On 31 July, I spoke at an event titled, “An Enigma called Nation & the Question of Identity,” organised in Delhi by the Hindi literary publication Hans to mark the birth anniversary of the writer Premchand. Among my fellow speakers was Makarand Paranjape, the director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, in Shimla. In the course of his lecture, Paranjape referred to various inequities created by provisions of the Indian constitution and invoked Adivasis who do not have to pay taxes.
When the time for questions came, an irate member of the audience asked what taxes he expected from those who did not have an income. Paranjape clarified that he was only referring to tribal government servants in the Northeast. When the audience member confronted him with the enabling provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which give a special status to the northeastern states, Paranjape said that it was precisely such legal distinctions among citizens, as enabled by the schedule, which were the problem.
I was staggered by the absurdity of such a formulation. But as it would turn out, the stupidity was mine—and that of the many in the audience who did not take Paranjape seriously. Less than a week later, Article 370, the basis of Kashmir’s special status in India, was rendered ineffective with the same casual disregard for constitutional provisions that Paranjape had displayed on stage.
Adivasis who enjoy paying no taxes, Kashmiris who enjoy special status, Muslims who enjoy four wives, the Khan Market Gang who enjoy everything—it’s an endless list. It is a list that is not really about the group being singled out, but about the group for whom the pantomime is being played out. Narendra Modi won four assembly elections in a row appealing to Gujarati asmita, or pride, and he has now won two Lok Sabha elections appealing—in covert but rather evident ways—to Hindu pride.
Why does this appeal work? What is it about this Hindu pride that is so fragile?