TWO stories, one published in Asian Age (22 May) and another in The Telegraph (3 July) attracted one’s attention. The Asian Age story datelined Islamabad said “extremists ransacked an ancient Hindu temple in Pakistan’s Peshawar City and also took away deities. A police official was quoted as saying that “there has been no clue yet who did it, but the temple has been ransacked and some statues are missing”. Par for the course. What else can one expect from an Islamic country? But the watchman of the temple, one Mohammad Akhtar has also been quoted as saying that he and other people did not see any armed or unarmed group coming to attack the temple. If the watchman is to be believed the police are lying! The place of worship, known as Baba Gorakhnath Temple is described as “ancient”. How ancient is ancient? Would it be more ancient than the Babri Masjid destroyed in Ayodhya? Was the temple built on space where a masjid once existed? Was it built even before Islam came into existence?
The story gives no background. It is as if the temple has no particular relevance and is fit to be “ransacked”, even if one understands aright, it is a working temple. One would have thought that our great “secular intellectuals” would at least write a letter to Asian Age expressing distress at a Hindu temple being attacked in Pakistan. Fancy what would have happened if a masjid was attacked in Gujarat! Obviously our secular intellectuals are scared that if they condemn Pakistani ‘extremists’ they might be called Hindu Communalists. The Peshawar story didn’t make any waves. The second story appeared in The Telegraph. It said that al Qaida-linked Islamists in Timbuktu (Mali) indulged in “wanton destruction” of “the ancient Sidi Yahya Mosque” regarding it as “idolatrous”. Islamists apparently believe that “the centuries old shrine of the local Sufi version of Islam is idolatrous”. This time there has been no reaction from any Indian, whether Hindu or Muslim. Our secularists were even silent when Afghan Muslims disfigured the Buddha statues in Bamiyan. We are secularists, aren’t we?
What if Muslims in Pakistan ransack a Hindu temple and steal idols from its sanctum sanctorum? Let them. And then I read another story – a column, actually – in The Times of India (1 July) that literally took my breath away. The columnist is Chetan Bhagat, and you know what he wrote? “Just for fun” he had run a simple poll in his public Facebook page. The question he asked was: “Who should be India’s P.M.?”. He gave three options: Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi, Neither. Bhagat says: “There was no intention to imply any bias”. To his surprise over 10,000 replied. Rahul Gandhi received 5 per cent of the votes. Narendra Modi received 82 per cent beating, as Bhagat stated “the crown prince an astonishing 16 times”. 13 per cent of the voters wanted neither. Bhagat insists that the voting results do not imply this is India’s verdict” and could be “far from the national consensus”. But then he adds: “A 16-to-I lead is a staggering one” and means “Modi’s” fan base has increased dramatically in the last two years”. To quote Bhagat more fully: “Today, let’s face it: it is not just cool to support Rahul Gandhi amongst the youth…. It is Modi’s personality, a sense of urgency, his seeking of prosperity and decisiveness that is in sync with the disgruntled youth of today… the Youth doesn’t care about a controversial piece of history….”
There are some other professional Modi-haters who write in worse taste. But consider what, of all people, Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya have to say. In an editorial column in The Times of India (13 July) Bhagwati, who is University professor of economic and law and Panagariya, professor of economics at Columbia University say that “unlike in 2004, it is unlikely for several reasons, that the Congress can survive the dire predicament that it faces today”. Write these two distinguished professors: “Brand name politics is increasingly as a discount in India, much as it is in the United States. Like the Kennedy and Bush brands, the Nehru-Gandhi label has lost its luster in India…. With Sonia in ill-health, Rahul unable to connect to the electorate even in his historically ‘safe’ constituency, and the Nehru-Gandhi brand name having lost its appeal, the prospects for the Congress in 2014 look bleak. Only the outcome will tell whether it can survive”. That is going to be a difficult question to answer.
As the two learned men themselves note, “the Nehru-Gandhi condominium that has dominated Indian politics has itself undermined the party’s survival prospects by making it immensely difficult for it to recruit and develop new leaders”. They add further: “It is common knowledge that for the last eight years, Sonia has exercised virtually total control within the party; as a result no rival has emerged”. The Congress is going to pay heavily for it. But let us not give up hope. A younger generation is growing up, encouraged by leaders like APJ Abdul Kalam, who is offering a platform for the youth to share their innovative ideas and thereby making them a part of his campaign to turn India into a developed nation by 2020. And, hopefully, promote national leadership among them. Kalam’s new launchpad, Billion Beats (www.facbook.com/kalam Billion-beats). one learns has become an instant hit with youngsters. Kalam is obviously promoting leadership in the country and that is what the country is dying for. Indeed, new leaders are emerging from strange quarters. Take, for instance Aamir Khan. A film star has become a columnist for The Hindu. And his Satyameva Jayate show has become the talk of the town. He can, one suspects, do better then crown prince Rahul, without mummy’s support. India is changing, and how! And the media seems to be slowly getting aware of it. Just wait for the general elections. A new world is in the offing.