As a citizen of India I want to have faith in my government. No matter who is elected I want to feel that the only thing that matters when the government looks at me is the fact that I am Indian. Given that Shri Narendra Modi is about to be Prime Minister of India, I have some questions. Before I ask these I want to preempt the usual diatribes that will be leveled at me and say to those who might disagree with my questions, at least allow me to ask them because I do so in complete sincerity.
As an Indian I want to believe, in fact I need to believe, that the Prime Minister will not only be representative of me and all my fellow countrymen but will also continue the proud traditions of equanimity, equality, harmony and justice that I grew up with. I too want to celebrate democracy in my country and participate in welcoming a government that has promised so much but I do not want to feel that just because my views on certain things might be different I might be excluded.
There is no doubt that the Congress Party has yet again demonstrated an arrogant callousness about their role in politics in India. Compared to the well-managed, well funded and indeed overwhelming campaign of the BJP, the Congress’ attempts suggest a complete dereliction of duty and are therefore inexcusable. Rahul Gandhi’s snub of his own Prime Minister recently when he did not attend a farewell dinner, his un-remarkable speech and what could easily be interpreted as a supercilious expression during and after it only add to the public perception that the Gandhi family are disconnected and unconcerned about their role in Indian politics. He was a study in contrast to Tarun Gogoi who announced his decision to resign following the results in Assam, a state that has consistently voted for the Congress Party.
However, certain features of the BJP’s campaign are worrying to me. I do not think that only a Muslim can represent Muslims or only a Hindu can represent Hindus but I do believe that whoever leads India has to instill confidence in all sections of society that they are impartial and non-partisan. Thus, what worries me is that although Shri Modi has only spoken using the rhetoric of development and has rightly castigated the Congress for its shortcomings, people who have openly declared hatred for sections of the Indian population are nonetheless in the BJP. There are many people who believe that religion is an inextricable part of Indian citizenship. Would this be the government’s point of view?
Some time ago when I was in rural Uttar Pradesh, a state that has given the BJP a huge mandate, an old farmer said to me “Look! I eat bread from the same soil that my neighbor Shakeel tills. We used to go to the same well and now we share handpumps. The same wires bring us electricity, when I have crops to sell we walk on the same road and sell in the same market.” As was implicit in what you said in Ahmadabad, and as I am sure you would agree, suffering and poverty have no religion.
Not long ago I, born 35 years after independence, was asked by a compatriot about whether Muslims regret not going to Pakistan? Very few people have the honour and privilege of consciously choosing their homeland. The fact is that millions of Indians chose to remain Indian after we acquired our independence and continue to be proud and happy to be Indian. Every single day since then many of them have prayed and prostrated themselves on the soil of the homeland they embraced 67 years ago and in doing so have affirmed their belief in the sanctity of this land. These feelings are borne out of their respect for and trust in our constitution and our institutions and so I am sure that arbitrary and unfair legislation will not be used to undermine these institutions or our bond to them. Today if some of my fellow countrymen persecute me or others on account of our views, beliefs or even backgrounds will you fulfill the duty of protection that the government owes to all its citizens?
History is more a prism to understand the present than a mirror that reflects the past. Our country is only 67 years old and before that many things happened which today would be unjustifiable. The reasons for injustices are manifold. They are not reducible to simple binaries. So would you agree that history should not be placed as a burden on any citizens of independent India? Especially not the overwhelming number who were born Indians, remain Indians and are committed to the idea of India?
Finally I would like to end by saying Hindustan Zindabad! I know that you began your speech in Vadodara by saying Bharat Mata ki Jai. I reaffirm and respect the extent of his veneration for our homeland but I hope the new government will allow me to express my feelings of patriotism in my own language. Jai Hind!