Mr Modi, please tear down this wall

A timely appeal from the (real) Gandhi family scion. We generally approve and the recommendation to address the southern (also eastern) deficit is well taken.
When some spoke rashly and derisively of your having been a “chaiwala,” I felt sick to my stomach. What a wonderful thing it is, I said to myself, that one who has made and served chai for a living should be able to head the government of India. Far better bearing a pyala to many than being a chamcha to one.

But, Mr. Modi, with that said, I must move to why your being at India’s
helm disturbs millions of Indians. 

You know this more clearly than
anyone else that in the 2014 election, voters voted, in the main, for
Modi or against Modi. It was a case of “Is Narendra Modi the country’s
best guardian — desh ka rakhvala — or is he not?” The BJP has won
the seats it has because you captured the imagination of 31 per cent of
our people (your vote share) as the nation’s best guardian, in fact, as
its saviour. It has also to be noted that 69 per cent of the voters did
not see you as their rakhvala.
They also disagreed on what, actually, constitutes our desh. And this — the concept of desh —
is where, Mr. Modi, the Constitution of India, upon the authority of
which you are entering the office of Prime Minister, matters. I urge you
to revisit the idea of desh.

 In invoking unity and stability, you have regularly turned to the name
and stature of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The Sardar, as you would know,
chaired the Constituent Assembly’s Committee on Minorities. If the
Constitution of India gives crucial guarantees — educational, cultural
and religious — to India’s minorities, Sardar Patel has to be thanked,
as do other members of that committee, in particular Rajkumari Amrit
Kaur, the Christian daughter of Sikh Kapurthala. Adopt, in toto, Mr.
Modi, not adapt or modify, dilute or tinker with, the vision of the
Constitution on the minorities. You may like to read what the
indomitable Sardar said in that committee.

Why is there, in so many, so much fear, that they dare not voice their fears?

It is because when you address rallies, they want to hear a democrat who
carries the Peoplehood of India with him, not an Emperor who issues
decrees. Reassure the minorities,
Mr. Modi, do not patronise them. “Development” is no substitute to
security. You spoke of “the Koran in one hand, a laptop in the other,”
or words to that effect. That visual did not quite reassure them because
of a counter visual that scares them — of a thug masquerading as a
Hindu holding a Hindu epic’s DVD in one hand and a minatory trishul in the other.

In the olden days, headmasters used to keep a salted cane in one corner
of the classroom, visible and scary, as a reminder of his ability to
lash the chosen skin. Memories, no more than a few months old, of the
riots in Muzaffarnagar which left at least 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus dead
and displaced over 50,000 persons, are that salted cane. “Beware, this
is what will be done to you!” is not a threat that anyone in a democracy
should fear. But that is the message that has entered the day’s fears
and night’s terrors of millions.

It is in your hands, Mr. Modi, to dispel that. You have the authority
and the power to do that, the right and the obligation as well. I would
like to believe that, overcoming small-minded advice to the contrary,
you will dispel that fear.

All religious minorities in India, not just the Muslim,
bear scars in their psyche even as Hindus and Sikhs displaced from West
Punjab, and Kashmiri Pandits do. There is the fear of a sudden riot
caused with real or staged provocation, and then returned with
multiplied retribution, targeted very specially on women. Dalits and
Adivasis, especially the women, live and relive humiliation and
exploitation every minute of their lives. The constant tug of unease
because of slights, discrimination, victimisation is de-citizenising,
demoralising, dehumanising. Address that tug, Mr. Modi, vocally and visibly and win their trust. You can, by assuring them that you will be the first spokesman for their interests.

No one should have the impudence to speak the monarchist language of
uniformism to a republic of pluralism, the vocabulary of “oneness” to an
imagination of many-nesses, the grammar of consolidation to a
sensibility that thrives in and on its variations. India is a diverse
forest. It wants you to nurture the humus that sustains its great
variety, not place before it the monochromatic monoculturalism of a
political monotheism.

What has been taken as your stand on Article 370 of the Constitution,
the old and hackneyed demand for a Uniform Civil Code, the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, and what the media have reported as your statements about “Hindu refugees” in
our North and North-West and “Muslim refugees” in our East and
North-East, strikes fear, not trust. Mass fear, Mr. Modi, cannot be an
attribute of the Republic of India. And, as Prime Minister of India, you
are the Republic’s alter ego.

A historic win it has been for you, Mr. Modi, for which, once again,
congratulations. Let it be followed by a historic innings, which stuns
the world by surprises your supporters may not want of you but many more
would want to see you unfurl. You are hugely intelligent and will not
mind unsolicited but disinterested advice of one from an earlier
generation. Requite the applause of your support-base but, equally,
redeem the trust of those who have not supported you. When you
reconstitute the Minorities Commission, ask the Opposition to give you
all the names and accept them without change. And do the same for the
panels on Scheduled Castes and Tribes, and Linguistic Minorities. And
when it comes to choosing the next Chief Information Commissioner, the
next CAG, CVC, go sportingly by the recommendation of the non-government
members on the selection committee, as long as it is not partisan. You
are strong and can afford such risks.

Mr. Modi, there is a southern deficit in your India calculus. The
Hindi-belt image of your victory should not tighten itself into a
North-South divide. Please appoint a deputy prime minister from the
South, who is not a politician at all, but an expert social scientist,
ecologist, economist or a demographer. Nehru had Shanmukham Chetty, John
Mathai, C.D. Deshmukh and K.L. Rao in his cabinet. They were not
Congressmen, not even politicians. Indira Gandhi had S. Chandrashekhar,
V.K.R.V. Rao. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the UPA did
not make Professor M.S. Swaminathan and Shyam Benegal, both nominated
members in the Rajya Sabha, ministers. There is a convention, one may
even say, a healthy convention, that nominated members should not be
made ministers. But exigencies are exigencies. Professor Nurul Hasan, a
nominated member, was one of the best Ministers of Education we have

Imperial and ideological exemplars appeal to you. So, be Maharana Pratap
in your struggle as you conceive it, but be an Akbar in your repose. Be
a Savarkar in your heart, if you must, but be an Ambedkar in your mind.
Be an RSS-trained believer in Hindutva in your DNA, if you need to be,
but be the Wazir-e-Azam of Hindostan that the 69 per cent who did not
vote for you, would want you to be.

With every good wish as you take your place at the helm of our desh,

I am, your fellow-citizen,

Gopalkrishna Gandhi




Brown Pundits