What’s Hindutva’s strategy for India’s Muslims?
A commentator with extensive connections in the intelligence establishment recently wrote that the hooligans going after Muslims across India need to be bottled up. This distancing from Hindutva storm troopers is in wake of Americans frowning on human rights going south in India. The piece seemed to suggest that the wave of Hindu communalism was not Hindutva establishment instigated, triggered or fanned. This is a typically glib ducking of responsibility by the right wing for what it has wrought. It’s at best a tactical stepping back temporarily while obscuring clarity on whence came such hatred to engulf India on the backs of two Hindu festivals.
Such a reading of the latest episode in intercommunity relations implies that there is a method to the communal madness, in turn implying that there is a mastermind at work. The obfuscation by the scribe in question is proof there is something to hide, which begs the question: What?
Hindutva aims have been articulated by its progenitors a century ago. Organizations that adhere to it like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have propagated these all along, in full view and subterranean. Today, they are at the ascendant having captured political power nationally, through - among other means – infiltrating the political spectrum. One such insertion from their ilk, Narendra Modi, has been voted in prime minister twice over.
While aims are rather well-known, the strategy to beget these aims is not quite self-evident. Whereas a century ago, the aim of creating a particular order in post-Independence India was legitimate to articulate, aligning it to be in accord with the extant Constitution needed Hindutva to be mealy-mouthed. Hindutva propagation is legitimate, though some of the aims are afoul of the basic structure of the Constitution. The problem is that now that it is consolidated in power, it will exert to upend the basic structure at some point in the future. Besides, there is the question of how it got to power in first place, through somewhat dubious means - even if vindicated by democratic election victories.
This article deals with one prong of Hindutva’s relations with Muslims. This strategy prong helped Hindutva get to power and a pole-position by polarizing society to profit electorally from making Hindus a vote bank.
The initial phase witnessed Hindutva strategic minders turn tables on Pakistan-abetted terrorists. The violent extremism from within Muslim ranks - prompted by the communal landmarks of the nineties - had Pakistani provenance, as part of Pakistan’s engagement in the interminable South Asian Cold War. Hindutva strategic minders took to depicting terrorism as solely a Muslim handiwork. Media purveyed this into drawing rooms, making of the canard a commonplace. Black operations, projected as terrorism perpetrated by Muslims, spurred the narrative.
Hundreds of Muslim youth picked up for the terrorism in the 2000s and later released, some after a decade in jail, shows that someone did resort to terrorism, and it was not these alleged culprits. Though some Muslims were gunned down in encounters and some are sentenced to hang as alleged perpetrators, some – not necessarily Muslim - who carried out some of the bombings - and plotted these - have evidently got away. It would require the rollback of Hindutva to uncover the evidence and make the claim with a degree of certitude.
The terrorism was also to depict the Manmohan Singh government as weak, to clear the way for the Hindu Hriday Samrat, Narendra Modi. He had acquired majoritarian icon status on the back of the myth that Muslims were out for vengeance for the Gujarat pogrom and had been felled in over 22 encounters. Taken together with the projection of ‘India in danger’ and ‘Hindus in danger’, both India and Hindus willy-nilly acquired a protector.
Post 9/11, vilification of Muslims was easy. This was made even easier after 26/11 with the killing - under controversial circumstances - of the lead investigator, Hemant Karkare, who had turned up the dirt on majoritarian Hindu-perpetrated terrorism. The uncovered evidence was dispatched into oblivion and the promising line of investigation ceased. The elevation of a suspected majoritarian perpetrator to parliament and reincorporation into ranks of uniformed forces of an accomplice, only heightens suspicion that there is much to hide. The strategic community bought into the line of development bandied by electoral strategists, overlooking the controversial aspects of the rise of Hindutva. None questioned how terrorism ceased instantly with the present government taking over or argued that this amounted to circumstantial evidence that the hand on the terror tap was not Muslim.
Micro-terror took over. Lynching was now the weapon. A court let off the perpetrators of one of the early instances of lynching, arguing that he was ‘looking Muslim’ at the wrong place at the wrong time. The current-day evolution of these instances is a mob violence lead by majoritarian extremists. The similarity in pattern of provocation followed by mob violence across India proves a method to the madness, and a centralized impetus to it. The uniform response of razings of Muslim properties, even in non-ruling party ruled states, points to this. The strategy prong directed at Muslims – of use of violence targeting them – has metamorphosed from implicating them in terror to intimidating them in their ghettos.
The consequence of polarization now having consolidated – the second electoral victory both nationally and in the most electorally significant state, Uttar Pradesh (UP), testifying to this – the goalposts have shifted. The Muslims are in a corner, but that’s not enough. Akhand Bharat has to be materialised on a fast-tracked time-table, according to the head of RSS, Mohan Bhagwat. This will require the Muslims to be incorporated into the Hindu fold, as has been the attempt with Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. What this entails in incessant pressure on Muslims to condition them, not so much to moderate the principles of their monotheism – which can be accommodated in the Hindu pantheon given the philosophical diversity within Hinduism – but to accept that theirs is not the only God-validated path. Since Indian Islam has been syncretic, this is also a doable proposition. It only requires dilution in the orthodoxy that maintains that Islam is the only true path, a literalist interpretation of the call to Islam.
This would entail keeping up the pressure on Muslims, through such legislation as Amendment to the Citizenship Act (CAA) and those that had been expected to follow as per the Covid-interrupted famous ‘chronology’ proffered by the home minister once. These are back on the agenda and can be expected to be rolled out with a vengeance. A community already on the ropes would be able to see on which side its bread is buttered. The Stockholm Syndrome would set in, with a safety valve on offer asking that they fall into their slot at the bottom of the social pyramid – whence most had escaped from some centuries back.
The choice is between mere survival – as now – and what might spill out of the feeding trough for lowest castes. Already behind the Dalits, Muslims masses cannot afford the labyrinth. As for the privileged Ashrafi Muslims, they can ‘go to Pakistan and please take their orthodoxy with them’. Their leadership of the wider community is under challenge by Pasmanda leaders, and, any unity in the community stands disrupted by the historical Shia-Sunni cleavage. A twin-pronged assault on the Muslim masses and elite will fissure Muslims, softening them up as prelude to a mafia-style offer that cannot be refused – rejoin the Hindu fold in a ghar wapsi of sorts, or else.
If Hindutva’s strategic minders, who together with likeminded officials and intelligence agency practitioners that constitute India’s ‘deep state’, could create the conditions through the UPA government’s 10 somnolent years for India’s turn to Hindutva, now that they have the reins of power, surely much more can be expected from and of them. The strategy is already discernible.
The masses continue to reel under innovative schemes keeping up the pressure: love jihad to land jihad, hijab ban et al. The intimidatory violence by mobs being only the latest is forerunner to more of the same. This time there is not merely tacit support by the regime evidenced by its looking away from prosecuting majoritarian perpetrators. The difference between the two governments – United Progressive Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance – on this is that while the former was unwilling to chance the Hindu vote, the latter feted perpetrators.
This time round the State is active participant. Its backing of the one-sided violence in the course of the North East Delhi is indicator. In this it took the usual partisanship endemic to India’s policing culture to another level. It has since taken to bulldozing Muslim properties that cannot be left to mobs lest it besmirch the State. The UP government’s smugness on the latest bout of communalism sparing UP owes to it having already set the pace and gold standard on this, with its response to the anti-CAA protests. The idea is to strip the minority of their right to self-defence.
Arbitrary jailing of Muslims in the intelligentsia, without the relief of bail, is a commonplace. The National Security Act suffices for the masses. Students in two Muslim-affiliated central universities were attacked by police during the anti-CAA protests. Former Vice President Hamid Ansari’s early warning was met with an assault by right wing trolls. The voice of prominent liberal Muslims is marginalized along with their Hindu compatriots. The plight of Kashmiris needs no highlighting, whereas what’s in store for the Bengali Muslims, referred to as Bangladeshis, conjures up visuals of concentration camps.
The yet-to-come legislations on populating population registers will be accompanied by detention centers to house those who are unable to produce plausible papers detailing their ancestry. Assam provides a glimpse of an all-India exercise. Even if opposition-run state governments drag their feet, there is enough Hindutva social and political capital in a political culture taken over by Hindutva to ensure enough problems for Muslims. And then there is always the Uniform Civil Code as another stick to beat them with!
All this makes for talk on genocide prospects, though a cultural genocide is more plausible. The government will not allow the situation to go out of hand to an extent as to attract adverse attention to its policy of reduction of the minority to by stealth. Besides, it would not like to sully its record on law and order, a prerequisite for its ambition for a USD 5 trillion economy. Already, voices from the corporate sector cite economic reasons to rein in communalism and other commentators claim it detracts from India’s global image building as a Vishwaguru. This only indicates that communalism is kosher; only consequence management needs finesse.
The international environment is favourable for the surge Bhagwat promises. There is a beeline to New Delhi by those – principally the United States - who could have otherwise flagged India’s human rights record. The Antony Blinken reference to this in his India trip was blatantly a prop to the US’ weaning away of India from Russia. So it could be shot down out of hand by his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Pakistan, ever interested to fish in India’s troubled waters, has been given a taste of its own medicine and is also otherwise internally beset, besides having resurgent Taliban as neighbour. China, that could plausibly like to see India distracted internally, is not too keen on interfering in internal politics of other states as a matter of policy; no doubt a policy not so much informed by principles as much as brought about by its own abysmal record on that front.
The suave Jaishankar has let-on that the regime believes it’s a ‘moral responsibility to correct historical wrongs’. If the regime’s actions in respect of Article 370 and the Ayodhya Temple provide a clue, these go back beyond what Nehru did to include what Aurangzeb wrought. The timeline for the undoing of historical wrongs has been recently brought forward to 15 years by Bhagwat. The Hindutva strategy therefore will be accordingly compressed in time and its incidence will consequently be with greater intensity.
Already the makeover of India to New India finds ready acceptance. Pointing to Constitutional shortfalls is taken as an anti-national act prompted by hate, opening doors for arrest for sedition, hurting feelings and instigating unrest – even though the unrest would be from hurt, Hindutva forces and sedition, if any, is in terms of an willingness and capacity to overturn the Constitution by Hindutva. It just succeeded in getting the army strike off a word it had used in a tweet that appears in the Preamble, Secularism, calling it a ‘disease’. Hindutva’s strategic minders need reminding that strategy is a two-player game. Their actions may prompt aggrieved responses challenging India’s impressive suppressive template, with consequences that could void Bharat of Akhand.