In the Shadow of a War

By  Yogesh Parale

The tale of ‘India in Making’ is generally elaborated with the help of three conventional ideological frameworks viz. Liberal, Marxist and Gandhian. Drawing on the legacy of colonialism and India’s association with it; these frameworks have in their own way explained the ‘Idea of India’. Yet, the tale still seems incomplete. These conventional approaches still leave many critical questions unanswered. These questions relate to the very existence of India as a modern nation-state. Thus, one has to take a detour in order to further explore challenges in India’s journey and also possibly, to find remedies.

It is at this juncture; we have to recognize the fact that Modern India’s story cannot be satisfactorily explained by ignoring two other important ideological frameworks viz. Islamism and Hindutva. Understanding Indian history or politics with the help of this approach has been criticized as a convenient recourse to Hindu-Muslim binary. However, one should not forget that it is exactly the direction we are once again heading towards, after 75 years of India’s independence. Academic non-recognition of these two dominant factors eventually would only mean extending an invitation to a larger crisis.

The modern political ideology of Hindutva essentially found its genesis in the challenge created by Islamism to the very credentials of Indian nationhood. Hindutva emerged as a well-articulated response. It catered to the call for political consolidation of Hindus in order to fight against a number of challenges. These included a notion like Islamism which strongly advocated the idea of a nation based on one religion. It also viewed social constructs like the caste system as serious impediments in order to consolidate Hindus. Seminal works of intellectuals like V.D. Savarkar developed Hindutva from a reaction to a solid ideological framework including socio-cultural and political stands.

How does Hindutva look at Islamism? It views Islamism as the biggest threat to the idea of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Radical elements within Hindutva establishment view Muslim population in India as an unfinished business of partition. It continues to depict the threat posed by change in demography due to rising Muslim population. Hindutva builds its narrative on a proposition that Hindus are threatened by radical Islam even after partition. It holds a view that this existing threat would become even more serious with a steady increase in Muslim population in next few decades.

Hindutva’s criticism of Islamism seems to be rooted in four basic themes. These themes still persist and do influence India as a nation-state, as viewed by modern Hindutvavadis. These are Pan-Islamism, Political appeasement, Religious Fanaticism and Vanity.  These themes collectively formed the threat as understood by the political Hindutva. Unfortunately, the politics in post-independent India still shows substantial reminiscence pertaining to these themes. Such circumstances raise serious national security concerns. On the other side, these themes have also been well exploited by Hindutva in order to secure political power.

India was one of the many countries which witnessed Muslim youth forsaking their own country in order to fight for a religious cause; in this case, Caliphate. An ideology like Hindutva views such developments as a sign of the section within Indian Muslims being more than receptive to the appeal of Pan-Islamism. At the same time, countless examples of initiatives planned by various political parties, decisions taken by elected governments, public stands reflected by politicians have been criticized by Hindutvavadis as shameless attempts of Muslim appeasement which continue till date. Over the years, Hindutva has successfully capitalized on issues which could be associated with Islam in one or the other way. Nevertheless, the political zeal of Hindutva has undoubtedly gained consistent momentum especially in the last three decades.

This new momentum is marked by the fierce attempt by Hindutvavadis to question and change socio-political, cultural, historical narratives which are believed to be vital to the national ethos. The battleground has already transcended academics and is now being fought electorally and on streets as well. Questioning India’s freedom itself, viciously rejecting the legacy represented by Indian National Movement, changing names of cities, pressurizing literary or creative circles could be a few examples worth considering in this regard. Proponents of Hindutva believe that the task which lies ahead is two folded. One has to continuously work towards dismantling an ecosystem which favours Muslims unjustly. At the same time, an ecosystem which is intrinsically Hindu-centric needs to be built which would ensure India remains a de-facto Hindu Rashtra.

The threat of Islamist terrorism is real. There is no doubt about it. Thus, we must also understand the way recent political developments have been viewed and exploited by terrorist organizations. Few government initiatives particularly in the last decade have been well utilized by a terrorist organization like ISIS to foster the main objective even further – polarization on religious lines. Such organizations have successfully propagated a notion that political Hindutva is the biggest obstacle in the project of Islamization and threat to the very existence of Muslims in India.

The propagandist material like ‘Voice of Hind’ published by ISIS has repeatedly exhorted Indian Muslims to rise in arms against Hindus. Recent acts like CAA, NRC have especially been viewed as a systematic attempt to ‘strip Muslims from their last shred of dignity’.

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Source: Center for strategic and international studies (CSIS)

‘Here, an illiterate tea-seller, a coarse piece of filth, aided and abetted by his murderous thugs, has passed law after law, act after act, bill after bill, ordinance upon ordinance, until he is now teaching you that you do not belong to this land.’ – Voice of Hind Issue 1.

While ISIS a terrorist organization has been defeated; the narrative which propels radicalization on religious lines would never cease to exist. Number publications like Voice of Hind continue to penetrate the farthest corner of this country through vast virtual gateways which are mostly unmonitored. The digital copies of such publications are now extremely convenient to share. Thus, it further increases the potential success of the intended result regarding this communication.

As warned by a number of experts in this regard, radicalization on religious lines would continue to increase unless we come up with effective measures to counter radicalization. These measures need to be backed by a strong legal framework. We need to differentiate act of terrorism from other law and order related problems for this act has larger and serious socio-political repercussions, as per these warnings go. A solid legal framework which focuses on action-specific approach, an effective cooperation between centre and states, empowering local police units, articulating policies which would enhance inter-religious faith, updating the arms and ammunition cache are some of the suggestions in this regard.

Unfortunately, religious radicalization and political strife emerging out of it would be continued despite all such efforts. The challenge lies ahead is much larger than its security dimensions. It does influence the very nature of India. It would continue to grow due to the simple fact that Hindutva and Islamism are two formidable ideologies which cannot have a mutual coexistence. This struggle is predestined and cannot be negotiated.

Land of India and the minds of the Indian population have already been marked as battlegrounds by these two dominant ideological forces. Thus, this battle would continue to cast its shadow over culture, history, language, politics and all other disciplines which essentially influence the society in some or the other way. Establishing an uncontested control over the discourse which would set the narratives roll in is an intricate and time-consuming process. One cannot assure complete success in such an endeavour. But such a battle which is being fought at every possible level is likely to witness a catastrophic event which would be equalled by nothing less than the partition of India in all its impact and severity.

There is a popular disbelief that electoral defeat would confine radical elements within Hindutva or Islamism. Proponents of such theories should not forget that even partition could not prevent the spread of Islamism as an influential ideology in India. It still thrives as has been observed for a number of times right from opposition to state’s intervention in holy Sharia to waging a war against the state itself in order to bring Caliphate. Theses like Islamism or Hindutva are less likely to be restricted or controlled by prospects of electoral defeats. Their growth or influence may depend on electoral response; but even a series of electoral defeats wouldn’t threaten their very conceptual foundation.

In fact, on the contrary, the next generation of Hindutva is likely to be even more aggressive. It does have its own justification. States like Kerala or West Bengal have already created unfavourable circumstances for further electoral expansion of BJP. While it may disturb BJP as a political party; Hindutvavadis look at such situation with a more holistic perspective.

Circumstances in above mentioned states are viewed conducive to the spread of Islamism. Furthermore, such circumstances are likely to be irreversible which thereby restrict the extent of Hindutva as a political ideology.  Such a scenario creates pressure on the establishment representing Hindutva to invest more in regions where it still successfully dominates political as well socio-cultural space. This imminent threat of losing more political territory as well as socio-cultural space would eventually force Hindutva to become less liberal and more assertive in the next few decades.

What does the future look like? Frankly, we don’t know. We don’t know what India would look like after 150 years of its independence. Would Islamism turn out to be the most grievous challenge to India’s socio-cultural dynamics? Would radicalization in one significant religion ignite the flame of radicalization in another dominant religion on a large scale? Such an attempt; if made deliberately, would it be successful? Would Hindutva as an ideology be confined in the defined constitutional framework; or would it soon view the constitution itself as a critical impediment in order to fight the greatest perceived threat to India’s national security? We don’t know.

What we witness today is a part of an ideological fortification process. Two conventional foes are preparing themselves for an eventual battle. The current tension would soon turn more intense once this fortification reaches a satisfactory level. The digital media has helped both these camps to stoke their narratives further viciously.

What is the best we can hope for? This conflict of ideas is imminent. India cannot escape from it. Its vast influence would soon eclipse a number of other equally important issues and challenges. This phase may witness resurgence of confrontational methods in support of a predefined political cause. This phase is also likely to invite pre-orchestrated violent responses reflecting stern opposition to an attempt of changing socio-political status-quo. So, the future is certainly opaque. One can’t possibly see through it.

Under such circumstances, building a strong public consensus is something we can hope for. We have been fighting a number of battles without securing consent of those on whose behalf we proclaim we are fighting for. It’s time we actually make some progress with this objective. Securing a consensus which truly appeals public conscience and rejects extremism of any kind could perhaps be the best way forward.

(The writer is teaching faculty at Fergusson College, Pune. Views expressed are personal)

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