BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) landslide re-election victory under Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves no doubt that Hindutvadi divisive forces have grown steadily like a cancer in the body politic of India that is beyond cure. They have essentially nailed the coffin of Gandhi-Nehru-Azad’s ‘secular socialist’ India that many people admired, rather ignorantly. In practice, India has neither been secular nor socialist. It has always functioned as an upper-caste Hindu state.
Interestingly, the BJP and its allies continue to call themselves democrats! But what the world sees under the saffron skirt of Hindu nationalism is the ugly and stinking face of fascism, fanaticism, communalism, racism, and bigotry, and nothing to feel good about the direction India is heading to.
After all, Hindutva, popularized by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923 and championed by the Hindu supremacist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – which is the mother ship of the ruling BJP and its affiliates in the Sangh Parivar (RSS Family), e.g., Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Bharatiya Kishan Sangh, Shiv Sena and Hindu Sena – was explicitly influenced by European fascist movements. Its leading politicians regularly praised Hitler and Mussolini in the late 1930s and 1940s. It espouses that India is for Hindus only.
In this context, it is worth quoting from M.S. Golwalker, the supreme leader of the RSS in 1940. In his book “We, or Our Nationhood Defined,” Golwalker wrote: “Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindustan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting to take on these despoilers. The Race Spirit has been awakening. In Hindustan, land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu Nation.…All others are traitors and enemies to the National Cause, or, to take a charitable view, idiots.… The foreign races in Hindustan…may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizens’ rights.” He continues: “To keep up the purity of its race and culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races—the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
It is clear that Hindutva likens the Muslims of India to the “Jews of Germany,” and believes that Muslims - the followers of a "foreign religion" – have no place in Hindu India. Unmentioned there is the fact that millions of India’s Muslims are the descendants of people who converted to Islam to escape Hinduism’s cruel, racist caste system.
Hindutva denies the culture of inclusiveness that has been the hallmark of India's national character for nearly a thousand years, and distorts India's very history of diversity and religious influences. Examples are plenty for anyone interested in finding such relics of civilization with distinct touches not just in places like Fatehpur Sikri and Taj Mahal, but everywhere in this land of people of many races and nationalities who mingled and came to call it their home. Not just the Turks, the Mughals and the Afghans, but also the Arabs and the Persians, the Portuguese, and the English, and their descendants.
Muslim rulers of India, unlike western colonizers, have called Hindustan their home; they lived and died there. Muslim history in India can be traced back to the 7th century. And yet, all such essential elements of Indian history are lost amongst the Sangh Parivar’s die-hard Hindu communalists. Muslims are cast as treacherous permanent “outsiders.” It is a constant refrain in the public speeches of BJP politicians, and finds utterance in chilling slogans raised by rampaging Hindu mobs. For example: “Mussalman ka ek hi sthan—Kabaristan ya Pakistan” (Only one place for the Muslim—the graveyard, or Pakistan). In October this year, Mohan Bhagwat, the supreme leader of the RSS, said, “India is a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation) and that “This is non-negotiable.”
The danger from Hindu supremacists in India cannot be ignored when one ponders on the fact that none of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi groups that are on the rise in the western world today can boast the infrastructure and manpower that the RSS commands. It has 57,000 branches across the country with an armed cadre of 600,000 fascist ‘volunteers’ at the grassroot level. It runs schools in which millions of students are enrolled, and has its own medical missions, trade unions, farmers’ organizations, media outlets, and women’s groups. Recently, it announced that it was opening a training school for those who wish to join the Indian Army. With financial support from wealthy Indians – living at home and abroad, the RSS controls much of the media today. As Arundhati Roy recently said, more than four hundred round-the-clock television news channels, millions of WhatsApp groups and TikTok videos keep the population on a ‘drip feed of frenzied bigotry.’ It has also been able to buy out or crush its political rival.
Interestingly while the Hindutvadis have not come to terms with a divided India in 1947, they still dream of establishing Ram rajya not just in the BJP-ruled India but over all those territories – from Afghanistan to Bangladesh – that were once part of Akhand Bharat. Since that wishful dream of the Hindutvadis is not going to happen in a foreseeable future, the ruling BJP has taken certain steps that have galvanized its rank and file only at the peril of the minority Muslims, which are sure to widen the mutual mistrust.
Under Modi, vigilante Hindus have increasingly perpetrated hate crimes against Muslims, sometimes in an effort to scare their communities into moving away, other times to punish them for selling beef. Cow slaughter has been forbidden in many Indian states. Under the name of protection of the cow (gaw-raksha) lynching of Muslims has become a daily phenomenon in most parts of India with the perpetrators often walking free. Under the name of Ghar Wapsi ("Back to Home") “re-conversion” activities, facilitated by the VHP and RSS, poor Muslims, esp. the Dalits, are lured and/or forced to convert into Hinduism. Hundreds of Muslim-sounding names of towns and cities have already been changed to Hindu names. The site for the 500-year old historic Babri masjid, demolished in 1992 by Hindu vigilante mob that was organized by the BJP and the VHP (the World Hindu Council), has recently been transferred by the Supreme Court to the Hindus where they are permitted to build a Hindu temple. The VHP has also refused to back down on its past statements that it will turn its attention to other mosques.
Muslims in India have essentially become the most marginalized, disenfranchised, and vulnerable of people — a community without political representation, without a voice. While 1 in every 7 is a Muslim in India, only 27 Muslim MPs (representing less than 5%) have been elected to the latest 17th Lok Sabha. Various forms of undeclared social boycott are pushing Indian Muslims down the economic ladder, and pushing them into ghettos. In Modi’s India, they must constantly reiterate and demonstrate their loyalty to the Indian flag, and worse yet, chant the new Hindu war cry “Jai Shri Ram” (Victory to Lord Ram) that is sacrilegious to them! Lynchers and others accused in hate crimes including mass murder have been rewarded with public office and honored by ministers in Modi’s cabinet.
And as if all these Hindutvadi measures are not enough in what is fast becoming Savarkar-Golwalker’s India, this summer, Modi erased the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), India’s only Muslim-majority state, which had previously enjoyed some form of autonomy over its own affairs. Right now, some ten million people there, overwhelming numbers of whom do not wish to be citizens of India and have fought for decades for their right to self-determination, are locked down under a digital siege and the densest military occupation in the world. In preparation for the dissolution of Section 35A of the Indian Constitution, by the night of August 4, tourists and pilgrims were evacuated from the Kashmir Valley. Schools and markets were shut down. More than 4,000 people were arrested that included: politicians, businessmen, lawyers, rights activists, local leaders, students, and three former chief ministers. Kashmir’s entire political class, including those who have been loyal to India, was incarcerated without being charged. By midnight, the Internet was cut and phones went dead.
Simultaneously, in the eastern state of Assam, almost two million people have found their names missing from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), sometimes because of simple clerical errors, and risk being declared stateless, much like what has happened to the Rohingyas of Myanmar. They will have to appeal now to a Foreigners Tribunal that is built on prejudice against them. They are told they had a limited time in which to prove that they are, in fact, citizens. Otherwise, they can be rounded up into massive new detention camps and, ultimately, deported.
Hindutvadi fascists have long made the waters of the Ganges and Brahmaputra muddier with the 2011 Indian census results that showed: Muslim population to rise from 13.4% in 2001 to 14.2% in 2011; the state of Assam recorded that the Muslim percentage in the state grew to 34.2% from 30.9%; Manipur was the only state to show a fall of Muslim population in the same decade; J&K has the highest percentage of Muslims with 68.3% while Bengal has 27% of the total population in the state.
In the 2019 Indian election, one of Modi’s central campaign promises was that he’d get the NRC in shape and deal with the Muslim migrants in Assam once and for all. Other BJP members have used dehumanizing language to describe the Muslims there. “These infiltrators are eating away at our country like termites,” BJP president and home minister Amit Shah said at an April rally. “The NRC is our means of removing them.” Shah has openly said the goal is to deport those who are deemed illegal immigrants.
Last month, Shah said the government will conduct another count of citizens — this time nationwide. This could be used to clamp down on Muslims throughout India, potentially triggering a huge humanitarian disaster. It is worth mentioning here that many rural residents in India don’t have birth certificates, land deeds, or other papers, and even among those who do, many can’t read them; a quarter of the population in Assam state is illiterate. Thus, the task to prove one’s nationality is a daunting one. The problem is further compounded by the fact that names are often misspelled in various documents due to clerical errors. While such mistakes had been viewed as nothing more than a nuisance in the past could now render many stateless. Thus, when Muslims are singled out to produce such documents one cannot but question the very intent of the Modi government.
Recently, the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was passed in both the houses of India’s Parliament. This legislation turns religion into a means of deciding whom to treat as an illegal immigrant — and whom to fast-track for citizenship. The bill is being sent to President Ram Nath Kovind for his approval (he will almost certainly sign it), and then it will become law. It has elicited diverse and negative responses all over India. As of Friday, December 20, 2019, at least 14 lives have been lost since the first protests erupted. The protests have become the biggest challenge yet to Modi and his bigoted agenda that aims at excluding Muslims from citizenship rights. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom have all warned that this bigotry-ridden law could soon turn into a humanitarian disaster of horrifying proportions. Some American lawmakers called for sanctions against India.
In his defense of the Bill, Shah angrily retorted in the Rajya Sabha that “Is desh ka vibhajan agar dharma ke aadhar par Congress na kari hoti to is Bill ka kaam nahin hota (Had the Congress not partitioned this country on the basis of religion, there would have been no need for this Bill).” It is worth noting here that the same argument has been lobbied against M.K. Gandhi by the RSS and Nathuram Godse who assassinated him in 1948.
With all these Hindutvadi fascist measures, can India still claim to be a secular state? The CAB legislation is the proof that Modi’s Hindu supremacist project is not an anomaly, but an enterprise that threatens the nation’s very foundations of pluralism and secularism.
As noted by Sigal Samuel in a recent article for the VOX, “At first glance, the bill may seem like a laudable effort to protect persecuted minorities. It says Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians who came to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan won’t be treated as illegal. They’ll have a clear path to citizenship. But one major group has been left out: Muslims. That’s no coincidence.”
The CAB is only the latest measure the Indian government has taken to marginalize its Muslim minority. This measure is particularly blatant in its discrimination.
Those in Assam whose names do not appear on the NRC have been told the burden of proof is on them to prove that they are citizens.
Arundhati Roy says, “Coupled with the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the National Register of Citizenship is India’s version of Germany’s 1935 Nuremberg Laws, by which German citizenship was restricted to only those who had been granted citizenship papers—legacy papers—by the government of the Third Reich. The amendment against Muslims is the first such amendment… The Foreigners Tribunals and detention centers that have already started springing up across India may not, at the moment, be intended to accommodate hundreds of millions of Muslims. But they are meant to remind us that only Hindus are considered India’s real aboriginals, and don’t need those papers. Even the 450-year-old Babri Masjid didn’t have the right legacy papers. What chance would a poor farmer or a street vendor have?” None!
It is not improper to surmise that all these discriminatory and bigotry-ridden measures are giant steps taken by a Hindu supremacist government towards converting a constitutional democracy – albeit an illiberal one – into an unconstitutional Hinducracy. The question is only: how many more such steps India takes and how fast to transform her into a Hindu Rashtra?