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Fifth column

March 3, 2018

Unravelling Hindutva

Opinion

March 3, 2018

Late last month, Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat raised an alarm about the rapid rise of a Muslim political party in Assam – the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).

According to Gen Rawat, the AIDUF “have grown in a faster time-frame than the BJP grew over the years”. He also referred to the reports that the Muslim majority has increased from five to nine districts. Rawat lamented that: “I do not think you can now change the population dynamics of the area”. Interestingly, Rawat – who was speaking at a conference titled ‘Bridging gaps and securing borders in the Northeast region’ – suggested that efforts should be made to “amalgamate” the people living in the region and then try and “start identifying those creating trouble for us”. In his address, Rawat also alleged that the “increasing migration of Bangladeshis to Assam was part of a ‘planned proxy warfare’ by Pakistan, [which was] backed by China”.

General Rawat is not new to controversy for his blunt statements, including his attempts to justify the extra-constitutional behaviour of the army under his command – particularly in Kashmir where he not only justified the actions of one of his officers who used a Kashmiri civilian as a human shield but also publicly commended him. What was shocking about Gen Rawat’s recent utterances in Assam was that his language matched the hateful rhetoric of Hindutva groups verbatim as they are targeting poor Muslims in the region and even espousing violence against them. Rawat’s message is a clear endorsement of the ongoing anti-Muslim campaign that often leads to violence from the Hindutva groups. This is a shocking turnaround for an army that was proud of being apolitical and secular.

The external affairs minister and former army chief, General VK Singh, who joined the BJP in early 2014 soon after his retirement, defended General Rawat and asked journalists to “let the army chief say what he wants to. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. That’s it”. A few days later, General Singh was seen in an RSS uniform during an event in Meerut. Prakash Menon, a former Indian general, commented on Twitter: “I am disappointed to find Gen VK Singh in [an] RSS uniform. I shudder at the impact that image will have on the rank and file of the armed forces. Along with [the] COAS’s statements, the politicisation of India’s armed forces is real though I am dreaming”. Delhi-based Prashant Bhushan, a public interest lawyer and secular activist, accused Gen. Singh of disgracing his army uniform.

Regardless of the public sentiments or demands of the Indian constitution, the Hindutva groups with the BJP in the saddle have publicly claimed to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra or a Hindu nation. Some news reports suggest that the BJP/RSS combine will declare India to be a Hindu nation in 2019 after the election victory while other accounts indicate that a Hindu Rashtra will be declared in 2025 to mark 100 years of the foundation of the RSS.

In June 2017, another Hindutva group, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, held a conclave in Goa, pledging to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra by 2023. Justice Rajinder Sachar, a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court and a human rights activist, supports the view that the BJP will convert India into a Hindu nation after 2019. But he believes that this plan will fail as there will be strong resistance to it.

Since Narendra Modi’s ascendance to power, it has become clear that Hindutva groups want to change the character of India by using tools such as violence, threats and crony capitalism, and regularly challenging the constitutional framework of India. In December 2017, Federal minister Anant Kumar Hegde claimed that his party will “soon change the constitution”, which mentions the word “secular”. Several months earlier, Ram Bahadur Rai, a veteran journalist and a BJP stalwart who formerly headed the BJP’s students wing, the ABVP, also stressed that the “constitution needs to be reconsidered afresh”. Such concerted attacks on the Indian constitution have created uncertainty among the minorities, particularly Muslims, who are increasingly being targeted by violent Hindu mobs – often fatally.

Seminar on the rise of Hindutva: it was timely that the Institute of Policy Studies, an Islamabad based think-tank, recently held a day-long seminar on the subject, discussing various threads of the rise of Hindutva and its impact on the politics and regional security. While several speakers considered it to be an emerging threat for the regional security order, many scholars stressed the need to frame well-informed but rational responses to confront its challenges.

Equally, it was heartening to know that the problem of extremism within Pakistan – religious or otherwise – was also acknowledged. However, it was noted that while extremism in Pakistan remains a challenge, it thrives on the fringes. However, Hindutva extremism is now within India’s mainstream and provokes violence that is deliberately directed towards minorities, particularly Muslims. Some of the speakers noted – albeit with regret and much alarm – that after the army, the judiciary in India was also feeling pressure and toeing the Hindutva line. This observation was little too premature following the ‘rebellion’ of four supreme court judges against the chief justice wherein the judges, in a unique move, held a press conference alarming Indian public that the integrity of the institution was under severe threat.

Raja Zafarul Haq, the leader of the house in the Senate, in his inaugural address, highlighted that the issue of extremism was not confined to India alone. He said that the rising exclusionism in India, especially against Muslims, deserved attention as the country claims to be the largest democracy in the world. He termed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s exclusionism as dangerous for peace and stability in the region. He equally hoped that Pakistan learns a lesson from such a dangerous approach and enhance opportunities for its minorities on the basis of equality.

Delhi-based senior Kashmiri journalist Iftikhar Gilani advised on a similar approach: “The only way forward for…humanity in South Asia is inculcating [the] mutual bonds of respect and coexistence. [The] Pakistani government must remove all impediments for minorities and offer them security, respect and [the] means to thrive on the basis of equality”.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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