As India completes 75 years of Independence on August 15, where do its citizens think the nation stands today? To many, it is clear that we are in midst of a dangerous communal schism and are being forced to demonstrate which side we are on.
India has been pushed into this communal binary since 2014, after the Bharatiya Janata Party under Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the reins. This transition took place in the backdrop of a strong anti-corruption movement against the United Progressive Alliance government led by the Congress. But soon, the public focus shifted from corruption to communalism. Today, even corruption is being viewed through the prism of communal binaries.
Oddly, BJP voters seem to see corruption only in the Opposition. They seem to look the other way when the saffron party spares tainted Opposition leaders who join the BJP’s ranks. The loot of lakhs of crores of rupees from India’s public banks by dodgy industrialists over the past eight years is apparently not a problem either.
This attitude to corruption exposes the shallowness of the founding principles of the BJP’s communal ideology. One of the abiding postulates of the communal binary is that the majority community – Hindus – are the original flag-bearers of India’s culture and traditions. They have an innate sense of belonging and therefore a love for the country. Their patriotism cannot be sought to be demonstrated.
That, however, does not hold good for minorities whose forefathers may have belonged to this country but subsequent conversion to religions of “foreign origin” have made them lose their affinity and natural sense of belonging to India. The proponents of the communal binary describe this change as “dharmantar rashtrantar hai”: they believe that a change of religion is a conversion of nationality.
The proponents of this communal binary claim that Muslims and Christians are committed to the value systems that accompany the religions they follow – value systems were born in places far away from Bharat. Hence, they need to prove their loyalty whenever called upon to do so.
Standing in complete contrast to this Hindutva idea of the ideal nation, though, is the pervasively corrupt state of affairs in government institutions and systems. If commitment to the nation is a function of religion, then why is there so much corruption in every walk of life? Since it is members of the majority community who are operating these official systems, aren’t they to blame for the widespread corruption?
Labelling as corrupt only those who brazenly accept money while discharging their duties and not those who silently watch from the sidelines can provide a false sense of comfort.
It is not just those who indulge in corrupt practices or who participate in them without pecuniary benefits who can be segregated as a minority. Everyone must be included: those who directly or indirectly and willingly or unwillingly facilitate corruption by greasing the palms of the authorities holding power.
Innumerable people’s representatives fall into this category. The rags-to-riches story, too, is often impossible without corruption. Of course, the vast majority of Indians are poor and fighting to survive with bare minimum resources. Corruption is basically a pursuit of the rich. But if and when the poor becomes rich, we have often seen them indulge in corruption too. So many of our people’s representatives fall in this category.
When called upon by bigots to work as foot soldiers, the poor become easy prey for the consideration of money. Political parties often draft poor, especially unemployed youth, using money power.
These systems are presided over by politicians at the top, aided and abetted by the corrupt bureaucracy in the middle and willy-nilly supported at the bottom by the general public. This hierarchy of the corrupt systems too, invariably, is staffed largely by Hindus. As has been demonstrated by a number of studies (such as the Sachar Committee report), minorities are grossly under-represented in India’s government systems.
Obviously, it may be argued that not everyone is corrupt. It may also be argued that the corrupt are few and far in between, and it would be wrong to blame everyone for the bane of corruption. But we have all slowly but surely become used to this culture of corruption and are therefore directly or indirectly responsible for its growth and sustenance.
This inference is not unique to India: it applies to the majority community in other nations too. If Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are in a shambles today, the blame lies squarely at the doorsteps of the majority communities in those places. Had they been loyal to their country solely by virtue of being Muslims or Buddhists, they would not have allowed the downfall of their countries.
The minorities, whose loyalty to the nation is perpetually suspected, have virtually no role to play in this downfall because of their seemingly suspect religious conduct.
Going by the yardstick of corruption, whose commitment to India should be more suspect? Those who loot their own country and fellow citizens or those whose loyalty is taken as suspect merely because they follow a different religion?
There is no evidence to support the idea that those rooted in a particular religious identity or culture are naturally more loyal to India than those whose patriotism is cast into suspicion.
Before throwing a fit of righteous indignation over a fringe Muslim group allegedly celebrating Pakistan’s sporting victories over India, let us also look within at the real detractors who let this country down every day. They are not Muslims or Christians.
If we are ready to accept this reality, it may be possible to restore some sanity in this vitiated atmosphere. Let the process of restoration begin this Independence Day.
Vivek Deshpande worked with The Indian Express and is now a freelance journalist in Nagpur.