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How Communalism Has Grown To Become A National Crisis In India

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By Anwarul Hoda:

“But don’t forget, so had Hitler’s Nazis and the fascists under Mussolini …it (the RSS) is a communal body with a totalitarian outlook.”
Sardar Patel

After the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in India, communalism along with nationalism suddenly came to be among the most debated issues which are being discussed from the dhabas to the five-star newsrooms of media channels.

These two subjects complement each other. The narrow notion of nationalism, which the Bharatiya Janta Party and its parent organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is propagating on the streets is creating a wave of communal feeling among the religious majority group as well as minorities. Nationalism serves as the ground for the operative ideology of communalism to advance a theory of the nation which is based on a common political consciousness of the majority community. RSS with its different political and social organisations is successfully clubbing Hinduism with nationalism by their political theory of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.

In post-colonial India, there is a long list of communal riots. But what is common in all such incidences is the state‘s ‘invisible hand’. The state’s role has been alleged in all riots from the 1984 anti-Sikh riot to the recent Muzaffarnagar riot, and also the 2002 Gujarat riots. The most surprising part in all these instances of communal violence is that they begin for reasons that are not religious. The common reasons which trigger communal violence are mostly land disputes, eve teasing, fights among individuals or, more commonly these days, mixed marriages which later turn into a matter of religious conflict often after the intervention of political figures sometimes even associated with ‘secular’ parties.

A famous line by an English songwriter John Lennon offers a good explanation. He once said, “When it gets down to having to use violence, then you’re playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you – pull your beard, flick your face – to make you fight. Because once they have got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humour.”

Communalism also results from a breakdown of common consciousness based on the idea of plurality and of social integration. ‘Fear of the other’ is something which acts as a catalyst in the process of communal riots. And this often done by advertising a sense of insecurity among the communities. And once ‘the fear of other’ is injected among them, it becomes almost impossible to get rid of it. C.G. Shah, in his book ‘Marxism, Gandhism, Stalinism’, says, “Under the pressure of communal propaganda, the masses are unable to locate the real causes of their exploitation, oppression, and suffering and imagine a fictitious communal source of their origin.”

Tracing The Foot-Marks

To take our understanding further we need to go way back to the Gandhi-Nehru era when efforts were made to create a secular state in a religious society. Sumanta Banerjee, in his latest article for Economic & Political Weekly, highlights how eminent leaders of the freedom movement failed in countering the communal seeds sown during their struggle for independence. In this same piece, he also questions the ‘good terms’ of leaders like M.K. Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayprakash Narayan with the RSS in different periods of Indian history. According to him, whether it be the Congress or the Left or the Socialist Party, all had relationships with the RSS for various reasons, and it was only because of such support that RSS, in the post-Independence period, gained legitimacy.

Once Nehru declared his dream of India by stating, “The one thing that should be obvious to all of us is that there is no group in India, no party, no religious community, which can prosper if India does not prosper. If India goes down, we go down, all of us… But if it is well with India, if India lives as a vital, free country, then it is well with all of us, to whatever community or religion, we belong.” But soon after his death, his successors failed in controlling the root of communalism and in fact they, in a way, gave them freedom to spread their influence across the country.

The Babri Demolition

With the Independence of India, communal forces were restricted to an extent. But the event that took place on December 7, 1992, propelled Indian democracy into a radical phase. Babri masjid’s demolition is one of the most unfortunate incidents that happened in post-colonial India which revived a situation like that in 1937-47 which is considered as a stage of extreme communalism in colonial India according to Bipan Chandra, when the communal organisations like the Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS were at the height of their operations.

The Babri demolition became the reason behind major communal riots all over India during the year 1992-93 in which more than 2000 lives were lost and mostly Muslims were oppressed from Mumbai to Meerut. Noted activist Aruna Roy termed the Babri demolition as an assault on reason and rationality of the Constitution. The differences and hatred among the Hindu and Muslim communities continue to grow as an aftereffect of the demolition. And since then identity politics of the BJP got established in the political arena of India.

“I shall wish for an India, in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country in whose making they have an effective voice; an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people; [and above all] an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony.” This is the Gandhian idea of Independent India based on social equality and on communal harmony which is now facing some serious setbacks.

BJP’s totalitarian outlook upholds the RSS agenda of ending diversity and establishing a state with a monolithic culture. Since Modi succeeded Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, RSS through the BJP is trying to push forward its political Hindutva ideology through different educational and cultural institutions. Appointment of RSS sympathisers to prestigious institutions like the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and at various other reputed chairs reveals so much.

The BJP came to power with the promise of development and of removing the existing corruption. But in two years, Indian politics has largely revolved around the issues like ‘love-jihad’, ‘Ghar Wapsi’, ‘Gau Mata’ and the most recent, ‘Bharat Mata’. These issues appear to be tactical tools for the divisive identity politics of the BJP. However, it doesn’t mean that India suddenly transformed after BJP was sworn into the power. The point here is the degree of communal feeling seems to have increased. The cold-blooded murder of Govind Pansare and Professor M.M. Kalburgi, the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq have shocked the entire civil society. Slogans like ‘Muslim Mukt Bharat‘ are highly communalising and politicisation of the Kairana migration are results of the same.

In the 21st century, when the world is reaching new heights of development and prosperity, organisations like RSS still believes in regressive ideas like ‘Akhand Bharat’ and ‘Hindu Rashtra’. The worsening communal atmosphere in the country is curbing the space for reason and rationality. Sumanta Banerjee in the same article argues for “break[ing] the umbilical cord with the political tradition of appeasing Hindu majoritarianism, and social toleration of obscurantist divisive religious beliefs and customs”. The time has come to challenge the Parivar and its government in the socio-religious sphere where they violate, every now and then, that provision of the Fundamental Duties given in the Indian Constitution (Part IV – A) which requires every citizen to “develop a scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”.

It needs to be understood that the future of India lies in secularism and any war against linguistic plurality, cultural or religious diversity will only break India. One is well aware of how India changes every 10 kilometres. The identity of India rests in its plurality and diversity which must be preserved.

Featured image credit: Deepak Malik/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.

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