Indian democracy from secularism to RSS

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Dost Muhammad Barrech

IT is a fait accompli that Indian democracy is the largest democracy of the world. However, the prevailing Indian democracy is no more the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s democracy who provided a robust and effective leadership at both central and state levels. Nehru’s doctrine gave a new outlook to the Indian democracy, implemented decentralization, accommodation and reconciliation. He succeeded in creating national consensus, socialism and foreign policy of non-alignment. Meanwhile, the demise of Nehru in 1964 witnessed a change in the Indian polity. His daughter Indira Gandhi when assumed power in1966 did not espouse the trajectory of her father, rather she centralized and personalized the federal polity and the role of president was subordinated by the dominant cabinet. Indira Gandhi’s over-centralization of power enfeebled the Congress Party, resulted in communist-led peasant uprising in the West Bengal, Muslim uprising in Kashmir, Sikh revolt and the rise of regional parties. The decay of Congress Party started and the party become corrupt, factionalized and criminalized. The failure of Congress Party later in 1989 generated a vacuum for regional parties such as Janata Dal/ National Front and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). BJP at that juncture pursued an ideology that overemphasized Indian culture in terms of Hindu values and remained highly critical to the secular policies.
A query to be answered: How did Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) emerge in India? As a matter of fact, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar first time in 1923 codified the Hindu Nationalism ideology. Savarkar in his work accentuated the importance of Hinduism and said that Hindu was someone who had lived in Hindustan the land beyond the Indus river between Himalayas and Indian ocean. Subsequently, RSS was founded in 1925, revised the tenets of Hindu nationalist ideology. M S Golwalkar as chief of RSS in 1940 in his book “We or our nationhood Defined” characterised Hindu nationalist ideology in which he warned religious minorities to adhere to Hindu symbols of identity and its acculturation. Golwalkar viewed Muslims and Christians as foreigners (barbarian) that could not subscribe to the social laws and they be dictated by the Hindu’s culture and religion. Resultantly, the RSS ideology became a backbone of Hindu nationalist movement believing itself in engulfing the whole of India. RSS, spread its network across the country and developed Shakhas (local branches) and gave daily physical training and prepared its members to disseminate nationalist propaganda. On the other hand, RSS Delhi-based in 1948 founded student union named the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad to counter growing influence of communism in university campuses. RSS, thus, in 1952 built trade Union Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) a tribal warfare movement aimed at countering Christian missionaries.
RSS in 1964 created another group called the Visha Hindu Parishad (VHP) right-wing Hindu militant organization to accumulate the different Hindu sects on one platform. VHP was attributed to organize and reinforce Hindu society preserving Hindu culture and dharam. In the same way, VHP in 1989 started religious incitement against Muslims and determined to build a temple at Ram’s birthplace. In order to obtain maximum political gains in North India BJP in 1992 also joined Ayodhya movement and buttressed the RSS militant group that resulted in storming of the Babri Masjid. Under current scenario, Indian Prime Minister Narendara Modi preoccupied with RSS ideology has thoroughly changed the secular democracy of Nehru into ethnic democracy. The ethnic democracy model was first introduced by Sammy Smooha, who is of the view that ethnic democracy is the product of ethnic nationalism based on the ideology of a majoritarian group believing in consolidation of its religion, culture and its superiority. The concept of identity means underestimation of the minority groups perceiving them as an existential threat to their religion, culture and language. Smooha further articulates that in ethnic democracy state will leave no stone unturned to mobilize the majoritarian group for the purpose of crushing the rights of minority groups. To be fair, ethnic democracy prevails in both India and Israel where minority group Muslims are deprived and marginalized and are perceived as a threat to their identities.
Over the past five years one can ponder over the Indian democracy that has moved away from multiculturalism. Ironically, in Modi regime Muslims representation in administration, police and army has shrunk by leaps and bounds. Indian 2014 election saw a great deal of Muslim decline in elected assemblies. The RSS coercion policy of not allowing Muslims to perform their religious duties in public places and not allowing them to acquire real state in residential areas pose many questions to the Indian democracy. Revocation of Article 370 and imposition of curfew in India-occupied Kashmir by Modi government for the last 63 days by all means is immoral and unethical. Presumably, RSS right-wing militant groups have been dispatched to the India-occupied Kashmir to brutally massacre the Kashmiris. In the final analysis, Modi govt should shun brutality and oppression and should implement the interactionist theory of Spicer in letter and spirit. Spicer says that through interaction among different ethnic groups in the state institutions will eliminate repression and deprivation of minority groups. Overlooking 14 per cent Indian Muslims would be counterproductive for New Delhi and will further cause polarization to largest democracy of world.
— The writer works at the Institute of Strategic Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.