Threats to Democracy and Secularism: Part 4/4—Tools to counter

Rohit Dhankar

Part 4: Ideological tools to counter the threat

Hamid Dalwai

I am not a scholar of politics, nor have I read extensively on Hamid Dalwai. Actually I have read only what Ramachandra Guha includes in his “Makers of Modern India”. Guha calls Dalwai ‘The last modernist’, and includes excerpts from three of his essays. I find whatever little I have read of Dalwai’s writing forthright, balanced and bold; he does not pander to political correctness and takes on obscurantists, some liberals included, of all verities with equal objectivity.

Dalwai does not accept the theory that Hindu communalism originated in a response to Muslim communalism or that the Muslim communalism originated in response to Hindu communalism. He sees the origin of both in their own obscurantism and history; however, accepts that they feed on each other. He sees the roots of Muslim nationalism and separatism, that finally resulted in partition, in the Muslim mind-set that they were the rulers of India and the British snatched their inheritance from them. He thought that “[T]he foundation of Muslim nationalism is the postulate that Hindu and Muslim societies are autonomous and parallel social structures”. This idea of separate autonomous societies is antithetical to modern secular citizenship according to him.

Dalwai disagreed with all obscurantists, be they Muslims, Hindus or belonging to any other religion. He blamed obscurantist elements among Muslims for not being introspective enough and blaming Hindus for their own problems. He blamed the obscurantist Hindus for blocking the emerging modern ideas among Hindu population and feeding Muslim communalism; and he also blamed some liberals for soft-peddling Muslim communalism. I can hardly do better than quote Dalwai directly to understand the precarious position of secularism and on how it could be strengthened:

“Secularism in India, although embodied in the Constitution, is as yet only an aspiration. It has not yet permeated our social life. It is even in danger today. Within the Hindu majority, there is a strong obscurantist revivalist movement against which we find a very small class of liberals engaged in fight. Among Indian Muslims there is no such liberal minority leading the movement towards democratic liberalism. Unless Indian liberals, however small they are as a minority, are drawn from all communities and join forces on a secular basis, even the Hindu liberal minority will eventually lose its battle with communalist and revivalist Hindus [Note–Precisely what is happening today]. If Muslims are to be integrated in the fabric of a secular and integrated Indian society, a necessary precondition is to have a class of Muslim liberals who would continuously assail communalist dogmas and tendencies. Such Muslim liberals, along with Hindu liberals and others, would comprise a class of modem Indian liberals.”

Dalwai is prophetic writing little after independence (English translation published in 1968, Marathi Guha does not mention):

“It is often argued that Muslim communalism is only a reaction to Hindu communalism. This is not true. The real conflict in India today is between all types of obscurantism, dogmatism, revivalism, and traditionalism on one side and modem liberalism on the other. Indian politicians being short-sighted and opportunistic, communalism and orthodoxy is always appeased and seldom, if ever, opposed. This is why we need an agreement among all liberal intellectuals to create a non-political movement against all forms of communalism. If this is not done, democracy and liberalism will inevitably collapse in India. The stakes are high. It is a pity that few people realize the gravity of the situation. It is even more unfortunate that they are hardly informed about the true nature of the problem.”

I am quoting Dalwai extensively because I think he understood the problem accurately even before 1960s:

“I believe that if the Hindus were sufficiently dynamic, the Hindu-Muslim problem would be solved. For if the Hindus were dynamic, they would subject the Indian Muslims to several shocks which history has spared them. … Hindus can accept the challenge of Muslim politics in India only by developing dynamism and a balance of mind. But to develop such dynamism Hindu orthodoxy itself has to be liquidated. The caste system has to be eliminated. The Hindus must embrace modernism. They must create a society based on fundamental human values and the concept of true social equality. Unfortunately, the Hindu mind lacks balance. Even those Hindus who have accepted modernity, justice and brotherhood as their guiding principles sometimes support Muslim communalism. Some avoid speaking against it and some even indirectly encourage it. Those Hindus who ought to be combating communalism today seem, instead, to be trying to put the clock back. They are supporting obscurantism, revivalism, the caste system and the cult of the cow. This is a process which would drain Hindu society of whatever little dynamism it may still have. There have to be enough Hindus trying to modernize the Hindu society and, at the same time, opposing the irrational politics of Muslim communalism. I hope this would happen. For that would precisely be the process by which the Hindu-Muslim problem can be eliminated. Muslim communalism today makes the most of the rift between liberal Hindus and communalist Hindus. It is ironical that Muslim communalists gain the support of Hindus, both liberal and communalist.”

The diagnosis remains accurate to date. Dalwai’s writing threw a challenge to liberals almost 50 years back; and the liberals, both Hindus and Muslims, failed to meet the challenge. Muslim liberals never met the challenge of criticising Muslim obscurantism with sufficient force, many of the Hindu liberals supported their own obscurantism and remaining became so politically correct that criticised everything Hindu and abstained from even expressing disagreement with Muslim obscurantism. The result is that today the communalism in both societies is thriving while liberals have lost all conviction and are wondering whether the ideals of secularism and democracy are even worth fighting for.

Those who care about equality, democracy and secularism in India have to counter Singhals, Bhagwats and Togadias of the country. They have no ground to oppose Singhals, Bhagwats and Togadias if they do not oppose with equal force Bukharis, Owaisis and Jilanis. And that is one of the most serious problems we face today—we are not fair in criticising communalism.

Obfuscation is not the same thing as an unmitigated bunch of lies. It could also be a carefully crafted collection of misuse of truth, half-truths, plausible lies, plan lies and white lies. Condemning the whole thing at one go as bunkum is being counterproductive. The truths have to be accepted and their misuse exposed. Half-truths have to be shown to be just what they are. Lies have to be countered. It is a game of mind-manipulation; an engaged dialogue has to be created.

The Hindutva claims have been ignored for far too long as being too stupid to counter and being beneath the dignity of serious intellectuals to engage with. They are forgetting that there are a large number of voters today who think that the name ‘Hindustan’ was created at the same time as ‘Pakistan’, who do not know that Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, who do not know what Indian freedom movement was. Leaving the ground totally to Bhagwats and Singhals will give them an unchallenged access to this group. The group is too large to ignore. We should remember that our education system has failed democracy. The job of creating critical citizenship has to be taken up in the public discourse.

We have to heed Dalwai, even if belatedly. Or be prepared for a long period of confusion, unrest, and conflict. The end result of which might come out as loss of secularism and democracy.

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