New India, New Ideas

May 19, 2014

New India New Ideas

It is hard to see why preserving the idea of India should include preserving dynasty and feudalism. (Source: AP)

The young care about achievement and opportunity, reject fear mongering.

Mani Shankar Aiyar is right when he says that the idea of India is not “Hindudom” (‘The dying light of freedom’, IE, May 17). Each of us who loves our country (and there are multitudes outside the Congress, too) must rise up in arms and fight if it threatens to become so under Narendra Modi’s regime. Like most middle-of-the-road Indians who happen to be Hindu, I agree with him on the sacredness of the secular and inclusive idea of India. But I also know that Indira Gandhi’s wearing a rudraksha in her later years or Sonia Gandhi doing a puja before filing her nomination does not make either any more secular, and Modi’s forehead tika and Ganga aarti does not make him any more communal.

However, Aiyar, like the rest of his party, especially its leaders, needs to have a more complete understanding of what’s going on in India. The Congress must know that there are additional ideas that define the new India and they are equally embraced by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, Dalits, Baniyas, etc. One such idea is the ability to achieve upward mobility in income and quality of living based on merit and ability, and not what your surname is or how many of your forefathers held high positions. Talk to young people and you will find that their heroes and role models are those who have made it through sheer hard work and performance, gone from modest origins to global halls of fame. The cricket heroes, IT czars, astronauts, winners of India’s Got Talent-type shows, etc. The Congress needs to expand its idea of India to include this dimension as well.

The idea of new India is also about equality of opportunity and the decline of feudalism and the “bade ghar ke beta-beti” having an exclusive, default first right of refusal on everything merely because of the accident of their birth. The new idea of global India is also about confidence in the Indian way. The next generation of minority community youth find the journey from chaiwala to prime minister a better example of inclusive India than Priyanka Gandhi’s story of her father’s almost exclusive claim to greatness and martyrdom. The minority community Gen Next would welcome education, opportunity, financial inclusion and a vibrant job market and better access to public goods over rhetoric from any quarter about the imminent danger they are in. And in the new idea of India, upward mobility will trump divisive talk and action.

At an informal meeting, one of many that Rahul Gandhi had with groups of business people, he suggested that our country would implode if Modi came to power because most Indian Muslims would feel unwanted and insecure, and wonder where they should go, and be prey to external destabilising forces. I heard this and asked a young, lower middle-income Muslim who belongs to India’s urban aspirational class, a self-employed micro-entrepreneur, if he wondered where he should go in the light of the rise of the BJP. “Why should I wonder where to go,” he asked. “This is my country”. I asked another Mumbai Muslim why he didn’t vote for the Congress. He said, “Have you seen how costly life has become, and no one did anything about it? I send my daughters to a convent school and the fee and swimming lessons are expensive. The whole family can’t afford to go to a mall and eat once a week like we used to.” So maybe there’s more on Hindu and Muslim minds than just religion.

It is difficult to see how the Congress, whipping up sentiments about about how Muslims ought to worry and panic, is not divisive or communal. It is also hard to see why preserving the idea of India should include preserving dynasty and feudalism.

In the previous Parliament, only 5.4 per cent of Lok Sabha MPs were Muslim, despite the Congress having 206 seats. In the new Parliament, despite the number of Congress seats decreasing by 162, the number of Muslims has decreased by six. This means that Muslims make up just 4.4 per cent of the 16th Lok Sabha while being 13.4 per cent of the country. And women make up just 11.2 per cent, while accounting for half of the population. Both numbers are disgraceful and indict all political parties. It is time to focus on the idea of an inclusive new India, and hang all those who are divisive, whether in their efforts to be secular or communal.