Politics and Religion in Modern India


After the tragic events in November 2008 in Mumbai media and the BJP and its Hindu militant allies have presented a simplistic understanding of the issues of terrorism. According to them, one religion (i.e. Islam) encourages terrorism and Muslims conspire to undermine India emerging as a superpower. They suggest that military action must be taken to stop terror. I consider this approach to be wrong and would have long term consequences to the region. Hence, the BJP seeks once again to replicate the myth that "terrorism" is an exclusively Muslim phenomenon. Therefore, I find important to discuss objectively on the use of religion and politics, particularly by the Hindu militant organisations. Hindu militancy is led by religious-cum-political groups such as RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena. All these Hindu extremist organisations closely work together on political issues. I will focus on Hindu extremists here because somehow it is ignored by the West. The BJP is their largest political group, which right from its inception has been multi-faceted phenomenon.

During the last 15 years communalism has made major inroads into the civil society and as a result the nature of public discourse has undergone substantial changes. This is reflected in the legitimacy and acceptance gained by communal assumptions about society and polity in mass media. The idea of "Hindu Rastra" (i.e. Hindu Nation) even those, for example, who believe in secularism, tend to concede the right of Hindus to the nation on majority grounds. The Indian civilisation has come to be accepted as ‘Hindu civilisation’. Consequently the Muslims and Christians are identified as outsiders. The Hindu militants have promoted religiosity, which led to foment communal consciousness. The Hindu extremist organisations have presented past history in communal colour in order to seek legitimacy from the past for redefining the nation as Hindu.

Hindu extremists argue that Indian Muslims and Christians converted from Hinduism, should reconvert to Hindu religion. Their movement is "at the core very anti-Muslim". Although Hindu extremist played a minority role in India’s parliament in decades after independence, they experienced rising popularity only after the 1980. The BJP held government at the Centre from 1998 to 2004. Now BJP is India’s main opposition party politically important in populous states like Gujarat, Maharastra, UP, MP and Rajasthan. In the late 1980s the party campaigned on the issue that the ‘16th century Babri mosque was built on the site of a Hindu temple’. In 1992 Hindu militants led by BJP leader Mr. Advani stormed the Babri mosque and demolished it. About four thousand people died in the following riots in north India.

An important new phenomenon has taken place which will help us to understand the communalism in India. There has been a large migration of caste Hindus, especially from Gujarat to Europe and North America. These non-residential Indians (NRIs) suffer from identity crisis and feel rootless in their host countries. They adopt to more religious outlook into their personal lives i.e. more Hindus than Hindus in India. These overseas Hindus are financing the Hindu militant organisations in India.

The Shiv Sena, another anti Muslim organisation based in Maharastra state, was formed with the active support by then S.K. Patil, the state Congress Party leader. In the 1970 Bhivandi riots killed more than 250 people, again mostly Muslims. The Justice Madon was appointed to inquire causes of the riots. He submitted his report implicating Shiv Sena leaders taking parts in the attacks and also the police for inaction to control the attacks against Muslim community. However, despite the clear evidence the government failed again to punish the culprits. The Congress Party, although spoke about secularism, but was never adopted secularism as core policy and some of its party activists subscribed to communal outlook. Also the party made several compromises with communal forces. After independence the Indian ruling elites were as much interested in the communal-divide as the British rulers. The Indian ruling elites in post-independence manipulated the people on communal lines to get votes, which worsened the communal problem. Communalism in India is a modern phenomenon in the sense that with the advent of British-rule the socio-economic structure and in consequence, the political relationship between Muslims and Hindus began to change. Pluralist society undergoing changes are rarely totally free from communal or ethnic tensions. This change began to deepen further when socio-economic transformation began to accelerate after independence. New forces and new relationships gradually emerged. However, these changes again need to be looked with great care and complexities rather than resorting to oversimplifications.

It is important to briefly look nature of communalism, as it is often thought by some is not the product of religion. It is in fact, the product of politics of elite of a religious community. Communalism was not product of medieval ages but of modern period. Medieval polity was not competitive. The competitive politics between the elites of various communities that gives rise to communalism, especially under colonial administration, it assumes grave proportions. It is incorrect to solely blame the British colonial authorities to be responsible for the genesis of communalism. However, they did play a vital role in promoting it as well as its genesis. Right from 1857 onwards (i.e. first war of Indian independence) the British colonial rulers realised that the damage Hindu-Muslim unity could cause to their imperial rule and domination. They systematically began dividing the two communities. Imperial scholars and officials were encouraged to distort historical records and Muslim rulers were always portrayed as destroying temples and oppressing Hindus.  For example, selective 19th century translations from some of the pre-colonial historical records notably by imperial academics such as Elliot and Dowson had greatly contributed to communalisation.

After independence, the first Hindu-Muslim riots took in Jabalpur in 1962 when Nehru was prime minister and his own Congressmen were involved in attacking the Muslims along with RSS (Hindu extremists). The RSS was set up in 1925 on the basis of hate against minorities particularly Muslims. But Nehru could take no action to isolate those in his own party. During the 1970s and 1980s religious violence continued with increased intensity. However, during the 1980s it had a new twist when Indira Gandhi return back to power she did not support the secularism with any deeper conviction but a strategy to gain support. She used religion to increase her support and in fact seen competing BJP to win Hindu extremists. In 1984, after Indira Gandhi’s assassination the BJP only got 2 seats in the parliamentary election. The Supreme Court decided the case of maintenance for divorced wife in her favour. This was seen by Muslim religious leaders as interference in their religion. They did this without realising the wider consequences. Rajiv Gandhi’s Muslim Women Act was passed by parliament which made the Supreme Court decision not applicable to Muslims. This was done to win over Muslim men. With this BJP got new opportunity to launch tirade against Muslims which is known as Shah Bano case. (Girdner and Siddiqui, 1990: 56-89) The BJP termed this issue as government ‘appeasement of Muslims’ and vigorously campaigned against it. Rajiv Gandhi in a balancing act to appease Hindu militants opened the door of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya for Hindus to worship. It thus unleashed another controversy, which was exploited by the BJP for increasing its vote base. All these years the state remained soft towards communalism, and religion was used to win votes. The Congress regime never sincerely did anything practically to undermine communalism and never punished the guilty in communal riots.

It remains an ugly fact that the security forces in the northern states invariably to reserve its subliminal brutal antipathy for Muslims a reality that has been repeatedly recorded whenever Hindu-Muslim riots take place. For example, riots in Meerut in 1987 and Bhagalpur in 1989. In both these riots, police collusion with the Hindu militants was observed. The PAC security dragged young Muslim boys from Hashimpura in Meerut, UP state shot in the head some 45 Muslim young men in cold blood and dumped their bodies into a nearby canal. No action yet had been taken against these murderers. Also in Bhagalpur, Bihar state, police directly took part in the looting and attacking the minority. In fact a police sub-inspector in one village killed many Muslims and buried their bodies in a field. Once again, the culprits were never persecuted.
 
After the Gujarat riots in 2002, there was no national campaign against the forces of Hindu extremists jointly by secular parties, which would have isolated them at least on the issue of mass murder of Muslims in Gujarat by Mr. Modi. He used to be an activist of the RSS and currently leading the BJP state government. In 2002, the communal violence in Gujarat broke claimed 3 000 mostly Muslim lives. It was also reported that widespread allegations of "state government complicity in anti-Muslim attacks". The violence continued for months unchecked by the both BJP led governments in state and at the Centre. The media do not want to talk about the genocidal slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 or the brutal repression in Kashmir by Indian security forces. For example, in Kashmir the shameless rigging of the 1987 state elections led to wide spread resentment. Soon after, bombings and assassination began. India responded with great brutality to the insurgency. More than a three-quarter million army were dispatched to the valley. There were mass arrests, violence and rape against defenceless civilians, nothing was ever independently investigated. A large number of people known to have disappeared and some 65 000 people have been killed in this conflict since 1987 in Kashmir. William Dalrymple, a British writer, has summarised recently in The Observer Sunday 30th November 2008 as, "India meanwhile continues to make matters worse by its ill treatment of the people of Kashmir, which has handed to the Jehadis as entire generation of educated, angry middle-class Muslims… The boys in the operation (Mumbai) wore jeans and Nike and were described by eyewitness as chikna or well off. These were not poor, madarsah-educated Pakistanis from the villages, brain washed by Mullahs, but angry and well educated middle class kids furious at the gross injustice they perceive being done to Muslims by Israel, the US, the UK and India". Recently in Jamia Nagar, Delhi, where two young Muslims were killed at the hands of police in their rented flats claiming that they were responsible for serial bombings. There were protests by local community leaders, academics, lawyers and social activists who demanded judicial inquiry into the incident. During the same month a report submitted to the court admitted that Special Cell of Delhi police had abducted two innocent Muslim men Irshad Ali and Moarif Qamar in 2005, planted 2 kg. RDX and pistols on them and then arrested them as "terrorists". There are hundreds of Muslims who have been similarly jailed, tortured and killed on false charges.

The recent investigation of September 2008 into Malegaon bomb explosion case, the police arrested a Hindu preacher Mr. Pragya and Lt. Col. Purohit, a serving officer of the Indian army. All arrested belong to Hindu militant organisations. A well known Mumbai based Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer commented on the situation as, "It is deeply worrying that Army personnel are involved in such terror activities. It just goes to show how deep the infiltration is in this country…. Constant indoctrination over decades by the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and BJP has resulted in this kind of violence, which will be disastrous for India". Hence, there are multiple sources of terrorism in India.

India has a Muslim population of more than 150 million, making the state with the second-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia. Justice Sachar Commission reported in 2006 on the conditions of India’s Muslims that "the community had sunk to the bottom of the heap, below even the untouchables, when it comes to benefits flowing from the government-run welfare schemes, access to education, employment, bank credits etc. Poverty and insecurity have driven them into ghettos where they are open to exploitation". Muslims make up about 13.8 % of India’s population yet hold fewer than 4 % of government posts and make up only 4 % of the undergraduate student body in India’s elite universities. About 25 % of the Muslim children in the 6-14 age groups either never went to school or dropped out before completing primary school. According to the Sachar report, Muslims were now worse off then untouchable caste. Some 52 % Muslims men were unemployed compared to 47 % of untouchable men. Almost half of Muslims over the age of 46 could not read or write. Only one out of 25 under graduate students and one out of 50 post-graduate students in ‘premier college’ are Muslims. The percentage of graduates in poor households pursuing post-graduate studies is significantly lower for Muslims e.g. Hindus general 29 %, untouchables 28 %, while Muslims only 16 %. In post independent India, the successive governments including secular ones have tended to leave Muslim’s grievances unresolved.
Many Indian Muslims believe that for long-justice have been denied to them and also it is institutionalised discrimination.

The media often identifies Muslim with terrorism. We may recall the terror method adopted by the Zionist organisations. The detail records are now available of the modus operandi of the Zionist terror Hagana, Irgun and Stern terror groups were led by western favourite people like Menahem Begin, Yatzak Shamir, and Ariel Sharon. One has never heard the RSS, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal or LTT Tamil terrorism as Hindu terrorism. Muslims in India in the words of one analyst "suffer double discrimination, by virtue of being Muslims and poor".

Finally, the religious extremists whether Hindus or Muslims are reactionary and dangerous because they do not present radical alternative but rather accept, de facto, existing exploitative system and fully support imperialist economic policies. They rather split the masses by creating an internal enemy. An important question is why the entire South Asian region has become increasingly prone to terrorist attacks. Besides discrimination and repression of the Muslims, and recent years the new phenomena namely globalisation and economic liberalisation has further exacerbated the situation. This had led the growing of inequalities in the region which is fuelling resentments amongst sections of the population.

Moreover, India’s affinity to the US and Israel is inviting terrorists attacks in the country. In 1991, the Congress government established diplomatic relations and it reached new heights under BJP government. Today Israel is India’s largest supplier of defence equipment. India helped Israel to launch spy satellite in January 2008, primarily to monitor Iran. Furthermore, there are signs that sections of Indian ruling elites are eagerly waiting close military cooperation with the US under new President Obama with the hope that India would be the sole beneficiary of new war in south Asian against terrorism. The recent violent attack on Mumbai must open our eyes that more violence is not the most effective way to deal with violence that exist. I find that further extension of US led war against Islamic militancy to the South Asia seems to be no good news for the people because that policy can redefine Pakistan-India relationship according to priorities of the US imperialists. It appears such development would lead towards greater disaster. It would be naive to think that further extension of the failed US aggressive military policy can benefit the people of South Asia. India and Pakistan seem to be getting deeper into dual trap as well worsening inter-state conflict and continuing internal militarization, which will certainly further deteriorate the already appalling living conditions of the large number of their inhabitants.

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