Before reading Majoritarian State, a compilation of articles on subjects spanning politics, society, economy, and international relations during the past five years of the Modi rule, it is instructive to know about historian EH Carr’s principle distinguishing a historical fact from a basic fact in his acclaimed, What is History? Since Majoritarian State is about examining how Hindu nationalism is changing India, it can safely be seen as a work on contemporary history of the country, and the principles defining a historian and his facts can be applied to it.
Carr says a basic fact is like the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. Is it the same as a historian telling you that Caesar was the first to cross the Rubicon? No, concludes Carr, as he says that there’s no such thing like an objective historical fact. In his words: “It is the historian who has decided for his own reasons that Caesar’s crossing of that petty stream, the Rubicon, is a fact of history, whereas the crossing of the Rubicon by millions of other people before or since interests nobody at all…The belief in a hard core of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy.”
If you read the articles in Majoritarian State with this principle of Carr in mind, you won’t feel frustrated on finding a purely one-sided view lacking in objectivity, for it essentially is a grouping of authors who have a deep dislike for the BJP, and more so for Modi, who would even see his style of walking, for instance, with deep suspectfullness.
Since it comprises works of several writers, it is difficult to examine each of their pieces individually here; suffice it to say that the basic theme running through most of them, especially in the ones dealing with politics and society, is that how majoritarian Hindus under Modi’s BJP are making the Hindu identity a part of the state while negating those of the minorities, read Muslims, who now live in perpetual fear and are discriminated at every point of social existence. It is expressed that the interests of Dalits, other backward castes (OBCs), and tribals are bunched with those of Muslims, which the Hindu upper castes want to trample with might.
So, for instance, if a Muslim is not able to register an FIR with the police, it is an instance of Hindu majoritarianism. Similarly, if a Muslim has less representation in either government services, police or even in political parties, it is a sign of discrimination.
The contributors to the volume have thrown to the wind the fact that Hindu-Muslim relations, whether good or troubled, are much more complex and require a deeper, nuanced analysis. The book highlights several atrocities against Muslims to prove its line, but totally blacks out similar atrocities or discrimination against Hindus. You have reams of analysis on the Gujarat riots but nothing on the burning of the train at Godhra which preceded it. While the Gujarat riots cannot be condoned and have rightly been castigated, surely the burning of the train also must have a story? Are the writers blind to the fact that even an executive working in an MNC firm faces problems with the police in registering an FIR? One of them writes that if a Hindu faces a problem with the police, he dials friends in influential places who are Hindus and who help, but for Muslims such options are closed because there are no influential people in the community. Really? Did the writers do a field study in Azam Khan’s constituency in UP? Or did they study Lalu’s Bihar, or UP under Mulayam, Akhilesh or Mayawati?
Are the writers aware of the plight of one Chanda Babu in Siwan district of Bihar under the hands of Mohd Shahabuddin? Are they oblivious of the fact that the biggest perpetrators of Muslims in the Bhagalpur riots of 1989 were Yadavs, an OBC caste, and that’s the reason even Lalu Yadav, who championed the Muslim cause, could never take action against the killers? Surely then, the interests of Muslims and OBCs can’t be the same?
The set of articles fails to analyse that Hindu-Muslim issues are related to power equations. One a majority and the other a dominant minority are locked in a struggle for power that is playing out fiercely because the vote of the former is divided along caste lines while that of the latter is mostly consolidated. Whoever is able to get candidates of their choice win in elections is able to negotiate with the leader/party better and thus control the levers of power. In such politics, the dice is always loaded against one side depending on the leader/party in power—if the leader/party wins through Muslim votes, the dice rolls in their favour and vice-versa. The writers have not mentioned this as they are obsessed with Modi, but a study of UP under Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party and the number of police stations that have their heads as Muslim/Yadav/Dalit tells the story in itself. Even Bihar under Lalu’s rule will show the trend pretty effectively.
The writers of the volume dish out numbers to show how Muslims have very little representation in government and in the private sector. This is true but is it because of discrimination by the state? No. It is because of lack of reforms in the community that should come from within and which is not happening, for which Hindu liberals are also to blame as they hardly support any such reforms. Obviously, without stating it as much, the writers seem to be favouring reservations for Muslims in government jobs, forgetting in the process that any such move will create problems of a much larger magnitude than we have today.
Another failure of the book is to treat Muslims as a monolithic bloc and not seeing caste/class stratification there. The reason for such lazy analysis by such scholars seems to be purely political. Being BJP haters, which they are entitled to be, they analyse caste divisions with one set of tools and religious divide with another. Radicalisation on the basis of caste is seen as empowerment by them, which brings about a change in the balance of power amongst communities but radicalisation on the lines of religion is seen as dangerous, which will turn our republic into majoritarian. This is laughable. It is elementary that division along caste lines weakens the BJP while division on the lines of religion strengthens BJP. Since I don’t favour the BJP, my dislike is for the religious divide. So, essentially what’s plain politics is dished out as academic writing by the contributors in the book.
If you are a BJP hater, you will love it; if you are a BJP voter, you will trash it, but for the objective reader, it is Carr’s principle which will help you see the work in the right perspective.