kolkata)