• July 19, 2024

A study in saffron

(First published on December 01, 2018)

Realpolitik can do terrible things to people. Under high pressure, it can crush the humanity of a soul. And in South Asia everything is politics. Trade is politics. Economics is politics. Cricket is politics. Even religion is politics. We just had a series of tutorials on the negative impact of over-politicisation of religion. The first lesson was domestic and doesn’t merit much discussion here. The second lesson came from India when in response to Pakistan’s bold proposal of establishing a corridor to grant the Sikh population of India access to one of the community’s holiest sites the Indian government seemed out of its depth. On the face of it, it was a simple proposal: build a corridor from Gurdaspur to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur, four kilometers inside Pakistani territory, and allow Indian Sikh devotees visa-free access to the 16th-century tomb of the faith’s founder. But this ostensibly didn’t go down well in New Delhi. The Indian government seemed compelled to reciprocate as it did not want to alienate its Sikh population outright and decided to inaugurate the project from its side. But since then it has given statements that seem designed to sabotage it. When Pakistan invited the Indian Minister for External Affairs the invitation was immediately rejected.

Reason? Paranoia. India somehow is wary of Pakistan’s growing popularity with the Sikh community. Back in the 1980s, it did not handle the Sikh separatist movement well. And when Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh guards who were angry against the country’s forces storming the Golden Temple, another very sacred place for the faith, it looked the other way when Hindu extremists massacred 2,800-8,000 Sikhs. Every oppressor fears his victims for they can rise and one day take revenge. But linking this to today’s peace overtures is unimaginative and counterintuitive if not downright foolish. In a nation’s history this is ancient history. You go back to 1984 and hawks in Pakistan would reach 1947 when riots between Sikhs/Hindus and Muslims resulted in deaths of over a million Muslims. There are a million reasons to live with the bitterness of the past, only one to move on: common sense. Pakistan has obviously moved on. India has not. The Sikh population deserves better.

While we are discussing reactions here is another gem. Captain Amerinder Singh, the Chief Minister of Indian Punjab, also turned down Pakistan’s invitation and berated Pakistani leadership. It is important to point out here that while the BJP rules at centre in India, it is a Congress government in Punjab. Congress the secular, Congress the diverse, Congress the wise and Congress the hope for peace with the neighbours. But call the BJP whatever you like, it is many things, intolerant, enabler of hate crimes against minorities, but it is not a hypocrite. It preaches Hindutva, or Hindu extremism disguised as Hindu nationalism, sticks to it and openly owns it. The Congress party claims to be the founder of the country, claims to be a secular party and yet leaves no stone unturned to support what is now called soft Hindutva. It is beyond my comprehension why a chief minister would feel compelled to undermine a peace outreach when his own cabinet minister, Navjot Singh Sidhu, played a crucial role in it. A force of habit, perhaps. But instead of mimicking the BJP’s jingoism, the Congress needs to realise that if it wants to take the country out of the current mess it will have to come up with a different, less hostile narrative on Pakistan. Constant war mongering and Pakistan baiting has only radicalised the Indian polity. Outward intolerance breeds internal disharmony and intolerance. Ask us. Been there, done that. In case you don’t learn, you are no better than the BJP.

And since we are at it, let us also discuss the role of the Indian media. For a long time, I thought that the Indian media spreads hate in response to a growing demand by the audience. But during the coverage of Kartarpur Corridor, I learned that the Indian industry does not need any empirical evidence to be convinced. When an Indian journalist participating in a recent show claimed that the Indian people did not want peace with Pakistan, I requested him to cite a single opinion poll to substantiate this wild claim. Not only did he fail to mention a single opinion poll, no matter how old, but he was also infuriated that I was not ready to accept his claim at face value. With over a billion population, India is a huge country. Such sweeping claims cannot be accepted without empirical evidence. For all we know Indian citizens like citizens of any other country might want peace and tranquillity in the region. But their media would not let you know. In the push and pull economy, it seems that the Indian media’s hostile content is push-driven. It evidently does not care what the people want. This often happens when pro-government, big business owns media. Why would you care about ratings when the same businessman and his allied government are there to ensure endless supply of advertisements.

Don’t get me wrong. Every nation’s media industry has its fair share of crazy. We do too. But I have seldom seen another industry where an overwhelming majority has gone off the deep end. Endless supply of hate, anger, embellished lies, paranoia and distress. This is how one has to sum up their antics. For evidence you present two exhibits. Exhibit A: Go to YouTube and search Pakistan Porbander terror boat. It happened on the New Year eve, when the world was welcoming 2015 that the Indian media lost its mind. After hours of frenzy and war hysteria when the media realised it had made a fool of itself, it dropped the story like a hot brick, without remorse of course. Exhibit B: A bloke called Arnab Goswami.

Somewhere between bullying by the Indian cyber-troll army and bizarre statements by their army chief, one comes across strangest arguments. For instance: India doesn’t need peace with the neighbours, it needs GDP growth. Yeah right! Like both are mutually exclusive. It goes without saying that when India has produced some of the smartest people in the world, it must have produced some of the dumbest people too. We can live with that. The only problem is so many of them find jobs in the media, politics and defence industries.

The fact of the matter is that the world is changing, times are changing. With every passing day our collective challenges keep increasing. No one can be sure of economic growth without lasting stability. Peace makes such stability possible. With the presence of its civil and military leadership at the inauguration ceremony, Pakistan has shown its heart. It is time for India’s leadership to do the same if it has one.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2018.

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