16 December, 2017

AN OPEN LETTER TO #PM MR Narendra Modi In the Context of Gujarat Assembly Elections - 2017

M Hasan Jowher

As I pen this, the exit polls show the trend in favour of BJP. Unless they have seriously erred, you are going to form the next government in Gujarat once again. 

Although I am not a member of any political party, if I had my way I would promote a polity based solely on reason, rationality, universal human rights and constitutionalism.

Frankly, I am unhappy that you are winning. This time not because of your failure to check violence during 2002, not because you systematically excluded Muslims from political mainstream, nor because you allowed democracy to be converted into Majoritarianism. 

Now I am deeply disturbed at the way you conducted your campaigning, specially after you found the going tough. You blatantly polarized citizens along religious lines. Like previously, your party failed to connect with Muslims, and the few that are aligned with you completely lack credibility and selflessness. 

You falsely created a scare of a Muslim becoming a CM, implying that Muslims do not belong here. You raked up Pakistan with utter diplomatic impropriety, and mentioned Mughals repeatedly, in derision, belying your own lofty appeal to cherish one’s history. On purpose you brought in Yogi, of all CMs, to campaign often, and he obliged by speaking a blatantly communal metaphor.

That Doordarshan, and a section of private media perceived to be aligned with you, systematically violated press neutrality and showed programmes reviving sad and provocative memories [such as Akshardham] and projecting mythology as science [such as Adam’s Bridge], is not lost on discerning citizens, either.

As a committed rationalist and one who abides by science I am also deeply worried that, you take India two steps forward and three backwards. You sell mythology, promote temples and ashrams out of the way, endorse superstition, align with ignorant and irrational people, and thereby mislead our young from the path our founding fathers envisaged. 

Despite your penchant for technology and things digital, Mr Prime Minister, you have generally failed to provide a fillip to science - beyond defence purposes. No Sam Pitroda in your ranks, no Nandan Nilekani in your team. No humanists, Universalists, scientists, revolutionists, reformers, thinkers, philosophers, even statesmen… in your cabinet. 

Arguably some of the initiatives you spearhead, including Swatch Bharat, Beti Bachao, Digital India, Make in India, and your outreach such as Man Ki Baat are worthy of support by every Indian. I for one do. However, there you stop. You do not promote scientific temper, spirit of unfettered inquiry, everyday science, enduring communal harmony, universal compassion etc. Nor do you swiftly and vigorously condemn violence in the name of beef and love jihad. Tipu and Padmavati controversies, for instance, needlessly squandered nation’s resources, and earned international rebuke, while you looked the other way. 

The loss of Dabolkar, Kalburgi, Gauri, or of Judge Loya.. are terrible national losses, whoever be behind these. You are under oath to protect them. Please also value your adversaries – from Arundhatis and Arun Shouries to Rahuls and Chidambarams. Deep in your mind you know that they are nationalists. Respect their differing approaches. Please do not mistake the government for the Indian state, nor perceive dissidence as anti-nationalism.

A Gandhi - that you so often invoke - wouldn’t have resorted to the kind of hate-promoting campaign BJP ran in Gujarat. Nor a Tagore would stand its atmosphere of fear, nor would a Nehru bear the competitive religiosity you and your opponent, Rahul Gandhi, resorted to. This was not statesman-like crusade. In your party’s victory lies your personal defeat, Mr Prime Minister. You failed to set an example in leading a developmental, progressive and value-based political campaign.

I am about the same age as you. I grew up in about similar environ, facing no less struggles - and perhaps more hostility as a member of a minority. 2002 proved a major milestone in the lives of both of us, though you rose to fame and power and I gave up nearly all my material pursuits and basic comforts, to serve India. Our Salaam Tree at Ahmedabad’s Sanskar Kendra stands testimony to the spirit of solidarity we saluted in the midst of mayhem. I am hurt that you made me feel persona non grata.

People like me receive absolutely no support from any state organ in normal course. Indeed, since I work for thorough reforms and greater nationalism within the Muslim community, even as I slog for justice and level playing field for them, I am generally cold-shouldered by both, Hindus and Muslims. Introspection and reforms are not fashionable; glorifying myths is. 

Your campaign has made my work even more difficult. And there are thousands of us who work selflessly, ceaselessly, to build an Indian society that can match any empowered, egalitarian and just grouping anywhere on earth

You should worry that the Gujarat society today is far more fractured than before - as manifested by recent multiple agitations. And, generally, you should worry at rapid communal ghettoization of urban India, atrocities against Dalits, lack of scientific research, inventions and discoveries. Our pathetic performance at higher echelons of science, the commercialization of education, the denial of justice to common man, the rampant corruption in media should bother you. You should feel concerned by disturbing indices of hunger, unhappiness, malnutrition. These and not beef, temple or mosque, and love jihad ought to engage the attention of the Prime Minister of India, as they do mine.

Finally, you should feel strongly for the Indian Muslims, that suffer humiliation and insecurity in everyday life, that contribute to the nation in every walk of life: from music to films, sports to services, artisanship to craftsmanship et al, but do not receive their proportionate slice of the nation’s cake of prosperity. They remain the least rewarded player of Indian politics today. If the Congress used them as a vote bank, you used them as an adversary to create your own vote bank. That, minorities in Pakistan or Bangladesh fare even poorly, cannot be the sole burden of Indian Muslims. Raise your bar and let those countries, and the world, follow Indian example. Think Indian, Mr Prime Minister, and do your raj-dharma. 

Regardless of the result of these elections, in your progressive pursuits, thousands like me will march with you. Towards a New Indian Dawn. Trust us. Strive to take us along.

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