Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2000, Page 52
India’s Muslims and Christians Become a Football For the Right-Wing BJP
By M.M. Ali
The callous manner in which India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been treating the religious beliefs of its Muslim and Christian citizens in recent months has become a matter of increasingly serious concern to minorities living in India. They are being pushed, cajoled, threatened and insulted in every conceivable way by the right-wing Hindus who constitute the majority of the BJP.
As if pre-programmed, the current anti-Muslim and anti-Christian tirade began when the BJP’s new president, Bangaru Laxman, called upon its ruling coalition to invite the two minority communities into its fold. Laxman, however, is not an upper-caste Hindu as are the other BJP stalwarts, but comes instead from the lowest-status group, the Dalits. No wonder, then, that Muslim and Christian Indians received the invitation with skepticism.
Responding to Laxman’s invitation, senior Indian Muslim leader Syed Shahabuddin pointed out: “As a political party, the BJP has always ignored the genuine grievances of the Muslim community: under-representation in the political structure, economic deprivation, educational backwardness, deliberate demonization of the community, vilification of all that Muslims hold dear and sacred.”
Seasoned Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar reminded Laxman that “the entire tone and tenor of the Rashtria Swayemsewak Sangh [RSS] thinking is Hindu...two other members of the [BJP coalition] Pariwar, the Bajrang Dal [BRD] and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad [VHP], want to Hinduize the country and harass non-Hindus, particularly the Muslims and the Christians, and make them feel like second-class citizens.”
The BJP—whose right-wing components cited above by Nayar really call the shots—wasted no time not only in distancing itself from Laxman, but in coming out swinging at the minorities with renewed animosity. Among the most vehement spokesmen addressing the RSS-organized National Security Camp on Oct. 15 was party chief K.S. Sudarshan, who told India’s Muslims they had “the blood of [the legendary Hindu gods] Rama and Krishna running in their veins,” and went on to assert: “It is necessary for Indian Christians to sever their ties [to the Vatican] and accept that there are other ways of salvation.” Sudarshan advised Christians instead to have a “Swadesi [indigenous] church.”
When questioned about his attendance at the National Security Camp, Home Minister Advani, responsible for internal harmony and security and known to be Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s right-hand man, retorted: “RSS is to us what Gandhi was to the Nehru government. How do you disown an organization with which we have been associated since our childhood?”
Asked about Sudarshan’s remarks to Indian Muslims and Christians, Advani replied: “Let Muslims and Christians respond.”
Both Vajpayee and Advani, incidentally, are active members of the RSS. While Vajpayee is frequently soft-spoken, Advani is vocal and does not mince words.
In view of the prime minister’s continued ill health, Home Minister Advani is likely to assume greater power and may eventually replace Vajpayee. Laxman will realize soon enough that he has been brought in to head the BJP coalition only to mollify criticism, not to exercise any political authority.
Right-Wing Tactical Moves
The BJP coalition’s ultimate declared objective is the establishment of Hindutva, or the land of the Hindus and Hindus alone. There is no provision for any other religious community in such a state, and there exists both a long- and a short-term strategy for its attainment.
In the short run, minorities such as the Muslims and Christians are to be pressured into gradually changing their religions, via periodic jolts and repeated artificially engineered crises. The physical demolition of India’s Muslim and Christian symbols—mosques, shrines and churches—is part of this strategy, as seen in the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid (mosque) and the burning of churches in 1998 and ’99. Other tactics call for the homes of minorities to be attacked after creating tensions with the Hindu majority on trumped-up charges.
An example is the October burning of Muslim neighborhoods in Nasik, Pune and Maharashtra, after the dismembered statue of Maharatta leader Shivaji was discovered. It is pertinent to note that Pune (formerly Poona), near Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in the state of Maharashtra, is the traditional headquarters of extremist Hindu organizations including the RSS, Jan Sangh and the notorious Hindu militia, the Shiv Sena.
Another nefarious tactic used by Hindu nationalists against Indian Muslims is to charge the latter with being spies for Pakistan and linked with the Lashkar-e-Toiba, a right-wing religious body which operates inside Pakistan. This is a frequent pretext for attacks on the lives and property of Muslims. To this end, and with the blessings of the Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackray, who was charged with fomenting the 1992 riots that killed hundreds of Indian Muslims, the RSS has formed an organization called Lashkar-e-Shivba.
In defiance of court orders, the RSS has decided to build the Ram Temple on the former site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya (formerly Ferozepur). This project is to be undertaken in January 2001, when the 14-year Kumbh Mela (a Hindu religious congregation) meets on the banks of river Ganges. India’s minorities, particularly its Muslims, therefore can expect major trouble early next year.
India Still Playing Old Game
While playing the coy bride with its new paramour, the United States, India nevertheless has not abandoned its ties with its former flame, Russia. Upon returning from his recent official visit to the U.S., Prime Minister Vajpayee received Russian President Vladamir Putin in New Delhi, with the two leaders signing a series of bilateral military and economic cooperation agreements. Back in Moscow, Putin put in place a “rapid deployment of joint forces” agreement with the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Belarus and Armenia in an effort to counter Taliban successes in Afghanistan. With the Kashmir dispute still boiling, these developments have been of considerable concern to Pakistan, expanding as they do the region’s areas of military instability and potential confrontation.
Prof. M. M. Ali is a consultant and specialist on South Asia based in the Washington, DC area.