From an Indian optic, as this autumn’s epidemic outbreak of clerical madness demonstrates, it is far from clear that the problem is centred around either Muslims or rage. There is a far larger crisis unfolding in what used to be called the Third World, a breakdown of the modernist project that has empowered a variety of politics based around narrow ethnic and religious identities.
No great insight is needed into why this retreat came apart — and the religious right became resurgent. Post-colonial societies have been through an extraordinary ripping-apart of their cultural fabric over the past century and more.
scholars like Meera Nanda have pointed out, the worst kinds of political reaction which emerged out of the post-colonial crisis. Instead of building a political vocabulary based on citizenship, the republic degenerated into a series of political claims based on identity. Not giving offence to these identities was valorised as a means of engaging with the tide of hate washing across India. The defenders of M.F. Husain, for example, were compelled to argue that his paintings were deeply respectful of the Hindu tradition — not that he was entitled to offend who he chose.
India desperately needs a new modernist project — not the backward-looking search for authenticity which has so impoverished our public life. This ought to be the real lesson of the Innocence riots, though such reflection is improbable; there have been no shortage of opportunities to awake, and none of those was heeded.