01/09/2019 5:07 PM IST | Updated 02/09/2019 10:22 AM IST

The Idea of India Is Being Radically Reimagined

We at HuffPost India want to foster a dialogue around the divergent ideas of the country we live in.

Rupak De Chowdhuri / Reuters
Catholic nuns from the Missionaries of Charity stand in a queue as they wait to cast their vote outside a polling station during the final phase of general election in Kolkata, India, May 19, 2019. 

Dear Reader,

Welcome to The Idea of India, our new monthly newsletter, that aims to spark a conversation about how we see ourselves as a people and as a nation.

Two newly elected lawmakers presented two very different ideas of India last week.

Pratap Chandra Sarangi, a Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Odisha, told Parliament that India had no place for those who demanded proof of India’s air strike on Pakistan.

“Seeking proof for the Balakot airstrikes is akin to asking anyone’s mother for a DNA test,” Sarangi said. “Those who refuse to say Vande Mataram have no right to live in India.” 

Mahua Moitra, a Bengal lawmaker from the Trinamool Congress, told Parliament that India was displaying signs of “early fascism.”

“If you only would open your eyes, you would see that there are signs everywhere that this country is torn apart,” she said

We at HuffPost India want to foster a dialogue around these divergent ideas of the country we live in.

In his victory speech, Modi claimed that secularism no longer mattered. “In this election, no party could deceive India in the veil of secularism,” he said.

But is that really the case?

What is true is that the axes of India political life and conversation are certainly shifting.

Take, for instance, Nida Khan, a triple talaq campaigner, and a law student from Uttar Pradesh, who believes that the BJP played politics over the Islamic practice of instant divorce. And yet when it came time to vote, Khan said, “When I saw that voting machine, I did not know what to do. I really did not think I had an alternative. I could only think of Modi.”  

Questions about the idea of India are not just academic. The BJP’s first tenure was marred by lynchings, harassment of minorities, and arrests of journalists. One month into the party’s second term, the religious slogan “Jai Shree Ram” has been weaponised. 

Four Christian tribals, and seven Muslims, were beaten, and made to chant Jai Shri Ram by Hindu mobs, this year. Two of the victims are dead. More have been harassed. 

Yet for a growing section of Indians, the conversation around Modi’s merits and failures has become personal, emotional, and all consuming. Families, friendships and relationships are strained over differences in opinion, and every occurrence is refracted through the lens of the government.

Even murder and rape are not spared: Each crime is parsed for the religious identities of the victims and the suspected perpetrators. Each death has become an opportunity to score political points. 

The aggression baked into these “debates” has forced many to retreat into echo chambers, which only reinforces the polarisation. 

The Idea of India newsletter is an attempt to draw us back into an even-handed conversation. And we want you to contribute with ideas and suggestions: What is your idea of India?

Write to me at betwa.sharma@huffpost.in

(Editor’s note: The first installment of The Idea Of India was sent out as an email newsletter on 12 August, 2019).