Bigotry and intransigence hand in hand

Last week Justice Markandey Katju of India stated that the ‘much flaunted Indian secularism is a hoax’, and taking a cue from Pakistani poet Fehmida Riaz, reminded us by saying, ” Pakistaniyon, hum bhi bilkul tum jaise nikle.” This is the truth very few Indians dare to speak in public.

Though bigotry is common on both sides of the border, but a Pakistani will shun being branded as secular, since by virtue of our Constitution, we are an Islamic state ( though in behavior we are no lessof  bigots than anybody else in the world ). India on the other hand touts itself as a secular state, one where all religions are recognized and can peacefully coexist. But all evidence in India points to the contrary. The secular mask which India had worn soon after its Independence was taken off by Narendra Modi after coming into power. The result is that in 2017, Pew Research Center released analysis of 198 countries ranking India as fourth worst state in the world for religious intolerance.

It has been rightly said that in matters of intolerance, the people inhabiting the sub-continent were like conjoined twins who were separated at birth, like two entities – the religious bigots remaining in Pakistan and their extremist counterpart going to India. Both are captive to their toxic ideology; both cite the tyranny of the past for their inability to focus on the present; both are unabashedly unapologetic and unforgiving; both believe in demonizing the minorities; both are afflicted with the same malignancy.

But since Modi’s coming into power, the things are fast deteriorating in India. A bad news for Pakistanis who wish to see this stalemate of mistrust, suspicion, ill-feeling and hatred between the two  countries coming to an end may perhaps have to withstand the scourge of BJP’s rule for another 5 years term. The ominous signals that such a thing could happen as a result of General Elections are already in the air. But the miracles also cannot be totally ruled out because the latest news is that Narendra Modi’s chances of getting re-elected in the 2019 elections have slipped from “99 per cent” in 2017 to “50 per cent”, says economic analyst Ruchir Sharma (largely respected in India) who noted that a fragmented opposition is showing signs of uniting together against Modi’s atrocious policies against minorities, particularly against Muslims and Sikhs.

It has been rightly said that in matters of intolerance, the people inhabiting the sub-continent were like conjoined twins who were separated at birth, like two entities – the religious bigots remaining in Pakistan and their extremist counterpart going to India

Communal violence and prejudices are nothing new in India. Deadly riots and clashes have erupted at intervals, mostly between Hindus and Muslims, with an upsurge of sectarian tension in recent years often coinciding with elections. Modi had risen to prominence through the militant Hindu organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which believes in the supremacy of Hindu nationalism.

Recently, the congress leader and former Minister for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor stated that the Indians are still at a loss to know if Modi has any Pakistan policy which he consistently follows. His approach to relations with Pakistan has been inconsistent and episodic, typified in the tensions at the recent UN General Assembly. In fact, Modi’s government has no cohesive policy framework for dealing with Pakistan, much less a compelling vision for lasting peace. Judging by the unsavory exchanges between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers at the recent United Nations General Assembly, the already deeply troubled bilateral relationship has reached a new low. What immediately preceded the UN session was bad enough. Less than 24 hours after agreeing to a bilateral meeting of foreign ministers on the floor of the General Assembly, India canceled the meeting  citing the killing of three Indian police officers on their shared border.

But such border incidents are not new; several have already occurred this year. No gesture of good will was even shown to the new government of Imran Khan who proposed bilateral dialogues between the two countries in the interest of peace in the region. More recently, even on the question of the opening of Kartarpur corridor which was purely a question of goodwill for the Sikh minority of India, the intransigence of Modi in boycotting the ceremony was not only greatly surprising but also annoying for the 140 millions of Sikhs living in India.

Modi’s foreign policy is governed by whim, and not by design. As India’s election campaigns heats up, one fears that those whims coupled by the incendiary rhetoric that often accompanies them might ignite a conflagration.

In fact, the biggest danger posed to the territorial integrity of India does not stem from Islamabad, but from the slums of the largest democracy which house more than 244 million impoverished Indians, condemned to a life of misery and starvation. The state policy of pumping billions of dollars into the sale of lethal weapons is one of the factors contributing to this misery. India is planning to spend over $200 billion for arm purchase ignoring people’s needs in health, education, sanitation and decent housing for the millions of Indians.

The writer is a former member of Provincial Civil Service. He can be reached at zafar.aziz.ch@gmail.com

Published in Daily Times, December 13th 2018.

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