Seventy-five years ago, India gained freedom and declared itself a secular state. The constitution of the world’s largest democracy provides for “freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion”.
The multi-ethnic and multi-religious population of the country apparently lived in ‘relative peace’ till 2014, despite being marred by intermittent episodes of massacres like Nellie and Gujarat, assault on mosques, killings of Adivasis (Indian aborigines), discrimination against Dalits, not to forget the sporadic separatist cum independent movements in Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), Punjab, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Arunachal Pardesh, Meghalaya, Tripura and the Naxalite movement affecting ten or so states.
In 2014, the ultra-rightwing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power and the political landscape of India morphed into saffron terrorism. It was evident that the secular ideals professed by Nehru were under threat from Hindutva fanaticism, when the ‘butcher of Gujrat’, Narendra Modi, declared at an election rally in Bangalore, “I can see saffron waves rising from across the region. What a delightful sight!”
The Sangh Parivar provides a ‘canopy’ to all ultra-Hindu nationalist organizations – over 60 of them – epitomized and infused by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS); the BJP is the political power facet of the RSS. With over 3000 branches in more than 120 countries, the RSS and its affiliates, like the VHP, HSS etc, accrue considerable funding from expatriates. As per a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, it has “considerable influence over [the] country’s educational, social and defense policies”.
The Liberhan Commission report, constituted after the destruction of Babri Masjid, laid the “primary responsibility” for its destruction “on the top leadership of the RSS, VHP, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and the BJP, as inner core of Sangh Parivar”. The Commission also highlighted that the “Ayodhya campaign demonstrated that the ‘Sangh Parivar’ is a highly successful and corporatised model of a political party, with a highly efficient organizational structure”. The Sangh Parivar took long years to plan and accomplish its designs for Hindutva ideology – India for Hindus; Hindu Rashtra – using the media to stimulate, influence and create its aura amongst the people. The demolition of Babri Masjid was just the tip of what was to follow when the BJP would come into power.
The RSS, inspired by the Hindutva vision of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, over the years managed to create a myth that Hindu religion is endangered because of the presence and practice of other religions and Hindus would only be safe, if India were converted into a Hindu state. The myth held sway, and it was no surprise when the BJP won the elections in 2014 and Narendra Modi took the helm to ‘save’ Hindus from the perils of secularism.
Muslims, being 14 per cent of the population in India, are one of the largest minorities but still seen as ‘outsiders’ by the dons of Hindutva. The anti-Islam and anti-Muslim stance has gained traction and hate-crimes against Muslims have considerably increased since the BJP came to power. Secular India is now being led by a fascist regime which is hell-bent in persecuting minorities to its objective of Hindutva. Dr Lal Dena, former vice-chancellor of Sangai International University, Manipur has interesting statistics for the year 2021, which witnessed the highest number of persecution of Christians in India, with reported cases reaching 486; the worst affected states were Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh. No doubt, RSS leaders like Madhav Sadashivrao Golwalkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar were impressed with Hitler’s policies and so-called ‘cultural nationalism’.
The policies implemented and pursued by the Modi government have the blessings of the RSS and are shaped by the think tanks of Sangh Parivar, like Hindu Vivek Kendra, Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) and Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana (ABISY). Interestingly, the VIF’s founder is none other than Ajit Doval, the current and longest running national security adviser of India; this public policy think tank has ‘intellectuals’ like Lt-Gen Gautam Banerjee and Tilak Devasher on its payroll.
New citizenship laws were passed prior to the 2019 elections, quelling all opposition voices, and paving the way for Modi’s second term. Approximately 120 million voters, which included an estimated 70 million Muslims and Dalits, were removed from the electoral rolls to achieve victory. To top it all, citizenship of approximately two million Muslim émigrés, settled in Assam since the 1950s and 60s, was revoked; they are now declared as “illegal infiltrators”.
The anti-Muslim campaign took a new turn when Modi revoked the special status of IIOJK to realize the delusion of Akhand Bharat. The demography of IIOJK is being transformed through Hindu immigration, granting property rights to non-Kashmiris and raising new settlements for Hindus. Nehru believed that “facts are facts and will not disappear on account of your likes” — yet to legitimize the illegitimate, history books are being re-written under the auspices of the BJP government and under RSS guidance, to downplay the role of Muslims in Indian culture and history.
Under Modi’s fascist regime, there are abundant human rights violations which are contrary to Nehru’s democratic ideals — persecution of minorities, discrimination against Dalits, forced conversions of Muslims, banning of beef and of cow slaughter, illegal detention, extra-judicial killings, use of rape as weapon specifically against Muslims and Maoists, random and well-planned attacks on minorities, exclusion of job opportunities for Muslims and Dalits, forced migrations and evictions, passing of laws which affect certain communities and their religious sensibilities (as was the case of Triple Talaq Bill).
Communal violence against minorities gets a blind-eye from the government, thus endorsing a silent nod. Awakening the so-called ‘Hindu chauvinism’ vis-a-vis Hindu extremism has resulted into a fractured and fissured India, signifying fascism at its peak, where minorities, specifically Muslims are being persecuted. Barbara F Walter, the leading US political scientist, counts India amongst the top 25 democratic countries which are ‘severely affected by a wave of international autocratization’. Modi’s policies are more autocratic than democratic and can be judged when the prime minister of the largest democracy, as reported by HRW, called people participating in various peaceful protests as “parasites”.
Y Venu Gopal Reddy reports that according to Prakash Karat, the former general secretary of Communist Party of India, “there are two components among the major source of authoritarianism at work in India, ie, Hindutva communalism and right-wing neo-liberal drive”. Democracy in India, with the BJP at the steering, is a facade and a sham, which is evidently accentuated by the degrading polity score.
Dr Lawrence Britt highlights fourteen aspects of fascist regimes: powerful and continuing nationalism; disdain for the recognition of human rights; identification of enemies/ scapegoats as a unifying cause; supremacy of military; rampant sexism; controlled mass media; obsession with national security; religion and government are intertwined; corporate power is protected; labour power is suppressed; disdain for intellectuals and [the] arts; obsession with crime and punishment; rampant cronyism and corruption; and fraudulent elections. The BJP checks all and fits the bill.
The way the RSS has entrenched Hindutva ideology amongst the Hindu masses, compounded with Modi’s policies of investing more powers in his office and dissuading any opposition to his nefarious and divisive policies, it is plausibly assessed that India is likely to remain under a democratic-autocratic rule for the times to come.
The writer is a freelance researcher, and counterterrorism and geopolitical analyst with a focus on South Asia. He tweets @asifash and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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