A 'New India' Cannot Be Constructed by Re-Living the Misfortunes of Old India

The Partition Horrors Remembrance Day announcement is driven entirely by a domestic political calculus.  

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It was towards the fag end of yet another long Independence Day speech that the Supreme Megalomania kicked in: an unhumble Narendra Modi declared that whosoever will be prime minister when India celebrates the centenary of its independence, they shall merely be elaborating the “vision” he had spelled this day from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort. The prime minister seemed to be suggesting he had just ordered the future of India into a straitjacket of cliches and platitudes. Never before has any prime minister allowed himself/herself to be so carried away with such a massively misplaced sense of historic self-importance.

It was a visibly tired prime minister who catalogued his government’s presumed achievements and successes. Distressingly enough, every single mundane and routine job was invested with historic unprecedentedness. Expectedly, past governments were rebuked, once again, for not pursuing “vikas” with sufficient vigour and commitment. Self-congratulation remained the refrain throughout this uninspired – and uninspiring – performance. His own ministerial colleagues looked disconnected and distracted.

This litany of measures and initiatives was in wilful defiance of the Modi government’s proven and documented failure to perform competently during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationwide deaths, misery and pain were simply brushed aside and instead there was an unseemly rush to claim credit for a job shoddily done. That, of course, is the stock in trade of the demagogue: deny the truth, ignore the facts and sell a handful of delusions and dreams.

The prime minister was obviously belabouring overtime to reinforce his regime’s theme-song: that never before has governance been undertaken with such sincerity, discipline and dedication as has been done these last seven years. This untenable claim has been repeated a billion times and is now part of the ruling coterie’s toolkit of certitudes. Nonetheless, this exaggeration is insistently used to claim for the regime extraordinary powers and precedence over its constitutional obligations and democratic duty.

The BJP-RSS crowd has brilliantly used this claim of governance and vikas to arrogate for itself an air of moral superiority, which in turn is used to pursue the most immoral, cynical and regressive politics; the presumed nobility of this claimed “good governance” is deemed to be a license to engage in rough and tough politics. Corrupt operatives, criminal entrepreneurs and caste warlords are elevated to ministerial perches from where they are expected to pitch in to this the great quest of national glory.

Never before has there been such a cultivated duplicity in our national life. And this forked tongue was painfully manifest this Independence Day.

Also read: We Best Remember Partition When We Connect the Dots from 1947 to 1984 and 2002

The prime minister began his annual ritual with the announcement of August 14 as the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day. Totally out of the blue. It is one thing for the BJP-RSS crowd to want to berate the Gandhi-Patel-Nehru leadership for agreeing to the country’s bifurcation in 1947; it is an altogether different one to want to officially commemorate the bitterness and pain of partition.

Notwithstanding the rhetoric of “Akhand Bharat”, the partition cannot be undone. Simple. And we are not prepared as a nation to commit ourselves to a century of conflict, war and destruction. Pakistan is a reality, as is Bangladesh. However self-delusional our rulers may be, they know there is no strategic advantage – and only painful disadvantages – in wanting to keeping talking in this vein. This Partition Horrors Remembrance Day business is driven entirely by a domestic political calculus.

The announcement is an extreme cynical ploy of a desperately cynical leader. The India of the 21st century is being asked to re-open the healed wounds of the 20th century. The cunning overseers of  “new India” are suggesting that we as citizens must re-live the misfortunes of the “old India”. It is difficult to comprehend what social good or historic truth can be achieved by this calculated gambit.

The only political objective behind this regressive initiative can be shabby electoral calculations, cynically aimed at winning the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls next year. The BJP’s compulsive electoral managers, otherwise nicknamed as “Chanakyas”, are acutely aware that their failure to dislodge Mamata Banerjeee in West Bengal has brought about a qualitative change among the BJP’s friends and allies; a failure to retain power in Uttar Pradesh would open the floodgates of doubts and divisions.

On the one hand, the BJP-RSS intrigue-wallahs are in thrall of caste calculations and, on the other, they remain wedded to a political life anchored in Hindu-Muslim antagonism. Despite all the tall claims of vikas and good governance, the saffron gang cannot resist the call of tapping the undissolved animus between the two communities, particularly in Uttar Pradesh. The managers of “new India” continue to experiment with love jihad, mob lynching and a uniform civil code to keep animated the majority community’s anxieties and prejudices; these managers feel frustrated that the Muslim community has, by and large, learnt not to take the bait. The Ram Mandir no longer tickles collective sentiments on either side of the divide.

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But these cynical deshbhakts are not in the habit of giving up. Hence, this new jab – the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day – at stirring up communal antagonism. In practical terms, it will give the village goons a license to start holding this or that group responsible for the excesses and aberrations that accompanied partition. The present generation will be asked to pay the political equivalence of reparations. One single incident, provoked or not, should be sufficient to manufacture tensions all over – and then, these calculating manager hope to laugh all the way to the electoral bank. At the end of the day they are just politicians – remorselessly calculating, unapologetically self-serving.

Our new rulers have their own notions of history and India’s place in that history. They take pride in their medieval prejudices and passions. But they need to be reminded that there will be no national glory and no national prosperity if they would insist on dragging us back to the past and its imperfections.

Harish Khare is a journalist who lives and works in Delhi.