When we look back, since the demolition of the Babri Masjid a quarter of century ago, it seems a well-planned and well-thought act, as it paved the way for the dramatic rise to power of Hindu nationalists. It raises a question: is there really an irreconcilable contradiction between liberal democratic institutions and the takeover of the state by the extreme far right Hindus?
For the last quarter of a century, Indian polity seems to be undergoing a historically unprecedented process of change and the irresistible rise of far right Hindu parties (i.e. BJP, RSS, Shiv Sena also known as Hindutva) to dominate the areas of culture, educational institutions, judiciary and administration. It raises a question: is there really an irreconcilable contradiction between liberal democratic institutions and the takeover of the state by the extreme far right Hindus?
The ascendency of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in politics has coincided with a sharp rise in sectarian hatred and attacks against Muslims. Then, a number of riots took place in north and west part of India where thousands of Muslim lives were lost and the police was criticised for acting in partisan manner. Jurist B.N. Srikrishna in the Commission on Enquiry Report on 1992 riots in Bombay (now Mumbai) indicted Bal Thackeray, then leader of the Shiv Sena, to incite riots. The Commission also indicted the police who have indulged in violence, looting and attacks against Muslims. Moreover, those responsible of burning properties and killing Muslims in Mumbai who were identified by the Srikrishna judicial commission are now in power and despite the judicial inquiry report, almost no one was punished. This happened despite India being a home to a tenth of the world’s Muslims of around 180 million people, making it the largest Muslim country after Indonesia and Pakistan.
When we look back, since the demolition of the Babri Masjid a quarter of century ago, it seems a well-planned and well-thought act as it resulted in huge electoral dividends for the Hindu extremists, especially BJP and its allies. Clearly, the mobilisation to attack and destroy the mosque was a political move, as L.K. Advani, then leader of BJP, acknowledged during the Rath Yatra that he is “a political, not a religious leader”.
The mobilisation by the far-right Hindu groups is based on religious identities, which is shaping the Indian politics towards Hindu nationalism. This means a further subordination and subjugation of minorities. These semi-fascist groups achieved legitimacy by claiming that Hindus were subject to discriminatory treatments, even though this is completely false as the upper-caste Hindus dominate all institutions and are very powerful politically, economically and culturally. The far right has spread lies that Hindus have received unfair deal in the post-independent India. They are changing educational syllabus, and textbooks to incorporate views of history based on mythology and religious texts as they define it. To accomplish this, Hindutva sympathisers are being appointed to top positions in the country’s prime educational and cultural institutions to promote extremist ideas of Hindu nationalism. Such steps will mark the end of secular India and the creation of a Hindu nation. However, Hinduism remains a very varied religion and India is a very diverse country with an ancient, pluralist tradition.
It is important to emphasise that in India, the BJP government is run by the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), which not only provides the cadres and money but also the muscle during elections. The RSS officials also serve as secretaries in the BJP. The RSS/BJP main agenda is to establish “Hindu Rastra” and to undermine secularism in India.1 Their strategy of arousing fear of the alien, particularly Muslims and Christians is the cornerstone of the Hindutva movement. As a result, atrocities against Muslims in the country have risen sharply, since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India three years ago. In India, cow slaughter is banned in most states. Since Modi and his party assumed power in 2014, this beef ban has been used by Hindu nationalists to justify their attacks on innocent Muslims in public.
The recent report on mob violence in India says since 2015, in cow vigilantes attack 34 persons (mainly Muslims) have been murdered and these attacks are not spontaneous expressions of mob anger, but product of incitement to violence and hate propaganda. As the report Lynching Without End (2017): “The shift in method, from mass violence to low intensity individualised ones, being perhaps a deliberate strategy by those behind the violence, to at once avoid too much public scrutiny, whilst also ensuring that the minorities [Muslims] are constantly under attack” (Indian Express, New Delhi, 17 March, 2018).
Last month Hapur, near Delhi, two Muslim men were attacked on the street while police stood by guarding the mob. One of the two was kicked and dragged along as he lay unconscious and later died of his injuries. The other, an elderly man, was pulled by his beard and dragged through a field and attacked by the BJP members. A recent report by news organisation called IndiaSpend noted that “Muslims were the target of 51% of violence centred on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) – and they comprised 84% of 25 Indians killed in 60 incidents. As many as 97% of these attacks were reported after Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014.”2
On 17 July 2018, the Supreme Court of India condemned the rising incidence mob lynching in India and asked the Indian parliament to draft legislation that would stop people from taking the law into their own hands. The attackers are often members of BJP.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is creating a dangerous precedent before the next general election, setting the tone for an India whose syncretic values and democratic principles are under threat. He was Head of the State of Gujarat when thousands of Muslims were killed in front of the police in the riots of 2002. As he gears up for re-election, that legacy looms large over the whole country.
Moreover, Hindu far right parties would like to declare India as a Hindu nation, which poses a challenge to its multi-faith constitutional commitment. Harsh Mander, activist and former bureaucrat, says there is a “growing climate of hate” in India. “We have a political leadership now in the country that has created an environment which is permissive of acting out hate speeches and hate actions. Lynching of this kind is a growing phenomenon in many parts of the country.”
Despite the hate propaganda and exaggeration of occurrence of violence about the past between Hindus and Muslims, the truth is very different. As eminent historian Professor Mukhia noted: “there is no record of what we know as communal riots anytime from around 1200 (establishment of Delhi Sultanate) to the first quarter of 18th century, when the Mughal state had started to run its downward course. The first communal riots was recorded in 1713-14 in Ahmedabad on the day of Holi rivalry, instigated by two rivals in the jewellery business, one Hindu and the other Muslim. This was brought under control within two days”.3
In fact, the present government of BJP in India is not a normal rigt wing political party such as the Republican Party in the United States or the Conservative Party in the UK or the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), but it is a mass political front of semi-fascist organisation, the RSS, which describe itself as “cultural” and “non-political” organisation, but has declared its intention to transform India’s political, cultural and social life. The RSS was founded in 1913 and its founders had nostalgia for a Hindu Golden Age, which totally ignores caste subjugation, atrocities against women and the socio-economic marginalisation of Dalits at hands of upper caste Hindus. There was plenty of evidence of RSS that the organisation had been inspired by German and Italian fascism and also had collaborated with the British colonial rulers. The RSS declares itself “cultural” organisation, which is to exempt any kind of accountability and scrutinising that is required of political parties.
About the Author
Dr. Kalim Siddiqui teaches International Economics at University of Huddersfield, UK. He is an economist, specialising in Development Economics and has written extensively on development economics, economic reforms as well as on the political economy of development. He may be reached at [email protected]
1. Siddiqui, Kalim. 2016. “A Critical Study of Hindu Nationalism in India”, Journal of Business and Economic Policy 3(2):9-28. ISSN 2375-0766. (Print), 2375-0774 (Online) USA. http://jbepnet.com/journals/Vol_3_No_2_June_2016/2.pdf
2. IndiaSpend. 2017. “Dead In Cow-Related Violence Since 2010”, http://www.indiaspend.com/cover-story/86-dead-in-cow-related-violence-since-2010-are-muslim-97-attacks-after-2014-2014
3. Siddiqui, Kalim. 2017. “Hindutva, Neoliberalism and the Reinventing of India”, Journal of Economic and Social Thought, 4(2):142-186, June. ISSN 149-0422