Categorized | South Asian Politics

RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM TARNISHES INDIA’S SECULAR IMAGE WORLDWIDE

Posted on 29 October 2015 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

 Several states of India are in the grip of Hindu extremist movements. These movements are strong in north Indian states, often described as the Hindi-belt which include, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, East Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Harayana and Delhi. Such movements are also strong in Maharashtra (especially Mumbai) and Gujarat. The disputed region of Kashmir is also target of such movements but the Kashmiris also face Indian state’s security apparatus.

 Encouraged by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hard line and extremist Hindu organizations have become active and they are using intimidation and violence to impose their view of India. These organizations talk of Hinduism and Hindu culture, as defined by them, as the real identity of India and that the followers of other religions have to accept this identity and adjust according to its requirements.

The political and social pressures on the Muslims, Christians and Sikhs have increased.

The low caste and outcaste Hindus (DALITS) are also facing a lot of insecurity because of the violent methods of these groups. India’s government in New Delhi and the governments in the capitals of India’s states are unwilling to protect the religious minorities.

 In some cases, half-hearted steps were taken but there is no attempt to strictly enforce India’s constitutional and legal requirements on these groups.  The Muslims of India, being the largest religious minority, are an easy target of these extremist Hindu groups.

 These Hindu organizations are also fanning anti-Pakistan sentiments. Pakistani artists and other prominent personalities visiting India have become the target of their religion-based ultra-nationalism. Their anti-Pakistan activities have reduced to zero the prospects of improvement of relations.

 In a way, this reinforces Modi government’s policy of keeping Pakistan under political, diplomatic and military pressures.

 Hindu hardline groups have existed in India all the time.

Some of these, like the Rashtriya Swamsewak Sangh (RSS) can be traced back to the pre-independence period. The RSS was said to be involved in several anti-Muslims riots in post-independence India.

 A political party by the name of Jan Sangh became active in the immediate aftermath of India’s independence. Initially, it publicly talked of re-integrating Pakistan into India. Later, this objective was dropped but it maintained a strong anti-Pakistan posture. This party, Jan Sangh, was part of the first non-Congress coalition government at the federal level in 1977-1979. However, in 1980, the Jan Sangh was not revived.

Instead, a new party Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was set up which included a large number of Jan Sangh members as well as new activists who thought that this party would not be a copy of Jan Sangh in its ideology. It began to talk of Hindutva rather than Hinduism, describing it as culture rather than religion.

  Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India, (1996, 1999-2004) was the leader of the BJP. Despite the party’s links with old Jan Sangh and other hard line Hindu groups, Vajpayee did not allow the mindset of these groups to dominate the government.

 India had reacted sharply to the terrorist attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001, blaming Pakistan based militant Islamic groups for the attack and mobilized its troops to Pakistan border in January 2002.

For the next ten months, the troops of India and Pakistan faced each other on the border. In October 2002, India realized that its military move will not produce any result. Vajpayee decided to withdraw Indian troops.

 Pakistan also pulled back its army. It was after this that Vajpayee did a rethinking on India-Pakistan relations and he not only agreed to a ceasefire on the Line of Control in November 2003 but also agreed to initiate the dialogue with Pakistan during his visit to Islamabad in January 2004 for the SAARC summit conference.

 In May 2004, the Congress returned to power in India and its Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, decided to carry on with the dialogue process which lasted, with two suspensions, until November 2008 and the attempts to revive it in 2011-2012 could not be sustained.

 Now, the same B JP is under a new leader, Narendera Modi, who is known for sharing the views of hardline Hindu organizations. He was able to mobilize support of the corporate and industrial sector of India as well as Hindu hardline groups and movements. The corporate sector provided him money and the hardline Hindu organizations provided him workers for political mobilization.

 In the post-election India (May 2014 to the present) Modi gave a free hand to these Hindu organizations to mobilize support, thinking that this would keep his government stay popular and win state-level elections. He also thought that he could keep the corporate and industrial sector happy by strengthening India’s economic ties with the rest of the world and by giving them more economic opportunities within India.

 This dual track policy appears to be failing. The Hindu hardline groups have gone out of control in their bid to impose their ideological views. They have also established their political control. The growing religious and political tensions in India have perturbed the corporate and industrial sectors, who feel that if internal conflict increases their economic agenda will be adversely affected.

 The growing religious and political tensions, especially the killing of people belonging to religious minorities are making news outside of India which will undermine its diplomatic standing.

 Within India, the Congress Party and others continue to favor the promotion of Gandhian-Nehru traditions of secularism and respect for religious diversity, as written down in the constitution. They are perturbed by these negative developments and openly criticize the inability of the Modi government to control the on-going religious hysteria.

 If the Hindu hard line groups continue with their policy of threatening the religious minorities, the Modi government is expected to face strong opposition within India. It seems that Modi will become victim of his own policy of letting these groups have a free hand.

 Meanwhile, Pakistan should consider its relations with India frozen because of the Modi government’s hawkish attitude and the negative political environment created by hard line Hindu groups. Pakistan’s policy makers should not show impatience in engaging India whether at the diplomatic level or in sports because the situation is not conducive in India. Pakistan should wait and see how the growing internal conflict in India unfolds.

Unless the issues inside India are settled, there is hardly any chance of improvement of India-Pakistan relations.

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