The Changing(?) Face of Secular India | The Daily Star
12:01 AM, May 16, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

The Changing(?) Face of Secular India

The Changing(?) Face of Secular India


No cheers for the political bankruptcy of many of our politicians (and to some extent our political parties) for habitually dragging India into our everyday politics, which in defence of their limitation is perhaps inevitable given that we share 3,909- kilometre (2,429 miles) of common border, globally the fifth largest, and unfortunately over fifty rivers.
With no meaningful comment, censure is a far cry, from scores of local and six national parties stretching from the Aam Aadmi to the Zoram Nationalist Party, on the licentious, non-palatable, non-professional and inhuman conduct of their Border Security Force, the fact is that the killing of innocent and unarmed Bangladeshi civilians (on an average India's BSF kill one Bangladeshi citizen every four days) has given rise to a vastly acrid antipathy of Bangladeshis towards India. Sadly and alarmingly, the murder at the border do not feature prominently in the politics of the two nations which began their socio-political relationship under the most harmonious circumstances in 1971.
Perplexing though to the common mind, as because perhaps Indian politicians too have stooped to as low as never before, is the depraved manner in which Bangladesh has been drawn into their just concluded national elections. Although India is one of the emerging superpowers of the world, but like most other populous nations, is steeped in multidirectional problems (local, regional and international), the demagogic speechifying of far-flung leaders in Gujrat and West Bengal make it seem plausible that its next prime minister could be elected based on Bangladeshis, as petty as the matter of cross-border movement may actually be.
On 27 April at a Serampore (West Bengal) election rally, Narendra Modi (the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party) swore that come 16 May 'illegal' Bangladeshis should better be prepared with their bags packed, and in the same breath accusedthe local Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of giving neighbouring Bangladeshis a 'red carpet' welcome for her vote bank politics. In a later display of increased verbosity at Bankura (WB) 4 May, living up to his reputation, the unsecular face of Modi came to broader light when he narrowed his target, saying '…refugees who have been thrown out of Bangladesh on religious grounds would be greeted with open arms'.

Narendra Modi contradicting the constitution?
Narendra Modi contradicting the constitution?

Now that is interesting, as all political speeches based on assumptions are, as there is no instance of any one single person being thrown out of Bangladesh on 'religious grounds', whatever gabby Modi may have liked to insinuate. Modi seemed to have indicated Bangladeshi 'Muslims' as 'illegal infiltrators'.
Modi's utterances were vote-seeking ventures for sure, if not vote winners, as the West Bengal 'Didi', sensing a loss of votes in the State and subsequent Trinamool rule, jumped to defend the so-called Bangladesh 'refugees'. Mamata Banerjee almost immediately countered Modi's 'Bangladeshi infiltrators' remark saying, 'Won't allow to touch even one Bengali'. Her party the  All India Trinamool Congress twitted 4 May: “Refugees from East Bengal stay in India as per Nehru-Liyaqat and Indira-Mujib treaties: Didi at Krishnanagar” Now that is one positive role the Indira-Mujib pact is playing even if we are not getting our due cut of the Teesta and other rivers, no thanks to the West Bengal Chief Minister.
In between Modi's tirade, speaking at a roundtable on postelections India-Bangladesh relations in Dhaka 3 May veteran Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar said Modi made those mostly rhetoric statements “only to communalise the elections”. Hosted by the Institute of Conflict, Law and Development Studies (ICLDS) most speakers (including ambassadors, editors, political thinkers) at the roundtable were of the opinion that relations between the two countries would not change because India's foreign policy “dominated by its bureaucrats” did not change with the change of regime.That is heart-warming.
Former Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Dev Mukherjee, who cited a survey that found Indians trust Bangladeshis most, said “a change of a government cannot change the relationship and friendship overnight”. Added Kuldip, 'There are constitution, courts, media and liberal voices in the country (India) which will fight against communalism'.
However much the Indian civil society may try to allay apprehensions, there is cause for concern in Bangladesh because this same Modi was the Gujrat Chief Minister during the infamous 2002 Hindu-Muslim riot.
What did actually happen during the carnage of 2002? “On 27 February that year, a train coach carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire in Godhra station in Gujarat. Fifty-eight people died. Within hours and without a shred of evidence, Modi declared that the Pakistani secret services had been to blame; he then had the charred bodies paraded in the main city of Ahmedabad; and let his own party support a state-wide strike for three days. What followed was mass bloodshed: 1,000 dead on official estimates, more than 2,000 by independent tallies. The vast majority of those who died were Muslim. Mobs of men dragged women and young girls out of their homes and raped them. In 2007, the investigative magazine Tehelka recorded boasts from some of the ringleaders. One, Babu Bajrangi, boasted of how he slit open the womb of a pregnant woman.” (Aditya Chakraborttty, The Guardian, Monday 7 April 2014)
Cleared 26 December 2013 by the Supreme Court via a designated Ahmedabad court of any nefarious involvement in one of India's worst sectarian riots, allegations have always been rife that Modi as the State boss did not do enough to stop the volatile situation from worsening.
Modi's vote-seeking tactics in West Bengal may be just that, for he is not the first politician who likes to play to the gallery. His speeches in other states across India have little or no similitude with his go-home-Bangladeshi formula that he has played once too often in Bengal. Modi is well aware that if given the electoral mandate, he has to run effectively a difficult country, which through SAARC and other regional treaties/MoUs has to continue and extend meaningful relationships beyond cursory with all of its several neighbours for sub-continental growth and harmony, and in general world peace..
India has a good thing going with Bangladesh, viz. Bangladesh not allowing its territory to be used as a safe haven by anti-Indian terrorist operatives, the demarcation of maritime boundary between the two countries, rail and road links, socio-cultural and academic exchanges, border-haats (bazaar)in fulfilment of the long standing demand of the local people, and other bilateral cooperation, although trade inequity, water-(un)sharing,resolving enclaves dispute, and transit issues remain large stumbling blocks.  And Modi is perhaps no economic fool to upset the cart trudging on even ground, but trudging.
It is unfortunate that in this era and time the world has to be apprehensive about India behaving differently after any possible political changeover; that too with several Muslims and politicians of other religions winning the BJP ticket in the just-concluded elections. As we await with trepidation we can only remind ourselves that the 42nd Amendment of the Indian Constitution enacted in 1976 included in the preamble that India is a 'secular' nation, which means equal treatment of all religions by the state. In discriminating 'Bangladeshi infiltrators' along religious lines, Modi would in fact be violating the constitution, and he knows better than that, one hopes.
If after all these bombastic speeches, a long and hurtful campaign trail, smeared by personal attacks, and voting spread over several weeks in the world's largest democracy, the non-secular do not come to power, only then the world will continue to believe that people never make the wrong choice at the ballot box.

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