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India: From Republic to Rashtra?

The drive of vigilantism and violence by supporters of Hindutva has resulted in the erasure of the secular democratic values and even compromised the sovereign monopoly on the violence of the state. With key features of the republic constantly dwindling, what will the Indian forces march for in coming years: the republic or the Rashtra?

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The Republic of India celebrated its 73rd Republic Day on January 26. It commemorates the promulgation of the Indian Constitution in 1950 which declared India as a union of states that is a “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic” (the words socialist and secular were added through a constitutional amendment in 1976). However, since the forward march of Hindutva following the BJP government in 2014, all facets of the Indian republic seem to be fracturing. Rather the Sangh Parivar, a conglomerate of Hindutva groups led by Rashtra Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), now dominates the Indian socio-political landscape and aspires to turn it into a “Hindu Rashtra.”

German sociologist Max Weber describes sovereignty as the monopoly on violence by the state. The state enforces this monopoly by using force that is legitimated by law and exercised through law enforcement agencies (LEAs) and standing armies. The Indian state’s monopoly on violence appears to be eroding as the state stands as a spectator before violence is carried out by armed groups and mobs. According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau of India, more than 51,600 cases of rioting were reported in 2020. Meanwhile, the frequency of communal riots increased by 96 percent with 857 cases reported in the same year.

Read more: How RSS can be described as India’s deep state?

Why minority is being targeted in India?

Following the spike in communal violence, a minority rights group in India reported more than 300 attacks on Christians during 2021. While in a gathering of Hindutva groups organized in December 2021 in the Indian city of Haridwar, the organizers called for a genocide of Muslims on lines similar to the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. In many such cases, the police and LEAs act as bystanders, while in other instances the judiciary has to intervene to order action against crimes against minorities. The apathy of the Indian ruling elite and a loose hand to the violence of Hindutva groups under the RSS-led Sangh Parivar shows how the Indian state has let loose its sovereignty to extremists.

The increasing lack of concern for minority rights has also meant a decline of secular democracy in India. The V-Dem Institute’s categorization of India from democracy to an electoral autocracy and the country’s shift towards totalitarianism mark a dangerous trend. Political theorist Hannah Arendt states that totalitarian movements are dangerously effective in large populations due to a conducive environment for mass killings and atrocities. According to available data, the population densities were greater than the global average of the time in at least five out of seven selected case studies of genocides after 1945, by the Yale University’s Genocide Studies Program.

Following the calls for Muslim genocide in India, the famous Genocide Watch founder Gregory Stanton also warned once again of a possible genocide in India, in the Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir and Assam. The international Russell Tribunal on War Crimes in Kashmir also warned the same in December 2021, stating that “from the allegations we have heard, these crimes [against humanity] seem to meet the definition of genocide.” Early signs of genocide include marginalization of target groups (Muslims in this case) through exclusionary and exceptional laws. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act in India are some prominent laws in this regard.

Read more: Pakistan rejects RSS chief’s “provocative remarks” against partition

What can be done?

Adoption of strategies involving mass atrocities and genocide ultimately seeks to homogenize the society, a key aim for any totalitarian movement. This homogenization is not carried out only by killing the target group’s population, but by using violence to produce large-scale demographic changes. According to a study on the demography of genocide by professor Tadeusz Krugler, genocide and mass atrocities do not affect group population merely by deaths but also by a host of factors including emigration, disturbing age and gender distribution, and changed birth rates due to trauma.

These factors have lasting implications on target groups that include marginalization, loss of livelihood, and emigration to other countries. This intent by Hindutva-based groups in India was also reflected in a call for a social and economic boycott (marginalization) of Muslims by Swami Anand Swaroop so that they are forced to “embrace Hinduism.” Swaroop was also among the organizers of a meeting at Haridwar that called for the genocide of Muslims.

Read more: How the RSS transformed India?

The drive of vigilantism and violence by supporters of Hindutva has resulted in the erasure of the secular democratic values and even compromised the sovereign monopoly on the violence of the state. With key features of the republic constantly dwindling, what will the Indian forces march for in coming years: the republic or the Rashtra?

Muneeb Salman is an Assistant Research Associate at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). He can be reached at muneeb.salman@ipripak.org.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.