August is the month of anniversaries and memories in South Asia. We saw India and Pakistan celebrate their Independence with the usual fanfare although it was a rather muted affair on the other side of the border.
In India, national celebrations were led by Narendra Modi, something many in India and around the world had hoped they wouldn't see in their lifetime.
The Red Fort, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jehan saw Modi stand where Jawharlal Nehru had stood and addressed the nation for long years. Modi, who cut his ideological teeth in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and went on to become its proud pracharak (propagandist), was expected to break from the past.
And he did by choosing his trademark short-sleeves kurta with a polka dotted flaming orange turban and speaking in Hindi.
But that's where the predictability ended. What Modi said in his maiden I-Day address took everyone by surprise. With the Red Fort in the backdrop and majestic Jama Masjid on his left, Modi said Indians needed to "shed the poison of communalism and casteism." Lamenting that decades of bloodshed had caused deep wounds to 'Bharat Mata', the PM proposed a 10-year moratorium on violence.
One couldn't believe one's ears; nor did one's eyes trust what they beheld. Is it the same man whose name was not long ago synonymous with the Gujarat 2002? Urging national unity and harmony and stressing the need to build a new, all-embracing India — it was as though it was Jawaharlal Nehru, and not Narendra Modi, speaking!
What do we make of this change, if it's indeed a change? Has Modi had a sudden change of heart, an overnight metamorphosis?
Or has he lately been reading the Discovery of India since he moved into 7, Race Course Road? Perhaps a copy left behind by Manmohan Singh?
Which reminds me — what a stunning contrast Modi's Red Fort performance made against that of his predecessor! Probably, MJ Akbar, BJP's new spokesperson, is right after all when he suggests that while Singh essentially spoke to his Congress bosses, Modi addressed the nation.
None of us 'cynical sickulars' (in Hindutva's parlance) in our wildest dreams had imagined that the architect of Gujarat 2002 would one day preach tolerance and plead for purging the nation of "poison of communalism." But there he was — pure reason, sweetness and light personified. It was a positive vision statement too.
Who would contest his argument that we have "fought long enough and killed enough"? India has indeed suffered enough thanks to "decades of bloodshed." It was time to end the madness.
Doubtless, what Modi said makes sense. One is almost tempted to take his words seriously.
The trouble is, even as the PM has been trying to make a break from the past, projecting himself as a reasonable, pragmatic leader emphasizing time and again on 'good governance and development of all' as he promised during his poll campaign, his party and larger ideological parivar have been pushing a different, conflicting agenda.
The past few weeks and months have seen hundreds of communal riots in sensitive states Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Tactics have been familiar and Muslims always the target.
The luminaries of Vishwa Hindu Parishad whose Ayodhya campaign helped the BJP grow from a 2-member outfit into the principal party of power talk of Ram temple, Hindu Rashtra (Hindu state) and pushing ahead with the Hindutva agenda.
Now that an RSS pracharak is the PM, some suggest, India is already a Hindu state. Ashok Singhal is confident that the 'ideal RSS swayamsevak' that Modi is, he's ready to paint India saffron. Praveen Togadia assures the faithful that the government is set to fulfill the promise of a magnificent temple at the site of Babri Masjid.
So it's all very well for Modi to talk of inclusive growth and a 10-year moratorium on communal violence. But who started it in the first place and who still continues to stir the cauldron of religious hatred across the country?
More important, as Amulya Ganguli asked soon after Modi's I-Day address, will the PM's own Hindutva allies heed his call for reason?
I do not doubt Modi's seriousness. He means what he says albeit for selfish reasons. Now that he has won the election, Congress has been wiped out and no serious opposition exists to confront him, the only obstacle to his uninterrupted power--or at least for 10 years--is from within. He wouldn't want his fellow travellers to upset the applecart with their excessive missionary zeal and delusional designs.
Whatever the explanation, you cannot have the cake and eat it too. You cannot aspire to be the new messiah of markets and middle class India and allow your brothers in faith and other crazy cousins to run amok. Ultimately, the proof of the proverbial pudding lies in eating. We all know Modi speaks well, much better than his predecessor and many of his detractors. In the end though actions speak louder than words. His mission to save India and the world must begin at home—with his own parivar.
The author is a Gulf based award winning journalist. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.