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home > News/Analysis  > Archive: Selected Analytical Articles  > One Voice and Two Noises

One Voice and Two Noises
By Mukul Dube

[Originally published in Mainstream, 27 March 2004]

    Until recently we were lashed by advertisement after advertisement claiming that the NDA had done more in five years than had been done in the previous fifty. While it is futile to expect mathematical precision from politicians in election mode, or from the Hindu Right at any time, in the end such contradictions and untruths can fool no one and help no one.

    Writing in the *Hindu* in September 2002, C. Rammanohar Reddy used published figures of the NSSO to compare the economic status of India's Muslims with that of its Hindus. Economic deprivation, or poverty, chiefly as measured through expenditure on consumption, was greater among Muslims than among Hindus in both rural and urban India, and the difference was substantially greater in urban areas, which is where most Muslims are to be found. Muslims were relatively badly off also in respect of land ownership, employment and education. Looking specifically at the decade of the 1990s, Reddy concluded that differences between the two religions had "either remained the same or widened".

    In the last article of the three-part series, Reddy considered the question of "appeasement" of minorities, which for the Hindu Right has always been the bogey raised as its principal line of attack. Having shown already that by any criterion that one cared to look at, India's Muslims had over time suffered deprivation in comparison with Hindus, he asked if it made any sense at all to speak of "appeasement" of people whose condition had become worse rather than better. For the most part, Reddy let the facts speak for themselves; and in my view, what he said should have reached a far larger audience than it probably did.

    The issue dated 17 March 2004 of the same newspaper contains three items of interest: an article by Reddy, a report of a speech made by Shri K.S. Sudarshan, and the report of Shri Lal Kishenchand Advani's daily *yatra* speech.

    Reddy compares the economic performance of the BJP/NDA governments of 1998-2004 with that of the Congress and UF governments of 1992-1998. He uses data from the CSO, the RBI and the NSSO to look at trends in GDP in "the more important sectors": overall GDP; net output in agriculture; net output in industry; exports of merchandise; and "invisibles", which term includes software exports, remittances, services, etc. In the BJP/NDA period, rates of growth in all five sectors have been slower, the difference being 1.3, 1.5, 2.8, 3.1 and 7.8 percentage points respectively. The very substantial difference in respect of invisibles exposes the hollowness of the present government's claims for this sector. The important thing, however, is that *growth in the BJP/NDA period has been slower across the board*.

    Reddy says that in the absence of complete data we can come to few definite conclusions about such things as prices, employment, poverty, health and education. The performance of the BJP/NDA governments has been mixed. The improvement in inflation began before they came to power, and in other things improvements slowed down after an initial speeding up. It can be said without hesitation, though, that the BJP/NDA did nothing whatsoever to promote balanced regional growth across the country. Inter-state disparities have widened during the 1990s. Reddy's conclusion is: "By no conceivable standard can the NDA claim to have taken the economy to a new and higher path of growth."

    Yet (and this is no longer Reddy speaking, at least not explicitly) we are told that India shines, that the BJP will fight and win these elections on the basis of what it calls its superior economic performance. Until recently we were lashed by advertisement after advertisement claiming that the NDA had done more in five years than had been done in the previous fifty. While it is futile to expect mathematical precision from politicians in election mode, or from the Hindu Right at any time, in the end such contradictions and untruths can fool no one and help no one.

    But mathematical precision was just what Shri K.S. Sudarshan came out with in Jaipur. India has no minorities, he said, for these two reasons: first, because "minority" and "majority" are notions imposed on us by the West; and second, because the ancestors of 99 per cent (yes, just that many, neither 98 nor 100) of Indians belonged to this land.

    Shri Sudarshan also said that any individual who accepted the "soul" of India was a Hindu. It is not entirely clear from the report if those who would be called minorities in the false language of the West, e.g., Muslims and Christians, are actually Hindus by virtue of the soul recognition which 99 per cent of them must practise on account of their ancestors. Should this be so, the possibilities would be intriguing and literally endless: Shias are actually Shaivites, Syrian Christians are actually a sub-*gotra* of Sarayupari Brahmins, the *natiya qavvali* form is actually based on Sarasvati Vandana, and so on and so on.

    The audience was told that the soul of India was made up not of such things as civilisations, lifestyles, eating habits and languages but of *bhav*, the exact composition of which Shri Sudarshan did not specify, presumably because it would be a travesty to bring such a crucial matter down to the level of mere metallurgy or a kitchen recipe.

    Shri Advani's speech in Karnataka's Humnabad dealt with a subject which perhaps no other being is capable of grasping. It is a measure of this unambitious leader's devotion to his nation that he struggles against insuperable odds to educate it. His latest speech sought to explain how the NDA government's efforts to improve India's relations with Pakistan had defused tensions between Hindus and Muslims *within India*.

    How can improved relations with a neighbouring country bring about an improvement in the relations between two communities within the country? Shri Advani explained that "the creation of Pakistan [was] the root cause of the tension between Hindus and Muslims". Muslims, "in their innocence", supported the call of the Muslim League for a new nation, not realising that this would lead to a rift between them and the Hindus.

    Millions of Muslims who supported the Muslim League's demand for Pakistan showed further "innocence" (Shri Advani, ever the gentleman, is careful not to offend potential voters by using the correct word) by not moving to that nation when it was formed. This left them in a country other than the one they had asked for and towards which their loyalties lay. It was natural for the Hindus to feel tension, what with so many foreigners in their midst.

    Now that India and Pakistan are on the verge of becoming friends, the Muslims of India, though they remain foreigners, have undergone a crucial transformation. Shri Vajpayee's historic bus journey, the historic Agra summit and the meeting, also historic, within the SAARC meeting have meant that they will no longer be aliens from an enemy country. They will become friendly aliens whom the no longer tense Hindus will treat as honoured guests to whom the land, cattle, houses and jobs of their ancestors will be restored in the exercise of our ancient spirit of hospitality. Voters' cards and passports they already have, clear evidence of our rulers' foresight and good will.

    Perhaps the meaning of the title of this article is clear now.