India is back to square one, thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move last week to scrap special political rights for a Muslim-majority state in the Hindu-dominated country. The Muslim-rights issue, which led to the creation of Muslim homeland Pakistan in 1947, has now resurfaced: Can the Muslims get a fair shake in Hindu-dominated India?
By scraping Kashmir’s special autonomy status, Modi has taken a dangerous step toward implementing the vision of his ultranationalist party’s spiritual guru, the late V.D. Savarkar, who proposed more than 90 years ago to keep minorities subjugated in an India that will be ruled by the Hindu majority.
Sitting in a prison cell on the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, the convicted-violent-revolutionary-turned-nationalist drew up his solution to the vexing question of India’s minorities. He resolved that Muslims and Christians can stay in India only if they are subservient to Hindus; they will enjoy no rights that may infringe upon Hindu rights; and since they are minorities, they must obey the majority.
This was not his initial plan, however. He initially wanted to convert all Muslims and Christians back into Hinduism. But he faced a significant obstacle. Savarkar could convert them, but could not arbitrarily decide their caste. A Hindu must belong to a hierarchical caste, and he acquires it through birth only. Hindu religion forbids assigning a caste.
To overcome this barrier, he revised his idea. First, he came up with a new identify for himself: He is a Hindu, not an Indian. Then he figured that his motherland is Hindustan, not India. Hindustan extends from the Himalayas to the Indus River and boasts a 5,000-year-old rich culture that influenced a vast number of people from Greece to Japan. On the contrary, India is a parochial concept that separates Hindus from their ancient heritage; it is championed by the nationalists who wanted an independent united country for all Indians, regardless of their religion.
Muslims and Christians Unwelcome
In Savarkar’s Hindudom, Muslims and Christians were unwelcome. He disliked them because of their allegiance to Mecca and Rome; they worshiped foreign gods and had no cultural affinity toward Hindustan. Even though Buddhists and Sikhs were no longer as pure as Hindus, they were still acceptable because their religions originated in Hindustan.
Sarvarkar, an atheist who labeled his vision as non-religious and cultural, was unwilling to give the Muslims a separate homeland next to his Hindustan. He feared that even though they were only 25 percent of the total population, they could still someday reconquer Hindustan if they were allowed to have their own country. He was very much conscious of the fact that the Muslims were a small band, too, when they conquered India in 712 AD and eventually built a vast empire.
He figured that the next time around they would be in a much stronger position to repeat their past success because they would receive support from other Muslim nations. To nip that possibility in the bud, hesupported the creation of Israel. He saw the Jewish state as a barricade against the Muslim Arab world.
He feared a Muslim resurgence so much that he wanted British rule in India to continue. He sought only dominion status for Hindustan to keep under the British military umbrella. Only Britain, he believed, was powerful enough to keep the Muslims at bay if they ever tried to invade Hindustan again.
But to his chagrin the nationalist tide swept India, as independence stalwarts like M.K. Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Moulana Abul Kalam Azad pressed the colonial power to pack up. Savarkar’s idea took the back seat, but remained very much alive, even though malnourished.
After the murder of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, the Indian National Congress party, the champion of secular India, fell on hard times; it had no comparable charismatic leader to carry forward the torch. Savarkar’s followers gradually gained ground and picked Modi, who was once shunned globally as the mastermind behind a Muslim massacre in his home state of Gujrat, as the reincarnation of their guru.
Modi shows anti-Muslim bias
Armed with a huge re-election victory two months ago, Modi moved full-seam ahead to fulfill Savarkar’s dream to appease his hardcore anti-Muslim saffron brigade. First, he nullified a centuries-old Muslim marriage law. India’s constitution, however, protects religious laws of other minority groups, and Modi did not touch them, showing his bias against Islam. Even the Mogul or the British left India’s religious laws unchanged.
On Aug. 5, keeping Muslims leaders under house arrest and deploying tens of thousands of additional soldiers in heavily-militarized Kashmir, the prime minister snatched away the special rights—their own flag, own law and property rights—granted by India’s constitution to the state in a blitzkrieg exercise in a matter of hours.
Imran Khan, prime minister of nuclear-armed Pakistan, arch-rival of nuclear-armed India, has threatened war. Pakistan considers Kashmir a disputed territory. China, which occupies parts of the state, denounced India’s action as “unacceptable,” but is unlikely to take any military action. Pakistan can do very little on its own, unless it wants to risk a nuclear confrontation. Washington seems less than thrilled to stick out its neck. Nonetheless, the danger level remains high, and the fallout will be felt in India and beyond.
B.Z. Khasru is editor of The Capital Express and author of “Bangladesh Liberation War, How India, U.S, China and the USSR Shaped the Outcome,” and “The Bangladesh Military Coup and the CIA Link.” His new book, “One Eleven, Minus Two: Prime Minister Hasina’s War on Yunus and America,” will be published shortly by Rupa Publications India Private Limited, New Delhi.