Is India Sitting Atop a Volcano of Communal Violence? 

Given the fault lines, a volcanic eruption of violence looks inevitable, writes Sudheendra Kulkarni

Published29 Feb 2020, 03:34 PM IST
Opinion
7 min read

Is Indian society sitting on a volcano that could erupt someday in the near future, not in the same way, but in a way akin to what happened at the time of India’s partition in 1947?

It’s a scary thought. And no writer has the liberty to indulge in scare-mongering in addressing an issue that is highly sensitive to peace and cohesion in Indian society, India’s national unity and integrity, national security, and also our nation’s standing in the neighbourhood and the world.

But I am not scare-mongering.

Anti-Muslim Hate & Shattering of Communal Peace

Never since 1947 has India seen so much anti-Muslim hatred among Hindus, and such deep-rooted insecurity and fear among Muslims.

Indeed, there was far less anti-Muslim hatred among Hindus at the time of Partition because a vast majority of Hindus were supporters of the Congress-led independence movement, and Muslims who remained in India, felt secure under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Now, when the communal peace has been shattered in the national capital right under the nose of a complicit central government, when leaders and workers of the ruling party continue to mouth incendiary anti-Muslim slogans without any fear of being put behind bars, when not only the police but even the judiciary is dancing to the tune of the government, and when threats to peace are likely to get a lot worse in both intensity and geographical spread, it is our duty to ready all the political, social and intellectual resources necessary to prevent the coming catastrophe.

Knowing the degree of danger is the first step necessary to avert it.

Partition of Hearts & Minds on Hindu-Muslim Lines

No comparison between two historical episodes is ever perfect. If the scale of killings and consequences are the measure, there can be no parallel at all between the Partition-time riots, which accompanied India’s simultaneous independence and the creation of Pakistan, and the recent eruption of communal violence in parts of Delhi during the visit of the US President Donald Trump, which has claimed, at last count, 42 lives (as per official figures). There is no possibility whatsoever of another division of India taking place or mass-migration of populations across the borders. Yet, we are today witnessing one scary element of what happened in and around 1947.

Never since Partition has there been so much of partition of the hearts and minds of Indians on Hindu-Muslim lines as we are seeing now.

And when divisions take place in the mental and emotional space of communities residing in a single nation, they inevitably manifest in violent eruptions. An eruption here, an eruption there, and soon the flames of violence spreading to many parts of the country. This is a real, and scary, possibility. Let’s make no mistake about it.

India has witnessed many communal riots in the past. The Delhi riots will not, alas, be the last. But, for the first time after the 1984 anti-Sikh genocide in the national capital, and the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, many Indians are fearing the arrival of darker times.

BJP Today is the Muslim League of 1947

For the sake of being truthful, we must recognise one crucial difference between 1947 and 2020. The main trigger for Partition-time riots was the Muslim League’s demand for carving out a separate Muslim Nation. Unfortunately, this demand had gained the support of a large section of Muslim elites, and the Muslim intelligentsia even in north India that remained a part of post-Partition India. Now, the main cause and catalyst for communal violence is the agenda of ‘Hindu Nation’ (Hindu Rashtra) espoused by the present rulers in New Delhi. Unfortunately and ominously, this agenda is gaining the support of a large section of Hindu elites and the Hindu intelligentsia.

The Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has, in the aggressive advocacy of its communal agenda, become the Hindu equivalent of the Muslim League.

What the BJP and its government at the Centre is telling Indian Muslims is eerily similar to what the rulers of Pakistan conveyed to the hugely reduced population of Hindus and other minorities in their newly founded nation — ‘You do not fully belong to our Muslim Nation. We can tolerate you, but only if you accept our Idea of Pakistan and its Muslim majoritarian polity.’ Out of a sense of insecurity and despondency, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians in Pakistan accepted their rulers’ policy of religion-based discrimination.

Message to Indian Muslims: ‘Our New India is a Hindu India’

This, in essence, is also the subtle and not-so-subtle message of the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar to Indian Muslims — ‘India is a Hindu Rashtra. Our New India is a Hindu India. We do not accept that India is a secular rashtra, as has been affirmed in the Indian Constitution because we did not frame that Constitution. You do not fully belong to the India of our conception, because you profess a faith of foreign origin. We can tolerate you, but only if you accept our Idea of India as a Hindu Rashtra and its Hindu majoritarian polity. We shall not tolerate you, nor protect you, if you do not accept this basis of New India, because you then become anti-national in our eyes.’

Is this much not clear to any unbiased person who examines the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) introduced by the Modi government, and its two administrative derivatives — the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR)?

Is it not evident that the law and its intended follow-up tasks violate the Constitution’s preambular principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of religion, and hence seek to alter the inviolable Basic Structure of the Constitution? If anyone thinks otherwise, it only means they are looking at CAA, NRC and NPR not from the point of the Constitution adopted in 1950, but from the perspective of a new Constitution for a ‘New India’ that the saffron parivar will introduce at an opportune time in the future.

Roots of Muslim Outrage

Considering all this, it is hardly surprising that Muslims in India, and also the community of secular-minded non-Muslims, have stoutly opposed CAA, NRC and NPR in their current discriminatory formulation. But this alone has not caused insecurity, fear and anger among Muslims. There are other reasons, too. If independent India has seen the largest ever mobilisation of Muslims in protest actions in all parts of India, it is not because most of them are aware of the Constitutional and legal niceties of CAA, NRC and NPR. It is because of the systematic and continuous propaganda, since 2014, by the leaders, workers and supporters of the BJP and the wider Sangh Parivar to denigrate Muslims and their religion.

It is because of many barbaric but localised acts of violence (mob lynchings of innocent Muslims), in which the culprits went unpunished. It is because of the communally polarising election campaigns that the BJP has conducted both in parliamentary and assembly elections, in which the party has conveyed a consistent message to Muslims — “We don’t need your support. You do not matter to us, nor do you exist for us, politically, because our Hindu votebank is adequate to get us elected.”

What Has Caused the Greatest Sense of Insecurity Among Indian Muslims?

In recent months, what has caused the greatest sense of insecurity, and rapidly growing anger, among Indian Muslims is the unambiguously violent threats and humiliating jibes coming from persons in power in the ruling establishment with the tacit of Prime Minister Modi. When a minister in the Modi government (Giriraj Singh) says that “India is paying the price for its failure to send Muslims to Pakistan and bring Hindus to India at the time of partition”, the PM takes no action against him. When another minister (Anurag Thakur) mouths the most communally offensive slogan popularised by the BJP in recent months — “Desh ke gaddaaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko” (Shoot the traitors), the PM takes no action against him. When Kapil Mishra incites anti-Muslim violence in the presence of police officers in Delhi, he goes scot-free.

In many places, the Hindu mobs that attacked Muslims in Delhi last week said to them: “You have only two places to go to —Pakistan or kabristan.” Previously, while affirming the government’s resolve to introduce a pan-India NRC, Home Minister Amit Shah threatened to eliminate ‘termites’. This being the case, how can, and why should, Indian Muslims have faith in Modi’s promise of wanting to win ‘Sabka Vishwas’ (trust of all)?

‘Muslims Have Overpaid the Price of Patriotism in Blood’

If the PM has even an iota of commitment to his own promise of ‘Sabka Vishwas’, he should read a profoundly thoughtful article that Najeeb Jung, a distinguished civil servant and former lieutenant governor of Delhi, has written in The Indian Express (27 February 2020). “For the present, let it be said, that if the price of proving their nationalism and patriotism is blood, then the minorities of India have overpaid… Minorities in India are slowly coming to believe that there is a campaign to make them second-class citizens. Whether this perception is true or not is not the question. Such a thought is dangerous in itself and must be dispelled.”

That the rage among Indian Muslims is rising is there for all to see. Attempts are already afoot to channel this wrath towards a violent anti-Hindu and anti-India agenda by pan-Islamist forces.

Similarly, Hindutva forces are also further stepping up their attempts to instill anti-Muslim hatred among Hindus (also, hatred towards secular Hindus), secure in their belief that the ruling establishment (government, police, judiciary, media) will protect them. Unlike the agenda of Islamists, the Hindutva agenda may not appear anti-India on surface. Nevertheless, it is no less anti-India in its consequences.

A volcanic eruption of violence in the near future therefore looks inevitable. Unless all patriotic Hindus, Muslims and others, guided by the larger ideals of humanism, effectively counter hatred with love, and communal polarisation with national unity. Unless all democracy-loving Indians sink their differences to collectively punish a government that disrespects the Constitution.

(The writer, who served as an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is founder of the ‘Forum for a New South Asia – Powered by India-Pakistan-China Cooperation’. He tweets @SudheenKulkarni and welcomes comment at sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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