Demonstrators gather at the Quddus Saheb Eidgah grounds to take part in a rally against India’s new citizenship law in Bangalore. - GulfToday

The dominant force

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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Demonstrators gather at the Quddus Saheb Eidgah grounds to take part in a rally against India’s new citizenship law in Bangalore.

The country with the second largest population of Muslims, India is set to alienate not only its own Muslims but the entire global Ummah. This became clear last week when the Indian parliament passed a law excluding from citizenship Muslim migrants living or arriving in India. Drafted by the avowedly sectarian Hindu government, this law offers naturalisation to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Christian refugees and immigrants fleeing persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.

This law discriminates against Pakistani Ahmadis and Burmese Rohingyas who belong to Muslim minorities persecuted in their home countries. Myanmar and (formerly Burma) Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) are not on the list of neighbouring countries although Christian Karens as well as Rohingyas are persecuted in Myanmar and Tamil Muslims suffer discrimination in Sri Lanka, which are both Buddhist majority countries.

On the internal level, the law will discriminate against India’s Muslims who will be relegated to second-class citizenship, and on the external level the law will brand Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh as persecutors of non-Muslims.

To make matters worse, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has proposed a National Register of Citizens which would discriminate against and marginalise millions of Indians living in rural areas and in urban slums who have never had proper documentation. By specifying religion, the register would also discriminate against low-caste Hindus, “untouchables,” and tribal peoples.

The first to protest were thousands in the north-eastern state of Asssam who fear that naturalisation of Bangladeshi Hindus would upend communal balance and permit newcomers to take over the lands and businesses of citizens. While the Assamese grievance was local, protesters who took to the streets in 25 cities and at 50 universities castigated Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP government for undermining India’s secular constitution and Indian democracy with the aim of transforming India into a Hindu state. The brutal response of police who have beaten and detained demonstrators has not deterred them but made them all the more determined to oppose the government’s Hindutva, Hindu exclusivist, agenda. It is difficult to comprehend Hindu militancy in a country where Hindus form a massive majority challenged only by the secular elite.

 The adoption of such policies by Modi should have been expected as he has, for decades, been associated with the radical Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevek Singh (RSS) and other extremist organisations. The well-funded RSS is now said to be the dominant force in the administration and is conducting widespread campaigns to recruit fresh members and voters.

The controversial naturalisation law followed the adoption on India’s National Day, Aug.15, of a measure revoking Kashmir’s special status granted by Article 370 in India’s Constitution. This created uproar in already conflict-ridden Kashmir where the Muslim majority fears being swamped by wealthy Hindus from elsewhere who had been barred from buying land and opening businesses in the region.

Indian secularists protesting Modi’s policies do not forget that Mahatma Gandhi, who called for unity between Hindus and Muslims, was assassinated by Hindu extremist and RSS associate Naturam Godse on Jan.30, 1948.     

Following Indian independence in 1947, the country became a “light unto the world,” particularly, for emerging Third World countries, because of its secular, pluralist democracy. India also led the Non-Aligned Movement which steered a largely independent and principled course during the Cold War between the Western and Soviet blocs. India’s highly respected Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru kept the country on an even course in terms of relations between Hindus and Muslims and promoted anti-sectarian policies abroad. His daughter, Indira Gandhi who served two terms as prime minister attempted to follow her father’s example.

Since her assassination by a Sikh radical in 1984, India has failed to assert itself in foreign affairs and, consequently, lost global influence. India’s narrow focus on domestic affairs has been exploited by sectarian Hindus.

Hindutva organisations have other dangerous demands. They argue India should enact a common civil code, overturning the practice of permitting different religions to follow their own laws governing marriage, inheritance, and property.

They have, without success, called for Hindi to be the sole national language. This would treat as second-class English, the other national language which is widely spoken, and India’s other 22 major languages. After years of wrangling, Hindus have attained the highly contested right to build a Hindu temple on the site of Ayodhya’s 16th century Babri Masjid which was demolished in 1992 by radical Hindus supported by the BJP and the RSS. During subsequent rioting 900 people were killed and relations deteriorated between India and its Muslim neighbours. Muslims are divided over whether to accept the award of alternative land on which to build a new mosque.

Indian pundits contend that the BJP has adopted a radical Hindu cultural and ideological agenda to deflect from the country’s economic deterioration and failure to achieve growth targets.

Modi has long been involved with the RSS. In 1971 he became a full-time RSS employee and he rose through the ranks to become general secretary. In 2001, he was appointed chief minister of Gujarat, his home state, and in 2002 his administration was accused of failing to halt Ayodhya-related rioting between Hindus and Muslims which killed 1,000-2,000 people. He led the BJP in the 2014 election and has been in power since then.

Modi is often compared to the current occupant of the White House Donald Trump and may have even followed his example when issuing a ban on the entry of Muslims from certain countries. The Washington Post reports that Trump is well known and admired by wealthy Indians as the owner of multiple real estate projects which make the Trump Organisation millions of dollars in profits annually. For them, he was seen as the ideal US president although since taking power he has complicated life for Indian exporters by threatening stiff tariffs on their goods.

On the popular level, both Modi and Trump command the support of religious evangelicals and supremacists and have a cult-like following. In India, this comparison frightens secularists determined to defend Indian multi-party democracy and religious pluralism. While Trump is well known in India, it is ironic that vast majority of Trump’s ill- educated admirers haven’t a clue who Modi is or where India is located on the globe.

 

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