With the latest attack on Shah Rukh Khan alleging that he talks like the dreaded terrorist leader Hafiz Saeed one really wonders the direction in which Indian politics is headed. Rather than asking the question “Is there a growing level of intolerance in the country?”the better question to ask is “How does Indian politics work?”.
Revolt of 1857
Contemporary Indian politics has its origins in the colonial rule of India by the British and the mobilisation towards the attainment of freedom. On the one hand we had the British convincing us that we were a nation divided with their favorite narrative being that Hindus and Muslims could not co-exist, conveniently staying silent on how the two had joined forces to give the British a bloody nose during the uprising in North India in 1857. In fact, it is precisely for this reason that they needed to divide the country and the people they ruled.On the other hand, the freedom fighters,intellectuals and politicians of colonial India had a uphill task in uniting such a diverse population and would often use religion as a plank to mobilise the population. The Ganesh Puja & Shivaji festival started by Bal Gangadhar Tilak had religious overtones and thus polarised the other minority communities though this was not his intention. Lala Lajpat Rai turned towards communal politics in the later part of his life, something that earned him the criticism of Bhagat Singh.The fact that Bhagat Singh would later avenge the brutal murder of Lala Lajpat Rai only speaks of the strong character of Bhagat Singh. Had he lived a full life it is highly likely that Indian politics would have changed for the better. Unfortunately, Gandhi’s questionable performance in securing the release of Bhagat Singh sealed his fate who was then hanged. M.A. Jinnah reaped rich dividends playing the communal card getting to become the Governer General of his very own country!! Even Gandhi it must be remembered used religion extensively in his political speeches claiming that “politics bereft of religion are absolute dirt ever to be shunned.” There were many others such as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan,Aga Khan,V D Sarvarkar,Madan Mohan Malviya, etc who indulged in communal politics in varying degrees.
Once independence was achieved the game remained the same only the players changed. While most people are content at pointing fingers at the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) and saying that they are a communal force they are only telling half the story.The Congress too has made use of the communal card to gain power on numerous occasions.This holds true for regional parties as well such as the Shiv Sena & All India Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslameen to name just a few.
The Liberation Struggle
An early instance of communal politics was in Kerala where the communist party had been democratically elected for the first time with EMS Namboodiripad(credited with helping Kerala achieve its status as a leader in social indicators in India) as the Chief Minister. They initiated pioneering reforms in education and land reforms by introducing new bills to the state assembly. However, there was a conflict of interest mainly with the Catholic Church,the Nair Service Society and the Indian Union Muslim League.The so called “Liberation Struggle” was spearheaded by the Congress, resulting in open defiance of a democratically elected government that led to violence.Strangely, declassified CIA documents reveal CIA involvement in the “movement”. This “movement” was used as an excuse to then dismiss the state government and impose presidents rule.EMS Namboodiripad, understanding the rules of the game too began to play communal politics by wooing the Muslim League and eventually becoming the Chief Minister again for a second time in 1967 by forming a coalition government with them.The Shaho Bano case is a more blatant example of communal politics. The Supreme court ruled in favour of a Muslim lady called Shaho Bano who had divorced her husband and won alimony rights.This verdict was opposed by the Islamic right wing in India. The Rajiv Gandhi government in a bid to corner more votes decided to challenge the Supreme Court (The interpreters of the constitution of India) by passing the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act,1986 which denied Muslim women the right to alimony. Thankfully, the Supreme Court nullified this act.
Advertisement during Bihar Election(2015)
The BJP did well politically by raising the issue of Ram Janmabhoomi. The Rath Yatra by L.K. Advani in 1990 was overtly communal and it was clear to everyone that the BJP was trying to polarise the hindu community to ensure it had a better chance at winning the elections.The recent beef issue is also nothing more than an election gimmick. The Dadri lynching has highlighted the side effects this sort of communal politics can have.An incident worth mentioning is the recent police raid on Kerala house for allegedly serving cow meat. It must be noted that the Delhi police themselves broke the law as under the Delhi Agricultural Cattle Preservation Act,1994 they had no jurisdiction over the matter. With the Delhi Police coming under the control of the Home Ministry rather than the Delhi Govt it is easy for one to say that the state machinery is being used by the BJP to enforce its right wing agenda though this may not be the case. The point is that it gives rise to a perception that the police are at the disposal of right wing elements which is a very scary thought.The latest advertisement showing a women hugging a cow during the recent Bihar election is another blatant move by the BJP to polarise the votes. The Government had to sit up and think what a very smug President Obama meant when in his speech in India earlier this year he spoke of protection of religious minorities. Pranab Mukherjee,the current President of India has also voiced his concerns twice this year at the growing level of intolerence. Even the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan in a first-rather than talking about interest rates and inflation has appealed for tolerance of diverse opinion and has warned that it could have a negative economic impact on India. Being the same man who famously predicted the 2008 financial crisis his words need to be taken seriously. Not to be left out, Moody Analytics came out with a report on what it called “belligerant provocation of various Indian minorities” went on to say that unless PM Modi reined in his party members, India risked loss of domestic and global credibility.
Protests in Punjab
After Independence, the Shiromani Akali Dal(SAD) along with others claimed persecution of Sikhs and used that as a way to consolidate its vote bank, albeit unsuccessfully.In order to remain relevant they began to move towards a more extreme form of communalism.This soon became a pissing contest between various factions of Sikh extremists each demanding more and more until finally the only thing left to ask for was an entirely separate country of Khalistan.What happened as a result was a full blown insurgency in the state of Punjab. The recent developments in Punjab with the desecration of the Sikh holy books has political overtones as well. One of the reasons for the civil unrest is an attempt by Sikh hardliners to topple the Badal Family,Prakash Singh Badal is the Chief Minister and his son the Deputy Minister.The latter is also president of the SAD and consequently has under his control the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee or SGPC (religious Sikh body that has the power to appoint the Sikh clergy) as it is dominated by SAD members.An interesting development has taken place in Canada where Canadian politicans attend rallies in support of Khalistan in an effort to garner votes!!!
The reason why this type of politics still exists is because it works.It’s win-win situation for all the political parties involved.Politicians make fools out of people by harping on non-issues and
play the role of a conjurer rather than a leader. Its a politics of fear and hatred which can only divide the country further. The only people who benefit are the politicians who can then stay in power. The way to play the game is to touch an issue that will strike an emotional chord of the people thus by-passing all logic and reason.The 2014 elections was a breath of fresh air as the BJP contested the election with
development as its main agenda and won a massive mandate. The Delhi elections in 2015 which the Aam Aadmi Party contested on the issue of corruption saw The Aam Aadmi Party win the elections by a landslide and was one of the most one sided elections in Indian history. The point here is that the
Indian people are not ignorant as some political observers suggest.They are well aware of the games played by politicians despite being uneducated but are left without any real choice because the issues that are debated are based on religious or caste identity rather than development and prosperity.
The Bihar elections is the perfect example of everything that is wrong with Indian politics.With the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (United) parties playing by their strength(which is caste politics), the BJP has unfortunately decided to go the way of communal politics by invoking the cow. If no political leader worth his/her salt can contest elections, then the back up plan is communal politics as that way there is always some community that can be exploited to gain power.
The Public Intellectual – Romila Thapar
India Struggle for Independence- Bipan Chandra
India after Gandhi- Ramachandra Guha
India after Independence-Bipan Chandra
A well written in depth analysis of the Indian socio-political- religious scenario.