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Monumental folly

Monumental folly

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Times of India
Date: August 24, 2008
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Columnists/S_Dasgupta_Monumental_folly/articleshow/3397881.cms

The past few weeks have seen the most vile assaults on Indian nationhood. In the Kashmir Valley, emboldened separatists have desecrated the Indian tricolour with glee. The hitherto ambivalent slogan of azadi has become a defiant, full-throated acceptance of Pakistan. "We are Pakistanis and Pakistan is us because we are tied with the country through Islam," the Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani told a mass rally in Srinagar on August 18, adding, "Hum Pakistani hain, Pakistan hamara hai." Simultaneously, the assumptions on which Indian democracy rests have been challenged by a Taliban-like advocacy of Nizam-e-Mustafa (state based on divine law).

Police investigations in another part of India have revealed the murderous conspiracy of a group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen. Made up of educated, lower-middle class Muslims, these ideologically-driven fanatics have made it their life's mission to wage a bloody jihad against non-believers. They too, have openly debunked the principles on which the Indian political order rests. According to the boastful email the IM sent minutes before the Ahmedabad blasts on July 26, "The terms democracy, secularism, equality, integrity, peace, freedom, voting, elections are yet another fraud with us." The group has also directed its ire at the "faithless infidels and their hypocrite allies from amongst the so-called Muslims...who have bartered their faith in return of just one seat in the Parliament."

A striking feature of these threats is the resulting disarray in the liberal establishment. While the more weak-kneed and cosmopolitan intellectuals have advocated total surrender, others have fallen back on denial. The ruling Congress Party, for example, has equated demonstrators waving the national tricolour with those flaunting the Pakistan flag. Cabinet ministers have defended the terrorist SIMI and new-found allies of the UPA have rushed to console the family of the man the police believes was responsible for the murder of some 150 innocent Indians. Most important, homilies apart, there has been no meaningful intervention by those who felt that the Nehruvian ideal was the last word in India's political evolution.

This disoriented silence is understandable. The Nehruvian project rested on the assumption that the emotional foundations of India would become unshakeable if the Muslim minority were allowed a generous measure of separateness and firewalled from the intrusions of both the secular state and civil society. Nehru believed that "temporary provisions" giving a special status to J&K in the form of Article 370 would reconcile Kashmiri sub-nationalism with Indian nationhood. A common civil code was also put on hold because he felt that in time Muslims would voluntarily accept the idea of non-religious personal laws.

While Nehru viewed separateness as a temporary balm on the scars of Partition, his successors elevated it to a non-negotiable tenet of Indian secularism. The results have been hideous. Far from nurturing a Amar-Akbar-Anthony form of multi-culturalism, separateness nurtured both ghettoisation and separatism. The perverse mindset of SIMI and IM activists, for example, is almost entirely a creation of the ghetto and centred on an abstract ummah that takes precedence over actual neighbours. The similarities between the IM mindset and the radical Islamism of the Pakistani ghettos in Britain are striking. And the problem in both countries has been encouraged by an intelligentsia that equates liberty with licence and turns every complaint into victimhood.

Likewise, the dispute over 40 hectares of land was rapidly politicised and projected as a conflict between Kashmir and India. The transformation was possible because Article 370 had created the emotional space for separatism. Nowhere else in India have laws for the protection of 'locals' become a ruse for open secessionism.

Nehru's multicultural brainwave was opposed by many nationalists at the time. To them, emotional separatism was the precursor to actual separation as happened in 1947. They were right. Today, India is paying the price of Nehru's monumental folly.

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