2019 Election and the Debate Around the Issue of India’s Identity: A ‘Hindutva’ India or ‘Sarvadharma Sambhava’ India?

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By: Rajit Das 22 May 2019

The world’s largest democracy is going through with elections to elect the new prime minister of India. After five years of rule under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Narendra Modi, the citizens of India are making their voices heard by practicing their democratic franchise of voting in this election. One such issue that comes one again into political debates is the Citizenship Amendment Act that is being debated in Parliament. If it passes in Parliament, citizenship would be given to illegal Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka (Dutta, 2017). Sushmita Dev, of the Congress Party, cried foul to this, citing that Rohingya Muslims, also face religious persecution (Dutta, 2017).

When it comes to minority Hindus, human rights violations have occurred on them at the hands of the Muslim miscreants. Hindu women and girls are subjected to rape, kidnapping, forced marriage to Muslim men in Pakistan (Imitiaz, 2017). Moreover, in Bangladesh, Hindu temples and neighborhoods/villages are razed and burned to the ground (Khankhan, 2018). While both governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh have taken menial steps to resolve this situation, the outcome of those steps are unknown; however, the recognition of it as a problem is the first step. Bangladeshi illegal migrants come over as economic migrants, as there are more opportunities for them in India. The porous borders between India and Bangladesh continue to be a causal factor for it. The threat remains that potential terrorist could attack India, illegally enter even after Bangladesh has assured India (Singh, 2009).

Contextually, this is occurring in the backdrop of, a sudden influx of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who are at the mercy of Bangladeshi authorities, seeking refuge (Ellis-Petersen, 2019). The Bangladesh government has accepted the refugees, in the hope, that they, will return and resettle back into Myanmar, soon Myanmar government ceases its persecution and repression and repatriates Rohingyas back to Myanmar. At present, there seems to be no end in sight. Besides, India has categorically said no to accepting them, except those that are already in. The BJP government has said they view the Rohingyas a “terrorist threat.” (TNN, 2017)

Even more worrisome, on the part of India, is within the state of Assam, the implementation of the National Registry of Citizens has taken place. All the people within Assam have to register with India authorities in charge of the process, and they have to prove their right to reside in India. Through a tedious and cumbersome process, documents such as legacy documents for married women (Borpujari, 2018) Authorities vet the form and give a response. However, flaws have been reported with the process as legitimate Indian citizens are shown not listed in the national registry of the people being approved to be allowed to stay in India, sparking alarm. There is an appeal process, but that too, is complicated and cumbersome, especially for the poor who are the most affected by this are unable to provide sufficient documentation required (Borpujari, 2018). All of this is in the name rooting out illegal Bangladeshi migrants residing in the state of Assam. Assam has in the past faced ethnic clashes between Bengalis (who hail from Bangladesh) and ethnic Assamese, although bulk are from Bangladesh record suggests that some were also from West Bengal (Tewari, 2018), this move would prevent further conflicts for arising, this is the view of the Assamese government why the National Registry is needed (Tewari, 2018).

As politicians are actively campaigning in the state of West Bengal, depending up what party the candidate represents, they are spreading propaganda and stating their respective policies towards illegal migrants. It is estimated that roughly 20 million illegal Bangladeshis reside in India (Jain, 2016), that is attributed to the first influx of refugees from then East Pakistan who were Hindus that later resettled in Kolkata. The second influx of refugees stemmed from the 1971 Bangladeshi Liberation War for independence from Pakistan, with the creation of the state of Bangladesh with India’s help (Shamsad, 2017).

During the time of the Bangladesh Liberation War, there was a significant surge of refugees, that were in the millions. A vast majority of these refugees were Hindus that came to India to escape the ethnic cleansing that was occurring on the then East Pakistanis in general but more specifically, against Hindus of East Pakistan, at the hands of the Pakistan military and pro-Pakistani sympathizers in the Liberation War (Bass, 2014). Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India at the time, campaigned internationally for more monetary aid to help support India’s assistance to refugees residing in camps along the Indian border with Bangladesh, the result of the humanitarian crisis that occurred as a result of the war (Bass, 2014). It is presumed that the vast majority of 1971 Hindu refugees stayed back in India.

The question that remains is, how is India going to navigate all of this? BJP is concerned with the change of demographics in the state of West Bengal, where, number, of Muslims, are on the rise (Singh, 2009). Identity of the West Bengal will shift from a Hindu majority to Muslim. In that process, the quest to unify West Bengal with Bangladesh, reminiscent of the times before the Bengal Partition of 1905 (Sengupta, 2001). Unfortunately, India’s immigration law is in a state of flux; some are challenging the integrity of both law as well as its implementation and notably the National Registry of Citizens system, which has earned criticism from the global community. Therefore, the moot question around BJP initiated immigration and citizenship law whether India is pursuing, vision of creating “Hindu Rashtra”/Hindutva (Das, 2008 pg. 58) or whether does this move fits otherwise Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision for India, sarvadharma sambhava, “treat all religions equally” (Das, 2008 pg. 46)?


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TNN (2017, 18 Sept 2017) All Rohingya are not terrorist: Mamata Banerjee. Times of India Retrieved from: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/mamata-all-rohingya-refugees-in-india-are-not-terrorists/articleshow/60739653.cms

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  • adilkhan1946@gmail.com'
    May 23, 2019, 7:27 am

    The article is timely and the author has explained the political economic dimension of BJP government’s inititiave of Citizenship Act which according to the author is exclusionary, designed mainly to filter and expel "illegal immigrants" from Bangladesh especially the Muslims. This is also part of Modi’s Hindutva grand design to marginalize Muslims in India and eventually turn India into a sectarian Hindu state. Modi’s opponents especially the Indian National Congress is for a secular India. Thus the author argues that this election which a fight between BJP and Congress and its allies is essentially a fight between ”Hindutva India" and Nehru’s (India’s founding father and the pionering leader of the Indian National Congress and his great grandson his Congress’current leader) inclusive or "sarvadharma sambhava". Poll results are mostly out and BJP is on a landslide victory revealing that Indians have opted for a Hindutva or a sectarian India, at least for now.

  • sbanerjee2005@gmail.com'
    Somnath Banerjee
    May 24, 2019, 9:54 pm

    I am glad that the author is exploring such topics. If I understand Hinduism correctly, the core principles of Hinduism is based on respect and adoration for all religions. That is what our great sages have always demonstrated, in letters and in spirit! However, the principles always remained exposed to practice and have sometimes fallen casualty in the hands of intolerance. With great power comes great responsibility!


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