BY SAEED NAQVI
How dangerous are Ayman al Zawahiri’s exhortations to Muslims on the sub-continent?
There is an expression in Hindi, “Soney pey suhaga”, suhaga being the powder which makes gold shine. In a volatile social situation, where communal polarization is an electoral requirement until key state elections are out of the way, the Zawahiri slogan may have some short term advantages for the ruling party. It is perverse to say so but that is the way it is.
In the division of labour between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, Modi will be the assertive statesman, from New Delhi to the ends of the world. That is the way he has managed to get himself projected.
The media has not spotted the paradox. The man who came to power riding the crest of the biggest media campaign in history has, after having come to power, distanced himself from the media. He is establishing the rhythm: the media will be available when he needs it.
In this he is following the dictum of the genius who marketed the Beatles, Brian Epstein, the first manager of the singing sensations. For better publicity, Epstein kept the press at a distance. So far this approach has served Modi well.
The more onerous task has been left to Amit Shah, the party president. His job is to keep pushing the frontiers of communalism, to create circles of Hindu consolidation around the Muslim individuals, neighbourhoods, villages, markets, fairs. This is not communalism for its own sake but more as an electoral asset, from state to state, constituency to constituency.
At this phase of the Hindu Rashtra project, the al Qaeda’s exhortations will help Hindu consolidation that much more. In fact Amit Shah may well survey the scene and proclaim with satisfaction: with such enemies, who needs friends?
With the sort of defence being offered by the great secular, youth trio of Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav and Omar Abdullah, Amit Shah will score one field goal after another.
Shrewdly anticipating more defeats coming his way in the state elections, Rahul has charged off to the security of Amethi, making cow eyes at TV cameras. Of all the images he could pick to chastise the Prime Minister, he has settled for one where Modi looked exceptionally good: competing with a Japanese drum beater. Modi played the drums with great dexterity, like a Gujarati practiced in dandia rasa. But Rahul thought he shouldn’t be doing this while food prices were high.
Just that morning newspapers were full of stories about former Supreme Court Chief Justice P. Sathasivan being made governor of Kerala without any cooling off period, but Rahul was focused on the Japanese drums. Yogi Adityanath has not only declared it a Hindu nation, but has unilaterally changed street names in places like Gorakhpur. He announced these changes on TV. Does the Congress Vice President have nothing to say?
Modi in his very first speech in Parliament had the honesty to blame India’s many debilities on the fact that it had been under “foreign rule for 1,200 years”. I disagree with him but I respect him for having said something Congressmen believe in but do not have the courage to say. They will try to please Muslims privately but keep publicly mum on that issue. Does Rahul even understand the nuances of the issue at hand? Front pages of newspapers have been carrying photographs of men being given bucket baths in city squares as part of the ritual preparatory to their return to the Hindu fold from Christianity. Love Jehad is the flavour of the season. Any thoughts, Rahul?
Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow and Omar Abdullah, who rules Kashmir from his bungalow in New Delhi, are a shade worse than Rahul. They have thrown in the towel for the next round. The word to their partymen is: we are not coming back in the next round. So help yourselves.
With such an open field, does Amit Shah need more polarizing material from Zawahiri? In the established custom of the Indian media, Zawahiri will be sourced to Pakistan and some high decibel discussions will be mounted in which masochistic, retired, Pakistani Generals will make guest appearances to be shouted at. Is it a fix like World Heavyweight Wrestling?
Given this state of play, chances are that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s mangoes will be reciprocated with some Gujarati dhokalas only after the elections in Jammu and Kashmir are over in January. Until then, communalism is an electoral necessity and an opening with Pakistan is incompatible with this requirement. Unless, ofcourse, Modi lives upto his reputation of being capable of surprises.
By this time the nation may well have lived through its most intense phases of communal tension. Amit Shah’s electoral needs will have been exhausted only by February. There may be some relief then or there may not be depending how the Hindu Rashtra project can be navigated alongside “sub ka saath, sub ka vikas”.
Desperate Muslim youth may at that stage be in search for a rallying force, but I find it difficult to believe that Zawahiri kind of Islam, extracted from Saudi Wahabism, will have a burgeoning clientele in India. The danger will arise when more muscular forces like the ISIS, with their mastery over the new media technology begin reaching out to pockets of agitated Muslims on social networks. That would be dangerous because the turmoil in West Asia is a regular part of the Arab and Western media diet. They have some understanding of issues from their different perspectives.
On foreign affairs Indian audiences have no sources of information other than what is doled out to them by outsiders. We have so far survived being frogs in the well. But this time a huge tsunami may be drifting in our direction. For nation not to have its feet on ground will be dangerous. Television channels must mount informed discussions, along with the staple of shouting matches.
(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)