Majoritarianism and community polarization in India

— Counter currents

IN 1947, when British India was divided into Pakistan and India, the Muslim League leaders who fought for Pakistan declared their country a theocratic state. In contrast, although Hindus were in the majority, India’s national leaders refuted the idea of ​​Hindu Rashtra and shaped a liberal constitution that declared the equality of all citizens, guaranteed the right to religion and recognized the right of minorities to preserve and protect their culture. and traditions. These principles enshrined in the Indian constitution by its founding members now seem to be challenged with the rise of majority politics.

Since the start of the Rama Janmabhoomi movement, India has witnessed a gradual consolidation of an ideology and politics that seek to build a Hindu variant of the much-criticized theocratic regime in Pakistan. As the Bharatiya Janata Party rides on the Hindutva chariot, the process of Hindutvaization of Indian politics is facilitated by the RSS family as well as state organs, corporate media and monopolies. While blaming the current dispensation for the sad state of affairs, one should not ignore the fact that the ideological and political roots of majoritarianism were sown long ago by forces mistakenly assumed to be secular.

To make sense of history, it is necessary to go back to Indian history. As in medieval Europe, religion played an important role in ancient and medieval India. Religion then sanctifies the authority of kings or emperors, whether Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. Although some rulers were tolerant of people of other religious faiths, some bigoted rulers tried to impose their religion on others. There have been instances of Hindu rulers attacking Buddhists, Shaivites attacking Vaishnavites, and Muslims attacking Hindus. Some rulers who were not religious fanatics also used religious beliefs and superstitions to consolidate their political power. The Mughals entered India by displacing the Muslim dynasty that already existed. Some Hindu rulers fought the Mughals, but many also cooperated and worked with the Mughal rulers.

During this period, the clashes were not always about religious issues; kings also fought for wealth and personal glory. While criticizing the religious fanaticism of some leaders, we must also recognize that at the ground level there was also cooperation and coexistence of different religious communities, and sectarian riots as we see today were almost absent. There is little truth in the colonial categorization of ancient India as Hindu India, medieval India as Muslim India, and modern India as that which began with British occupation. It makes no sense to identify and group the rulers according to their religion, because they were all feudal rulers and they all exploited the peasants and other working masses for their glory. As in Europe, even in India, feudal and religious dominations of all kinds had to be overcome.

In Europe, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the scientific and technological innovations that culminated in the Industrial Revolution brought about a change in the nature of the regime and its relationship to religion. Ideas of individualism, nation-state and secularism could neutralize religious hold and confine religion to the private sphere. Democratic revolutions introduced the idea of ​​popular sovereignty and put an end to feudal authority. However, the process of secularization that Europe went through could not take place in India for various reasons. British rule undoubtedly exposed English-educated Indians to ideas of nationalism, democracy and secularism. Reformers like Raja Ramamohan Roy and national leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar etc., denounced communal thinking and attempted to liberate society and politics from the influence of religion.

However, the secular thinking they advocated could not make deep inroads. The British had a vested interest in keeping the Indians disunited and so propagated a communal view of Indian history. Although they were not religious fanatics, leaders like Tilak and Gandhi used Hindu symbols and images during the freedom struggle to unite Hindus against British rule. Due to the weakness of the secular forces of the Indian national movement, the Indian National Congress could not escape a Hindu orientation.

Mahatma Gandhi, who led the Congress, was a liberal Hindu, who had a soft spot for people of other faiths. He wanted the unity of all Indians against British rule. But within the Congress platform, there were also hard-line Hindu leaders who openly declared Muslims their main enemy. The Hindu orientation of the Congress pushed a part of the Muslims to create the Muslim League, claiming to fight for the Muslim cause.

On the other side, the Hindu Maha Sabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh began to embrace the idea of ​​Hindu race supremacy and the need for a Hindu Rashtra. Fear of Hindu domination compelled the Muslim League to champion the idea of ​​a separate Pakistan. Instead of fighting against British imperialism, Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists have spent their energies fighting against each other. After World War II, when it became clear that British rule would end, the Muslim League launched its demand for Pakistan and the sectarian situation in the country worsened. Unable to reconcile competing claims and interests, the British came up with the idea of ​​bifurcating British India. Gandhi had to accept the proposal reluctantly and colonial India was artificially divided, causing so much bloodshed, exodus and agony for the Hindu and Muslim communities, especially in the regions of Bengal and Punjab . Mahatma Gandhi worked to quell the sectarian outbreak and was later shot by a Hindi fanatic who believed Gandhi was appeasing Muslims.

Gandhi’s death brought discredit to the country’s Hindu fundamentalist forces and provided an opportunity for leaders like Nehru to secularize Indian society. However, his attempts could not bear fruit as many die-hard Hindu leaders in Congress were opposed to any radical reform. After Nehru’s death, leaders began to discuss the idea of ​​Indian secularism as distinct from Western secularism. In the West, secularism meant the non-recognition of any supernatural entity and the strict separation of religion from temporal affairs. It recognizes the right to religion, but makes religion a private matter of the individual. In contrast, proponents of Indian secularism have propagated the idea of ​​”Sarva Dharma Samabhav”, meaning to respect and recognize the role of all religious denominations. Indian secularism has led to the appeasement of all religions. The Congress party, presenting itself as secular, used minorities as vote banks. They also standardized the practice of Hindu religious rituals in educational and governmental institutions.

However, India has seen a change since the 1980s. During her second term as Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi found it electorally advantageous to abandon the secular burqa and run as Kali, fighting respectively Islamic and Sikh fundamentalists in Kashmir and Punjab. The RSS then welcomed the change and worked for the victory of the Congress in the 1984 elections, ignoring the BJP which then played with the idea of ​​Gandhian socialism and positive secularism.

Religious appeasement reached its peak during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure, when the government overturned the court’s judgment in the Shah Bano case to appease Muslim fundamentalists and also opened the gates of Babri Masjid to appease Hindu fundamentalists. The BJP took advantage of these developments and Advani went ahead with the rath yatra to polarize communities and garner Hindu votes. And that was the beginning of the process that led to the consolidation of majority rule in India. By glorifying the real or imagined past, stirring up feelings against minorities, challenging Congress’s appeasement policies and exaggerating the fear of Bangladeshi refugees and religious conversion, the BJP has made inroads in different states of the North and was able to capture political power in the center as well as in many states.

Unlike other political parties, which are only interested in capturing government power to execute its political and economic policies, the new regime has as its agenda the transformation of the whole of India according to its ideology. Hindi, Hindu and Hindustan. With the help of the machinery of government, the big media and the main industrial monopolies, he was able to marginalize the opposition parties. By effectively using social media, the regime has spread hatred against Muslims and Christians. By encouraging blind obedience, he seeks to make people believe that what is good for the leader and the party is good for all Hindus, and all who oppose the regime are necessarily urban naxals, anti-nationals and belong to the so called ‘tukde – tukde gang’.

What is regrettable is that the so-called centrist forces have failed to articulate an alternative ideology and politics. Advocating soft Hindutva is not an alternative to hard-core Hindutva. Dalit and tribal resistances were also co-opted using money and muscle power. The left parties are so divided and marginalized that they cannot offer an alternative to the majority regime. Apparently, the prospect of democratic renewal looks very bleak. Despite all these adversities, there is always a silver lining. Considering the fact that the BJP won an overwhelming majority in the 2019 parliamentary elections, it should have wiped out all opposition and implemented its entire neoliberal agenda.

Although the BJP government may push through the abolition of Section 370 and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, if it subsequently fails to push through other programs such as the citizenship, the National Citizens Registry and the Three Farm Laws due to fierce resistance from minorities, women, students, youth and farmers. Although he retained the reins in the northern states, he still could not make a substantial dent in the southern and eastern states. At this stage of history, it is difficult to say whether the majority regime can achieve its political and social objectives. However, the regime could divide the people and polarize them along communal lines like no other political regime in Indian history could.

Countercurrents.org, April 15. H Srikanth teaches political science at North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong, Meghalaya.

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