Gujarat: Thoughts on the Threat from Hindutva and Islam

Guest Post by Bhupinder Singh

In what is probably the first serious study and theorization of communalism in India, historian Bipan Chandra had pointed out in The Rise of Communalism in Modern India, that communalism is a modern phenomenon that arose when politics became mass politics- “communal” riots as we know them today started in the 1890s.

The second aspect that he pointed out and has been contested later by others, is that communalism is primarily an ideology, an ideology whose nearest historical precedent is that of fascism- and it was none other than the now beleaguered but one time hero of Indian nationalism, Jawaharlal Nehru who had pithily pointed out that if fascism will arrive in India, it will arrive in the form of majoritarian (Hindu) communalism.

Whatever be the exigencies of Nehru’s detractors, he has been proved right. Above all, in Gujarat in February- March of 2002, where the State itself turned against its own people and not just that, the government was returned to power by the people of Gujarat in the elections held in December 2002. As if to complete the irony, the elections were fought by the Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party in the name of “Gujarat’s Asmita” or Gujarat’s Pride.

The Indian National Congress, both in Gujarat as well as in neighbouring states has been trying to play the “soft” Hindutva card, it was indeed the single minded doggedness of Mrs Sonia Gandhi who led from the front in countering the Bharatiya Janata Party’s communal venom that has provided a counter to Hindutva at the level of national politics, though the elections that led to the comeback for the INC led UPA were won not on the basis of the secularism but because of mass disenchantment with the uneven “benefits” of neo- liberalism.

Which is what, in my opinion, is the hard fact that liberals and the left have to confront with. For long have we believed, like Nehru himself, that economic development will lead to the elimination of casteism and communalism. Gujarat has shown quite the opposite. A society can continue to develop economically, but instead of eliminating casteism and communalism, it can actually exacerbate it.

The second aspect that Gujarat underlines is more frightening, and something that liberals and the left find it very difficult to accept- the idea that ghettoizastion or segregation of “Muslim” and “Hindu” communities is probably better than mixed neighbourhoods, less impact was felt in those areas in Gujarat where such intermixing did not happen. Eric Hobsbawm, in a different context, has eerily pointed out that ethnic cleansing can actually solve problems. To the further consternation of the liberals, Gujarat may actually prove this for India.

A third citadel of liberal belief that the Gujarat pogrom has attacked is that whatever be the case, the processes of secularization hold out hope- after all, it is pointed out, that rail travel did much more to reduce casteism than any ideological campaign. Again, Gujarat may prove the opposite.

Having listed some of the threats posed by Hindutva- and validated in its Gujarat laboratory,let me pose a different question: what is the nature of the threat from Islam that seems to galvanize Hindutva folks into such ghastly mayhem demonstrated in February 2002?

To answer this, one has to keep in mind the backdrop to the anti- Muslim campaign of the Hindutva outfits that has gained much momentum since the 1980s. There is an overall crisis in society, and as often is the case, a movement forward is often accompanied by a need to borrow masks and symbols from the past- in this case, the perceived past and contemporary threat from Islam to Hindu society.

This crisis is manifested in a further exacerbation of caste conflict in various parts- and Islam has a very significant role to play in this. It was, after all, the Meenakshipuram conversions in 1981, when an entire Dalit village converted to Islam, that led to the formation of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its various yatras (one of them flagged off by Mrs Indira Gandhi herself, in her shift to Center- Right politics after 1980).

Note also a point that Tapan Basu et al make in their tract Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags:

The centrality of Maharashtra in the formation of the ideology and organization of Hindutva in the mid -1920′s might appear rather surprising, as Muslims were a small minority and hardly active, and there had been no major riots in the region during the early 1920’8. But Maharashtra had witnessed a powerful anti -Brahmin movement of backward castes from the 1870:8 onwards when Jyotiba Phule had founded his Satyashodhak Samaj.

It was Islam, lest it not been forgotten, that woke up Indian society from its deep slumber in the early part of the last millennium- it brought the message of equality that the caste system denied, and continues to deny. It may seem incongruous today, but note what M.N Roy in his small but illuminating book The Historical role of Islam had observed:

… To the above highly illuminating statement, it may only be added that the rise of reformers like Kabir, Nanak, Tukaram, Chaitanya, etc. who evidenced a popular revolt against Brahmanical orthodoxy, was to a great extent promoted by the social ecects of Mohammedan conquest.

In view of this realistic reading of history, Hindu superciliousness towards the religion and culture of the Muslims is absurd. It insults history and injures the political future of our country. Learning from the Muslims, Europe became the leader of modem civilization. Even to-day, her best sons are not ashamed of the past indebtedness. Unfortunately, India could not be fully benefited by the heritage of Islamic culture, because she did not deserve the distinction.

The attack on Islam and Muslims in India has deepened with a simultaneous crisis in the Muslim world and its supposed confrontation with the West and has confused the issue.

The crisis in India is not that of Islam, but of Indian society- Hindu society if you like. To see the “threat from Islam” in the same light as the West’s own conflict in the middle east leads to an obfuscation of the issue. The “threat from Islam” in India is more in the sense of Roy’s warning of ignoring Islam.

In the words of a contemporary Dalit writer:

The Hindutva maniacs believe that they publicly reserve the rights to call any Muslim a militant and every madarsa a Jehadi terror factory. The Parivar preaches: Hindu fundamentalism is patriotism. But, Muslim fundamentalism is terrorism. And they relentlessly work towards their fanatic goals, trying to turn the best of us into brutes. …

We need to fight because the end of Islam in India represents the end of equality.

Bhupinder blogs at a reader’s words and also contributes to Blogbharti.

About Mohib Ahmad

Mohib is a management graduate, an Urdu aficionado and a photography amateur.
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28 Responses to Gujarat: Thoughts on the Threat from Hindutva and Islam

  1. mahi says:

    @ arasubalraj,

    Whats the connection between your struggle in the realities of TN and Hindutva goons? As far as I know they are not a force in that state. Unless you are indicating that AIADMK and DMK are Hindutva goons too.

    I understand that the struggle of Dalits are real, the tyranny of Brahmins is real, and its commendable that forces are working to alter things. However, a common enemy that you seem to see or suggest for Dalits and Muslims is not a good enough reason to club things. The issues are different, their challenges specific, their solutions most likely different. Our purpose here is lost if a general lack of clarity prevails.

  2. Girish says:

    In Tamil Nadu, Brahmins have no political power and no disporportionate economic power. They have a high representation in the professions, but it is related to the educational levels and is despite a large number of barriers placed in their paths in the last many decades. To translate a hatred for Brahminism into a hatred for Brahmins is no different from the very fascism that is being talked about.

    There are fringe Hindutva groups in TN like Hindu Munnani and Hindu Makkal Katchi. But as fringe groups, they can at worst cause a nuisance or perhaps indulge in some violence here or there. But people like the guy above, who want to fight in the street with ‘arms and ideology’ are no better than them. Further, I do not think communist revolutionaries have any credibility to talk about Hitler and fascism, given that their biggest heroes like Stalin and Mao killed more people and caused more human misery than Hitler ever did.

  3. arasubalraj says:

    @mahi

    //As far as I know they are not a force in that state. Unless you are indicating that AIADMK and DMK are Hindutva goons too.//
    I am not indicating DMK and ADMK in this post. Girish or the guy who is too worried about Brahmins has given the state of Hindutva organizations to some extent.

    //There are fringe Hindutva groups in TN like Hindu Munnani and Hindu Makkal Katchi. But as fringe groups, they can at worst cause a nuisance or perhaps indulge in some violence here or there.//
    We can find the deep sorrow lingering in his words. But I am sorry I couldn’t feel pity for you. Thanks to Periyar E.V.Ramasamy’s unrelenting struggle against Brahminism, Hindutva couldn’t gain enough hold in Tamilnadu as in other states. Bhupinder clearly states in his article on caste in his blog.

    [quote post="191"]The task of the left is to carry out changes that go beyond reforms and not wait for others to carry out the job.[/quote]

    Though we have criticisms on Periyar in some aspects, we carry forward his struggle with our materialistic perspective. Not only Hindu Munnani and Hindu Makkal Katchi, Sankara mutt is itself a goonda organisation perpetrating Brahminism. Besides that, RSS acts in various names as it does in other states. From Mandaikaadu riots in Kanyakumari, RSS has gained enough hold in that district that they could win a MP seat there in one of the previous elections. When dirty thug, assassin Shakaracharya was arrested, much hype and furor was created which was not created for other arrest of Monks from other castes. RSS has certainly grown in the last 20 years in Tamilnadu and their slow growth doesn’t mean that they are weak. Fascists never create furor by their cadre strength but by inculcating venom in the public opinion and lumpenising them.

    //However, a common enemy that you seem to see or suggest for Dalits and Muslims is not a good enough reason to club things. The issues are different, their challenges specific, their solutions most likely different.//
    When the same Hindutva Supremacy, as said in my earlier comment, is responsible for Kherlanji and Naroda Patiya, It’s not me or my wish that see or suggest the common enemy but they project themselves. If you think in some other way, then pls explain.

    @Girish or the only ‘credible’ guy

    //In Tamil Nadu, Brahmins have no political power and no disporportionate economic power.//
    Who said that? What about Jayalalitha’s open statement in assembly that she is a Brahmin, and she is proud by that? What about Cho Ramaswamy, a nonsense chatter who is the most important power-broker of Tamilnadu? What about fraud ‘Dinamalar’, an unofficial daily of RSS? I can give you umpteen numbers of Brahmins in the upper stratum of the power structure of Tamilnadu exercising political and economic power. Never come and say this in Tamilnadu, people will laugh at you.

    //They have a high representation in the professions, but it is related to the educational levels and is despite a large number of barriers placed in their paths in the last many decades.//
    Oh, that great sorrow of Reservation! Poor Brahmins!

    //To translate a hatred for Brahminism into a hatred for Brahmins is no different from the very fascism that is being talked about.//
    This is the wicked trick to evade all the questions. The general secretary of PALA, Com. Marudhaiyan was a Brahmin by his birth. We don’t have any hatred towards any Brahmin individual until when he supports Brahminism. When some one follows Brahminism in some way, may even he belong to some so-called lower castes, we say he perpetrates Brahminism and condemn him. When Paraiyar caste men attacked Arundhatiyar caste people, the lowest caste of Tamilnadu, we fought against it. Mayawathi, Naqvi and Bangaru Laxman of BJP are not Brahmins by Birth but live as Brahmins. To put it simple, Brahminism is an inhuman ideology with casteism as its soul and identity and whoever practices it, we call them a Brahmin and ofcourse we hate them because they hate people and democracy.

    //Further, I do not think communist revolutionaries have any credibility to talk about Hitler and fascism, given that their biggest heroes like Stalin and Mao killed more people and caused more human misery than Hitler ever did.//
    You might vomit the hundreds of hundreds of capitalist lies and I can also show you the alternate views of Edgar sno, Anna Louis straung and of much more persons in counter to them. Instead of evading the Topic, speak on Gujarat and Modi. What are your responses to Communalism Combat issue of April 2002? What is your stand on punishing Modi? and What you suggest to do?

  4. Girish says:

    The above post illustrates exactly why it is close to impossible to engage in any rational discussion with people who are blinded by ideology – even more so when the ideology is based on hatred and the threat of violence. The moment one questions anything they have to say, they assume that you are an enemy, someone who is in the opposite camp and requires to be rebutted, whether one has a valid argument or not. I see this whenever I try to engage with the core members of the Hindutva brigade and the same is the issue with self-styled revolutionaries.

    For the record, I have been a regular visitor at this blog for a long time and some of the contributors here know me from my participation at other fora as well. I do not see either the need or the desire to shout out how secular I am or what I think should be the punishment for Modi and gang. My record of posts is available in the archives of this blog for anybody to see.

  5. arasubalraj says:

    Instead of getting offended, you could have answered the questions and could have kept the thread.When you self-styled yourself as the authority of ‘credibility’ and said we are not credible to talk about Fascism, i didn’t got offended but reciprocated with political arguments and didn’t tagged you. But from the first, your argument lies only in tagging me and not with any valid political argument.

    OK let the readers decide how it is close to impossible to engage in an discussion with me or with whom.

  6. triple says:

    @ Bhupinder – The middle ground remained after direct action and the bloody partition. The middle ground remained intact while Pundits were asked to leave their homes or get killed from lodspeakers of Mosques. The middle ground survived the countless riots and bomb blasts that India experienced. and then came Gujarat… the genocide! no middle ground left after that. what hogwash. middle ground exists not in the political arena. it exists in people’s willingness to live together as only peaceful coexistence can guarantee a good life for us and our children. middle ground is when we cheer for Zahir and Pathan and Sachin, erosion of middle ground is when the Left root for Ganguly because he’s Bengali. The middle ground will always exist, even the Kashmiri brahmin pundits who are living in refugee camps for the past 15 years would love to go back to their villages in kashmir and live peacefully with the muslims. middle ground is for the common man who wields no power. revolutionaries, Togadias and Bukharis, Osamas and Dubyas of the world require and see no middle ground. they have power and ideas. similarly religious dogma is ideas about power for a tribe, and that will erode middle ground as people get these ideas. we must move towards true spirituality. we must move towards true freedom (not the communist one) and we must move toward looking at the material future of ourselves and our people. that will solve the sachar commitee issues atleast. won’t that be great. an empowered community will be in a better position to get justice and protect themselves. can’t we take heart from the fact that all other minority communities (including Christians -a non Indian religion) are doing better than the national average? this is proof enough that middle ground exists if you want it to.

  7. kuffir says:

    bhupinder,

    ‘The crisis in India is not that of Islam, but of Indian society- Hindu society if you like.’

    that’s well expressed. doesn’t this diagnosis apply to the time nehru expressed fears about hindu majoritarianism?

  8. Asuran says:

    I would like to add some points to the arguments of Girish and Arusubalraj. Arasubalraj is correct when he says, we consider one as brahmin not by his birth but by his practice.

    Because we revolutionary politicians never consider Hindhuim or Brahmanism as Religion. we understand that It is an anti people philosophy.

    They cite that hindhuism is the most democratic religion in the world. But then, why the hell the rural gods are transfered in to brahman traditions? In what ways the rural traditions are less quality and Brahman tradition is superior one. We can give umpteenth of examples like this. And to say the truth it is this Religion

    Thats apart, the philosophy of Brahmanism is what should be discussed eloborately. They believe that ‘Varna’ Setup is the supreme social setup in the world. For this reason only we say Brahmanism is not a religion. For this reason only we say Brahmanism is Anti people. For this reason only we say Brahmanism is Castism. For this reason only we consider a Brahmin not by his Birth but by his practice. For this reason only we say Brahmanism has its own Class nature.

    will our dear friend Girish deny that Varna setup is not supporting caste?

    I guess he will say “Varna setup doesn’t support caste. It is based on Guna”.

    We say in a Class soceity The supposed ‘Guna’ and ‘Caste’ are actually synonyms.

    Don’t beleive? let us see how Girish reply and then I will explain :-) )

    There are many examples We could give to prove the Influence of Brahmin over Indian Soceity – From Supreme Court Judgements to Police Harasments.

    Asuran

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