I was 13 when “In the year 2525” was top of the pops. It was 1969. At the time, 2525 felt light years away. The lyrics “if man is still alive, if woman can survive, they may find – ain’t gonna need to tell the truth” seemed like clever words. I did not realise they might also carry deeper meaning.
To be honest, to a 13-year-old, 2020 seemed much the same. It was so far into the future I couldn’t imagine what it would be like. But now that we’re there, I can see it’s depressing. The halcyon future that beckoned has metamorphosed into the dark dismal past we left behind.
Once again, religion is both defining and dividing Indians. It broke the country in 1947, yet we don’t seem to have learned any lessons from that. Like fools, we are playing with fire again.
I was but a child when first taught that although we comprise many cultures, religions, ethnicities, languages, cuisines and complexions, we are also one people. It took a while to understand, but as I grew up, I did. And it’s something that’s always made me proud of India.
Today, alas, we have a government that doesn’t think similarly. No matter how it presents the Citizenship (Amendment) Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) combination, what is irrefutable is that the only people who will eventually be denied Indian nationality are Muslims. What does this say to nearly 200 million of our fellow citizens? This may not physically part the country, but it is certainly and undeniably going to divide its people. Isn’t that an echo of 1947?
There’s a second lesson I was taught at school that seems to have been forgotten today. We can have differences of opinion, but they don’t have to become divisions. Instead, they enrich us. We’re the better for them. At 13, I did not realise that this is the bedrock on which our democracy is founded. Indira Gandhi’s Emergency was the first time a Government in India dismissed this wisdom. Fortunately, it did not last long. Today, I fear, we’re sliding back to the
If its rhetoric conveys its attitude, this government sees opponents as enemies and critics as anti-nationals. “Send them to Pakistan”, its ministers roar, unwittingly echoing the Queen in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ who famously shrieked “off with their heads!”
This time it has gone back to calling protesting students the “tukde tukde gang”. But, for a moment, let’s ask who is really dividing India? Who could break our unity into little “tukdas”? Is it young India? Or might it just be our government?
Before you dismiss this possibility, consider the following facts. The de-operationalisation of Article 370 and the division and demotion of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories have created a deep and, so far, unbridged chasm between the Valley and the rest of the country. Now, the prospect of a CAA-NRC combination has humiliated and offended the self-respect of Indian Muslims. But these are only the most recent developments. Going back further, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has boasted it can win elections without having to woo Muslim voters. Neither in 2014, nor 2019, does it have Muslim Lok Sabha Members of Parliament. In fact, in Gujarat, it hasn’t fielded a Muslim candidate in any election since 1989. So might that phrase “tukde tukde gang” also apply to our government and the BJP?
Now, if I’m right, many of you may feel 2020, though not even two-week-old, hasn’t begun well. I know several people who are depressed by 2019 and fear the worst is still to come. A lot of the time, I would agree with them, but when I see and hear the voices of India’s young, the gloom begins to lift. Their challenge is our best hope. Their combat could be our survival. Their commitment is the only guarantee we will abide by our Constitution. They alone can light the way to 2525.