I missed out on the “tumult” these past weeks in circumstances which remind me of Shah Sarmad, the great Sufi saint of Jewish extraction, who wrote: “I slept through the tumult on Judgment Day./ When I half opened my eyes to see if it was over,/ I saw that it was still continuing./ I closed my eyes again and slept.” Strange, the connections the mind makes. Sarmad’s experience came across to me as a variation on the most serene aasana in yoga called Yoga Nidra. In this aasana, as the body slips into the deepest sleep, consciousness is proportionately sharpened, to a point where the mind can traverse the details of the body, the immediate environment and the universe outside. This blissful state fell into my lot, quite paradoxically, in the benign care of Dr Cyrus Shroff, who quite brilliantly stitched together an injured retina in surgery that lasted two and a half hours, and confined me to bed upside down, quite literally, adding a new dimension to my yogic experience.
This state is custom-made for audio books, of course, but also terrific to contemplate earthquakes like the ones that have gripped the nation. The convulsions, from my bird’s eye view (which is what an eye under repair provides) is of much greater intensity in the Hindi belt, plus parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat. In fact, the Hindutva wave in Gujarat must be considered on the wane as recent state elections make clear. Political profitability in Rahul Gandhi’s frenetic temple-hopping has yet to be assessed. Meanwhile, the Congress president is also testing the external affairs ministry by setting up high-powered meetings in Bahrain (earlier this month), in Singapore in March, Kuala Lumpur, London and heaven knows where else, bypassing Indian diplomatic missions, particularly the ones not inclined to be helpful. Influential segments of the chatterati are beginning to place their bets on the soft saffron of what in common parlance may be described as the New Congress.
For this lot “secularism” is a political burden because it opens the Congress to the charge of being “Muslim-friendly”. This image must be discarded at all costs because it gives the Hindutva brigade a handle for communal polarisation. The unstated theory is — if the Congress embraces soft Hindutva, the BJP will be left with nothing to oppose? This scenario satisfies another great dream of the Indian ruling class — a country proceeding towards a viable two-party system – BJP and Congress, alternatively. Much of this is wishful thinking as it presupposes that Rahul Gandhi, who has no political victories to his credit yet, somehow has victories lined up in the future simply because he is donning clothes of a certain shade. What if the Rahul Gandhi Congress presidency flops?
A pity the Congress residual leadership does not see the dangers of competitive communalism. If this is the way the game is to be played, the polity will continue to shift dangerously towards the far right. From my Yoga Nidra location, all of these are fanciful speculations extrapolated mostly from the Hindi belt. In this belt, we Urduwallas had placed all our bets on the durability of the Ganga-Jamuni culture which we had forged over centuries of cultural commerce and an overriding love for this land, its culture, its soft pastoral tones. I never tire dwelling on Urdu poets having written adoringly on Ram, Krishna, Gokul, Varanasi, Triveni, Koel on a mango perch. Indeed even the Prophet’s birthday was celebrated by Mohsin Kakorvi by describing the clouds floating ecstatically from Kashi to Mathura to catch a glimpse of Krishna.
All of this would have had a chance of surviving had Partition not taken place. I dwell in some detail on this theme in my book Being The Other: The Muslim in India. If Partition couldn’t have be avoided, the next best option for all would have been Hindustan, the obvious name for the country under Hindu Raj. Once the Congress had accepted the two-nation theory, de facto, Hindu Raj or Hindustan had become inevitable. After the Congress’ almost enthusiastic rush to accept Pakistan, this would have been the logical outcome. Quite seamlessly we had glided from the British Raj to a Hindu Raj. The problem the Congress created was precisely this — having created Hindu Raj, it proceeded to deny its existence.
Historians say power was what Jawaharlal Nehru sought. But accepting the label, Hindu Raj, was against his self-image. Such a label would have smacked of the “mofussil” to the thin layer of Macaulay’s elite which the British period had spawned. Above all, there was that minor matter of Jammu and Kashmir, which could have been only kept in a “secular” state. An honest bargain could have been struck in a Hindustan. Britain, anchored to the Anglican Church, has a Muslim mayor of London; all religious denominations are in the Cabinet (and shadow cabinet), indeed, at one stage there were four Muslims in the English cricket team. Just imagine what bargain 180 million Muslims would not have been in a position to strike?
Let me, in my Yoga Nidra state, pull back my consciousness from issues of what “might-have-been”. In the current situation the gloom and doom about fascism having arrived seems premature. Lift your eyes from the Hindi belt and the perspective changes. The strength for the four Supreme Court judges seeking correctives will come from federal India, the one pulsating outside the cow belt. As the only North Indian (and a Muslim to boot), who edited a newspaper covering all South Indian states with my headquarters in Chennai for a full five years, some credit must attach to what I am saying.