Thursday, August 20, 2009

Heroes and Villains

Jaswant Singh’s written another book. I haven’t read it yet but I think I will. There’s so much controversy surrounding it already. He’s been kicked out of the BJP for it, vilified in the Indian press, and praised in the Pakistani press. Well, I mean, he did pick a pretty push button topic – Jinnah and Partition. I was speaking today about it with a colleague of mine at the Daily Times bureau here in Peshawar. “The BJP is just shooting itself in the foot by complaining about this so much,” he said.

I agree.

So a member of India’s nationalist party concludes, contrary to the official Indian narrative, that Partition was not Jinnah’s fault, that, in fact, if not for Nehru and Patel’s refusal to consider a decentralized Indian polity, Partition may never have happened. Naturally, this is a controversial thing to say in India, but to eject a senior member of your party from its ranks because of an academic book simply further cements the perception that the BJP has become more an ideological monster than a legitimate political movement. Their trouncing in the last elections should have set off a few alarms. Hold on, Indians don’t want a party whose basic premise is Hindustan for Hindus? So perhaps Indians would prefer a more plural society, based on the fundamental principles of democracy and human rights? Is it possible?

Certainly it is. Preferable. But the BJP, under the influence of the RSS has lost sight of what power in a democracy means. It is not a weapon to wield in the interest of rigid ideology (the Bush years taught the world that crucial lesson succinctly, and painfully). Power in a democracy evolves out of cooperation, in the ability of a government to respond to the needs of the people. “The opposition’s role in a democracy,” I said to my colleague, “is to keep the ruling party in line, to act as the conscience of the people, to ensure the rulers are abiding by the democratic compact: to serve the people.” The BJP has proven again that it is incapable of playing that role.


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