Speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, the former US president Barack Obama made for a re-assuring presence. For he said what no Indian leader, no matter how big, would say: he called for the India to “cherish and nurture its large Muslim population that thinks of itself as Indian”. A country, he continued, shouldn’t be divided into sectarian lines and that is something, he said, he had told Prime Minister Narendra Modi in person as well as to people in America. Explaining the existing state of affairs in India and the rest of the world, Obama said while the counter-narrative keeps taking place all the time, it was particularly pronounced now. “The old tribal impulses reassert themselves under leaders who try to push back and under leaders who try to exploit them,” he said. The statement could as well be inferred as a subtle indictment of India’s current leadership. It is not the first time that Obama has made such remarks about the prevailing troubling state of affairs in India. On January 27, 2015, a day after he had attended the Republic Day celebrations as chief guest, Obama had said that every person had the right to practice his faith without any persecution, fear or discrimination. India, he had said, will succeed so long it is not splintered on religious lines.
However, the real significance of his current statement lies in the rank absence of such a discourse in India. So much so, even the so called secular parties like Congress have stopped pretending a soft spot for Muslims, leave alone ply a secular discourse. In recent years, India has decisively veered round to the accommodation of
Hindutva as the reigning creed. And Congress has abdicated its professed secular narrative. While PM Modi has occasionally strategically masked his Hindutva ideology by his development mantra, Rahul Gandhi has left Congress secularism ambiguous and something not to be stressed beyond a point. Instead even in power Congress has taken steps which would amount to competitive communalism. The party executed Afzal Guru to deny Modi a political slogan but it didn’t hang killers of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi or for that matter that of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. The party also ensured that Jats in Muzaffarnagar get reservation soon after the riots which left many Muslims dead and displaced from their villages. But again under pressure from BJP, Congress shied away from passing the Communal Violence Bill which would have afforded the minority communities in India a more credible protection from the recurrent organized violence directed at them. And while that was in the past and in power, Congress is not true to secularism even in opposition. In the ongoing all-important Assembly polls in Gujarat, Congress is plying a softer Hindutva to beat the BJP. It is not even seeking the votes of Muslims lest it alienate the majority community. Gandhi is visiting one after another temple to stress his Hindu identity. No other leader in India is ready to stick his neck out for a regenerating political vision propounded by Obama. And it is a very commentary on the state of affairs in India.