India has miles to go in its struggle for religious tolerance
The war crimes against civilisations and religious and ethnic groups in the Middle East by Israel and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS, leave the international community and its media very little time perhaps to see religious polarisation in India that portends no good for the nation, the region and indeed the world. No militias and armies are involved here, but it is no less sinister for that.
Still not recovered from the many ghastly anti-Muslim riots of past decades culminating in Gujarat in 2002 and Muzaffarnagar on the eve of the general elections in 2014 — and not forgetting the anti Christian pogrom in Kandhamal in 2008 – India seems perched on a tinder-box, with the matchstick firmly in the hands of the Sangh Parivar, which correctly thinks it had a major role to play in the elevation of Mr. Narendra Modi as Prime minister at the head of a triumphant Bharatiya Janata party.
An absolutely poisonous and acrid discussion took place in the Lok Sabha two days before Independence Day when the nation expected Mr. Modi to fully unfold what he meant by the “development agenda” which was the core of his election campaign. The people also sought reassurance that he would be inclusive and would articulate his faith in India’s cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnic diversity and constitutional plurality.
If that Lok Sabha debate had taken place in a public plaza, the main speakers would have been promptly arrested under the Indian penal Code for disparaging peoples groups and religions, and fomenting hate between communities. But they were protected by Parliamentary immunity. The BJP’s lead speaker, Adityanath, the head of religious cult in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh got away with demonising the Muslim community and others. The Congress was ineffective in rebutting him and his colleagues, and so were the others in pinning down the very aggressive and very big BJP group in the Lok Sabha.
The Congress president, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, chose to speak outside the legislative chambers, accusing the BJP and its politico-cultural cohorts of fomenting violence against religious minorities. But the Congress, routed in the general elections, has also lost much moral ground on issues of plurality, harmony and peace with its cynical approach to the subject, and the fact that a significant number of its members and its to leaders themselves have what is popularly called a “saffron streak””, or sympathies with those holding a majoritarian world view. The Congress, when it was in power for ten years, failed miserably to enact a law against inter-religious and targetted violence, as it had failed in the past to give Dalits who converted to Islam and Christianity their constitutional dues. And in all debates of this kind, the Sangh, reminding it of the role of its cadres and leaders in the massacre of Sikhs in New Delhi in 1984, slams it into silence.
The Lok Sabha debate, the fielding of Adityanath as the key speaker for his party, and the applause he received from the leaders and other members on the BJP benches, has set to rest any polite talk that Mr. Modi’s political high command distances itself from the lunacy of the Sangh Parivar, which has consistently been on an upswing since its hordes demolished in the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya on 6 December 2006, perhaps the blackest day in the history of Indian secularism. This was not just for the destruction of a building whose origins, ownership and functions were challenged in courts, but for the immunity and the impunity. None of the top leaders of the BJP who propelled that destruction have been every punished, and a few are now in the Union cabinet or are waiting to become Governors.
The RSS is clearly not in fear, not yet, that its hold on Mr. Modi is threatened, even if the prime minister functions as if India were a Presidential democracy like the United states, and his ministers merely nominees without a constitutional responsibility. So far, the RSS and the government are working in tandem.
The figures of communal violence, and actions that fell just sort of violence, are not officially declared, but estimates of cases since the BJP victory announcement on 16th May 2014 range upwards from 1,000 to maybe double of that, in states as varied as Uttar Pradesh in the north and Maharashtra in the west. The common factor is that these states are due for elections to legislative assemblies, by elections or by elections to the Lok Sabha. That the BJP lost the three assembly by-elections and subsequent village elections in Himachal Pradesh makes the stakes high for the reputation of Mr. Modi, his Gujarat lieutenant and now the new BJP president Amit Shah, and the RSS.
The developments leading to a saffronisation of the instruments of governance, and the grassroots, since 16 May 2014 has been tabulated meticulously by activists. Mr. Modi chose as ministerial colleagues not just those involve in the Babri episode, but also Mr. Sanjeev Baliyan, who was accused of fomenting anti Muslim violence in Muzaffarnagar. There was of course no Muslim MP on the BJP Lok Sabha benches. The Union minister for Minority affairs, Dr. Najma Heputallah, a solitary face of the minorities in the cabinet, chose to aggravate matters by announcing Muslims were not a minority, Parsis were. It was perhaps axiomatic that Hindutva associates in in Pune battered a Muslim Information Technology engineer to death. The language row announcing the supremacy of Hindi, and the need for Sanskrit, the saffronisation of education promised by the new Human resource Development minister Mrs. Smriti Irani and others allowed suit. Mr. Modi made his preferences very clear appointing his top bureaucrat aides from the Vivekananda International Foundation, a think tank close to the Sangh ideology.
The Sangh itself has not been slow in pushing its agenda. Ideologue MG Vaidya said on 19th May, three days after the election results, that the BJP in power can now tackle Ram Mandir, Article 370 and other issues, a move seconded by a new junior minister. VHP leader Ashok Singhal, said “if [Muslims] keep opposing Hindus, how long can they survive?”, Another took it to its logical conclusion, declaring Modi will restore Hindutva rule, like king Prithviraj Chauhan of history. As the RSS got ready for a 10 storey office complex in Delhi, other controversies came in quick sensation. India’s only woman tennis superstar ever, Sania Mirza, was pilloried as a daughter in law of Pakistan for marrying a cricket player of that country. The RSS criticizes minority status to Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists as a conspiracy to divide Hindu society.
The idiocy reached in peak in the statement by the deputy chief minister of Goa, a state where the Sangh has become the cultural and “moral” police, that “I am a Hindu Christian and this is a Hindu Rashtra”. Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS head, formally elaborated this proclaiming, “This is Hindustan. Everyone is a Hindu.”
Sangh groups have now threatened to launch a “shuddhikaran” or purification drive in villages in North India and in Tribal India to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism. Helplines have eben launched with the promise that Sangh activists will reach everywhere to assist Hindus in distress.
Such is the paranoia being built in the majority community in a well thought-out programme.
The results are becoming visible in short order. The violence against Muslims has been well recorded. The anti-Christian violence has gone under the radar. Taken together, they indicate a massive drive to saffronise the countryside, villages, small towns and tribal areas away from the big towns which were the foci of violence in past years. Bastar in Chhattisgarh is the new flashpoint.
The Christian leadership has expressed alarm at the sharp rise in hate campaigns by the Sangh’s political and cultural organisations. This threat of purging Christians from villages extends from Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to now Uttar Pradesh, to the borders of the national capital of New Delhi. Condemning the threat of Shuddhhikaran, [purification], they say it in real terms means forcible conversion to Hinduism. These threats by Sangh Parivar groups were largely heard in a big way during the early years of the NDA government of Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, especially in the tribal areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan. The Sangh Parivar gets emboldened when it feels it will protected by the State and Central governments. In the past, this has led to large-scale violence against religious minorities as in Gujarat and in Kandhamal.
The Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi and his Home Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, must send out strong signals that the rule of law will be enforced, and religious minorities and their freedom of faith will be fully protected.
As the countryside sees communities being rent asunder, civil society has little hope from Mr. Rajnath Singh, who many think has been. Effectively marginalised in the Cabinet.
Mr. Modi has an opportunity to restore faith in harmony and secularism. It remains to be seen if he sees healing wounds and removing fears as part of his slogan of “Good Governance.’
Dr. John Dayal is a Member of the National Integration Council, Government of India, Immediate Past President of the All India Catholic Union, and Secretary General, All India Christian Council.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.
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