As Mr. Lincoln might have said …three-score and thirteen years ago the Indian subcontinent gained independence (August 14/15, 1947) from the British — although Indians were even then substantially running the country. The Indian Civil Service and its administrators, the police and the military were all Indian, as were many members of the Viceroy’s council — the viceroy as the British government’s representative having ultimate say. Thus the day-to-day running of the country was essentially being managed by Indians themselves.
The Hindu nationalist ideas of the Narendra Modi government are uniquely (and mistakenly) revanchist for Hindus were involved in government during the Mughal era. A proud country treasures its history; not Mr. Modi’s BJP Party. It and its goons instigated mobs and participated in the destruction of the Babri Mosque, where last week Mr. Modi was at a ceremony marking the beginning of construction of a Hindu temple on the Mosque site, believed by some Hindus to be the birthplace of the god Rama.
Introduced in the epic Ramayana, he is its central figure, and while it is mentioned he was born in Ayodhya, nowhere does it say where in Ayodhya. The epic also features a monkey king Hanuman and a monkey army that helped Rama in the story. Beliefs are beliefs and if all of this clashes with modern rationality just consider some of the ardent beliefs of other religions.
Of course a harmonious solution for the site might have opted for the structure to be either utilized by both religions or moved to a nearby location.
If religious structures offend, why not convert them for your own use? That is precisely what President Erdogan has done — in the process turning Turkey’s secular tradition upside down, In fact, he led the first Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia, a mosque now by Erdogan edict that was the former Byzantine cathedral museum and a popular tourist site in Istanbul. Modern Turkey’s secular founder Kamal Ataturk is probably turning over in his grave.
No such luck for the early 16th century Babri mosque, it was razed to the ground, a signal to Indian minority religions (Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, even atheists and humanists) of the primacy of Hinduism. The ones who strived so long and hard for India’s independence, namely the secular Fabian socialist Nehru and the inclusive Gandhi would be doing the same as Ataturk, had they not been cremated.
With all its conflicts, any wonder that India hovers precariously near the bottom of the World Happiness Index, as does Delhi as one of the world’s least happy cities — about as nice to live in as Gaza. If Pakistan (number 66 near Japan at 62) and its cities are much higher in the Happiness Index, it has its own problems … like the disappearance of activists. The latest, a human rights activist (Idris Khattak) turned up after three months without a word to the families from the security agencies holding him. Some are not so lucky — they never turn up. Moreover, religious extremism has spawned anti-blasphemy laws that border on censorship and serve as a gag on free speech. The founder of the country was Mohammed Ali Jinnah, an accomplished lawyer who had practised before the Privy Council. A defender of democratic principles and the rule of law, suave, suited by Henry Poole of Savile Row and partial to a whisky before dinner, he would be appalled.
Bangladesh the perennial disaster area is now suffering the triple whammy of its usual flooding, plus the new covid-19 and the consequent lost livelihoods. It is at number 107 on the World Happiness Index, much happier than India ranked 144 and now one of the worst places to live in the world.
In the age of management consultants, experts, specialists and private equity companies with special expertise in turnarounds, perhaps India (perhaps the subcontinent as a whole) could do worse than invite the British back and pay them to run the place. At the very least, it is likely to make life bearable in Kashmir.