India’s false secular banner has remained tainted with the blood of religious minorities, particularly Muslims, from day one since the British rule ended in 1947. But in recent years, the extremist Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has scrapped even this deceptive veneer of Nehruvian pseudo-secularism.
Yes, for religious minorities India had always been a dangerous place. Now under the stewardship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – “the butcher of Gujarat” – life for them is getting worse as the extremist Hindu BJP and allies push their majoritarian agenda of Hindutva using hate-narrative, propaganda, violence, terror and fear to further marginalize, victimize and subjugate all those who are non-Hindus and belong to the so-called lower caste (Dalits).
Some liberal analysts and experts in their zeal to prove the secular credentials of India insist that this politics of Hindu extremism is just a passing phase in this Hindu-majority state. But they are wrong.
Violent Hindu extremist ideology has a long history in the subcontinent. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – parent organisation of the BJP – and Hindu Mahasabha have aggressively been working to establish the hegemony of Hindus and the Hindu way of life in “Bharat” since the days of British Raj, and the Indian National Congress – despite its façade of secular ideology – practically promoted the Hindu majoritarian rule at the cost of the rights and aspirations of religious and ethnic minorities.
The politics and events of pre and post-Partition are a testimony on how the extremist Hindu right wing and the so-called Hindu secularists worked in tandem to achieve their goals – from grabbing the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir to carrying out systematic anti-Muslim riots and massacres.
They also followed their past colonial masters’ ways of forcibly maintaining grip on those regions which historically and culturally were never part of ‘Hindustan’ and were absorbed in the British India forcibly. The legitimate secessionist movements in North-Eastern India in the states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and others serve as permanent fissures in the artificial state called India. Similarly, Sikhs, who once targeted Muslims for the so-called “Akhand Bharat,” suffered at the hands of Hindu India and were forced to launch Khalistan Movement, a movement which was brutally crushed in 1980s. Still, many Sikhs continue to hold the dream of an independent Khalistan.
The Muslim-majority occupied Kashmir – the unfinished agenda of Partition – cries for justice and remains a permanent scar on the conscience of the world. The international community, indeed, has failed to stand up to the Indian crimes and atrocities against the freedom-loving Kashmiri people.
The foundation of all these injustices against religious and ethnic minorities were laid down by the so-called secular Congress. In fact, Congress stood for Hindu-majoritarian rule and wanted to act as the successor of British Empire in the subcontinent. But the emergence of Pakistan truncated and spoiled its grand dream. Yet, India is like a big prison for those unfortunate minority ethnicities, the so-called low-caste people and followers of non-Hindu faiths. These minorities yearn to get out of its clutches as Pakistan did in 1947.
With the rise of BJP on the electoral scene in late 1990s, Indian nationalism started to be defined more and more through the dark lens of Hindu nationalism. This further alienated ethnic and religious minorities and the people belonging to the deprived castes.
Modi’s ascent to power in 2014 was one big leap forward for the Hindu extremists. They became more aggressive, intolerant and assertive in pursuing and dictating their agenda; both in domestic and regional politics.
The rise of this hegemonic Hindutva politics of hate and intolerance has become a destabilizing factor within India, and threatens regional peace and security.
The way New Delhi escalated tensions with Pakistan following a suicide attack on Indian soldiers in Pulwama region of the occupied Kashmir demonstrates dangers posed to the regional peace by the Hindu extremist mindset. Indian aggressive designs simmered down only after a strong military response by the Pakistan Armed Forces. Yet, the danger of another similar escalation by India remains a possibility that has all the potential to spin out of control and push this nuclear-armed region into a full-fledged war. So, the lesson for Pakistan is that it has to remain prepared for a war 24/7 to ensure peace. Only a strong and stable Pakistan can guarantee peace in South Asia, where extremist Hindu mindset is all out to redefine the rules of the game and attempting to establish Indian hegemony and control in-line with one of its longstanding strategic goals.
As India attempts to dominate the region, it also aims to increase its influence and weight in the global power game. The western world has aligned itself with India – the big market – ignoring its human rights abuses in the occupied Kashmir and the extremist agenda of the Hindu far-right.
While on the external front Modi and his extremist bandwagon is threatening regional peace, on domestic front its agenda is as myopic, violent and divisive.
During Modi’s reign, relations of the Indian state with minorities have become more complicated, toxic and acrimonious. The BJP’s Hindu-first policy has created an atmosphere of fear among India’s Muslim minority which comprises around 15 percent of its 1.3 billion population. But there is a method to Modi’s madness.
The BJP is using anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan cards to achieve mainly two objectives: to surpass its rivals in the ongoing general elections and to transform Indian society in-line with their Hindutva vision. And this far-right politics is also bringing dividends for Hindu hardliners in elections as well as helping them shape up the Indian society according to their wishes.
The RSS and Hindu Mahasabha is leading the drive to rewrite history not in an objective and factual manner but based on the hocus-pocus of Hindu mythology. Historical events are being turned upside down to build a false narrative of Hindu superiority and achievements. The non-Hindus are being forced to swallow these concocted stories and sham history hook, line and sinker as BJP is in overdrive to rename roads, institutions, towns and cities to Hinduize them. The curriculum in schools and colleges is being revised, changed and distorted to push the Hindutva narrative and brainwash the younger generation.
Hindu hardliners also question the loyalty of Muslims living in India and want them to move to Pakistan if they fail to toe their political line. The general belief among Hindu extremists is that only Hindus are the genuine inhabitants of India, while “Muslim outsiders” can only become Indians if they change their faith.
As the saying goes among Muslims, to survive and climb the social and economic ladder in this Hindu-majority state, one is forced to dilute the Muslim identity. This was the case under Congress, but under BJP the situation has worsened.
The only difference between Congress and the BJP in their treatment of Muslims is that while the former never stopped communal violence and kept them backward and isolated, the latter wants Muslims to become Hindus.
No wonder, Muslims in India are the poorest, the most illiterate, the most backward and the most unemployed community compared to others. The percentage of Muslims languishing in prisons is higher than other communities in terms of their population size. They are also the most victimized and discriminated community that remains the main target of rioters since 1947. However, in the last five years their sufferings have increased.
Extremist Hindu mobs have lynched at least 44 people to death and injured 280 others – mostly Muslims in a short period of May 2015 to December 2018 in more than 100 attacks – over the alleged killing of cows, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch. The police and Hindu nationalist politicians blatantly support vigilantism and protect killers, according to international and Indian media reports.
Several cases of cow vigilantism were also reported in 2019, including the killing of a Christian man in the eastern state of Jharkhand. Three other people were also injured in the attack which occurred when the victims were skinning a dead ox.
During the five-year Modi rule, life of Muslims and other minorities has become an ordeal. They live in a constant state of fear and risk of violence. Their life, property, honour and dignity – nothing is safe.
The Hindu extremists consider the Muslim minority loyal to Pakistan and propagate that Hindus will become a minority in India because of the high population growth rate among Muslims, marriages between Muslim men and Hindu women (which they call ‘love jihad’), and illegal immigration.
The demonic rise of Hindu extremists is India’s biggest internal threat which will widen its internal cracks, leading to more violence, strife, killings and conflicts among its various religious, ethnic and socio-economic groups. It will further galvanize the Hindu right wing a la fascist style and likely result in equal resistance from the oppressed minorities. This intolerant, biased and myopic Hindu mindset has all the potential to resort to adventurism against neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan, and push the entire region into a catastrophic war.
The writer is an eminent journalist who regularly contributes for print and electronic media.
E-mail: [email protected]
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