By Ayaz Amir
Friday, October 23, 2015
Narendra Modi is the best thing that could have happened to Pakistan. He is making India look like General Zia’s Pakistan. Can there be a bigger favour to Pakistan than that?
Assaults on liberalism, threats to free speech, people killed because of their beliefs or what they stand for, hate and bigotry on the loose, extreme expressions of religiosity, indeed religion entering the political discourse like never before…these were things that were supposed to happen in Pakistan.
And Indians were wont to preen themselves no end because their country, ‘Shining India’, the India of myth and fantasy, the India of the adman’s imagination, was above these failings which painted Pakistan in dark colours. Small wonder, in conversations with Pakistanis, Indians were all too apt to adopt a patronising tone…redolent of smugness and a superior attitude.
And as the world was never allowed to forget, India was the world’s largest democracy. The accepted wisdom was that India was on the march while Pakistan was home to religious extremism and all kinds of violence.
It was all a bit tiresome but there was no cure for it as every now and then something would happen in Pakistan – someone, usually someone poor, charged with blasphemy, a Christian community attacked, someone shot because of his faith or denomination, another terrorist incident – which captured world headlines and reinforced the image of a country overwhelmed by its troubles.
But Narendra Modi’s election as prime minister and the fillip this has given to Hindu fundamentalism – the idea that India is a Hindu nation – have dramatically altered this equation. Whereas Pakistan is slowly emerging from its fundamentalist quagmire, moving away from the religious extremism that was its biggest problem, India is lurching in the other direction.
Sonia Faleiro, an Indian journalist, thus writes in the New York Times: “In today’s India, secular liberals face a challenge: how to stay alive. In August, 77-year old scholar M M Kalburgi, an outspoken critic of Hindu idol worship, was gunned down on his own doorstep. In February, the communist leader Govind Pansare was killed near Mumbai. And in 2013, the activist Narendra Dhabolkar was murdered for campaigning against religious superstition.”
And a Muslim man in an Uttar Pradesh village is brutally beaten and killed over the rumour of beef-eating. Writers, to their credit, have returned their awards and Sharmila Tagore, the well-known actor, warns that the present climate of intolerance in India is like the atmosphere prevailing at the time of Mrs Gandhi’s 1975-77 emergency and the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. But these are voices in the wilderness. The prevailing mood is one of intolerance and fear.
The prime minister himself is silent, just as he was silent when rampaging Hindu mobs carried out a massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, the state he ruled as chief minister. There were people who believed that as prime minister he would be a different man. But as events in India testify, he hasn’t changed his spots. Narendra Modi remains a man wedded to the extreme Hindu ideology of the organisation of which he has been an ardent follower most of his adult life: the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Hindutva ideology is a form of Nazism. Call it native or saffron Nazism. It is based on the racialist notion that India is a Hindu nation with no place for Muslims or people of other faiths. The opportunity for Pakistan in this mess is clear. For too long Pakistan has been seen as a haven of bigotry and intolerance. And it has been vilified and denounced for the same. Now India is becoming a Hindu Pakistan, or what Pakistan had become before it decided to tackle the monster of religious extremism. India’s loss should be Pakistan’s gain.
But this gain becomes worthwhile and enduring if Pakistan opens the vistas of its mind further and becomes a more enlightened place. The heyday of Pakistani fundamentalism is already over. The power of the gun-wielding mullah wanting to establish an Islamic emirate, while not eliminated, has been dealt a serious blow. The space so won needs to be expanded and made secure.
There’s too much corruption in our public life. Something needs to be done about that. The delivery of services vital to everyday life – administration, police, judicial system – should improve. Are we spending enough on health? Isn’t it high time we thought about having one education system throughout the country, the same books for everyone but better books and with none of the nonsense purveyed in subjects like Pakistan Studies?
Our entire outlook, the way we look at things, the way we discuss them, needs to become more rational and ‘modern’. We have to move away from outmoded methods of thinking. If India is embracing dogma, let it. We have been here earlier, with too much of dogma part of our national thinking. We need to discard it. The spirit of enquiry is the basis of learning. We must learn to foster this spirit.
Western countries are not irreligious countries. Most of them subscribe to the Christian faith. Our faith is Islam, the faith of the majority in this country. The west has gone through its religious tribulations. It no longer wears religion on its sleeves. We also must learn to discard the habit of wearing our religion on our sleeves.
The loudspeaker, more than the Kalashnikov, is the single most important source of religious mischief in our society. Its unchecked use and power has been tempered. It needs to be brought further under control. And there must be no misuse of the blasphemy law. The Supreme Court judgement rejecting Mumtaz Qadri’s appeal – pertaining to the man who shot Governor Salmaan Taseer – is a landmark judgement in the way it throws light on the blasphemy issue.
And we have to get one thing into our heads. We don’t have to match India missile for missile and bomb for bomb. We make our own bazookas, our own tanks, and our own nuke bombs. In any rational calculation this is more than enough deterrence. We have a strong army, a strong air force. We need better schools and colleges, more research, more knowledge. We should have greater confidence in ourselves and we should learn to talk less about India and the Indian threat. Not in nuclear arms but in tolerance, enlightenment, rationality and understanding we must be seen as superior to India…and in music too and in the arts.
Our wise men used to think that the TTP (the Taliban native to Pakistan) represented an insurmountable challenge. They thought Karachi was beyond solving. They have been proved wrong. Pakistan has taken on tough challenges and is seeing them through successfully. Cannot the people of Pakistan confront the problem of prohibition in a rational manner? Cannot the veil of hypocrisy surrounding this issue, for issue it is, be rent asunder?
The law forbids the acquisition and consumption of liquor. The reality is otherwise, with every known brand of the forbidden stuff in every large city just a telephone call away. The law and reality must be brought in harmony – through whatever stratagem or hypocrisy comes readily to hand – because prohibition, like it or not, is not a hallmark of a rational society. It serves to promote Pakistan’s backward image, besides encouraging criminal behaviour. What goes to the bootleg man must go to the legitimate taxman. In this respect our model should be Dubai, not Saudi Arabia. Dubai is an eminently pragmatic emirate, which is the outstanding reason for its economic success.
To sum up, Narendra Modi is a godsend to Pakistan. More power to Hindutva, more power to the saffron Nazism of the RSS, the spiritual fountainhead before which the Indian prime minister bows. If we master our internal weaknesses, expand the sphere of enlightenment and tolerance, there is nothing that we have to fear from any other quarter.