A saffron-washed India



M. Ziauddin

It was India’s so-called secular politics, especially that of Indian National Congress, that had by and large caused an insignificant minority in the Indian occupiedKashmir (IOK) to believe that New Delhi would eventually agree to restore full autonomy to the people of IOK as Article 370 of the Indian Constitution had originally envisaged. That is why New Delhi could succeed again and again through thoroughly rigged elections to install parties of its liking in the IOK all these 70 years. Now even this minority belonging to these parties as well has started questioning its own status in the occupied valley.
And since the advent of Narendra Modi’s BJP government in New Delhi in 2014, its Hindutva policy seems to have completely saffron- washed India’s half-hearted attempts at portraying itself as a secular society.
That is why perhaps alienation appears to have spread wider and deeper among the people in the IOK as even those who were hoping to live within India but enjoying a special status as allowed by Article 370 seem finally to have lost heart because of the hostile anti-Muslim policies of the BJP government like lynching of Muslims suspected of eating beef.
New Delhi seems to be losingwhatever political support it had in the IOK since Modi started showing his Gujarat colors and at the same time the brutal treatment of peaceful demonstrators at the hands of the occupying troops seem to have given a new impetus to the on-going freedom struggle in the Valley.
And because of its blatant anti-Muslim policies India is likely also to find it increasingly difficult to maintain trouble free relations with the Muslim world at large. Iran has already changed its stance on Kashmir and has started talking about India’s human rights violations in the Valley.
It had all started on Dec. 6, 1992, when a mob of Hindu fanatics wearing saffron bandannas reduced a 16th-century mosque built by the Mughal emperor Babur in Ayodhya to rubble in six hours, arguing that the site was the birthplace of the deity Lord Rama.
According to Aayush Soni (Will India soon erupt into religion based politics?—Nov. 12, 2017/ Ozy magazine) from beneath the debris of the demolished Babri Masjid had emerged ideas of Hindu majoritarianism, the use of religion for political gains and the conscious alienation of Muslims from the country’s sociopolitical mainstream. Under the current Indian government of Narendra Modi minorities are living in fear of being completely crushed by the intolerant, oppressive majority. In the Lok Sabha, the directly elected house of India’s parliament, there are just 22 Muslim legislators out of 543 –– the lowest ever since India’s independence, and much less than the community’s 14 percent strength in the country’s population.
Across India’s political and social life, patterns are emerging that seem to justify the fears Muslims are feeling. In 2014, Adityanath, then a fiery parliamentarian and now chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state and where Ayodhya is located, coined the term “Love Jihad” to allege that Muslim men were duping non-Muslim women to marry them, with the aim of getting them to adopt Islam. In 2015, Manohar Lal Khattar, the BJP chief minister of Haryana state, asked Muslims to stop eating beef to live in India. That same year, a mob lynched 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq on the outskirts of the national capital New Delhi, on allegations that he had beef in his refrigerator. According to data journalism site IndiaSpend.org, 97 percent of similar attacks on Muslims by cow vigilantes have occurred since 2014, when Modi assumed office. When Hamid Ansari, India’s former vice president, expressed unease among Indian Muslims in a TV interview, users on Twitter — one of them a member of the BJP –– insinuated that he was being an ungrateful Muslim.
The Modi government is promising a museum to Lord Rama in Ayodhya. After he came to power in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, Adityanath visited the demolition site and offered prayers. Over the past two months, Adityanath’s government has announced that it will build a Rama temple at the site before 2019 and a 100-meter tall statue of Lord Rama in Ayodhya.
“They have no love for the cow or the Rama Mandir. The aim is to send a message to Muslims that we can teach them a lesson,” says Kamal Faruqui, spokesman of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, an NGO that speaks for the community. To many, the fear and dejection are reminiscent of the late 1980s and early ’90s, when the country’s air stank of communal politics.
“In 2002, another journey of fire that started in Ayodhya would inflame communal passions in Gujarat and propel Modi –– then chief minister of the state and Advani’s protégé — to national prominence. In February that year, a mob torched a train carriage with 58 Hindu pilgrims from Ayodhya on board. It sparked riots in Gujarat that left over 1,000 Muslims dead.
“BJP’s two members in parliament rose to 85 after the elections of 1989 and to 140 in 1996. Still, it wasn’t able to reach the 272 seats needed to form a federal government. The BJP’s first national government — formed in May 1996 — collapsed within 13 days because it couldn’t muster political support to serve a full term. In 1999, when it won 181 seats in the Lok Sabha, it finally did come to power to complete a full five-year term at the head of a broad coalition government. But it had to drop the construction of the Rama temple — and two other controversial promises — from a common program it had drafted with other political outfits to get their support.
“With a majority of its own after 2014 polls, the BJP now doesn’t need regional parties for the survival of its government. It has also turned the criticism it faces into an electoral magnet, discrediting the opposition and projecting itself as a development-oriented party. In 1992, Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a future prime minister, had felt the need to express regret. But in 2017, the BJP’s top leadership hasn’t expressly condemned the lynching of Muslims. Modi himself has never apologized for the riots of 2002 and has been slammed by critics for his “Delphic silence” over recent killings.
“Uma Bharti, who was at the Babri mosque site and was addressing the mob when the structure was demolished, is now a minister in Modi’s government. Kalyan Singh, then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, who described the demolition as “an act of God,” serves as governor of Rajasthan state. New champions of the Hindu nationalist movement have emerged too. BJP president Amit Shah, accused of orchestrating a fake killing, and Adityanath, accused of inciting Hindu-Muslim riots, are among the most powerful political figures in India today, after Modi.
“With Modi’s government under fire for not being able to create enough jobs and GDP growth at a three-year low of 5.7 percent, there are concerns that the BJP might whip up religious sentiments for political gains.
“The fear is that, if the economy falters, Mr. Modi will try to maintain his popularity by stirring up communal tensions. Back in the 1990s, however, the Congress, India’s Grand Old Party that has ruled the country for 54 out of its 70 years of independence, was a formidable bulwark against the BJP. Today, as the principal opposition, it occupies just 44 seats in India’s parliament — the lowest ever in its history. The Left has only 10 members in the lower house. Contrast that with the BJP, which enjoys a majority in parliament and rules –– directly and indirectly –– 14 states.
“Unlike other democracies, such as the United States, where streaks of authoritarianism are often checked by the media, India’s record — and its present state — is less optimistic. In Delhi, references to an ongoing “undeclared emergency” — a callback to the two-year period between 1975 and 1977 when the media was formally censored by the then-Congress government — are common. Editors have lost their jobs after their publications carried articles critical of Modi and his regime. Those articles have been pulled down in some cases. With political opposition at its weakest, the press increasingly on a leash and such unbridled power under its belt, the route to Advani’s unfinished agenda from 1992 appears clearer than ever for Modi and his party.”
Hindutva is likely to push India in the global reckoning closer to the status of Israel, the most hated country in the world because of its fanatic anti-Palestinian policy. Had it not been for the US and the powerful American Jewish lobby Israel would have disappeared from the face of the earth immediately after its birth. The US has been using Israel to keep the oil-rich Middle East on a leash. BJP’s India today is being similarly used by the US to contain China. But this policy of the US is not likely to last for long because its differences with China are not ideological but are based on geo-economics. That is why neither India would like to confront China in a war of attrition nor would the US like that to happen because its very economy and also that of India’s are crucially dependent on China’s prosperity.

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