Perverse secularism and India’s future
Publication: Free Press Journal
Date: July 8, 2004
No subject is dearer to the secular heart in India than what it is pleased to call “Moditva” or “jihadi Hindutva”. The secularist makes no honest attempt to understand Hindutva, since that would mean making an effort to trace the origins of Hindu-Muslim tensions down the decades if not centuries. It is easier to give the Hindutva dog a bad name. To hand it Hindutva did not begin with Modi or for that matter with the RSS.
Anybody with the slightest sense of history will go back centuries to appreciate both the Muslim and the Hindu psyches. It is difficult to pinpoint when Hindu self-assertion began to show up. In his book on Hindutva, Jyothirmaya Sharma mentions Maharashi Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar as the four main thinkers who sought to marshall a Hindu identity in the service of Indian nationalism.
In her book `Indian Cultural Nationalism’, Purnima Singh names Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Rajpat Rai on one hand and Sri Aurobindo, Rabindranath Tagore and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee on the other as the harbingers of cultural nationalism. These are revered names but no one associates them with extremism. And yet all of them stood up for the Hindu resurgence with marked determination. Why did they do so? To put it more bluntly what is the root cause of Hindu anger? And how come that even after India was trifurcated at the time of Independence there has been no peace in the country?
What was the strength of the Hindu population in what then was West Pakistan prior to 1947 and what is it now? And what was the strength of the Hindu population in what then was East Pakistan and what is it now? To this day the Hindu population in Bangladesh lives in terror, even after it has been reduced to less than half of the pre-Independence times. It the fifty years since independence there have been riot after riot in India. How come this tendency has not even been contained, let alone stopped? And in those first fifty years the party in sole power in Delhi was the Congress. What did it do to reconcile Hindus to Muslims? A study of riots in India conducted by a former senior Intelligence Bureau officer makes significant reading.
In March and April 1950 there were 468 cases of rioting. In 1952 there were 23 cases. In 1953 there were eight. In 1954 there were 14 cases and in 1955, in UPalone there were eleven cases. The next year the U.P. government registered twenty six riots in places like Aligarh, Bulundshahr Jallon, Allahabad (home of Jawaharlal Nehru), Bijnore, Azamgarh, Agra, Etawah, Bareilly, Piliphit, Rampur, Gonda and Lucknow.
The list of riots is endless. All manner of reasons have been adduced for the communal riots. Once, it was claimed, a book called `Religious Leaders’ contained disparaging remarks about the Prophet. On another occasion the cause was a love affair between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy. Other reasons mention the slaughter of a cow, the publication of a picture of the Prophet, a dispute over a business transaction, attack on a Ganapathi procession by Muslims, playing of music in front of a mosque, criminal assault by two Muslim youths on a Hindu girl, a scuffle between two wrestlers belonging to two different communities, a tirade against Hindus by a Muslim organisation and so on.
Riots have been taking place at the slightest provocation and sometimes with no provocation at all. In Kaira, Gujarat, whose Muslim population is hardly 9 per cent, riots broke out in 1979 because loudspeakers were used for azans (Muslim call for prayer) and because a mosque and a muzafir khana were constructed on an unauthorised piece of land.
Most of the reasons can be said to be trivial, but riots break out not because of the reason stated but because of something deeply embedded in the psyche of the Hindu. This calls for probing. In 1989 mafia gangs had taken over Bihar state and they enjoyed political patronage. Riots started in Bhagalpur on 24 October and did not totally subside even by the next fortnight. Why? Tatarpur locality of Bhagalpur town was the centre of communal activities.
The Muslims who dominated the area would not let a Hindu procession to pass through it, even though the main road passed right through the area. What all the riots suggest is failure of the two communities to get emotionally integrated. And if one wants to prevent riots one must address oneself to this fundamental question: what is it that prevents this integration? What are the wounds in the psyches of both communities that have remained unhealed? No party so far has addressed itself to this question in a serious manner. There may be an occasional meeting between a Shankaracharya and a Muslim cleric accompanied by a lot of fanfare but there the matter ends.
The angers are temporarily covered with ashes but the embers remain alive. There would have been no riots in Gujarat in 2002 if there was no Godhra. But our secular press skips over the Godhra episode during which 58 Hindu women and children were roasted alive in the most barbarous manner and concentrates on what followed. It merely serves to infuriate even apolitical Hindus further. It may be Hindu high-mindedness to forget Godhra and to concentrate on Best Bakery but it doesn’t help to resolve tensions.
On the contrary the manner in which Narendra Modi is demonised worsens the situation. Consider again the attempt by secular forces to give a wholly partisan colour to the recent killing of four alleged terrorists in an encounter with the Gujarat police. It was suggested in secularist quarter that the killings were masterminded by a diabolic Modi in order to stave off the threat of his removal as chief minister of Gujarat. Not one paper has given thought to what would have happened and what may still happen if Modi had been killed by terrorists. Does anyone remember what happened when Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards?
As many as 2,733 Sikhs were killed in the riots that followed. And a similar killing can yet come to pass should Modi be killed. It is in the interests of the country Modi is protected if for no other reason thanthat it could lead to riots beating all previous records. By constantly sniping at Modi as the root of all evil the secularists are giving indirect encouragement to Muslim terrorists to attempt murder. Even worse, secularists are dividing the Hindu community right down the middle.
There would have been ghastly riots in Gujarat even if there was no Modi as Chief Minister. Modi was not the Chief Minister in 1969. The Chief Minister of Gujarat then as Hitendra Desai, a Congressman. Why hasn’t Hitendra Desai been demonised? In his book `Ethnic Conflict and Civil Life: Hindus and Muslims in India’, Ashutosh Varshney writes: “When the riots broke out in September 1969 Congressmen were nowhere to be seen. (They were nowhere to be seen in 2002 either). Neither the leaders nor the cadres were active in containing communal violence.”
Another writer, Nagindas Sanghavi noted that the riots left behind “a toll of 1,500 victims and strained the social fabric as also the administrative machinery to almost breaking point”0. Significantly, the Jagmohan Reddy Enquiry Commission absolved the the Jan Sangh and the RSS from charges of participation in the riots. Our secular press has a way of forgetting what is convenient to it. According to N. S. Saxena and S. K. Ghosh, 600 persons were killed of whom 80% happened to be Muslims while over 30,000 Muslims became refugees. Nearly ten districts were affected of which the maximum number of incidents recorded were from Baroda (138), Araira (100) and Mehsana (65).
What ism did Hitendra Desai practise? Was it Congress-ism? The saddest part of it all is that the September 7, 1969 riots in Baroda took place when a huge procession of 10,000 Muslims protested against the desecration of the Al Aqsa mosque in, of all places, Jerusalem!
This had nothing to do with Hindus in India and yet the processionists raised slogans saying: Joh humse takrayega woh mitti mein mil jayega (whoever comes in conflict with us will be reduced to ashes).
At some point in time our leaders political, spiritual and, yes, secular must put their heads together to hammer out a way whereby Hindus and Muslims can live together in peace, without taking recourse to violence. Making Narendra Modi a scapegoat may be a convenient way of ducking responsibilities but that doesn’t prevent future rioting.
Narendra Modi was not responsible for the torching of two railway coaches at Godhra. Then why should he be held responsible for what followed? Has Hitendra Desai been charged with fomenting riots in 1969? Why not? For that matter was Rajiv Gandhi ever charged with fomenting riots in Delhi after his mother was assassinated? More Sikhs were killed in those riots than were killed in Gujarat.
The holier-than-thou attitude of the secular press and of the Congress Party vis-a-vis Modi and the BJP (or the RSS) hasn’t helped. It never will. It has only so far served to divide the nation. The secularists must be warned of the damage they are doing to the essential unity of the nation.
Perverse secularism has been the bane of India in the last five decades. In his foreword to R. N. P. Singh’s book on `Islam and Religious Riots, K. P. Gill states bluntly: “Much of the `secular’ discourse in India has been based on a `politically correct’ refusal to confront the nature of religious communities and institutions, and their past and present activities, and on the fiction that `all religions are equal’… but it cannot even begin to address the sources of historical conflagrations. The truth is, unless communities acknowledge reality warts and all and recognise the transgressions of their own history within a constructive context, no real solution to the issues of communal polarisation and violence in India can be brought about”. That said, all is said.
There has been too much pandering to minority communalism than is good for the minority itself. The time has come for the entire country to examine the communal issue freely, frankly, constructively and without bias. Mud-slinging at Modi has to stop. In recent times there has been too much of it for our own good, even though Modi himself couldn’t care less.