Can Bihar open the door for ‘sabka vishwas’?

Dear Prime Minister Modi, With Delhi aflame, India has become a vortex of hate and violence, raising human rights concerns globally and ruining your hard foreign policy work of six years. Please abandon partisan recrimination over anti-CAA protests. Aim to bind the country rather than split it, heal wounds rather than create fresh ones. You alone in the BJP can do that.

Developments in Bihar suggest a way forward. Chief minister Nitish Kumar won your support for an all-party resolution rejecting the proposed National Register of Citizens that Muslims fear will be misused to make them stateless. The resolution also rejected fear-inducing questions for preparing the National Population Register. Nitish said the Citizen’s Amendment Act would be decided by the Supreme Court.

Home minister Amit Shah has repeatedly supported an all-India NRC, but Nitish persuaded you to reject it as a vote-loser in the coming Bihar election. Your approval reveals a flexibility and non-communal capacity that most critics cannot see. If all parties can come together in Bihar to abandon the NRC and assuage Muslim fears, you can lead a similar movement across India.

Even the Shiv Sena, your former Hindutva ally in Maharashtra, has rejected the NRC. Eleven states have refused to implement the NRC, and many are refusing to implement even the CAA. Without states’ co-operation these initiatives will fail, and the states’ rebellion can leave you looking incompetent and ineffective.

There is no reason to push the NRC save for communal polarisation, which hurts the economy and foreign policy without winning elections. The BJP has fared poorly in 10 state elections in a row. Nitish has convinced you that in Bihar you will gain electorally from abandoning it.

Why not seize upon that and make it your own all-India policy, as part of a campaign to bind the wounds of a fearful, divided nation? Why not appeal to alienated Muslims by saying their fears are unwarranted, yet you are sensitive to their sentiments and so will abandon the NRC to bring all communities together to revive the flagging economy and build a strong India? That will give substance to your 2019 post-election slogan of ‘sabke saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas’ (with everybody, for everyone’s progress and everyone’s trust).

Since then, however, “sabka vishwas” has evaporated in communal heat generated by your party. That has neutered both ‘sabke saath’ and ‘sabka vikas’.

The Shaheen Bagh protesters swear by the Constitution, wear headbands saying, “I love India,” wave national flags and sing the national anthem. They carry large banners of Gandhi, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, and Subhas Chandra Bose, with nary a mullah or Islamic symbol in sight. Instead of welcoming this display of Muslim patriotism your party has branded the protesters as pro-Pakistani traitors, simply because they oppose the CAA and NRC. You ignore their fears that the fiasco of massive statelessness in Assam may be repeated all over India.

Many liberal friends will laugh at my naivete in making this appeal. Pratap Bhanu Mehta says you have embarked on the path of cruelty, fear, division and violence. Many say you are a quasi-fascist Hitler who used communal hate for political success in the 2002 Gujarat riots, and are now adopting the same across India.

I find this equation of Hitler and the BJP ridiculous. Your party has fielded several Muslim candidates in elections. Did Hitler field any Jews? You have appointed Muslims to Cabinet positions — Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, MJ Akbar and Najma Heptullah. You have Muslim party spokesmen like Shahnawaz Husain. Did Hitler have any Jewish ministers or spokesmen? Has the BJP set up industrial human furnaces as a final solution to rid India of Muslims? Calling the BJP fascist is abuse, not analysis.

The BJP is undoubtedly a Hindu nationalist party. Atal Behari Vajpayee said this makes it no more communal than Christian democratic parties in Europe. That may have seemed tenable in Vajpayee’s time but no more. Communal hate has bubbled up under recent BJP rule. It has failed electorally: the BJP has fared poorly in 10 successive state elections — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh Jharkhand, Haryana and Delhi.

Modiji, you helped the party sweep the general election with your image of personal honesty and hard response to Pakistan’s terrorist tactics via the Uri and Balakot attacks. But at the state level, these issues matter much less, and communal polarisation has yielded neither votes nor good governance.

In Gujarat, after the 2002 riots you built bridges with alienated Muslims and worked with all communities for a successful Gujarat. Do the same in New Delhi. Return to ‘sabka vishwas’.

What do you think?