Friday, March 14, 2008

pieces of a puzzle

Babri Masjid. Bombay Riots. Gujarat. Caste. Communalism. Politics. Elections. Violence.

This is India. You read the morning paper, and it screams to you -- Raj Thakerey demands only Maharastrians in Mumbai. Others, Muslims, stay out! You have to wonder, how is it that India survives? Since 1947, has the country agreed to disagree? Set the common lowest denominator for living with the 'other' and made peace with it?

What is the idea of India?

Go back in history. The Hindu-Muslim demographic divide has always been around. Some Mughal leaders like Akbar made overtures to keep some peace, once their rule had been established. Others had plundered the country to establish their dominance. But it was during Shivaji's time, half a century after Akbar, that the sentiment of a "Maharashtra Dharam" was first heard. Shivaji's little kingdom was nestled in the middle of the Shia Muslim kingdoms of South India, and Maharashtra became a calling card. Scholars have long held that when it came to the villages and common folk, neighbours peacefully co-existed. Mosque and Temple, side by side. And the East India Company, too, did not want to meddle with the personal laws of either religion, and so the British only introduced a common commercial law.

Fast forward to the demands of self-government, and it was with the Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909 that the seed of divide and rule made head ways into a democratic set-up. Seats were divided by religion. And once both camps tasted power, it was difficult for them to give it up. By the time India became free and the Constitution was drafted, these separate interest groups could not be removed.

But we know all of this. The real scandal is the answer to the next question: When did Hindu v/s Muslim become an acceptable, even popular, election platform? After Gandhi's assassination by Nathuram Godse of the RSS, the extreme Right Hindu organisation was banned. Writings such as Veer Savarkar's "Hindutva" -- where he took the concept of Hindu as a way of life and converted it into a political concept -- were becoming dangerous because hatred for Muslims was reaching a fevered pitch. The RSS reinvented itself as the Jan Sangh in the 1950s. But the Congress ruled India as the only party, and there was no space on the national arena for these voices to be heard.

Till the Emergency. That's when J.P. Narayan emerged as Mrs Gandhi's alternative -- and attracted youth leaders from all over. Laloo Yadav, Sharad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, all began their careers there. And when in 1976, the Janta Government was formed, all these little parties and people that cropped up in the shadow of the Congress, tasted power. But the coalition didn't last long because leaders such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani of the Jan Sangh refused to resign from the RSS. What did emerge from the ashes was the newest addition to the Indian political scene, the Bharatiya Janta Party.

In the early 1990s, when V.P.Singh found himself prime minister of India, and Devi Lal our deputy PM, all kinds of trouble started. Devi Lal wanted to polarize urban and rural voters, so as to capitalise on his kisan backing. Not to be outdone, V.P. Singh resurrected the Mandal Report. And so, caste became key. Quotas remain a buzzword till today. But what about the BJP? Here you had a relatively new party, one that stood for Hindus, but what was their natural platform was already taken by other leaders. So began L.K. Advani's Rath Yatra, from Somnath (where Alauddin Khilji destroyed a Hindu temple) to Ayodhya (where a Ram temple had been destroyed by Razia Sultan). To his credit, Laloo did not allow Advani to enter Bihar, saying he would not allow communal violence in his state. (That caste violence flourishes in Bihar is another story). Meanwhile, another off-shoot of the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) became very active, demanding the demolishing of the Babri Mosque. Ultimately, on the 6th of December, 1992, under false assurances given to the Supreme Court of India, under the watchful eyes of Advani and his flunkies, the Masjid was demolished. "The happiest day of my life" is how Advani described the occasion.

But why did all this happen? Talk to people around you. Do they think that communal, even caste-based violence, is inevitable? Ashutosh Varshney, a highly regarded political scientist (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), has suggested that areas where there are no civic ties between communities are 'riot-prone'. Is that true? Does that mean that Narendra Modi's statement, that the Gujarat violence of 2002 was an "equal and opposite reaction" to a train burning in Godhra is correct? The frenzy that is caused by communal violence is described by Dipankar Gupta, sociologist (JNU), as "picnic rioting" -- referring to the manner in which Hindu mobs actually celebrate the killings of Muslims. Not everyone thinks so. Another opinion is offered by Steven Wilkinson, another political scientist (Duke University), who believes that these ethnic riots are "far from being spontaneous eruptions of anger" and are instead used to "advance political agenda".

Advance political agenda. Scary thought, but think about this too: statistics have shown that communal riots are more likely to take place close to elections. And that there are sharp state level variations in the handling of riots. Translation? That preventing, controlling, stopping violence is not a problem with the state machinery, but has everything to do with the directive of the politician in-charge. But why? Why not a quest for equilibrium? The answer is a numbers game. Governments are unwilling to fight minorities because they systematically under-represent them in government, police and local administration. And this means, that local politicians try and secure whatever votes they do have. And the best way to ensure their identity is locked with their voters is to create a common enemy -- for example, the "Muslim threat". If they do react, then the mobilization of minorities is projected as "anti-national" and the ever convenient "myth of the foreign hand" comes into play. Think about it, is every Muslim a terrorist? No. Is every Muslim pro-Pakistan? No. Is everyone Muslim anti-development? No. But yet, these myths thrive despite a free press.

I'll admit, it's a bleak picture I am painting for you. That communal and often caste rioting in India have sharp political and electoral undertones. Institutionalised rioting, if you will. But mull over this as you sip your drink: it begins with the 'rehearsal' -- tensions are kept alive, such as cow slaughter or kidnap of a girl so that the community is offended; then 'enactment' -- all this, of course, in the right political circumstance such as elections; and an 'explanation' -- the community is told who is to blame, and finally, once the time is right, comes the first blow.

There is a difference between people who take the law into their own hands, vigilante crowds who stone a man to death for raping a girl and calculated communal violence for political gains. Tehelka broke this story. It got testimonies from people who made very clear that the Modi government encouraged the Gujarat riots. The response? "This might actually help Modi win the upcoming Gujarat elections".

What does one say to that?

16 comments:

IR said...

"This might actually help Modi win the upcoming Gujarat elections".

What does one say to that? "

This is a reflection of the society we are living in , which people want to deny, the media ( with all its "freedom" wants to deny).when it says hindus are not communal, or asks what is the big deal about the sethu project ?

I dont think the media is free, you wont deny that reporting is largely influenced by the respective idelogical bent , which is unfair , since that only means a biased view point.


what people must understand is , that support for modi and there is huge support for him not just in gujrat but even here in delhi inspite of of his involvement in the riots is beacuse the hindu middle class thinks of him as a savior against the congress-lefts special budget for minorities,special status for them , ( cochin airport has a special prayer room , can you imagine what would happen if ahemdabad airport has a mandir ? )

the bjp-rss combine have done nothing new , they have and are only taking advantage of the one sided policies of the govt of the day, which are invariably minority friendly.

does religion matter to you ? to most "urban indians" who were born as hindus , it is largely irrelevant, by doing what they are doing the cong-left has ensured it becomes relevant to even this class of people, all bjp and people like modi do is to take advantage .

rossoneri said...

very well said and written! makes visiting this page a pleasure.

Devanathan said...

Seems too one sided. you have mentioned godse, advani and modi, but no mention of jinnah, gandhi or the muslim league. The whole reservation concept for muslims polarizaion and holding their positions are all bcoz muslims have always needed special attention. Wasnt partition the biggest straw that draws lines to this day. Wasnt vote bank politics of congress and gandhi's support to khilafat movement the main reasons for giving them a seperate identity to further a divide the reason for all this non sense today.

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egg style said...

Here’s a riddle; how did Gujarat top the charts as a “free market”?

Answer; easy, they wrote it in Dev Nagri script and eliminated all the rules. La vita bella!

Seriously: India is India, so why abandon hope that the J-for-justice in GuJarat will eventually prevail? Of course, setting records straight in multilingual settings is another thing; LK Advani used the English term “saddest”, not “happiest”, to describe December 6, 1992, on record. Dunno bout translations.

On Shivaji, tho, there’s credible evidence that he espoused a form of multiculturalism more inclusive than contemporaries. There’s also speculation that the Mughal plan to co-opt this RMA originator may have succeeded had yudh-shashtra-derived notions of combat valour amongst Aurangzeb’s Rajputana generals not held the “mountain ambusher’s” guerilla methods and flat army in disdain. Aurangzeb shoulda also listened to Shivaji’s critique of his policies, a few of which (on “usury”) led to a social schism, a rupture in coastal banker-seafarer biz alliances, loss of Afro-Asiatic sea trade dominance, an economic crash, fissiparous governance and finally schematic thought-control (after 1857), sunny duel gadar etc (to oversimplify). There are other versions.

History is relevant only if it offers unbiased lessons that conform with reasoned analysis. As for the depradations of Khilji and Razia Sultan (she too, brute?!), am at a loss of where to look up the alleged events. By Alberuni’s account of Ghazni’s infamously insensitive violation of the Somnath temple in 1026 AD, in contention was a miraculous Shivling in levitation versus a lodestone atop the sanctum in explanation. In the absence of other reliable witness records, all other projections of the story call for equally upright hypothesis testing. Wel, wel, wel, reality ultimately can’t be diddled.

Anonymous said...

Marquis, kame chho? Sade-ist day of his life?

mahima said...

well he called it the happiest day of his life THEN... he's changed his mind rather dramatically since...

Nirvikar said...

Mahima,
Very well written , you have really put the present day political equations in the right prespective. Have u got your copy of My country my life by Advani ?

mahima said...

yup just got it....

!!! said...

Looks like you are part of the commie pseudo-secular brigade in Delhi... Best of luck...
Wonder what the reason for total ignorance of the Hindu travails in your posts -- what about exodus and ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, killings in Godhra, mass conversions all over India...

Anonymous said...

This is a splendid blog. Courageous and articulate. Keep up the good work.

Tejpal said...

Mahima,

Like other Indian Writers/bloggers you have also not suprised me by keeping silent about Sikhs... history,role and issues concerned with a sikhs.

I donot understand.... how does the Idea of India is complete without the sikhs in consideration.

Kashmiri Pandits, who are Pandits tell today owe their relgious independence to the sacrfice of the Guru Tegh Bahadur and same applies to India which owes its present Identity to the sacrfices of the Khalsa raised by Guru Gobind Singh.

After khalsa came into the scene, the attacks from the Northern Frontier stopped and no further invasion could happen.

The country which was slave to Muslim rulers first got its independece when Maharaja Ranjit Singh formed his Kingdom in Punjab and stayed their for 50 years....

Well if you chose to keep your eyes close, its your choice .... after all we live in a democratic country....

mahima said...

Hi, I totally understand. This article was written to analyse Hindu politics -- mainly caste (origins of) and to explain that I needed to touch upon Hindu/Muslim. Not ignoring that part of our history. I am Kashmiri myself, so its not that the community doesnt matter. Its just that I kept a focus when I wrote this. But you are right. Maybe I should come up with a part 2 which talks about other communities.

Anonymous said...

tejpal, etc etc. Pal, is this set of old anmosties the contexzt of nuike deel?

nilay said...

I don't know why being secularism and muslim appeasment are synonymous in our country.
You being Kashmiri Hindu should know best, the kind of secularism for which muslims stand.

nilay said...

* being secular