India’s secularity at stake under BJP: Faces a looming disaster

Muhammad Serajuddin in Karachi
With the ultra-nationalist Hindutva philosophy of RSS, Bhatariya Janata Party won the Lok Sabah elections in 2019 having PM Modi re-elected for another term.
However, the hate campaign and divisive policy of BJP led to dozens of incidents of attacks on minorities further increasing the process of alienation of religious minorities.
During last five years in government since 2014, the BJP had taken a number of extreme steps against minorities such as Christian, Sikhs Dalits and particularly Muslims in almost all spheres to make them feel they are part of a Hindu-dominant country. BJP govt also made Muslims to believe that irrespective of the equal political and constitutional rights like all other Indians, India is practically a Hindu state, governed by the values and norms of Hinduism rather than by democratic and secular values.
This diverse culture of India is unfortunately under severe threats by saffron terrorism which is being patronized under BJP government. The US State Department, in its annual 2018 International Religious Freedom Report, said, “Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumors that victims had traded or killed cows for beef.” Similarly Human Rights Watch in its annual report wrote that “Dalits, formerly “untouchables,” continued to be discriminated against in education and in jobs. There was increased violence against Dalits, in part as a reaction to their more organized and vocal demands for social progress and to narrow historical caste differences.”
Along with it, Indian Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in a recent interview termed these atrocities as the “biggest blot on Indian democracy” as he blamed the Modi-led BJP government of grossly mishandling the situation. Without the shadow of doubt, the situation is worst for minorities and lower casts in India. It is unfortunate that BJP is quite unlikely to put aside its ideology and work merely for good governance and economic development of India. Secular class in India is highly disappointed about the fate of secular India. Nobody is clear that what Hindu fanatics will do with other minorities in India and with its neighboring states.
India Faces a Looming Disaster
The Foreign Policy magazine in its July 27 issue published an analytical article jointly authored by Sumit Ganguly, Jai Shankar Prasad to point out that Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party ideology is sharply at odds with economic or social common sense.
At the core of Modi’s winning rhetoric lies an old promise of India’s greatness, presented anew. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the umbrella organization of which the BJP is a part, has since its inception in 1925 articulated a vision that promotes a homogenous Hindu nation—as opposed to the idea of a country based on universalistic, liberal, and democratic values.
Not unlike the Muslim League of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, the RSS believed strongly in a two-nation theory and supported the creation of Pakistan as a separate nation for Muslims and India for Hindus. At the center of this cognitive scheme sits the promise of a return to India’s past greatness: spiritual, material, and territorial (akhand bharat, or an “undivided India” that includes all lands from Iran to Myanmar and from Tibet to Sri Lanka). These tenets, the theory goes, would lead to India’s rightful prominence and prestige on the global stage.
According to the RSS, India is imagined as a primarily Hindu society with all non-Hindus—except Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists—seen as suspect foreigners.
Muslims, Christians, Parsis, and Jews are considered outsiders who can stay in India only if they are suitably and unrecognizably Hinduized and display appropriate deference to the majority. Special suspicion is reserved for Muslims, as they are the largest minority and the most prominently different from Hindus.
The question then is what this transition means for India’s citizens and what it holds for the country’s aspirations of becoming a great power.
Realist scholars believe that a great power can influence global events in more than a single region to its advantage even in the face of opposition from others. This worldview, which the RSS shares, emphasizes the significance of material power and highlights a state’s capacity to ward off both internal and external threats to its sovereignty. Simultaneously, a great power must be able to deploy other elements of state capacity—namely the ability to extract resources—and redistribute them to its citizens.
Worse still, India has seen a phenomenal rise in unemployment in the last decade, from around 2 percent in 2011-2012 to 6 percent in 2017-2018, the highest in more than four decades. Its capacity to generate formal employment, create access to quality primary education, or provide basic services such as health care, housing, or access to clean drinking water is decades behind several poorer and smaller nations, such as Sri Lanka or even Libya. The principal challenge that any government in India will confront is that of tackling these public policy shortfalls. If the last five years of BJP rule are any indication, the country has barely begun to make a dent in coping with these hurdles.
India’s military capabilities, though seemingly robust, remain riddled with problems.
India’s military capabilities, though seemingly robust, remain riddled with problems. Its defense acquisition process is all but broken, equipment is outdated, and even ammunition stocks are inadequate for a possible two-front war. Despite much fanfare, the Modi government made little or no headway in tackling these endemic issues. Even though India is a nuclear state with proven space launch capabilities, it falls dangerously short on its progress on both defense research and development and manufacturing. For example, the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft project, which was initiated in the early 1980s, remains in its infancy and is mostly reliant on foreign components. To add to that, military spending remains low at 2.4 percent of the GDP.
Even as the new BJP government remains sandbagged with these structural shortcomings, its ideology and policies are only likely to exacerbate these existing infirmities. Instead of harnessing its parliamentary majority to forthrightly tackle these persistent problems, it is more than likely—if one is to follow its last campaign manifesto—to devote its energies to socio-cultural questions in its quest to turn India into a homogeneous nation. For example, its emphasis on the use of Hindi, its obsession with Hinduism, and its vision of Hindustan (the land of the Hindus) are bound to create a rift among India’s non-Hindi literary traditions and speakers of these languages, who constitute about 58 percent of the population. More to the point, its Hindu nationalist agenda celebrates an archaic and deeply patriarchal conception of caste and gender that typecasts women in specific, family-oriented roles. (There are, obviously, striking exceptions: India’s finance minister is a woman who previously held the title of defense minister.)
At another level, the RSS’s idea of the nation and Hindu society leaves very little opportunity to finally address the fraught question of caste in Indian society. And as routine acts of violence and terror are visited on India’s vast Dalit, or lower caste, community, the government has proved to be a mute spectator to these atrocities.
Matters are considerably worse when it comes to the plight of India’s 200 million Muslims, representing nearly 15 percent of the country’s population. They are now facing regular attacks in virtually every sphere of their lives. Mob lynchings in the name of cow protection—cows are holy to Hindus, whereas Muslims eat beef—are now commonplace, and the victims rarely get any redress. Quite unsurprisingly, these attacks have all but completely alienated members of the Muslim electorate. While the BJP has garnered the votes of large swaths of the country, including in India’s more secular northeastern and southern states, and across a range of social segments, India’s Muslims have stayed away from its Hindu majoritarian politics. If this growing Hindu-Muslim rift widens, the possibility of social discord and indeed violence across the land may be inevitable.

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