The Hatred Communalism Breeds: ‘Religion Must Be Relegated To The Private Sphere’

Posted on July 14, 2015 in Politics, Society

By Abdul Muheet Chowdhary:

Thus far this series has examined what communalism is, what will be the implications of its unchecked growth and what policy solutions can be taken by the Government to neutralise it. This final and concluding part of the series will lay out strategies for political action for countering communalism. This consists of three main activities:

i) Dismantling the communal ideology and pointing out its fallacies
ii) Promoting real secularism
iii) Class-based mobilisation

These can be adopted by anyone – individuals, social organisations and of course political parties. However it is vital to first examine the current state of affairs and see where things are going wrong.


Existing political discourses regarding ‘secularism
The behaviour of the ‘secular’ parties whenever a communal incident takes place is routine and predictable: cry hoarse about the communal character of the aggressor, polarise communities and ensure that the situation burns for as long as possible so maximum political mileage can be gained from it. The strategy is clear: minorities ko dara ke rakho, daba ke rakho (keep the minorities terrified and oppressed). The grandmaster of this strategy is the Congress which has perfected it through decades of practice. Other ‘secular’ parties have also learned from the master with the result that this is now more or less the norm. Hasan Suroor has excellently documented this phenomenon in his book ‘India’s Muslim Spring’.

This strategy has over time resulted in secular meaning ‘pro-minority’. The Hindutva, right through its mobilisation has expanded this to mean ‘pro-minority and anti-majority’. Thus secularism today has overwhelmingly come to be understood as pro-Muslim/Christian and anti-Hindu.

The consequences of this are serious. ‘Secular’ parties will begin to see that their Hindu voters are deserting them for parties such as the BJP, Shiv Sena or AGP which they believe stand for ‘Hindu interests’. As numbers are everything in politics, the ‘secular’ parties will drop the sham and politics will be reduced to competitive Hindu communalism with each trying to outdo the other as the defender of ‘Hindu interests’. This is already happening in many parts of the country with Gujarat being the finest example where the Congress is headed by Shankarsinh Vaghela, a former RSS man. Truly secular people will then find themselves without a political voice and for the minorities the appeal of parties such as the MIM will increase. This is clearly an undesirable and unsustainable state of affairs and course-correction must be undertaken immediately.

Dismantling the communal ideology
An all-out political onslaught on the communal ideology has happened only once in the history of modern India – during the 1952 general elections when Jawaharlal Nehru made it a major point of his campaign. ‘Rozi roti ka sawaal hai’ (the question is of livelihood) was his rallying cry which succinctly captured the essence of the problem – that the real issues of people were of livelihood and not of their religion. He relentlessly pointed out that communal mobilisation was only a ploy by the rich to divide the poor and served no fruitful purpose.

This sort of public campaigning against communalism is absolutely crucial in India today. There is no longer time for complacency or subterfuge. The country faces a very real risk of descending into permanent civil war as discussed previously. Progressive forces of all shapes and sizes must launch an all-out attack on the communal ideology and show it for what it really is – a fallacious and pathetic discourse that only barters hate and resentment to its followers and obscures them from their real issues. It must be pointed out repeatedly, in a simple manner and on all possible platforms, especially social media, that Hindutva has nothing to offer to Hindus except for resentment, that the communal assumption that Hindu and Muslim/Christian interests are opposed, is utterly false, and communalism actually benefits the rich and powerful who use it to divide the poor against each other.

It must be shown how endless drum-beating of Hindu victimhood over the activities of Aurangzeb, Mahmud of Ghazni, Nadir Shah etc brings absolutely no benefit to modern day Hindus and only serves to alienate them from their fellow countrymen. Hindutva ‘nationalism’ must be exposed for its anti-national character which goes against the tolerant, syncretic and pluralistic ethos of India and actually works to break up national unity. It must also be shown that far from having separate and opposing interests, both Hindus and Muslims/Christians ultimately want dignified livelihoods, a clean and safe environment to live in, best possible opportunities for their children and the freedom to live life as they see it. The issues that unite are infinitely more numerous and more powerful than the (non) issues that divide.

Promoting real secularism
Progressive forces must educate the public that ‘secularism’ is a belief in two principles:

i) Complete separation of religion from public affairs
ii) Live and let live.

It is high time that there was complete separation of religion from the State, and progressive forces should actively campaign for this. There should be a complete stop to public funding of religion in any manner, whether it be building temples, providing Haj subsidies or managing temple authorities such as Padmanabhaswamy. There should also be a complete removal of religious symbolism from the public sphere. Today, it is a common sight to see posters of gods and goddesses in government offices as well as public property such as buses. This violates the principle of separation of religion from public affairs and therefore all such symbols should be removed. The State must be divested of any religious character whatsoever. This is all the more important in these times when the idea of India as a ‘Hindu country’ is dominant and there is an increasing perception of non-Hindus, including even dalits and tribals, as second class citizens who are living on the mercy of their benevolent masters.

The principle of live and let live, which is essentially tolerance, should also be vigorously promoted. Difference should not be seen as a threat and diversity should be celebrated. To be secular should mean to be one who celebrates the different religions, cultures, customs and traditions of India and sees it as the different strands that make up the multi-coloured mosaic of the Indian nation.

Class based mobilisation
The third and most important strategy in the battle against communalism consists of:

i) Shifting the focus from communal to class issues
ii) Creating class identities

It must be shown that the issues which the communalists raise such as temple construction, cow protection, religious conversions, etc are not the primary concerns of the vast majority of Indians. The vast majority of Indians are mainly concerned with getting good jobs, good education, affordable and comfortable housing, access to finance for their business activities, etc. These are all class issues and must be given the dominance they deserve.

It must also be repeatedly stated that poor Hindus and Muslims have much more in common with each other than with their middle class or rich co-religionists. Mukesh Ambani and Azim Premji have much more in common with each other than with say Hindu and Muslim marginal farmers and vice versa. This fact must be driven in and class identities must be created such that mobilisation can take place on class lines and on class issues. Religion must be firmly relegated to the private sphere as a matter of personal belief. When used as a force for social mobilisation it must be pointed out for what it is – a diversionary ploy and nothing more.

The path to paradise lies through perdition and there must be no illusions that the struggle for social peace will be a long and hard one. The malaise has taken deep roots and changing this will not be easy. However it must be done for the alternatives are too grave to be borne. One thing must be kept in mind at all times during this journey – the focus must always be on what is being fought for, not what is being what fought against. For as Nietzsche says,

“He who fights monsters must take care that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into the Abyss, the Abyss also gazes into you.”

This is the final and concluding part of a four part series that explores the issue of communalism and communal violence in India. Part I explains the phenomenon of communalism and why it occurs. Part II examines the likely implications, if this phenomena is left unchecked. Part III and IV discuss solutions.