India versus Bharat – we hear this often, of late. It is one country but conjures up two very different images. Are we that unique? I don’t think so. We got August company of Japan (Nippon), Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland), Hungary (Magyar) and many others. Of late, the talking heads and know-all experts of all hues and colours keep harping on these two terms based on geography, economic well being, educational qualification and cultural preferences. In light of these, the individuals belonging to India is seen as urban, well to do, English knowing, Westernized and highly ambitious. On the other hand, Bharat is that teeming mass of people who are essentially rural or semi-urban, hand to mouth, vernacular, traditional and struggling for existence. They do at times overlap. We have the rural rich and the urban poor, but they are significantly less in number.
Now, let us have some insights into the secular versus communal rhetoric. Innovative terms like ‘sickular’ and ‘pseudo-secular’ have been used to malign and accuse certain individuals for their viewpoints and discourse. Similarly, the term ‘communal’ have been liberally bestowed upon individuals inhabiting the right wing of the political spectrum and championing religious majoritarianism. In my opinion both are misnomers and we need to grow out of these frivolous labeling game.
The dictionary meaning of the term secular means – ‘not spiritual’ or ‘not religious’. Can this term be extended to define individuals? Absolutely not, this is linguistically as well as politically incorrect. In case of a person not overtly religious, he can be described as an agnostic or an atheist, at best. Now let us explore the dictionary meaning of ‘communal’. As per the dictionaries, it means ‘shared by all members of a community’ or for ‘common use’. Thus, this term is not fit to be used to describe individuals. The terms secular and communal should properly be used as an adjective while defining any Government, Institution or similar body. It can also be used to describe gatherings, occasions, celebrations and the mother of all – ‘political parties’. The term communal is also widely used, and correctly so, to describe riots between two or more communities.
Now the question that arises is – how to describe individuals and communities, religious or otherwise based on their religious views and actions in a nation like ours, where followers of multiple religions have co-existed for centuries. The answer lies in a very benign term – ‘tolerance’. Tolerance, tolerant, toleration, can be variously used to describe individuals and groups of individuals whether bound by location, beliefs, political affiliation or other bindings. In such a scenario, overtly religious people can be highly tolerant of people from other faiths and coexist peacefully. Conversely, an agnostic or atheist can be highly intolerant of people from one or more faiths and may advocate divisive policies which may or may not involve violence. This is the ground reality prevailing in our nation in turbulent times like these; where the political discourse has bogged down to involve religion in a big way, pushing other issues like malnutrition, education, employment, healthcare and environment in the back-burner.
The issue of India versus Bharat is again relevant in the existing political atmosphere prevailing in the country. The so called India encompasses roughly 25 to 30 percent of the population by various estimates while ascribing the Bharat tag to the remaining 70 to 75 percent. The tolerance level of these two groups will ultimately decide the fate of this nation. That will decide whether we remain the vibrant mosaic of multi religious, multi ethnic and multi linguistic nation that we are at present or we degenerate into a nation where theology of a particular kind takes precedence over any other concern.
In this respect, the recently concluded by elections in the state of Uttar Pradesh were quiet an eye opener. A total of 11 assembly constituencies went to the polls, out of which 10 were won by the BJP in the previous assembly elections. The constituencies were a mix of urban, semi rural and rural population. The BJP went hammer and tongs in this election with the strategy of religious polarization fuelled by the bogey of spurious rape cases, engineered communal riots and the phoney incidences of so called ‘Love Jihad’. It was a perfect case study of the Secular Party versus Communal Party, Tolerant electorate versus Intolerant electorate, and the India versus Bharat discourse, and settled the matter once and for all.
Let us look at the constituencies now. Noida, Lucknow East and Saharanpur Shahar were purely urban communities where we can safely assume that most of the population belongs to India. Bijnore, Hamirpur and Rohaniya are semi urban constituencies where majority of people can be assumed to belong to Bharat along with a significant number belonging to India. Balha, Charkhari, Nighasan, Sirathu and Thakurdwara are purely rural constituencies and represent pure Bharat.
Now let us look at the results. The purely urban constituencies of Noida, Lucknow east and Saharanpur Shahar representing India returned BJP candidates as winners, whereas the other eight semi urban and rural constituencies, representative of Bharat, returned Samajwadi Party candidates. It is extremely significant to read the results in the light of the polarizing campaigning strategy employed by the BJP in the run up to the elections. These results should be an eye opener for all sorts of political pundits, psephologists and of course the political parties themselves. They reinforce the fact that Bharat, i.e., the soul of India is essentially extremely tolerant and will remain so for years to come, no matter what. On the other hand, the ambitious and relatively well off India can be swayed politically by a mix of intolerant propaganda coupled with an utopian dream of bullet trains, smart cities, plentiful jobs, superpower nation status, ultra fast development and other material goodies.
I would like to advise all sorts of stake holders in politics, right from the well heeled political greenhorns to the journalists, psephologists, TV anchors, panelists, opinion makers and self-styled experts to devote at least some of their valuable time in travelling to the hinterland regularly. Travelling 2nd Class in Indian Railways and buses and socializing with traders, drivers, farmers, barbers and sundry other individuals will give you an insight which no amount of University education or reading political columns and news will ever teach you. This will make one realize that the soul of this nation is extremely tolerant and pluralistic and the social fabric built over centuries of cohabitation will live on.
Bharat beats India hands down when it comes to tolerance and co-existence. I salute the Bharatwasi. Jai Hind!