Last week, I was on a TV news debate on the ongoing Hijab row in Karnataka. The other panellists were scientist and author Dr Anand Ranganathan and diplomat-turned-politician and author Pavan K. Varma. Given the nature of the issue under discussion, naturally its scope widened beyond the Hijab controversy, and veered towards the predictable direction of treatment of ‘minorities’ in Bharat.
During the course of the debate, Shri Varma, who is currently the National Vice-President of the All India Trinamool Congress, made the point that he was a proud Hindu who disapproved of Hindus being used as a vote bank by the BJP and their sentiments being used as political fodder. Dr Shashi Tharoor had made a similar point in his public debate with me last September in Chennai on the occasion of the launch of his book The Battle of Belonging: On Nationalism, Patriotism, And What It Means to be Indian. With due respect to the standing and erudition of both gentlemen, I believe that their position suffers from gross reductionism, lacks nuance and is utterly insensitive to the long-standing legitimate concerns, and not mere sentiments, of Hindus which predate both the RSS and the BJP. This is because never have these gentlemen or their like-minded ‘secular’ colleagues ever recognised the validity of Hindu concerns while separating it from their criticism of the BJP.
For instance, it is possible for someone to politically disagree with the BJP and still take the position that Hindus have been treated as second-class citizens right from the inception of the current republic, which is evident from the shoddy treatment of their rights and beliefs by the Indian State. To the best of my knowledge, no such distinction has ever been made by the “secular” politicians of this country who are only too keen to accept the legitimacy of minority concerns on face value. If the adoption of minority interests by “secular” parties does not undermine their validity, why shouldn’t the same logic be extended to Hindu/Dharmic interests?