by M Waqas Jan 3 December 2019
For a country that has since its inception prided itself as the world’s largest democracy, India has seen its very identity being bastardized by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party for well over a decade now. With its divisive and religious-inspired brand of politics, the BJP’s populism is based primarily on exploiting some of India’s most deep-seeded fault-lines in what has been repeatedly ascribed by many as nothing short of pure and simple fascism. Not only does this go against what India’s founding fathers such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi had envisioned for a united India, but it also goes against the very principles of an inclusive, more secular democracy in which India’s minorities were afforded equal protection under its constitution.
It is incredibly distressing to see how lynch mobs, cow vigilantes, and their enthusiastic apologists, some of whom hold the highest offices in the Indian state, have come to dominate mainstream socio-political discourse within the country. The rampant fanaticism that is being witnessed under the garb of preserving the age-old customs and traditions of India’s Hindu majority has led to a nearly unprecedented level of hate being directed at India’s religious minorities. These include Christian, Sikh, and primarily Muslim and Dalit communities, all of whom combined comprise nearly 20% of India’s population of 1.37 billion people.
What’s more troubling is the fact that such hate is being directed in an almost systemic and carefully concerted manner at the state level. This has been evident throughout the BJP’s divisive and exclusivist politics that has been manifest in its policies. For instance, the ruling government’s partisanship in the Ayodhya Dispute, its near overt support for the many cow vigilante groups that have sprung up, and its attempts at re-writing science and history being taught in Indian schools all represent a newfound zeal for culturally re-appropriating India’s national identity as a predominantly Hindu one. Not to mention the sizeable amount of funds and resources the Indian state has devoted to its revisionist and fundamentalist agenda. This, for instance, is evident in the $400 million annual budget set aside for its cultural ministry, which its leaders have charged with enforcing its vision. A vision that is based on nothing more than religiously inspired hegemony, that harks back to the glorious near-mythic past of Hindu civilization. Besides, the government has also directed crucial staff and resources towards its religiously driven policies as apparent in its decision to assign State Police with ‘cow protection’ responsibilities. While the protection of animals may be justified along the lines of human decency, even when stripped off its more religious connotations; the fact that the same police and civil bureaucracy are forced to look the other way when innocent minorities are beaten, burnt and slaughtered by enraged mobs represents an appalling state of affairs.
The way such rampant abuse of power and privilege has come to define Indian society is exceptionally ironic when considering the vast body of work that has been done by Indian academics and policymakers in an attempt at better understanding and addressing such socio-political divisions. The likes of Shashi Tharoor and Arundhati Roy, for instance, have long written of the dangers of letting hardline zealots run rampant with official state affairs. The entire field of post-colonial studies owes a great deal to the likes of Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak for their exposition and detailed explanation of concepts such as the ‘subaltern.’ Rooted in the politics of otherness, these concepts are derived primarily from the historical and cultural subjugation of some of the most oppressed cultures and peoples. These have historically included some of India’s most vulnerable communities such as Dalits, whose historical and institutionalized marginalization as the voiceless subaltern has been enshrined in the very belief system that has now come to dominate Indian politics.
While the Indian state had in the past recognized and championed the secular foundations of the Indian Union as the basis for awarding equal rights to all its citizens, the present government is unabashedly dismantling those very foundations. Considering how vehemently mainstream socio-political discourse within India is geared towards merely dehumanizing the country’s minorities through a perversion of its ancient belief system, it is an absolute shame to see the ruling government use some of the most archaic aspects of its history to justify its legitimacy and controversial vision of an ultranationalist society. A concept that already runs dangerous parallels with the many fascist and totalitarian regimes of the past. Hitler’s Final Solution, Mussolini’s justification of a glorious hereditary past, or the Khmer Rouge’s purges along even the most basic socio-political and racial lines, all offer horrifying reminders to how the politics of hate and division can lead to some of the worst excesses of humanity upon one another, even in our modern world.
Considering how the same Indian government after consolidating such power within its borders is looking to project the same outwards; one wonders why the world watches in silence as its second-most populous country with the second-largest military embarks upon a direction that once saw the world as a whole embroiled in the throes of unprecedented global war. Even with the benefit of such hindsight, should such a history be allowed to rhyme, let alone repeat itself?