Kasganj Unrest: Right-Wing Can’t Stomach Muslims Celebrating R-Day
The biggest allegation against Indian Muslims is that they do not try to be a part of India's ‘mainstream’. This accusation is lobbed at them frequently by the Hindu right-wing.
Therefore, it should have been the logical next step for this camp to join the Republic Day celebrations organised by the Muslims and Hindus of Kasganj, Uttar Pradesh on 26 January 2018.
But, these forces cannot bear the sight of Indian Muslims celebrating Republic Day. The idea that Muslims celebrate India's national occasions acts against the ‘intellectual thinking’ of these counter-nationalists who love to see them as ‘Pakistanis’ or ‘jihadis’.
Kasganj Violence & Politics of Hate
So, the counter-nationalists took out a motorcycle rally in Kasganj carrying the Indian tricolour, chanting ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. It is indeed unfortunate that in the hands of these torchbearers, well-meaning slogans like ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Jai Shri Ram’ have become instruments of political provocation.
In present times, nationalism denotes unity. But Indian nationalism in their hands has become divisive, communal and xenophobic – and an assault on India’s social cohesion. Madrasas in India celebrate Independence Day and Republic Day too — which is unacceptable to the xenophobic.
Discussing a static view of nationalism, RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy wrote an 1,143-word article recently, even mentioning the fight against the British rule, but without any reference to Muslims. By any standard of history, the anti-British war was led by both Muslims and Hindus.
But in the imagination of counter-nationalists, Muslims don't exist. Their role should be expunged from history. On 5 February, Vinay Katiyar, a member of the Indian parliament, demanded that the Taj Mahal be erased. India's identity hence will essentially be derived from the majority community.
Be Hindu or Go to Pakistan
For counter-nationalists, you must be a Hindu to be an Indian – or go to Pakistan. These days, even Shia Muslim leaders like Wasim Rizvi, whose sect is being hunted by militant Sunni groups in Pakistan, are speaking on behalf of the counter-nationalists, asking Indian Muslims to go to Pakistan.
Undoubtedly there are problems with Muslims. Islamic clerics who wake up Hindus through early morning azaan blaring from loudspeakers invite hatred towards Muslims. One must counter such influences of religion.
While we can dislike and disagree with religious ideas, when we discriminate against and profile an entire class or community of people, it becomes hatred that seeks to kill. A certain type of hatred survives in a certain type of political culture under certain types of political parties and leaders.
For instance, under Hitler, minority groups like the Jews were exterminated in Germany. In contrast, during Mayawati’s tenure, Uttar Pradesh, which has recently witnessed a spate of hate crimes, was relatively peaceful.
Divisive Politics Under Current Order
Near a village where this writer was born in West Champaran district of Bihar, there is a Muslim graveyard. Hindus and Muslims used to pass through it because the alternative route was a long way around it.
Hindus could use a Muslim graveyard as a path. This is what India's social cohesion looks like. Mosques and temples have co-existed for centuries. However, soon after the BJP government came to power in 2014, Hindus began demanding that a permanent path be cut through the graveyard.
Under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, there was no space in the political culture of Bihar for anti-Muslim hate. He sent a police force, thereby preventing communal riots.
In the current political culture, cow vigilantism is encouraged. Spaces exist, and even flourish, to perpetuate hatred against non-Hindus. In December 2014, the Dharm Jagran Samiti declared that Muslims and Christians must convert to Hinduism if they want to stay in India.
Its leader Rajeshwar Singh warned, “We will free India of Muslims and Christians by 2021.”
In Uttar Pradesh, Mohammed Akhlaq was killed by cow vigilantes. In Rajasthan, 55-year-old dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was lynched to death by cow vigilantes. In Haryana, Junaid Khan was stabbed to death on a train by cow vigilantes. In Assam, two Muslims were lynched to death for similar reasons.
And there are many such recent incidents. The new political culture allows for Muslims to be hunted.
An Exclusionist Narrative
Some Dalits working in the meat business have also been persecuted. In her column of 31 December 2017, senior journalist Tavleen Singh observed:
The prime minister has never once used his ‘Mann ki Baat’ to condemn the lynching of Muslims or the ludicrous ‘love jihad’ movement. He has shown disapproval of vigilante violence only twice. In both cases, the victims were Dalits. Not once has he indicated that hacking Muslims to death or burning them alive and posting videos of this on the Internet is something that revolts him.
Under certain political leaders, minority communities can be banished to the back rows of life. Nationalism is inclusive. But Indian nationalism under the present dispensation is much like the mono-political, mono-cultural, mono-theistic and mono-religious Abrahamic systems of ideas and practices – exclusivist.
Although the BJP does field a Muslim candidate once in a while, Muslims largely don’t seem to exist in its imagination. This thinking became clear when the BJP decided not to field a single Muslim candidate in the UP elections of 2017.
Rise of Majoritarianism
Under its present central leadership, the BJP is pursuing a ‘Gujarat model of politics’, which systematically eliminates Muslims from India's political life. In a recent article, Aakar Patel commented:
We have a ruling party that claims it stands for nationalism but is practising a kind of political apartheid. In states that the Bharatiya Janata Party is ruling, the number of its Muslim MLAs is: in Gujarat: zero, in Uttar Pradesh: zero, in Maharashtra: zero, in Madhya Pradesh: zero, in Chhattisgarh: zero, in Jharkhand: zero.
However, this type of hatred has a broader context. We are witnessing the rise of majoritarianism across South Asia today. In Myanmar, extremist Buddhists and the army are hunting the Rohingya Muslims.
In Bangladesh, the Islamists are burning the houses of minority Hindus, forcing them to flee. In Pakistan, the Islamists and the army are killing the minority Shias and Balochs, converting Hindu girls to Islam and persecuting Ahmadi Muslims.
According to the Muzaffarabad-based Urdu daily Roznama Siasat in its 3 February edition, a bill was introduced in the legislative Assembly of Pakistani Kashmir to declare Ahmadi Muslims as non-Muslims.
In India, the counter-nationalist majority, a specific section of it, is singling out Muslims.
Hope Beyond Communalism
Communal conflicts have been engineered to win votes in India – not by the BJP alone. All parties are guilty. Despite the looming threat of a far-right government in the future, there is hope: India is a vast country. You cannot communalise the entire majority for long.
As the BJP senses defeat, its leaders like Vinay Katiyar are out to provoke communalism. Societies function on the wheel of consensus. French sociologist Emile Durkheim argued that consensus in archaic societies originated from similarities – of language, culture, identity, tribe and so on – while consensus in modern societies draws on differences in language, food, dress, culture and beliefs and the like.
In India, you and I can believe in different religions, eat different food and wear different clothes, but the Indian consensus emanates in modern times from the Constitution of India whose rule alone must be upheld.
Those who are deriding the Constitution, like some belonging to the counter-nationalist camp, reside outside India's societal mainstream.
(Tufail Ahmad is a Senior Fellow for Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He tweets @tufailelif. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)