India must never be a ‘Hindu Pakistan’

By Inder Malhotra

Modi should restrain Bhagwat & others

Mr. Bhagwat at first propounded the strange theory that since every citizen of America is called American and that of Germany is known as German, every citizen of Hindustan “must be called a Hindu”. Someone should explain to this learned gentleman that by his own logic citizens of Hindustan should be known as Hindustanis, not Hindus”, says the author

When Narendra Modi was swept to power spectacularly just over three months ago high hopes of an early improvement in both development and governance were accompanied by some fears that Hindutva hotheads and other extremists in the Sangh Parivar might try to queer the pitch by promoting the cult of “Hindu Rashtra”. Sadly, this seems to be coming to pass, not by the efforts of only foot soldiers and fringe elements.

The minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was the first to talk of repealing Article 370 of the Constitution that gives the state of Jammu and Kashmir a special status. This produced a reaction in the sensitive state so vehement that the state’s Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, and his father and then Union Cabinet minister Farooq Abdullah, even threatened secession.

This did not deter another minister to propose that it was time to have a uniform civil code, inviting another furore. Then something startling happened, of all places, in Goa. A BJP leader there announced that Mr. Modi would make India a “Hindu State” before the end of his first term. He was upstaged by the state’s Deputy Chief Minister, who blandly stated that this was already the case. Obviously, no one took him seriously because the international president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Ashok Singhal, mounted the rostrum to declare that the Muslims had citizenship rights in this “Hindu” country, but they also had the duty to accept Hindutva’s doctrines and demands.

One specific demand he made was that, the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya out of the way, “the Muslim community should willingly give up two other mosques in the holy cities of Varanasi and Mathura”. In Parliament and elsewhere Opposition members and people continued to ask Prime Minister Modi to say something about these “objectionable and divisive” declarations but he continued to maintain his eloquent silence.

A few of those who claimed to know him pointed out that to remain silent was both his strategy and style. This reading seemed to be correct. For Parliament’s first session ended on a very sharp note just before Independence Day. The Congress and other Opposition parties condemned his government for having encouraged both polarisation and increasing communal violence since its very formation. His ministers retorted that the greatest communalist in the country was the Congress. But while speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the Prime Minister dealt with the burning issue very briefly.

He appealed to everyone to embark on a ten-year moratorium on all violence whether the “poison” be casteism, communalism, regionalism or discrimination of any kind because all these “are obstructions in our way forward”. This attracted no criticism although some did ask: “Why should there be a moratorium for a limited number of years? Why not get rid of all these evils permanently”? Ironically, it was at this precise moment that the leadership of the campaign to Hinduise the Indian state – that under the Constitution has to be secular – was taken over by the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Mohan Bhagwat.

He is the head of the entire Sangh Parivar of which the Bharatiya Janata Party is but one member. Nor has it gone unnoticed that the new BJP president, Amit Shah, who is also the right-hand man of Mr. Modi, has given the RSS representation in his team that is greater than ever before. Mr. Bhagwat at first propounded the strange theory that since every citizen of America is called American and that of Germany is known as German, every citizen of Hindustan “must be called a Hindu”.

Someone should explain to this learned gentleman that by his own logic citizens of Hindustan should be known as Hindustanis, not Hindus. No America would call himself/herself as an “Am” or the German as “Ger”. If every Indian is called a Hindustani there would be no problem. Followers of the Hindu religion in this country are a huge majority of over 80 per cent. But the rest are Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews, Parsis and so on. To call them Hindus would be an invitation not to a disaster but to a catastrophe.

Probably for this reason the RSS chief changed his tune. “Hindustan (he has stopped using the names India or Bharat)”, he proclaimed, “is a Hindu state and Hidutva is the identity of our nation … and it (Hinduism) can incorporate in itself other religions”. No fewer than seven political parties, including the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the CPM, have lambasted Mr. Bhagwat for planning to “impose Hindu majoritarianism” on the country. Several Opposition leaders have called him “Hitler” and a radical Sikh organisation, Dal Khalsa, has declared that it would not allow the RSS to “foist its fascist agenda on Punjab”.

This said, one must add that communalism of every religious community is equally dangerous and deplorable. The entire Kashmiri Pandit minority was hounded out of the Kashmir valley two decades ago. The Pandits have become refugees in their own country, and their return to their homes remains problematic. Some Sikhs in Punjab have made a film glorifying the assassins of Indira Gandhi that cannot but cause trouble.

In all fairness, it must also be recognised that the Congress that ruled the country for the last 10 years must accept its share of responsibility for encouraging the votaries of Hindutva. It always declared that its fight against the BJP was a contest between secularism and communalism. But, as former Defence Minister A. K. Antony, who investigated the causes of the Congress party’s electoral debacle has admitted, the Congress’ practice of secularism was more rhetorical than real.

The country perceived it as the “appeasement of Muslim minority”. Whatever might have happened in the past, the two sides must learn a lesson from what the Pakistani Taliban have done to that Islamic country in the name of Islam. India doesn’t deserve that.

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