After independence, Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders of India celebrated diversity and spoke of secularism, and some institutions actually put it into practice. The armed forces, the film industry, the railways and cricket, among others, hold this diverse country together – they are symbols of the secular ideal. On a train, you never know who’s going to be in the next seat, and a film unit includes people from all backgrounds. The much-maligned Hindi masala film preaches the virtues of secular India, and the hero may well be a Muslim in love with a Hindu woman. Nobody notices, nobody cares – in the darkened auditorium everyone cheers, applauds, laughs and cries together. Likewise, the Defense Forces are a shining example of unity in diversity. Soldiers fight shoulder to shoulder and celebrate each festival with love and respect, a long tradition.
To the narrow, bigoted Hindutva mind, all of this is an abomination, a reflection of what is wrong with India. Muslims and Hindus work together? Playing together? Hindus attend Iftar and Muslims attend Diwali? This must be stopped or better yet destroyed as destruction seems to be the standard method of Hindutva warriors.
The film industry in Mumbai was the first to be attacked. Back in 2015, Kailash Vijayvargiya had tweeted against Shah Rukh Khan, and Adityanath, then an MP, compared the actor to Hafiz Saeed. The outcry from fans and others forced the BJP to distance itself from both comments, but it was a prelude to what was to come.
Many in the film industry are now making strongly nationalist films that adhere closely to the ruling party’s ideology. They often garble history to show Muslims in a bad light. The saffron flag is waved with enthusiasm, various gods are invoked and Hindus rashtra Nationalism is paramount.
Filmmakers often pick up on the social changes and trends of their time, but commerce rules. Ideology matters, and it’s always a good idea to please the political lords of the time. Cinema will always be a target for the Safran Brigade for its potential to carry the Hindutva message to the masses.
Producers and directors have the right to make the films they want, even a propaganda vehicle like The Kashmir Files, but it has a chilling effect on others, especially larger filmmakers who are risk-averse. A reissue of Amar Akbar Anthony is unlikely. Of course, the movie business is full of misfits, so it’s going to take a while to tame them all.
The army, on the other hand, is a disciplined institution trained to follow orders. It is a custodian of the constitution but also beholden to the government, which pays wages and pensions and controls them for all practical purposes. This makes it relatively easy to manipulate if the officers at the top don’t hold their own.
So it seems to have been in the mysterious case Tweet deleted about an iftar organized by the army in Doda in Jammu and Kashmir. The Army tweet used the “dangerous” hashtag #secularism as a good thing – which must have caught the attention of the hounds.
When one such worthy, who runs a rabid Hindutva TV channel, tweeted about the army-held iftar, the local defense professional deleted his tweet instead of ignoring the trolling. Perhaps he was commanded to do so, or felt threatened if he did not surrender quickly. Anyhow, this sad episode tells us a lot about the state of India today: even an institution like the army is vulnerable to the prevailing headwinds of toxicity.
So will the army cancel such events in the future? Is it better to play it safe than stand up for one’s own traditions and secular values? Or worse, will it continue to hold events like this, but under the radar?
These are not rhetorical questions. The fanatics play the long game, diligently picking at long-held values. Notice how India’s comedians have fallen silent and how rarely anti-establishment jokes are heard from them. Seven years ago, Adityanath’s comment on Shah Rukh Khan sounded off the mark. Today he is Prime Minister of Uttar Pradesh and Khan, who was already under siege after the arrest of his son, is nowhere to be seen or heard. His colleagues and friends don’t say much either.
The Defense PRO’s quick deletion of the tweet shows that facilities are collapsing faster. There may be an entitlement in a company withdraw an ad that “hurts the feelings” of trolls because it preaches decent, secular values, because no company wants its sales hurt or its showrooms ransacked. But why should the army succumb to a stray comment that strikes at their cherished traditions? The pressure exerted on it can only be guessed at.
Will there be cricket next? What if there is a campaign to keep Muslim players out – will the BCCI agree as it is headed by the Home Secretary’s son? Government employment could follow – the aforementioned Hindutva channel already speaks of Muslims engaging in “labour jihad”. Private companies would quickly follow suit.
Secularism hurts the sensibilities of the Hindutva-spitting elements because it is a bulwark against the polarization they are trying to spread in order to consolidate voting blocs. Systematically at the Base level Hindutva is spread where it hardly existed. Out of this will emerge new warriors to take on his cause, online and offline.
So far India has resisted succumbing to such naked bigotry, but for how much longer? If respected institutions like the army give way, the common man who believes in simple decency and humanity will be unable to withstand the assault on the values that have held India together for so long.