Focus on caste and faith will derail India’s march - Hindustan Times
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Focus on caste and faith will derail India’s march

May 22, 2024 12:36 AM IST

It’s time for India to move out of identity politics and continue its march to become a fully developed nation by 2047, as PM Modi has envisaged.

The usual suspects are busy painting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party as ogres waiting to devour Indian Muslims as a part of some devious ideological agenda. Meanwhile, they are happily promoting bizarre ideas that seek to split India into numerous caste and class silos.

Thane, India - May ,20, 2024: Citizens are seen at the voting booth on Thane Ghodbunder Road Hiranandani Estate to vote ,in Thane, in Mumbai, India, on, Monday, May,20, 2024. ( Praful Gangurde / HT Photo ) PREMIUM
Thane, India - May ,20, 2024: Citizens are seen at the voting booth on Thane Ghodbunder Road Hiranandani Estate to vote ,in Thane, in Mumbai, India, on, Monday, May,20, 2024. ( Praful Gangurde / HT Photo )

Caste is an Indian reality. It has lost most of its bite over decades for various reasons, including rapid urbanisation and the spread of education. In day-to-day life, its influence is waning — but politics is keeping it alive.

The new politics of Rahul Gandhi is one such enterprise. It seeks to set Indians against Indians. The idea is to elevate the caste identity to a level that subsumes all other identities. An Indian would be known, first by his caste and then by anything else. The next promised step is to redistribute the national wealth among different caste and ethnic groups in proportion to their respective numbers. Gandhi’s catchline is jitni aabadi, utna haq. The party’s manifesto may not have explicitly said this — but the articulation has been specific in several of Gandhi’s public speeches, and the direction is evident from others. However, one thing is for sure. The equalisation plan will push back the country by half a century, when income tax was 97.5% in the top bracket. Daily necessities were then either unavailable or sold in the black market. Emphasis was on the redistribution of wealth and not on its creation.

Some may dismiss Gandhi’s plans as electoral hyperbole. Such people underestimate his sense of entitlement. Here is a recall. On September 27, 2013, he made a surprise entry at a press conference. “I’ll tell you what my opinion on the ordinance is. It’s complete nonsense. It should be torn up and thrown away,” he told a stunned audience. The ordinance was to save convicted legislators from disqualification. Gandhi’s public censure led the government to withdraw the ordinance, which had been cleared by the Congress party’s core group, including the then PM Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.

While Rahul is pushing his divisive agenda, his allies have called for “vote jihad” against the BJP. India is at the cusp of a take-off at this point in history. All the communities should benefit from the newfound prosperity. It was in this context that Modi asked Indian Muslims to introspect about the community’s backwardness. He said, “I want to say this to the Muslim community. I am telling this to educated Muslims. Please introspect. Think.”

In office, Modi walked the talk. The Modi government has spent over 34 lakh crore delivering direct cash benefits to over 900 million people. Over 25 million homes have been built since 2016 under the rural public housing programme. The welfare programmes include providing cooking gas, free grain, houses, toilets, piped water, electricity, bank accounts and beefing up a long-running jobs guarantee programme. Many benefits — pensions, subsidies, loans and scholarships — are delivered as cash transfers to bank accounts linked to biometric identity cards held by over a billion Indians. A yearly handout of 6,000 is extended to over 110 million farmers. The resource transfers are without any leakages or corruption.

These benefits are disbursed without asking about the caste, creed, or religion of the beneficiaries. For the Modi regime, the poor Indian is just a poor person in need of help. Poverty has no caste or creed. Rahul Gandhi wants to overturn this paradigm.

In office, Modi has treated all the 140 crore odd Indians as equals. Modi’s anguish and plea for introspection by the Muslim community resonates with the views of Sardar Patel expressed soon after Independence. Speaking at Lucknow on January 6, 1948, Patel said: “I am a true friend of the Muslims although I have been described as their greatest enemy… I believe in plain speaking. It is your duty now to sail in the same boat with other Indians and sink or swim together.” Isn’t it ironic Modi and the Sardar are on the same page, even after a gap of 76 years?

It’s time for India to move out of identity politics and continue its march to become a fully developed nation by 2047, as PM Modi has envisaged. It’s an achievable goal.

Balbir Punj is the author of Tryst with Ayodhya: Decolonisation of India. The views expressed are personal

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