India declares itself as a democratic and secular state that claims to promote religious harmony within it. However, the Indian claim to a secular identity is blemished with a long history of oppression against religious minorities. Secularism is a mode of governance and philosophical setting in which the state remains neutral in religious matters and is not supposed to tilt in favor of a particular religion. Secularism also means that religion is a private and personal matter and followers of all religions must be treated equally.
Ever since India’s liberation, successive Indian governments have made passionate efforts to project their country as a progressive secular state upholding equal rights for all religious minorities and castes. But the fact remains that on balance India is a closed and restricted society where the concentration of deep-rooted Hindu fanaticism has ebbed and peaked over time.
Hindu fundamentalism poses a grave threat to India as a nation
PM Modi said, “We are secular not because the word was added in our Constitution. Secularism is in our blood. We believe in Sarva Pantha Sambhava (equal respect for all religions).” However, the ground reality is the opposite, and the Indian constitution has failed to transform the Indian society into a secular state because of the biased and bigoted attitude of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Modi government’s Hindutva ideology. Presently and practically the Hindutva ideology of the BJP means genocide, plunder, plight, and pillage of the minorities living in India.
Hindutva, a term, instituted initially during the 1920s by Hitler’s admirer, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is an ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus and the Hindu way of life. Ostracism, discrimination, terrorism, racism, and fascism were the fundamentals of Savarkar’s Hindutva ideology. The Hindutva slogan nullifies the Indian claim of secularism and is tantamount to the annulment of their decades-old deceitful impression of the world’s largest democracy. It imposes an ideology that privileges the Hindu majority over religious minorities in India.
Hindutva has grown from a fringe movement into the focus of national politics. Prejudices embedded in the government of the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP have infiltrated independent institutions, such as the police and the courts, empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass, and even attack religious minorities with impunity. Modi’s government’s actions have stoked terror, and communal hatred created deep fissures in society and led to much fear and mistrust of authorities among minority communities.
The extremist Hindu narrative had something of a rebirth in 1980 when the BJP was launched as a political face of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Since then, the BJP, along with extremist outfits, spearheaded a hyperactive communal campaign against minorities. Anti-Pakistan and anti-minority propaganda was their main tools to strengthen both the BJP’s image and vote bank. History of the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) led chaotic collaboration took roots in the 1980s, following the assassination of PM Indira Gandhi, the BJP and goons of RSS took full advantage of this opportunity and incited the fanatic Hindus to carry out the killing of Sikhs.
Independent sources estimate the number of deaths at about 8,000–17,000. The 1984 anti-Sikh riots, also known as the “1984 Sikh Massacre”, were a series of organized pogroms against Sikhs. This was the time when India can safely be equated to the “Weimar Republic phase of Germany of the 1930s.”
The demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, led by BJP leader L K Advani, resulted in riots and violence against Muslims, with an estimated killing of 2,000 Muslims. Following the demolition of the Babari masjid, BJP gradually clawed its way up from two seats in parliament to eventually form a coalition government in 1998. During PM Vajpayee’s administration, and with CM Modi in Gujarat in 2002, the RSS, and other militant Hindu groups collaborated to stage major Hindu-Muslim riots. Muslims were blamed for burning a train and Hindu mobs were allowed and encouraged to run amok and carry out a pogrom in which thousands of Muslims were brutally killed. Over 100,000 Muslims were pushed into the state’s ramshackle refugee camps, with minimal basic amenities and abysmal living conditions.
Modi’s first term (2014-2019) saw a spate of attacks on Muslims and Christians with increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academicians and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, targeting Muslims allegedly for cow slaughter. Christians were also attacked, and their churches were destroyed.
Fascism in India
Despite the economic failures of his first term, Modi won a second term based on the ‘hate narrative’ in 2019. In India, the government established a National Register of Citizens (NRC) and introduced a religious element to the conceptualization of Indian citizenship, and to distinguish between genuine citizens and illegal immigrants. Citizenship based on selective exclusion was reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Race Laws. Modi’s government intensified its crackdown on protesters opposing the discriminatory Citizenship Law and arrested dozens of journalists who voiced criticism of the Citizenship Act.
India’s military development and modernization, coupled with offensive and aggressive force posturing by the extremist BJP government pose a much greater threat to the already fragile structure of stability in South Asia. It is high time for the international community and regional players to make collective efforts to contain India’s incongruous Hindutva philosophy and to restore peace in South Asia. The region is bound to remain volatile and conflict-stricken unless the Hindu nationalist ambitions are curtailed.
If the strategic stability of South Asia keeps festering, the dream of economic prosperity in the region cannot come true, the security of the region will be put into peril and the quest for peace will remain elusive. It is the silent majority of India which needs to assert its position on the steady erosion of secularism and the surge of religious fanaticism particularly with reference to the Muslim minorities. If India is negatively transformed in line with the age-old dream of Hindutva, to impose their own brand of religion, the casualty will not only be secular India but also South Asia’s peace and stability.
The writer is a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.