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Communalism and India

Paper No. 5871                                Dated 14-Feb-2015

By Kazi Anwarul Masud

Here is a thoughtful essay on Indian communalism and the fears of many well meaning people like the author. To me the issue is not that serious and I am sure the composite culture of India will survive now and in future too as it had survived for centuries in this country. Director:)

Noted Indian historian Bipin Chandra defined communalism as "the belief that because a group of people follow a particular religion, they have, as a result, common social, political and economic interests."

Dilip Simeon, an Indian Labor historian and public intellectual expanded Bipin Chandra’s definition by adding "When communalism achieves state-power, the distinction between community and nation seems to vanish, and the task of critical comprehension becomes even more difficult. The problems do not end here. Communal ideologues possess the gift of speaking with several tongues in a reasonably straight face since self-righteous innocence was (and still is) the emotional ground of every type of communalism, each saw itself as a mere ‘reaction’ to the ‘communalism’ of the other, and the air was often thick with ringing denunciations of communalism by communalists".

Initially when Narendra Modi and BJP won the last general elections in India many among the secularists and Indian intelligentsia had apprehended that perhaps the philosophy of Balgangadhar Tilak’s of uniting all sects to create a "mighty Hindu Nation" would come to pass. This fear was further strengthened by BJP’s victory in Maharashtra and Haryana and winning second position in Jammu & Kashmir. But the resounding victory of Aam Admi Party in Delhi where APP captured 67 seats out of 70 in the Delhi Assembly and reduced BJP to only 3 seats has given hope that India of Lokomanya Tilak’s period and India, an emerging great power in the 21st century, has to be different because the Muslim population constitutes more than 160 million and the Christians, Buddhists and people following other faiths are no less Indians than the Hindus.

It is difficult to imagine an India playing a central role in South Asia, a member of BRICS and other regional organizations, a permanent member of the UN Security Council( recently endorsed by President Obama) while supporting Shiv Sena’s demand for a Hindu Rashtra and Lokmanya’s vicious opposition to the Age of Consent Bill outlawing marriages for girls less than twelve years of age; his refusal to acknowledge an appeal addressed to him by Bombay’s Untouchables for support their temple-entry programme; and opposition to Vithalbhai Patel’s Bill for validating inter-caste marriages on the ground that it was anti-Hindu and especially anti-Brahmin.

Ananya Bajpai write up on Narendra Modi’s victory in the Indian elections in the context of Hindu revivalism beginning in the nineteenth century, when India’s encounter with colonialism produced periods of internal reflection, revision, criticism, and revival among Indian intellectuals and religious leaders, new schools and strands of "reform Hinduism" have led to important changes in traditional beliefs and practices provides an interesting insight.. Chief among these revisionist figures was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who pushed for Indian independence from the United Kingdom and who, during the 1920s, developed the concept of Hindutva. In order to possess Hindutva, Savarkar claimed, a person must think of India as both his "fatherland" and his "holy land." He must be attached to India not simply through the fact of his birth there but through a love for "Hindu civilization," which Savarkar defined as representing "a common history, common heroes, a common literature, common art, a common law and a common jurisprudence, common fairs and festivals, rites and rituals, ceremonies and sacraments."..

Savarkar’s dream of a Hindu Rashtra was kept alive over the decades by groups such as the RSS and, later, by the BJP, which transformed Savarkar’s extreme vision of Hindu supremacy with a more palatable pro-business, technocratic approach to politics, all the while stoking Hindu nationalist sentiment by exploiting tensions between Hindus and Muslims. Narendra Modi has perfected this synthesis skilfully making some Indian liberals willing to believe that despite his decades of involvement in Hindu nationalist causes, Modi embraced Hindutva mostly as an electoral strategy and the "real" Modi is not a divisive ideologue but a pragmatic, growth-oriented manager( Foreign Affairs- The Triumph of the Hindu Right/SEPT-OCT ISSUE).

Yet the fear of a divided India along religious lines persists, the fear strengthened by recent conversion of Muslims into Hinduism popularly known as ghar wapsi ( return to the fold) held at Agra. While conversion/reconversion is not illegal conversion in exchange of material benefits is believed to be against the law.

President Barak Obama, the only US President to have visited India twice, in his most recent speech on 27th January in the Siri Fort speech in Delhi said that every person has the right to practice his faith without any persecution, fear or discrimination. India will succeed so long it is not splintered on religious lines," Obama told the audience comprising mainly young people. Obama cited the Indian Constitution dealing with Freedom of religion that guarantees that all people are equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and have right to freely profess and practice and propagate religion. Obama told his audience of the intolerance, violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to be standing for upholding their faith and warned that all have to guard against any efforts to divide people on sectarian lines or any other thing.

Back in the US speaking at the White House National Prayer Breakfast, Obama spoke of his visit to India - an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity - but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other people of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs - acts of intolerance that would have shocked Mahatma Gandhi.

President Obama’s reiteration of the theme of conversion in India and attack on Christians has been seen by some Indian commentators as an indictment on the religious agenda of Narendra Modi. One may wish to recall the editorial of the New York Times that the Gujarat model has a less attractive side to it: a requirement that the state’s curriculum include several textbooks written by Dinanath Batra, a scholar dedicated to recasting India’s history through the prism of the Hindu rightwing. Batra’s teachings instruct students to draw maps of "Akhand Bharat," a greater India, presumably restored to its rightful boundaries, that include Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Batra also believes that aircraft, automobiles and nuclear weapons existed in ancient India, and he wants children to learn these so-called facts. In 1999, the national government, then led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, put Batra in charge of rewriting history textbooks to reflect these and other views of the Hindu right.

Now it appears that the party intends to pick up where it left off when it was voted out of power in 2004. The education of youth is too important to the country’s future to allow it to be hijacked by ideology that trumps historical facts, arbitrarily decides which cultural practices are Indian, and creates dangerous notions of India’s place alongside its neighbors.

It is amazing when one reads Amatya Sen’s An Assessment of The Millennium where he speaks about the influence of Islam on Indian culture. Sen says "that unlike the British rule in India where the rulers remained separate from the ruled, Muslim rules in India were combined with the presence of a large proportion of Muslims in the population itself. A great many people in the land embraced Islam, so much so that three of the four largest Muslim national populations in the contemporary world are situated in this subcontinent: in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Islam was by then a native Indian religion.

It is also worth noting that though Islam remained a separate religion from Hinduism, the roles of the different communities in the cultural life of the country were largely integrated. ..While references to raids from Ghazni and other isolated elements of divisive history remains tactically potent and even flammable in the contemporary politics of India, the nature of the present-day Indian civilization cannot be understood without seeing it as a joint product of many influences of which the Islamic component is very strong.".

If India is to get the global prominence that requires a constellation of big productive population, military and economic might then it has to jettison the introverted and sectarian idea of the dominance by the majority.

John Stuart Mill 19th century British philosopher, political economist and an influential contributor to social and political theory and political economy noted that cultural constraints on individuals could have a stronger impact on them than the pursuit of personal financial gain. Max Weber, the German social scientist argued that the Protestant work ethic, supported by Reformation teachings that the pursuit of wealth was a duty, inculcated the virtues needed for maximum economic productivity. For this reason, Protestants were more productive than Catholics throughout Europe- Germany and Great Britain, for instance, compared to Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy in his day (The Role of Culture in Economic Development-June 2009). Level of development is determined by how efficiently and intensely the inputs are utilized in production.

Is efficiency particular to any ethnic or religious group? Amy Chua in her highly acclaimed book The World on Fire cites the example of ethnic Chinese in the Philippines, accounting for less than two percent of the population, control 60% of the nation's private economy, including the country's four major airlines and almost all the country's banks, hotels and shopping malls. But it is not just in the Philippines that Chinese ethnic minorities have made their mark. They have come to dominate business in other parts of Southeast Asia as well-especially Indonesia, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia.

Gregory Clark’s book Farewell to Alms, explores the inequality of culture. It was no accident, he argues, that the Industrial Revolution occurred in Great Britain and not some other nation. It was not propelled by the invention of a few power-driven machines but was gradual taking place over the course of several hundred years prior to the 19th century. In his way of thinking, the Industrial Revolution would have never occurred had it not been for the changes in values that were happening for centuries before. Value changes occurred in losing taste for violence, a society with high population growth among the well-to-do, one in which people had to work hard and long to gain a competitive advantage over their peers, a society that was increasingly literate and patient. Thrift, hard work, tenacity, honesty and tolerance are the cultural factors that make all the difference. and have decisive say on what economies will succeed and which will fail.

In case of India she would be well advised to be imbued with the values that makes a country great and a leader in the multipolar world. Narendra Modi’s expressed intention to further relations with India’s neighbours and implement various projects for regional cooperation would stand his country in good stead.

One hopes that India under Modi’s leadership would not be divisive but follow policies befitting a permanent member of the UNSC and prove World Bank and IMF projections correct that India will become the world’s fastest-growing major economy in the next several years.