In the first part of this article I argued why I consider Hindu militant nationalism practiced by RSS/ VHP brand of politics the greatest threat being faced by Indian nation. Expectedly my observation raised objections Ã¢â‚¬â€œ most of them well meaning- that classifying communalism as minority or majority is self defeating as it tries to rationalize minority communalism. I admit that this is a sensitive territory and it may appear that I am trying to find excuses for minority communalism. However, let me state once again that it is not my intention here to rationalize anything. I am trying to understand the potential and possible impacts of communalism on the fabric of Indian nation and it is my conclusion that Hindu militancy has a much greater potential and likelihood to sabotage India’s future than anything else.
An objection was raised on this forum that it was Muslim extremism that finally led to creation of Pakistan (and Bangladesh), and hence my claim that minority communalism lacks the wherewithal for creation of a new nation is invalid. In my opinion, creation of Pakistan exactly proves my point that geographical concentration is a critical factor required for a national (or anti-national) ideology to become a mass movement. Before you can convince people about a new nation, you necessarily have to have a convincing answer to “where?”. In the absence of a convincing answer to “where”, any national (or anti-national) ideology can only remain on the margins of society with a few radicals passing their dreams from one generation to the other, bringing constant nuisance and destruction in their wake but nothing more. The reason I consider Hindu militancy a greater threat to India is that they have all the critical ingredients for a neo-national movement and their progress towards this goal has been steady, continuous and sometimes unchallenged, in recent times.
In most cases, distorted comparison of two types of communalism comes into picture since majority communalism is able to hide behind militant nationalism. Majority communalism does not seem to impact territorial integrity of the nation and hence treated as relatively harmless. On the other hand, few minority extremist groups dream of taking over the nation and hence easily identified as anti-national. SIMI provides an interesting contrast here. In my college days, I have known and spoken to many SIMI ideologues and it was quite apparent that they were not pursuing any “separatist” agenda. Rather their official goal was to “take back” India and convert it into an “Islamic nation”, just as it was in medieval times. In this, their goal is a direct mirror image of RSS’ “Hindu Rashtra” concept. I do not know if it makes their goals any more holier than a separatist movement, however some people indeed seem to think so. In any case while SIMI’s agenda is clearly recognized as anti-India Ã¢â‚¬â€œ which it certainly is Ã¢â‚¬â€œ RSS version of “Hindu Rashtra” is largely treated with benign indifference even by educated Indians. In my view, this difference makes RSS version of “Hindu Rashtra” even more dangerous.
Let us now try to realistically assess what “Hindu Rashtra” can mean for India. On the positive side, “Hindu Rashtra”can bring a homogenization effect on India and probably smoothen some of the conflicts that we see today in India. However, on the negative side, it will cause the entire minority population Ã¢â‚¬â€œ which though small in terms of percentage is still substantially large in absolute numbers Ã¢â‚¬â€œ to loose their stake in the nation building and its survival. From Sri Lanka to Yugoslavia and from Rwanda to Lebanon, we have repeatedly seen what such transition or even attempts for transition can lead to. In this case, example of Rwanda has eerie resemblance to Indian situation. Minority Tutsi – less educated than majority Hutu, more involved in criminal activities, substantially less represented in administration and government and substantially poor Ã¢â‚¬â€œ were portrayed as the root cause of all problems of Rwanda. It was widely believed that if only, Rwanda could somehow get rid of its “nuisance” Tutsi minority, a very bright future awaited their nation. What happened later is too painful to recount.
After sixty years of independence, Indian economy is finally in some position to take off. It should come as a matter of happiness for all. However, buoyed by economic success, rhetoric of Hindu militancy has taken an even more sinister turn. In states, where these forces are in power, such as in Gujarat, it is evident for anyone to see that less educated and less successful Muslim minority is already being portrayed as a “burden” on state resources and as an impediment to nation’s economic progress. An already marginalized and beleaguered community is pushed more into the corner, but people do not seem unduly perturbed by these latest developments.
India was fortunate to have an Ambedkar who gave a world class constitution for an emerging nation, and a Nehru who chose the unusual path of constitutional democracy that was unheard of in a poor nation like India. Subsequent generation of Indians have reaped the fruit of solid constitutional foundation laid by Ambedkar and Nehru. However, how long they can expect it to serve them, if they keep pushing India determinedly towards the situations of a civil war? Whether justified or unjustified, it is for anyone to see that a social and economic segregation on communal lines has already set in in parts of India and if not rectified in time neither our booming IT industry nor our rising sensex will be able to save us from doom. In my view, “Hindu Rashtra” is the last thing India can afford. It will be the end of our dreams Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Hindus and Muslims alike (and Sikhs and Christians and others as well) of building a modern and progressive nation. What makes this prospect still more chilly is the fact that this is not an unrealistic prognosis. Fault lines have already been nurtured and carefully crafted on Hindu vs. non-Hindu issue and one or two emotive issues are all that is needed to bring the situation to a full fledged chaos. I am not saying that minority extremist groups in India have got any less obnoxious agendas for them. However, I do not see any of them having necessary reach to precipitate such a disaster on national scale. It is only Hindu militant groups that have sufficient reach and acceptance to push India into a calamity on national level.
Many Indians do not seem to understand the rationale behind constitutional restrictions against polarizing votes on communal lines. They think that these are good things to have like pious assertions of “do not tell a lie” or “respect your elders” etc., but in essence do not mean much. They fail to see that polarization of elections on communal lines undermines the very basis of democratic process. If elections are polarized on communal lines, then minorities may as well abstain from voting. Their vote would not impact the outcome in a polarized election. A recent example of this can be seen in latest Gujarat assembly election where BJP did not even went for canvassing in Muslim majority areas. As a politician, Mr. Modi probably did the right thing by not going to Muslim majority areas, which were anyway not going to vote for him. However, with this one stroke, he also took away the last shred of dignity from that person, who nurtured the belief Ã¢â‚¬â€œ albeit false- that at least for a day he had the power to punish him. The message is unambiguously clear: we do not want you and we do not care for you. While most of the BJP leaders haveÃ‚Â treated Muslims as “necessary evil”, Mr. Modi is unique in downgrading them by one more notch to the status of “unnecessary evil”. Even their votes are not needed!
I am often asked that for years, various political parties have tried to polarize minority votes on communal issues. Why single out BJP on this? I agree that their objection is valid. However, in my opinion, even when minority votes are polarized on communal lines Ã¢â‚¬â€œ though unconstitutional Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it still does not impose the same challenges on democratic process. Even when minority votes are polarized, majority votes are still important. They do not get excluded from the democratic process. OTOH, polarization of majority votes effectively excludes minorities from any democratic forum to raise their voice. In a polarized election, their votes become meaningless. Let me add here that I am not condoning polarization of minority votes on communal lines, however I want to make sure that the difference in their effect is seen clearly. Polarization of votes on communal lines does not leave minority groups with any democratic leverage to make their voices heard, while it is not the same for majority. Anyone who cares for the long term stability of India should be worried with the prospect where one group does not have or is made to feel that it does not have recourse to a democratic weapon.
Next in the argument, suppose for a moment that India turns into a “Hindu Rashtra” in a peaceful manner. Wouldn’t that be in the interests of Hindus at least? Now here is my argument that I am almost embarrassed to raise. I say- “embarrassed”, because as a Muslim, I am aware that Muslim majority nations have themselves not set any good examples to boast of. Quite frankly, some of the worst offenders in this category might be Muslim majority nations. Anyway, it is immaterial whether the policy is followed by a Muslim majority nation or otherwise. As far as I can see there is a direct correlation in a society’s backwardness and its closed world view. I have been living in the US for past few years and in my opinion, the greatest strength of this country is its open world view and its willingness to learn from others. Correlation between a closed world view and backwardness is so strong that you can observe it even in those countries which have almost similar economies. Thus Kuwait is more developed than Bahrain which in turn is more developed than Iran, though all three share similar economic resources.
In my view, the best example of this correlation comes from the history of Islam itself. Glorious days of Islamic civilization have almost invariably been characterized by an open world view and a willingness to learn from others. Whatever RSS history books might tell, a casual reading of the world history will convince the reader that on medieval standards, Islamic centers were some of the most tolerant and least xenophobic cultures medieval world had seen. Treatises of Aryabhatta and Bhaskaracharya were debated in Basra and Baghdad, much before anyone else had even heard of them. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle would have been lost to humanity but for their Arabic translations. Contrast this with today, where there is a rush among “Islamic” countries to see who can come up with most retrograde and obnoxious interpretation of Quran and Hadees; and also contrast this with their general well being today. There is no reason to believe that India will be an exception to this correlation. If we are wise, we can always learn from others’ mistake. However, if we are committed to learn the hard way, we can choose to make our own mistakes.
A related issue often comes into discussions about minorities’ plight in Pakistan and Bangladesh. I do not know how to respond to such arguments. Did we adopt a modern and progressive constitution in India to compete with Pakistan and Bangladesh after 60 years? And why stop there? May be Uganda or Surinam or Cameroon treat their minorities still worse. Should we then adopt them as our role models? Some Indian Muslims Ã¢â‚¬â€œ defensive of minorities’ treatment in Pakistan or Bangladesh Ã¢â‚¬â€œ give examples of Kuwait or UAE, where minorities are a shade better. I do not know why we should settle for even these middling nations? Why not compare ourselves with the US or UK or France? My sincere request to everyone is to stop degrading India by comparing it to Pakistan and Bangladesh. If we keep on comparing ourselves always with failures, that is the most we will reach. We have much better examples in the world than Pakistan or Bangladesh. Rather, in my opinion, Pakistan is a great example of where radicalization of majority world view can lead a nation.
I have often been told that Hinduism is an essentially tolerant religion and a “Hindu Rashtra” can never degenerate into a religious bigotry. I am going to make some observations here with full humility and utmost respect towards Hinduism. In my view Ã¢â‚¬â€œ whatever the pious proclamations of a religion may declare Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it is always amenable to abuse. The evidence of Hinduism’s tolerance from medieval periods when it did not have political power is hardly meaningful. On the other hand, evidence from post independence India is for everyone to see and I can not say that in itself it is any reassuring. Even before independence, Hindus had undisputed power over one section of society Ã¢â‚¬â€œ viz. Dalits Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and their treatment of Dalits would hardly convince anyone that because of its essential tolerance, Hinduism can not degenerate into bigotry. In my viewÃ‚Â it is only the solid constitutional safeguards that can check religious bigotry, not the pious assertions in a particular belief.
An often overlooked aspect of “Hindu Rashtra” concept is the place of Dalits in “Hindu Rashtra”. Ambedkar had at one time asked for Dalitstan due exactly to the apprehension of a “Hindu Rashtra”. Though, in recent times, Dalits have often been mobilized against the common enemy viz. Muslim, “Hindu Rashtra” is still largely for a Sanskritized Hinduism, which beef eating Dalits have little in common with. It is for anyone to see that when anti-Muslim passions generated by riots cool down, interests of Dalits are almost always at variance with caste Hindus. As far as I can see, in the absence of a common enemy viz. Muslims, Dalits will have a very tough time reconciling to RSS version of “Hindu Rashtra”. And I find it dreadful to even speculate on what could be the final impact of “Hindu Rashtra” on our North East states or Punjab.
Of course, this dreadful prospect is not something that is our inescapable destiny. We still have a fine constitutional machinery that has served us well. All that is needed is that we do not undermine it and do not bulldoze it with brute force. Indians have a lot to thank their stars that the architects of their nation were leaders of tremendous sagacity and foresight. However, if they are hell bent on digging their graves, no one else will come to shed tears for them.