India: back to the 1930s

Ayaz Ahmed

Under the sway of some right-wing Hindu organisations doggedly espousing Hindutva, the Modi administration has menacingly brought India to the verge of complete desecularisation, Hindu extremism and intolerance.
Alarmingly, the BJP’s ongoing anti-Muslim politics is completely reminiscent of the Congress’ strategies against the Muslims in the post-1936-37 election period during the British Raj.

Presumably, if the BJP does not learn any lessons from the history of the Subcontinent, India’s socio-economic and communal situations would worsen at an alarming rate, and push the country towards a pre- independence like situation.
Soon after winning the elections of 1936-37, the Congress grabbed the unfolding situation by both hands as an opportunity to impose Hindu raj on the Muslims. In the two and half years of the Congress’ tyrannical rule, Muslims were selectively excluded from politics; even then they were strictly forbidden to eat beef. Moreover, the azan (call to prayer) was forbidden in many places and organised attacks were made on Muslim worshippers at mosques.

Through the Vande Matram Scheme, young Hindus were brainwashed to fight Muslims. Attempts were also made under the Widdia Mandir Scheme to convert Muslim students to Hinduism by forcing them to bow their heads before Gandhi’s portrait installed on the walls of all schools. The Congress also strove to deprive Muslims of their businesses.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emulated the 1936-40 anti-Muslim strategies of the Congress. The BJP is intimately tied to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, and functions as the Sangh Parivar’s political wing. Its policies are based on RSS’ ideology of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism with the aim to form Akhand Bharat, or an undivided Indian state, which is believed to be the genuine representative of Hindu culture and religion.

The BJP’s extremist actions and prejudiced policies can be traced back to its first term when watershed events such as the 1998 nuclear explosions, hostility against Christians, the Gujarat Muslim massacre and intensification of Indo-Israel ties took place. Now, during its second term in the saddle, the BJP government has manipulated anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim sentiments as a means to increase its vote bank. According to the Economic Times, incidents of communal violence in India rose by nearly a quarter in the first five months of 2015.

Hindutva is calculated to ensure the preponderance of Hinduism in Indian society, politics and culture which it promotes through tactics that include violence and terror. Muslims and Christians constitute 17 percent of the Indian population. The BJP’s agenda is to drive out Muslims and Christians. The Sangh Parivar’s central idea is that those who do not consider India as both fatherland and holy land are not true Indians and must be banished from the country.

Under the BJP administration, Muslims and other religious minorities are threatened as RSS and Dharm Jagran Samiti (DSJ) plan to conduct an ethnic cleansing of all Muslims – and even some non-Muslims – before the 2021 census. In this context, sudden murders and violent attacks are carried out against Muslims, low-caste Hindus and Christians to eliminate them from India while Hindus are asked to increase their birth rates to protect the Hindu religion and identity of India.

Furthermore, the RSS and the VHP have frenetically launched the Ghar Wapsi and Bahu Lao Beti Bachao campaigns all across India. These extremist organisations are brainwashing the young through tactics such as making the education of the Gita, the Mahabharat and other Hindu literature for Muslims in educational institutes.

Schools like Vidya Bharati distribute booklets containing a map of India that encompasses not only Pakistan and Bangladesh but also the entire region of Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, and parts of Myanmar all under the heading of ‘Punya Bhoomi Bharat’ (the ‘Indian Holy Land’). Modi’s government has also made changes in the curriculum, showing Pakistan as a part of India.

Moreover, the government has also placed a ban on cow slaughter and consuming beef in Maharashtra, killing Muslims in the name of religion and on the false allegations of eating beef. On September 28, 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched by a mob in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. The lynching happened because the local temple let loose a rumour that he had killed and eaten a cow. As it turned out, Akhlaq did not have any form of beef in his house; only mutton was found in his home. Two months ago, three Muslim men were attacked with petrol bombs while allegedly transporting cattle when they were actually carrying potatoes.

The Shiv Sena has been behind this recent violence and threats. It has been strident on the issue of cricket matches and cultural exchanges with Pakistan for decades. The organisation is a potent force that adheres to regional chauvinism with anti-Muslim sentiment. On October 12, 2015, its extremists poured black paint over the organiser of a book launch in Mumbai of a book written by Pakistan’s former foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri. After the ‘black paint’ drama, the Sainiks stormed into a meeting of Indian and Pakistani cricket officials in Mumbai who were discussing future matches.

Apart from Muslims, Hindu intellectuals are also being brutally attacked in India in the ongoing wave of intolerance. In late August, 2015, M M Kalburgi, a 76-year-old renowned writer and prominent scholar in Karnataka state, was shot dead allegedly by right-wing extremists who objected to his views on rituals and idol worship. In August 2013, Narendra Dabholkar, a known anti-superstition activist, was shot dead in Pune. In February this year, Govind Pansare, a social activist from the Communist Party of India, was shot dead in Kolhapur.

Due to growing Hindu extremism and rising intolerance being created by the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal – with the Modi government’s all-out support – a large number of Indian intellectuals are anxious about their safety and are thinking of leaving the country unwittingly. About 40 Indian writers, poets, playwrights, working in English and in the country’s many vernacular languages, have returned their prizes to the National Academy of Letters in protest against violent Hindu nationalism.

This growing Hindu extremism has also affected India’s ties with its neighbouring countries. After establishing a pro-Indian government in Sri Lanka, India is now pressuring the Maldives for its larger hegemonic influence in the region. It has imposed an economic blockade on Nepal just because Nepal declared its constitution secular against the BJP’s demand of a Hindu constitution.

Likewise, Indian relations with Pakistan have also strained further under the BJP government. Indian leaders have been using harsh and threatening language against Pakistan such as the Indian army chief’s warning of limited war in the backdrop of LoC violations and threat of attack on Pakistan after the June 9 2015 attack on Myanmar. Modi also brazenly admitted to India’s central role in the separation of Bangladesh during his visit to Dhaka in June 2015. India has also increased Line of Control and Working Boundary violations.

If the Modi administration continues with these extremist and myopic policies, India’s already unsatisfactory socio-economic issues, political instability and communal predicament will increase and the country will remain at loggerheads with all its neighbours. The world’s biggest democracy should shun anti-Muslim violence and meticulously focus on invigorating the deteriorating plight of millions of Indians living in abject poverty.

The writer is the editor of The Asia Watch.

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