(Text of Prahallad Mallik Memorial Lecture, January 12, 2012, Bhubaneshwar, Orissa delivered by Ram Puniyani)
We are living in times when the interpretation of events has taken a sharp turn from the earlier decades. Currently most of the political phenomenon is going on in the garb of religion. The language of religion and other identities has come to the fore of social affairs. The issues related to the needs of the people, the issues related to the rights of people and the concept of human rights, has taken a step back in the face of dominance of identity politics.
The twin phenomenon of communalism and terrorism are in the center of the political stage. The process of social transformation for better society has also been stalled if not reversed as far as the social values are concerned. The major people’s movement in our county has been around the problems of workers, dalits, women, adivasis, and religious minorities. These movements address the issues of these sections from the perspective of their democratic and human rights. Globally the issues pertain to enhancement of the rights of working classes, the issues related to overcoming injustices to nation states and ethnic and linguistic groups in the main.
The decades of 1950 to 1970s were the times of dynamic changes all through the world with people raising their flags of rebellion against the injustices at various levels, against colonial powers in particular. There were the issues related to nationalities and ethnicities. The issues related to democratization, getting rid of feudal-landlord-colonial nexus and installing of democratic regimes. The political space was available for expression of the economic, social and gender issues of the people. While there were diverse opinions on these issues, the debates revolved around problems of this world, problems related to rights and dignity of the deprived sections of society.
Around the end 1980 the things started changing for the worse. Till then the bipolar nature of the world gave enough space to the people to march for their demands, rights and strengthening of human rights in general. While it was not all a rosy picture, there were many ideological issues and there were many ideological debates, which strove to find the path for social transformation towards democratic ethos. In sum and substance, identity related issues were on the margins of society. From decade of 1980 various crucial changes started taking place by and by, changes which had far reaching effect on the nature of polity and the expression of people’s aspiration started coming up in major ways. These processes also brought to fore the issues related to identity and tried to push back the Worldly concerns to the margins of social space.
The first major setback which shaped the nature of changes was the collapse of socialist states. In socialist block most of the states had overcome the colonial oppression and feudal system, through communist revolutions and through the socialist economic system. This meant the control of communist parties on all the affairs of society, economy, foreign policy and political power structure. This was very much necessary as colonial powers were ruling the colonies in alliance with the local feudal powers and yielding only minimal social and political reforms. The result was that the rising bourgeoisie-industrial class; was not strong enough to lay the foundations of industrial society on its own. The state had to step in as the one to introduce and sustain the material modernization, under the supervision and control of the party bureaucracy. In the world dominated by capitalist production and regulated by market forces, these states began well with solid foundations for infrastructure, and the planning controlled from the top. This planning failed over a period of time due to the lack of ‘built in’ feedback mechanisms. The forces of global market did succeed in coming up in a big way and crushing socialist economies.
The presence of Soviet Union was a good counter check to the imperialist designs of the United States and its other allies. It is due to this that some countries did get their freedom from colonial yoke, under the banner of socialism. This period of two superpowers, the era of cold war, saw the competition between the imperialists on one hand and Soviet block on the other. It is during this period that countries like India strove towards the path of non alignment, which was criticized by US block and welcomed by Soviet block. During this period the United nation also flourished and despite limitations came up with valuable interventions in the world, including its charting out the values for the global associations, Charters for Human Rights, Minority rights and a whole such valuable aspirations. Many a countries saw the flourishing of liberal values in gay abandon. The language of politics was revolving around the issue of rights, ethnic rights, national rights and attempt to improve the lot of the people.
The decade of 1980s saw a rapid turnaround in many a fields. At global level the socialist economies collapsed under the weight of inner contradictions of lack of proper control, lack of inner democracy on one hand and external pressures of the arms race and pressure of the western assertions, dominance of capitalist economy on the other. The Iranian revolution, coming to power of Ayatollah Khomeini, the defeat of US puppet, Raza Shah Pehlavi and the imperialist lust for oil, made it the focus of its attention in the West Asia, where already the seeds of problem were sown with the promotion of Zionism and formation of Israel. US, seeing its unrivalled power with the collapse of socialist states, changed its swan song to ‘oil is too important to be left to the natives in West Asia’, took up the tactics to control and dominate this oil zone. The language which was devised was that of ‘Islam the new threat’, succeeding the threat of Communism as the threat to freedom and democracy. The ideology which was propped was that of “Clash of Civilizations”. The ideological propaganda was unleashed in full swing to demonize Islam and Muslims. With collapse of socialist state multiple phenomena took place and this was the major transition in the language of global politics.
The foremost of this was the emergence of US the only super power in the world. Its policies now had no brakes and it went on to undermine the authority of United Nations, which was an attempt towards democratic relations amongst the nations of the world. Now US felt its might can go unchecked and it launched its economic offensive in the form of globalization at the new level in which the adverse impacts of its implementation were too severe, the welfare measures by states were downgraded and privatization became the mantra which the industrial houses were to take full advantage of by plundering the industrial sectors run by public sector. The type of economy unleashed was the one where GDP rose high along with social differentiation, riches for the top few and pauperization for the bottom majority.
While these political processes led to the formation of terrorist groups, through the conduit of America’s CIA and Pakistan’s ISI, giving rise to Mujahidin, Taliban, Al Qaeda. These groups fed on the distorted version of Islam abused the words like Kafir and Jihad to give the impression that this terrorism is due to teachings of Islam and Muslims are doing it/ As such the driving force of this phenomenon was not based on Islamic teachings but on the global greed for oil. Earlier also World had witnessed the Christian fundamentalism in US in the decade of 1920s. This was propped up by the conservative section of Christians to oppose the process of social transformation of African Americans and women coming to social space on equal ground.
The imperialist goals of America also promoted the policies which encouraged the Islamic fundamentalism in this region. US had been close ally not only of tyrants and dictators but also these regimes which did politics in the name of Islam and trampled the human rights of weak, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan being the major examples of that.
In India the changes were already afoot due to the industrial and educational base was laid by Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. While there can be many valid criticisms about the way these were undertaken, there is no denying that the basic path of modernization is what gave democratic India its’ foundations, which could provide the opportunity to the deprived sections of society. The model of development, which was adopted after Independence of the country, was a mix of ‘Public Sector’ and ‘Private Sector’. Public Sector was started mainly to provide the infra-structural facilities and production, which was crucially needed for overall industrial growth. This development model resulted in great amount of increase in the privileged middle class.
This section was in the top and middle levels of management of Public Sector and partly in Private Sector. Heavy emphasis in technological education – medical education resulted in growth of the professional sections. The elite of rural India; the rich peasants also benefited from green revolution. The ascendant labor movement got a bit of setback after the 1983 Mumbai textile strike, and this also signaled the change in labor policies of the management’s At this juncture on the one hand there was a greater and greater interaction of Indian economy with the world economy and on the other hand management’s started the newer policies due to which there was the conscious policy to marginalize the work force. The trend began to subcontract and decentralize the production process with the result that major industrial centers started witnessing a massive closure of big factories. The unemployment started soaring to great heights. The qualitative transformation of economy into ‘globalised economy’ was also marked by disinvestment in Public Sector. Opening up of the economy to multinationals in a big way, introduction of GATT, WTO and the other economic policies gave a plunge in the worse direction for the weaker sections of society.
In the overall canvas of this economic change there were multiple trends: one the emergence of affluent middle class, comprising of small industrialists who are subcontractors to big companies, rich peasants with urban connections, bureaucrats and professionals. Secondly this ‘globalization’ was accompanied by job losses and worsening of wages of those employed in small factories and rise in the unemployment. This picture was marked by massive turmoil for the changes one of the expressions of which brought in the implementation of Mandal Commission recommendations. The threat of turmoil and change of status-quo, was the principle, which precipitated the coming together of affluent middle classes under the banner of communal politics of BJP and its affiliates. Lest we forget a small section of industrialists at this juncture did feel threatened by the globalizing tendencies of capital, fearing its own self getting wiped away in the face of the threat of multinationals. This section of industrialists is the one, which probably is the worst in their labor relations and is the strongest proponent of swadeshi. In this complex scenario the growth of capital is in the form of qualitative change in the global nature of capital. The middle sections which are the social base of communal politics have a complex strategy vis a vis global capital; they accept the inevitable and want to preserve sectional interests by talking about swadeshi.
At this critical time the diverse forces in society are a) Sections of Liberal Capitalists who have ‘successfully’ adjusted to the new economic chessboard in their global relations and who have adopted the new managerial techniques to keep the workers unity and struggle under check, who have ‘ensured’ the straight jacketing of workers aspirations, b) Sections of affluent middle class, whose some components, we have delineated above, who know the inevitability of globalization, are going for it but simultaneously have sections amongst them who do want the protective measures for their survival, and they are the ones’ who join the chorus of swadeshi. In a way the newer global equations as reflected in India are operating full steam to create the present situation. While amongst these groups a) is for globalization by choice and b) is for the same by default with some reservations thrown in here and there amongst these a) may ‘tolerate’ liberal and democratic space while b) which is the strongest proponent of Hindutva, Hindu Rashtra, is strongly opposed to the liberal space and democratic values. This section has deeper existential anxieties because of some social vulnerabilities, which make it vehement opponent of democratic and liberal norms. And that makes it the solid base of sectarian politics in the name of religion, which is wedded to the pre-modern hierarchical notions, is wedded to the concept of Hindu Rashtra and thereby opposed to any social change which has the potential to threaten the status quo.
The assertion of the sections supporting communal politics precisely got consolidated in the post-Mandal phase in its wake and in opposition to the hopes aroused by the victims of newer economic-globalised scenario and the changed management strategies – and the state employment policies. The backdrop of the unprecedented rise in the power of communalism has to be seen in the backdrop of newer economic dynamics, change in management strategies on one hand; and on the other two ways to deal with the impact of these changes on working masses. The first and at the moment the one of liberal capital and affluent middle class have brought forward both these options. There is some overlap in these, but the one offered by affluent middle classes through the vehicle of SP is capable of abolishing the democratic space for a long time to come.
The unemployment started rising, underemployment was the key and the biggest victim of this was the agricultural sector. The farmer’s suicides have become the major phenomenon and in a way express the major part of the problem of the way globalization is rampaging the lives the people. The economic disparity, economic deprivation is also leading the people to desperations and some of them get drawn to the rising breed of Babas who have mushroomed in large number. The rise in the religiosity in society in general and a proactive promotion of events around religion are significant. Amongst the middle classes the rising fondness for religiosity, for the discourses of Baba’s seems to be the core around which the tense nerves are clamed and people are made to forget their real problems.
A section from the deprived groups forms the ideal fodder to recruit the foot soldiers of the violence which is unleashed by communal forces. The economic instance heightens the identity politics in a subtle way. It is during this period that different social strife’s are assuming the religious language, wearing the cloak of religion.
Religion in Political Domain
In this backdrop the politics in India was shaped mainly in terms of identity. To begin with the Shah Bano case was a point for crystallizing the minority communalism. Shah Bano who was granted maintenance by the Court after divorce was strongly opposed by the fundamentalist sections of Muslim community. This led Rajiv Gandhi to supersede this judgment, by bring in “The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986” Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986.This acted as one of the precipitating factors for the Hindutva elements to take up the issue of Ram Janm Bhoomi issue. Their claim was that the Mughal king Babar had demolished the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. This Ram Temple was the birth place of Lord Ram as per them. They demanded that the grand Ram Temple be built precisely at the same spot where Babri mosque stood. With the section of society responding to these campaigns, Rajiv Gandhi government blundered again and got the doors of Babri Mosque opened. These were gates, which were closed following the illegal installation of Ram Lalla Idols by communal elements in 1949. With this victory under their belt the Hindutva (RSS Combine) elements prepared for mass mobilization. Lets clarify here Hindutva is not Hindu religion, it is a politics using the identity of Hindu religion, to be precise it’s a politics using Brahminic norms.
The backdrop of support to this identity based campaign was somewhere else. By the decade of 1980s, the section of dalits had come up in the social space. The issue of reservations was the bone of contention for the upper caste/affluent sections. Their opposition the rising of dalits came up in the form of anti dalit riots in Ahmadabad in 1980 and later in anti-OBC riots on the issue of promotion in jobs in 1986. Now the section opposed to the reservations started rallying round the Ram Temple campaign. With V.P. Singh announcing implementation of Mandal Commission report and giving the upwardly mobile channel to OBCs, this section of upper caste/affluent classes further rallied to the politics of Ram Temple leading to various Yatras by Advani and company and the demolition of Babri Mosque and the post demolition violence in Mumbai, Bhopal and Surat in particular. The demolition and violence started polarizing the society along religious lines. The polarization led to rise of communal party, BJP coming to power and becoming the major opposition party.
To co-opt the tribal, Adivasis, they intensified their activities in the remote areas, spreading hate against Christian missionaries, on the propaganda that they are doing forcible conversions. On this pretext, the Australian Pastor, Graham Stains, working amongst leprosy patients of Keonjhar, in Orissa, was burnt alive and scattered acts of violence against Christian missionaries and attacks on Christians became a regular feature in the remote places in the country. This simultaneously resulted in the polarization in the society and BJP became politically stronger. It came to the seat of power in the Center from 1996. Later during its rule, in Gujarat, on the pretext of Godhra train burning the massive anti Muslim pogrom was launched by RSS combine leading to the death of over 2000 Muslims. Today this right wing politics has ‘successfully’ been able to raise various emotive issues, around national anthem, cow slaughter, threat to Hindus posed by Muslim terrorists etc.
The ascendance of the right wing politics is always based on spreading Hate against weaker sections of society. The common sense created against minorities forms the base on which communal violence takes place. In India this ‘social common sense’ against the ‘other’ emerged from the Communal historiography introduced by British in India to pursue their policy of ‘divide and rule’. This has persisted since then in subtle forms. With partition of the country the Hindus in Pakistan faced a severe problem and the social common sense prevalent there was against Hindus. Here in India this common sense is weighed against the Muslims in particular and lately against Christians also. Its genesis lies in the mid nineteenth century and it has become revived in the decade of 1980 in particular.
Social Common Sense:
The commonly held perceptions amongst both the religious communities started building up from late nineteenth century, after the landlord elements felt threatened by the incipient rise of Indian Nationalism. These processes were more or less parallel and opposite amongst the communities.
The Hindu communalists adopted the view propagated by colonial masters about the nature of medieval rule and the Muslim, “that medieval rulers in India were anti-Hindu, tyrannized Hindus, and converted them forcibly.” (Bipan Chandra, India’s Struggle for Freedom, Penguin, Delhi, 1988, p. 412). This went on building more intensely over a period of time and the ‘sins’ of Muslim rulers were transferred on to the Muslim community of the day. With its formation in 1925, the RSS, developed its indoctrination module, Muslims were projected as the central enemies. RSS shakhas, (Branches) taught the young cadres, that “The Hindu nation has been repeatedly conquered by aliens, particularly Muslims and then by Christian British.” And that India is being ruled by pseudo secularists like Nehru who are appeasing Muslims, “The threats remain because the present state is ruled by traitors to Hindu nation, ‘pseudo secularists’ who ‘appeased’ Muslims in their pursuit for a political vote bank” (Basu et all, Khaki Shorts Saffron Flags, Orient Longman Hyderabad 1993, p 36)
All through the freedom movement and more so after the assembly elections of 1937 when the Muslim League and Hindu Mahsabha lost elections, both these started spreading venom of propaganda against the ‘other’ community. After Independence it had a relatively ‘quiet’ period lasting from 1950s to 1970s. During this period also the communal polarization kept taking place through RSS shakhas, through molecular permeation, and also through section of media and other means of communication. In decade of 80s on one hand we saw the rise in intensity of communal violence, and on the other the worsening of this demonization of Muslim minorities.
History was the core around which the social common sense was built. Savakar modified the communal historiography started by British and presented a glorious picture of ancient India, “Every village has its temples, in all districts are sacrifices performed; every family has plenty of wealth; and people are devoted to religion” (Savarkar, V.D. Hindutva: Who is a Hindu 5th Edition, (Bombay S.S. Savarkar 1969, 41-42) This was counterpoised to “Suddenly, rudely, unprovoked invading Muslims put an end to all that. The early Muslim period saw brief incursion by Muslims bent on destruction of Hindu temples…) (Martha Nussbaum, The Clash within, Permanent Black, 2007, p 212.) This was the base around which the history of medieval India was constructed. To this was added forcible conversion by sword, atrocities on Hindu women by Muslim kings and imposition of Jazia.
This projected history was propagated and its reflections in present day Muslim community got intensified through various means. The full spectrum of communal common sense includes many more perceptions which related to large Muslim families, their orthodox nature, and their eating beef: slaughtering cows and their being terrorists. The last one has been projected and implanted in social psyche very strongly after 9/11, 2001.
The issue of Somnath temple and Ram Temple destruction are uppermost in the minds of the people. It is not realized that Kings destroyed temples for appropriating wealth and for showing their hegemony over the defeated kingdoms. Also British historiography was keen to present the Muslim rulers in the unfair light, as they had to win over the loyalty of subjects of the country.
“That pertains to the Babri Masjid as the British Gazetteer A.F. Beevraidge put the unfounded question mark that there might have been a temple at the site where the mosque is located. There are infinite examples of the Hindu kings destroying Hindu Temples,(Temple Destructions in Ancient India- Richard Eaton), Muslim Kings destroying mosques, like Aurangzeb destroying Golconda mosque when tribute was not paid by Tana Shah for few consecutive years. Hindu kings got the initial mosques made on the Malabar Coast. Tipu sultan went on to repair the temple Shritangpatanam, which was destroyed by retreating Maratha armies.” Puniyani, Ram; Fundamentalism: Threat to Democracy,
The rule of kings was not based on the religion of the courtiers, as Kings selected courtiers from all the religions. The nine Jewels of Akbar, The Muslim generals of Shivaji and Hakim Khan Sur assisting Rana Pratap in his battle against Akbar are too well known.
Similarly conversion to Islam in this country is seen as the act of the kings while in reality Islam spread in India because of the humane teachings of Sufi saints. Surely some individuals and landlords did convert to Islam out of fear or expectation of reward but those are few compared to the Shudras who embraced Islam in large numbers. Many an Islamic/ Hindu communities imbibed the traditions from both the religions communities, Navayat Muslims of Kerala, Mevs of Rajasthan are example of that. Today source of origin of many of our traditions, food and customs cannot be attributed to any one particular religious source. We have syncretic traditions in all streams of our life. Celebrating diversity is one way of looking at it. As such communities do live with each other constantly interacting and transforming their norms of life. It cannot be related just to religion.
Similarly the freedom movement saw the rise of Hindu and Muslim communalism both. The elite landlord sections were the ones’ to begin these communal streams which were later joined in by some middle class intellectuals, who provided the ideological elaboration for the communal politics. It was the British goal to have a foothold in South Asia due to which they were keen on partitioning the country and the Muslim and Hindu communal streams played in their hands.
These perceptions as they went unchallenged from last so many decades by now have been unshakably planted in the social thinking. It is the base around which communal violence takes place and the post violence insecurity amongst the minorities, the exclusionism of dominant communal thinking leads to the formation of Muslim ghettoes in a clear cut fashion the cities which have suffered the violence and in a more subtle form in other cities.
The changing profile of religiosity is probably the most obvious observation during the rise of Religious Nationalism. There was a constant harp on religiosity in the social space from the decade of late seventies; this also got reflected in the films in particular. “The widespread success of religious mythological films of Bombay had to an unprecedented extent removed the cultural products of religion from religious institutions themselves, and reassembled in cinema halls the congregations, that that would normally gather in temples. “ (Basu, p 107) The release of film Jai Santoshi Maa created a huge religious fervor, it was a super hit on the screen and one saw the people visiting cinema halls with all the piousness in their hearts. One of the norms followed by Hindus is to remove their foot wear while visiting temples. Many a people used to remove their footwear before entering cinema halls and used to throw the coins as offering on the screen. At the same time popular culture came in handy to boost the religiosity. The Jagrans, Jagratas, (Whole night song and dance in praise of Goddess Mother became very popular.) Most of these were financed by the traders, the base of RSS combine.
To make the matters more fertile for the rise of Hindu right wing politics, the nationwide broadcast of serials Ramayana and Mahabharata, took the religiosity to higher levels. Ramayana in particular “It reduced Hinduism to its mythology, which was then presented as essence of Indian nationhood. The image of National pride could be served could be served more effectively by the mass popularity of devotional traditions revolving around Ram…” Since television was the monopoly of the state this religiosity beamed into every household and nation used to come to a grinding halt to watch these syrupy mythologizing of the Lord around whom the Babri demolition campaign was also being built up. It also was prevalent in South India where earlier Ram was not so popular. The jagrats functions were the supplements to the media invented goddesses like Santoshi maa. Devotional pop music was a great hit in different parts of the country. The pilgrimage to Viashno Devi became more popular particularly amongst the high tech middle classes. This also saw a plethora of god men rising and preaching their own version of Hinduism, the common bond of these new breed of God men was their harping on tradition, their eulogy for the values of caste and gender hierarchy. “Certain tentative connections may also be suggested between the growth of Hidutva and the specific patterns of north India city and small town development in recent years.” (Basu, p.112)
The religion has gradually made serious intrusions into the public space. Hindu religious symbols and some festivals have been popularized as national festivals. At the same time the message of patriarchy has also been given by popularizing festivals like Rakhsha bandhan. Rakhi is “invoked as a common tradition in part of larger agenda of cultural homogenization as well as reassertion of patriarchal values, which are integral to Hindu fundamentalist project of cultural nationalism.” (Panikkar, K.N., An Agenda for Cultural Action, Three Essays, Delhi 2002, p. x) Similarly Ganesh Festival has become one of the major festivals in most parts of the country. It was earlier restricted to parts of the country, especially Mahrashtra. This festival was started by Tilak and was invoked for political mobilization. Now dalits and lower castes take a more active interest in the same. It is an accompaniment of religious nationalism, “The tendency of religious homogenization and internal consolidation is shared by all religious events. They also tend to reinforce religious division and widen the inter-religious distance.” (Panikkar, xii)
New rituals devised during period became the part of popular culture, Rath Yatras, (Chariot Processions), Shila Pujans (Worshiping the bricks meant for construction of temples), Collective worship rituals like Maha artis also came into being.
This new set of Gurus and Acharyas, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Asaram Bapu, Pandurang Shastri Athwale, Sudhanshu Mahraj, Aniruddh Bapu, Maa Amritanand mai, and the like, are the nerve soothers for the existential tensions of the middle class. These Gurus are pushing the Manusmsiriti and the feudal values of caste and gender hierarchies in a new language, the language laced with modernity, so to say. Similarly one notices the presence of Muslim Ulamas, Mullahs and the likes of Shahi Imam who have been promoting obscurantism in the Muslim community. Starting from their role in putting pressure to reverse the Shah Bano judgment to their opposition to abolition of triple talaq and polygamy amongst Muslims, their retrograde role is a bane of Muslim community in India. The temple visits and temple functions have become the major events of communities. The media is devoting more and more space on the discourses of swamis and saints, columns on religious values and religious functions are a plenty in the media. Television serials depict the ‘guiding role’ of clergy and there are special channels like Astha and Sanskar to propagate particular versions of religiosity. The struggling middle class hero of the previous decades is replaced by the stinking rich patriarch constantly in touch with the priest for guidance in his regular affairs.
The communal politics began from the declining sections of society in the light of rising democratic values, the process of social transformation. It was started by the landlords, Nawabs, Rajas and later was upheld by a section of middle class ideologues. In India they began in the face of rising industrialization, education and the upcoming of low caste and women in the social space. The upcoming classes of Industrialists, workers and educated classes formed organizations like Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, Republican Party of India and Indian National Congress. The declining classes, feudal ones’, targeted the other religious group, Hindu Mahasabha, RSS (for Hindu Nation) and Muslim League. They did spread venom against the other community and communalized the social space. The same supplemented the British designs of ‘divide and rule’ leading to the partition of the country and massive violence. The violence was to return to maddening heights in the decades of 1980s, the worst of which was seen in the Delhi 1984, post Babri demolition Mumbai violence, burning of Pastor Stains and the Gujarat carnage.
This communal violence has marginalized the minorities into second class citizens, created their ghettoes and strengthened the conservative elements in those communities. The fear psychology of the minorities has triggered the conservatism in the community to a large extent. The violence against minorities has become a regular phenomenon. Some of these are ghastly and others are ‘low intensity scattered ones’. In a way this violence and the accompanying erosion of civic norms is a big blow to the democratic values and an attack on India’s constitution. The most immediate observation is that it is creating a mass hysteria, raising the violent storms, which ensure suppression of the real issues of the people related to their worldly needs.
In India it is RSS combine which poses the major threat to the democracy, while the minority communalism (Muslim Communal Groups) is comparatively weak, but despite that is able to give provocations to the majority communalism, led by RSS combine. This RSS combine is opposed to the democracy and is using the democratic space to ensure its abolition in due course. Already there is a talk of the Anti Hindu nature of our constitution and the need to bring in the one based on Hindu holy books. The communal violence and the inherent communal politics are surely the biggest threat to Indian democracy today.
RSS was formed in 1925 in Nagpur. The immediate cause of its formation was the discomfort amongst the upper castes/landlord elements due to the non cooperation movement launched by Gandhi as a part of freedom movement. This movement brought into fold the average people into freedom movement; this caused discomfort to the elite sections of society. At the same time the Non Brahman movement was shaking the dominance of Brahmin landlord. The founders of RSS were very inspired by the ideas of nationalism of Hitler. RSS had contempt towards the concept of Indian nationalism, which was the ideology of Nationalism, led by Gandhi.
RSS took off from Hindu Mahasabha, an organization which was formed by the Hindu Kings and landlords. Later this organization was led by a middle class intellectual, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. He propounded the ideology of Hindutva, Hinduness, which is the concept of Nationalism based on Brahiminical values of hierarchy of caste and gender. RSS founders were to make this concept of Hindutva and Hindu rashtra as their base ideology and politics.
RSS began with training its volunteers into the version of History, which was communal and had nothing to do with secular democratic values of India’s freedom movement. It said that India has always been a Hindu state and Muslims are aggressors and foreigners. The concept being promoted by Gandhi-Nehru that India is a land belonging to people of all religions is wrong and that what is needed is to build a Hindu nation and undermine the Muslim nation. It decided to keep aloof from direct electoral politics and went to create a set of volunteer, swayamsevaks trained in the ideology of Hindutva. It kept aloof from freedom movement, as freedom movement was based on the values of secularism and democracy, while RSS was for Hindu nation and perpetuation of Brahminical values in newer garb.
It was/is exclusively male organization and when Laxmibia Kelkar wanted women to be taken into RSS, they were advised to form a subordinate organization, Rashtra Sevika Samiti. In the very name of this organization the word swayam (self) is missing as this organization, like all other communal organization stands for superiority of males, and believes in patriarchal norms. It discouraged people from participating in movements related to freedom. Barring few exceptions none from RSS went to jail during freedom movement. And those who happened to go to jail went either for looking for more recruits for RSS or accidentally went to jail and later on apologized to British and got themselves release from the prison.
RSS, Hindu Mahasbha held Gandhi as the person responsible for appeasement of Muslims, for partition of the country etc. On this charge Nathuram Godse and ex Pracharak of RSS, who joined Hindu Mahasabha killed the father of the nation. At that point Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel said that it is due to the hate spread by RSS that the country had to lose its father, Gandhi. Savarkar was also one of the accused in the murder of Gandhi, but he was let off for lack of corroborative evidence.
RSS started forming other subordinate organizations. One of them was Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which started working amongst students. In 1951, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of Hindu Mahasabha in collaboration with RSS formed Bhartiya Jansangh. Bhartiay Jan Sangh raised identity related issues and resorted to war mongering by calling for the Nuclear weapons to be made by Indian state. It also demanded that, Muslims should be Indianized. It remained a marginal force till it joined the Jaya Prakash movement in 1975 and later got the chance to become part of Janata Party. Meanwhile RSS was silently infiltrating in all the wings of state and society, bureaucracy, police, education, media, judiciary and army. It was working to oppose the progressive liberal values by promoting religiosity and conservatism in cultural arena.
Jansangh joined Janata Party and came to power in 1977, its leaders became the part of Government. Using this opportunity they further planted their workers in media and other parts of the state apparatus. After splitting Janata Party, the Jan Sangh component remerged as Bhartiya Janta party on the ideological grounds of Gandhian Socialism. The values which it never believed, but had to project those for electoral purposes! Meanwhile RSS gave birth to Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. VHP started taking up emotive issues and Ram temple issue was made the center of their political credo. Also they went on to form Bajrang dal on the lines of storm troopers of Nazi party in Germany.
During 1960s and 1980s, also it kept doing its work of propagating Hate against minorities, first against Muslims and then against Christians. The result was intensification of anti minority violence. In anti Muslim violence, amongst the victims of violence around 90% are Muslims. Most of the inquiry committee reports have concluded that riots are generally begun by RSS affiliates, pretexts are created for that right in advance. Also due to communalization of state apparatus most of the guilty of the crime are generally not punished. Many a times other political leaders have also used the communal violence for their narrow political goals. The agitation around Ram Temple created a great deal of social hysteria, leading to Babri demolition and intense violence in Mumbai-Bhopal-Surat and other places. Mumbai violence of 92-93 shook the whole country and instilled a great amount of fear amongst the minorities.
Due to violence the RSS base went on becoming stronger and its political wing BJP went on becoming stronger to the extent that it could grab power at the center in 1996. Later again it came to power and ruled the country, under RSS supervision for six years. From 1997, in order to scare away the Christian missionaries from Adivasi areas, the areas where their work is leading to empowerment of poor Adivasis, the violence started and during its course, they also burnt Pastor Graham Stewart stains, on the charge that he is doing conversion work. The Wadhva Commission, which went into this murder, opined that Pastor had not done any conversions. Most horrific form of anti Christian violence was witnessed in the BJP ruled Gujarrat and later BJP ally Biju Janata dal ruled Orissa (2008). With every act of communal violence BJP becomes stronger.
Terrorism: Global Dimensions:
Last few years have seen many attacks of terror, more so after the ghastly tragedy of 9/11, 2001. Since then many formulations have also been popularized, like all Terrorists are Muslims. The impact of this formulation on the popular psyche has been immensely negative.
After all what is terrorism, is it due to religion or a religious community? As such it is difficult to define terrorism, as some people whom we regard as terrorists, others may regard as freedom fighters, those fighting for a particular cause. LTTE a terrorist organization is looked up a fighting for the cause of rights of Tamils by some. Roughly one can say terrorism is an act which may be done by a state, a group or/and individual for a political motive and due to this innocent people get killed. This act is a part of political statement or political purpose. Those acts where there are no deaths but people feel intimidated can also be called as terrorism.
As such terrorism is due to social, economic, political reasons and terrorists have come from all the religions. Let’s recall the killer of Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Similarly today’s biggest terrorist organization is Liberation Tiger of Tamil Elam. The Irish republican Army constituted mainly by Christians has been indulging in the acts of terror in Ireland for long time.
Terrorists are not born. Some youth take to the path of terror due to gross injustice or to such a perception, done to them or their community. This is associated with a feeling that society-state will not give them justice. This was witnessed in Guwahati, in November 2007. A group of Adivasis had come to city for demanding their rights over land and forest resources. They were not only beaten up, also one girl accompanying them was molested. A week later an Adivasi National Liberation front was formed which planted bombs in Guwahati Rajdhani express and in this 7 people were killed. We remember that after the Mumbai violence a group of frustrated-dejected people took help of underworld to plant the bombs in Mumbai trains.
There is another reason of terrorism, and that pertains to the political goals of dominant nations or dominant groups. In the decade of 1970s, when the Russian army occupied Afghanistan, US in order to fight back the Russian army and to control the oil wells, set up Madrassas in Pakistan to indoctrinate the Muslim youth. The indoctrination module was made in Washington. According to this the youth were made to believe that Russians/every Non Muslim is a kafir, killing kafirs is Jihad and sacrifice for Jihad will take you to Jannat (heaven) where 72 virgins will be welcoming you. After defeating the Russian armies the Al Qaeda turned against other South Asian countries and also against US itself. India is a victim of the offshoots of this particular as they now firmly believe what was taught to them in the Madrasssas, specially set up to indoctrinate them, in the territory of Pakistan by the US.
The global phenomenon of terrorism has affected all the nations in some way or the other and the global war on terror, is the overarching slogan for hiding the imperialist ambitions for oil hunger. Terror as such is not an abstract concept. Today it is a product, retaliation against the global imperialist policies, the ethnic aspirations gone sour and also a response to the communal violence. Lately one is also witness to the competitive terrorism, resorted to by majoritarian groups also. Most interestingly terrorism, though not well defined, has been brought to the fore as a religious phenomenon. The turning point in such insane acts of violence came with the formation of Al Qaeda by CIA through ISI of Pakistan, through the mechanism of indoctrination of youth in Madrassas.
The other major cause of terrorism is ethno-national, like Srilanka-Jaffna where LTTE came up, in Kashmir, where the issue of autonomy of Kashmir turned to become ethno national one’s, the North East where the integration of NE into Indian stream gave the hiccups of terrorism. Similarly Irish Republican army also came up to due ethnic injustices.
Lately we saw the involvement of some Hindutva elements, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and others in the acts of terror related to the blasts in front of the mosques, Malegaon, Ajmer Dargah etc. This again is due to the indoctrination of the mind by the political process, by ideologies which are totally anti democratic and look at politics in the colors of religion. Here the indoctrination has been done that a particular community is under threat due to another community. One knows that the threat is not due to religious community, but since this politics is based on communal principles they attribute all the reasons to religion and so the misconception are deliberately produced resulting in violence.
The type of terrorism which we witnessed in Mumbai (Nov 2008) is the left-over of the Al Qaeda type groups, the indoctrinated one’s. Let’s remember that once a person is indoctrinated for the political goals, the reversal of such process is practically impossible. Toady the country is the victim of this insane process, which has been the result various global and local political an economic processes.
The need is that we look beyond the symptom of terrorism and try to look at the deeper disease which is infesting the social fabric. Just tightening the security won’t do as the terrorists are willing to loose their life for ‘their’ cause. We have also seen that some global powers may be assisting and promoting them. So we need to revive the role of United Nations at global level and see that the places where terror camps are going are brought to book be international agency. Locally we must ensure that the culprits while being punished without any discrimination; we ensure that our politics is based on ethical and moral values. All those projecting that they are working for religion, religion based nationalism have to be discarded as our principles must be that Religion is a private matter and it should not be mixed with politics. The basis of our political logic has to be the values of Liberty Equality and Fraternity. At global level a democratic arrangement between different nations and undermining the hegemony of dominating nation states has to be aimed at.
Religion in Politics: Challenges to Democracy and Human Rights
The challenge to us today is to change the paradigm of analysis and understanding the politics lurking behind the identity of religion. The period of 60s and 70s did see a set of frameworks and scientifically accurate methods in analyzing the prevalent phenomenon. A small section did tell us about the real nature of socialist states and the nature, agenda; of religion based nationalism. In the contemporary times the things have been very obscure as the new phenomena of religion based nationalism is becoming more dominant, similarly the issue of terrorism also requires a much different approach than the one dished out by the propaganda mills of the dominant powers and dominant sections of society.
The major challenge is to remove the lid of language of religion on this phenomenon which is at core political. The values of this politics and ideology are retrograde and are throwing the society back in time. The need was never more necessary and urgent as the popular perceptions are much distorted and these perceptions intensify the impact of oppressive politics. Today we not only need to grapple with phenomenon of communal violence and acts of terrorism, which are major problems in contemporary scene, but need to reach a proper understanding of these issues to the people.
The communalism has not only affected the human rights of minorities it has affected the struggles of workers, dalits, adivasis and women. Instead of the language of rights, what is dominant is the language of duties for these deprived sections. The very ideology and politics in the name of religion abolish the democratic space and intend to bring the authoritarian state. Where the concept of human rights gets automatically compromised. Human rights are not possible without a democratic set up. The struggle of deprived sections is possible only in the atmosphere of liberal ethos and plural foundations. In such situations the religious minorities have to face the problems related to security and equity which more or less force them in the grip of identity related issues. So the politics which begins with majoritarian identity politics lands up strengthening the minoritarian identity concerns at higher levels.
The politics in the name of religion has come in various countries and in the name of all religions. The first such was the Christian Fundamentalism, which came up in America in the decade of 1920s. Later one sees such politics coming in different Islamic countries. Pakistan is an example of that, where during Zia ul Haq regime, the Islamic fundamentalism ruled the roost and the human rights of minorities were trampled upon along with human rights of women and other sections of society. In India politics in the name of identity of Hindu religion is on ascendance and has similar agenda.
The whole phenomenon of terrorism, which was brought up in West Asia, Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was propped up by America to defeat the occupying Russian forces in Afghanistan. This training of Al Qaeda done by using Wahabi-Salafi version of Islam led to ghastly acts of terror and US media added salt to the wound by labeling these acts of terror as Islamic terror. This is how the religion is the major language of politics in the contemporary times. In the form of terrorism, it has been an obstacle to many West Asian countries blocking the progress of those Nations and the people of these countries are going through rough weather. Their nascent democracies have been mauled and the concept of Human rights has been sacrificed at the altar of greed for oil wealth in West Asia.
We do need to retrieve the language of politics based on the issues related to World, Bread, Butter, Shelter, Employment, Health and Education. These have to be done as a matter of right, as per the charter of Unitized Nations Charter of human rights. Human society is going through turbulent times and we need to come up to strive for secular democratic politics and a world based on global democracy of nations to begin with. Religion should have a place in our personal lives and its moral values need to be retrieved from the grip of politics, which is abusing religions identity for vested interests at various levels.
We need to intervene in the ongoing debate of terrorism-communalism to bring rationality to ensure that the world, India can provide better space for the struggle of people for better society.
This story was first appeared on sacw.net