India in peril: anti-minority campaign can undo economic gains (Comment)

October 4th, 2008 - 11:38 am ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyIndia’s secularism has rarely been under a greater threat. The reasons, however, are mixed and complex.One is that the continuing acts of terrorism by the Pakistan-based jehadis and also by their Indian recruits have strengthened the hands of the anti-Muslim political parties and outfits like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal.

They all function under the aegis of the Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which dreams of establishing a theocratic Hindu rashtra (nation) in India.

Their propaganda is now shriller than ever before with criticism of the Manmohan Singh government for being soft on terror because, in their view, the ruling Congress at the centre regards Muslims as its vote bank.

But the Muslims are not the only objects of the saffron brotherhood’s wrath. By a curious coincidence, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal have lately intensified their attacks on Christians as well, the other important minority group in India.

As a result, churches are being burnt in states like Orissa and Karnataka where the BJP’s position as a ruling party ensures that the police are not overactive in their pursuit of the Hindutva cadres engaged in lawlessness.

The fire has spread to neighbouring states like Madhya Pradesh, where too the BJP is in power, and also to Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

It is not surprising that these insensate attacks on a tiny minority - the Christians comprise a mere 2.3 percent of India’s vast population of over one billion - have made union ministers like P. Chidambaram express the fear that terrorist groups may appear from among them if they feel that the government is unable, or unwilling, to offer protection.

As is known, such groups have already appeared among the Muslims because of the saffron brigade’s concerted acts of violence against the community over the last few years, starting with the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and reaching a climax, so to say, in the Gujarat riots of 2002.

Although there have been riots earlier too, two things have fuelled the desperation of the Muslims, persuading a minuscule section to take to terrorism. One is the fact that the BJP is no longer a marginal force as up to the 1980s. Now, its increasing political clout means that the saffron warriors can target Muslims (and Christians) with greater impunity than before.

Secondly, never before were mosques identified for destruction by political outfits as was the Babri Masjid, built by the first Mughal Emperor, Babur, in 1528. The direct attack on a place of worship marked a psychological breakthrough for the BJP, which wasn’t sure how the people of India would react to such an act of sacrilege.

But once it realized that it didn’t have to pay too heavy a political price, there has been no holding back the Hindutva activists, as the current attacks on churches show.

The path of violence has not only led to the formation of indigenous Muslim terrorist groups, aided and abetted by Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), but also those belonging to the saffron camp. The Bajrang Dal is a prime suspect in this regard. The recent deaths of a couple of its activists in Kanpur while they were apparently making bombs have deepened suspicions about it.

The Dal’s hand has been seen behind the recent blasts in Malegaon in Maharashtra and Madosa in Gujarat, in which several Muslims were killed. One explosion in Malegaon was outside the closed office of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which is now recognized as a terrorist outfit, as is its shadowy offshoot, the Indian Mujahideen.

Thirty-seven people, mostly Muslims, were also killed in a bomb blast in Malegaon in 2006 in which the Dal was suspected. Hence the call from the secular forces to ban it on the lines of the prohibitions on SIMI.

It is worth remembering that the RSS has been banned thrice - after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by a Hindu fanatic in 1948, during the Emergency promulgated by Indira Gandhi in 1975 and after the Babri Masjid demolition and the consequent countrywide riots in 1992-93.

Irrespective of whether the Bajrang Dal is banned or not, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray has already given a call for the formation of Hindu terrorist groups although, by another twist in the saffron brigade’s ways, his party as well as that of his nephew Raj are currently directing their anger against another minority - the non-Marathis in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra.

Undeniably, therefore, India is passing through a fraught period when the vicious anti-minority elements may undo all the economic gains which the country has made in the last few years with its high growth rate.

While the BJP is driven by cynical calculations that its demonisation of the Muslims as terrorists and Christians as schemers engaged in the “harvesting of souls” will consolidate its Hindu vote bank, the Congress is unable to go full throttle against the saffron groups lest it lose sizable sections of the Hindus to the right-wing forces.

The Congress is caught, therefore, between a rock and a hard place where its secular credentials have come under a cloud. The outcome is that large numbers of innocent Muslims and Christians are living a life of fear.

What many of its votaries do not realize is that it is the Hindutva-fuelled terrorism directed against minorities that can turn India’s post-nuclear deal dream of becoming a major economic and political power into ashes.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at

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