Two BJP chief ministers, UP's Yogi Adityanath and Assam's Himanta Biswa Sarma, both of them young by the standards of Indian politics, do not owe their political strength to either Narendra Modi or the RSS. As chief mahant or priest of Gorakhpur's influential religious math and as head of Gorakhpur's Hindu Vahini (a youth organization run in his name), 49-year-old Adityanath was championing Hindu nationalism independently of the BJP far before he became the head of UP's government. As for Biswa Sarma, 52, he was a Congress stalwart until 2015.
Which raises a question. Is the two-child policy catapulted by these two into the public discourse a sign of autonomy inside the Hindutva camp, even some sort of indirect challenge to Modi? I do not pretend to know the answer, but the question is completely dwarfed in importance by the two-child drumbeat, which everyone recognizes as a fresh call to corner India's Muslim minority.
Muslims will certainly see the following remark from Biswa Sarma as intimidating. "Our government," he says, "is just two months old. First, we will bring the cow protection law, next month we will notify the two-child norm, and later we will bring [a law against "love jihad"].
Indians still loyal to the image, projected by our independence movement and by our Constitution, of weak minorities being protected by the state and by the country's majority, may feel wounded by the rhythmic march of a domineering majoritarianism. However, such people appear to be outnumbered in today's India by those who have learnt to place the adjective "pampered" before the word "minorities".
These dominant numbers would of course be offended by the adjective "weak", even though every recent survey of income, health, housing and education places the average Muslim well below even the average Dalit. And even though Muslim representation is greatly below percentage in our legislatures, civil and security services, and colleges.
The mansion of India contains many rooms, including uncomfortable ones in the basement. Among those who live in that overcrowded basement are our Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims. Breathing inside that basement is hard. Fights are a daily reality there. Objecting to the plan to enforce a two-child policy in UP, and realizing at once that Muslims were being targeted, a Muslim MLA in the state argued that overpopulation was a problem for Dalits, not for Muslims, conceding an early game to majoritarians living on the higher floors. The basement can shake the palace, but only if its inhabitants find solidarity - a tough goal rarely reached so far in even a single Indian state. Kanshiram and Mayawati tried hard to get there but did not quite succeed.
The opposite strategy has in fact been more successful. Some Dalits and OBCs have at times responded positively to calls to "lead a Hindu revenge" against "ancient Muslim wrongs," real or imagined. Some Adivasi groups have returned a similar response to calls for "Hindu unity" against unproven accusations of "illegal conversion" by Christian priests and nuns. One is conscious of creative ongoing efforts for solidarity among all Indians, but these are bound to take time to bear fruit.
We must ask: is it constitutional or sound in any way for the Indian state or its provincial governments to compel - whether with inducements or punishments - a family to have only one child or at most two? How fair, or even human, is it, in the name of population control, to deprive a family that cannot feed its members today of any wage increments in the future, or of other opportunities of modest advance?
Proceeding, in the name of maintaining peace, against relatives of murdered victims rather than against the murderers, crippling fundamental Kashmiri rights in the name of national security, and crushing family rights in the name of population control are signs of the tide of domineering nationalism that seems to be rolling remorselessly in our land. Popular for the time being such policies may well be. Some considerations behind them may be sound, too. The goals of street peace, national security, and population control are good, not evil.
But wait. When it is admitted by everyone, including Narendra Modi, that the most immediate and most important tasks before the country are, one, controlling Covid and its variants, and, two, reviving the economy, why suddenly spring "population control" on an exhausted nation? And that too just when China is openly admitting the injuries caused to its population by the disastrous one-child policy, and is reversing course? And when our rulers have repeatedly touted the blessings of India's "youth dividend", earned by the high percentage of youngsters in our large population?
Is it not plain that what has really annoyed some powerful people is not the general rise in numbers but the fact that Muslims exist in significant numbers in India? That they have not moved to Pakistan, or disappeared in some other way? I ask these questions and express these opinions not because of any expectation that policies would be reconsidered, or that popular pressure would be mobilized as a result. No matter how irrational or destructive, some tides seem to roll on. Even so, irrationalities must be pointed out. Such as the policy of humiliating our Muslims while wanting Muslim nations like Bangladesh, Indonesia and Iran and the Gulf countries to stand alongside India, a desire demonstrated by, among other pieces of evidence, foreign minister S Jaishankar's recent visit to Tehran to seek Iran's cooperation.
Or failing to see that the humiliation of Muslims or Christians today will be followed inexorably by the humiliation of sections of Hindus tomorrow. Or thinking that people and governments in countries like the US, the UK, Japan, South Korea, Germany, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, not to mention the lands of the Middle East, will not be alienated by anti-Muslim policies.
Life must proceed, and among other chores, even writing must continue. If not for impact, at least as duty. If a tide must run its course, let it at least hear some rationality and some outrage.
(Rajmohan Gandhi is presently teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.)
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