BJP’s India

Print edition : November 28, 2014

Muhammad Mujeeb Afzal notes that according to the RSS’ credo, Muslims as well as Christians “were not part of the Hindu nation”. Here, RSS swayamsevaks taking part in the annual march-past held as part of the Vijayadashami celebrations in Hubli. Photo: Kiran Bakale

The two books look at how the rise of the BJP, with its antagonism towards Muslims and its priorities on security, is reshaping India.

PROFESSOR Muhammad Mujeeb Afzal has written a well-researched and original work which would make his father, Dr M. Rafique Afzal, a distinguished scholar, proud of him. Its most striking feature is a complete absence of the kind of abrasive rhetoric in which Indian and Pakistani scholars revel when writing about “the other side”. One wishes the research was backed with field study. A short stay in India would have been helpful.

He writes: “This antagonistic interaction of a powerful party of a Hindu majority and a significant Muslim minority especially in a democratic polity appears against the interests of the party, the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party], and a distinct community, the Indian Muslims” (emphasis added throughout). In this he is woefully wrong. The BJP and its mentor, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh), perceive it very much in their interests to mobilise Hindus against Muslims by raking up issues like Ayodhya, for instance. It is their raison d’etre. For, the goal is a Hindu state.

He writes: “The significance of this study lies in its empirical as well as theoretical value. At the empirical level, it will help us understand the relations between the BJP and the Indian Muslims. It will show the changing pattern of the Indian democratic polity and the role that the largest minority, the Indian Muslims, plays in it. Besides, it provides an opportunity to understand the fundamental changes that have taken place in the state and society of India since Independence that have facilitated the rise of Hindu nationalists from the periphery to the centre stage of the Indian national politics. It attempts to review different strategies that the Indian Muslims have used for their survival in a Hindu majority state and the hurdles they faced in a democratic polity of a developing country. At the theoretical level, it will help us comprehend the processes that are involved in the construction of identities in human societies.”

The author’s narrative of the political mobilisation of the two communities is fair. He notes that according to the RSS’ credo, Muslims as well as Christians “were not part of the Hindu nation”. It recognises no other nation, either. The concept of an “Indian” nation is regarded as “territorial nationalism” as against the RSS’ “cultural nationalism” based on Hindutva.

There are some fine insights. “The RSS discouraged the building up of a personality cult around its leaders; instead the party ideology and organisation were made the focus of a member’s loyalty.” This will soon be put to test by Narendra Modi. The RSS is happy that its ardent pracharak is in power, shows every inclination to carry out its programme, and consults it. The test lies ahead.

As the author notes, in 1997, the BJP amended its constitution to provide for a full-time RSS pracharak as organising secretary at the district level to enforce discipline in the party. This amendment gave the RSS immense control over the organisation of the BJP. The control has, if anything, been tightened now.

He rejects the view of “a monolithic Indian Muslim community” and rightly asserts that “the partition of the Indian subcontinent into two separate countries, India and Pakistan, proved disastrous for the thirty-five million Muslims residing in the Muslim minority provinces who remained in India. The Indian Muslim majority provinces that were used as political bargaining chip with the Hindu majority were lost to Pakistan. The new India had an overwhelming Hindu majority; and the Muslims who were left behind became an absolute minority with a strength of only approximately 12 per cent of the population… the Muslims left behind were left leaderless in all areas: administrative, social, cultural, and political. Most of the modernist Muslim elite-middle class that included the League’s political leadership, lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, and civil servants left for Pakistan to provide the new state with the much-needed personnel with experience. In contrast, very few Muslims of southern and western India opted to migrate to Pakistan.… Because of the sufferings that the Muslims left behind in India had to endure, strong questions were raised regarding the entire rationale behind the whole Pakistan scheme. It was considered a ‘colossal blunder’ that had divided and weakened the Muslim community and had provided a home only to the Muslims of the majority provinces.” Mohammed Ali Jinnah began his career as the champion of Muslims in the Hindu majority Provinces. He ended it by turning his back on them.

One wishes the author had dwelt on the foolish stand taken by the Muslim Leaguers in India’s Constituent Assembly. Separate electorates harm a minority; joint electorates help them to shape politics if only they have a leadership that can show them the path.

While Muslim leaders in the north migrated to Pakistan, those in the south stayed on. Which is why the Muslim leaderships in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and to a considerable extent in Hyderabad are far more advanced in promoting education and social welfare than the ones in the north. He notes that “the first wave of resentment surfaced in the Indian Muslims against the Congress” in the mid-1960s. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed submitted a perceptive memo on that to the leadership. It helped little. The Congress was afraid lest its championship of the minorities should cost it the majority vote. This dilemma still remains unresolved. It has resulted in declining support to the Congress.

The Sangh Parivar prides itself on a world view and on its “strategic thought” which make it more patriotic than all others. Chris Ogden, a scholar in Asian Security at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, has written by far the ablest study on the Parivar’s priorities on Indian security.

His conclusion seems almost prophetic. “There is little doubt that the BJP would try to quickly pursue their normative agenda if they were to gain power again, either as a single entity or in a new NDA [National Democratic Alliance]. Furthermore, if the BJP were ever able to gain their own majority, the implementation of their Hindutva agenda would be rapid, comprehensive, and extensive—indelibly altering India’s social and political landscape.… During the 1998-2004 NDA, on a domestic level we saw the wholesale promotion of their Sangh Parivar supporters, as well as attempts to influence the legal and education system, and the rewriting of history textbooks.… As this book has shown, while constrained by India’s underlying security identity, the BJP-led NDA did successfully reorient the normative basis of Indian security. Our core argument that security (in India or any other state) is organic, embryonic, and evolving is central to this premise. It is also from this basis that future gearshifts (by the BJP or others) are both plausible and realisable.”

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