Is Modi’s othering of Indian Muslims as ‘invaders’ impairing citizen-to-citizen bonding and impeding India’s growth as a nation?

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by Adil Khan     1 December 2022

In the immediate aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riot that witnessed murder of thousands of Muslims, and many were hurt, and Muslim owned properties were vandalized and burnt with impunity, Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was then Chief Minister of Gujarat and who did nothing to stop the carnage, became an instant hero among many in India.[i]

Since then, Modi and his Hindu extremist party, BJP’s have climbed India’s political ladder dramatically rapidly and BJP came to power first in 2014 and subsequently, in 2019 scored a phenomenal victory in the national elections, with Modi at the helm, as the Prime Minister of India.

Hindutva

Modi and BJP’s triumph owe much to the introduction of a new political ideology, a governing mantra of a sort, called ‘Hindutva’.

BJP marketed Hindutva as a pathway to a “New India” – a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ – that envisaged a Hindu supremacist state for India where Muslims, 214 million of them – 14% of the India’s population and the largest minority community – are to be treated as second class citizens. Since BJP’s ascent to power Muslims have been the targets of BJP’s systemic stigmatization, persecution, and othering.[ii]

The casus belli that drive the Hindutva crusade against the Indian Muslims is the claim that Indian Muslims are ‘invaders’’, aliens who invaded and ruled India, engaged in mass conversions and procreated in a Hindu India that changed among many things, India’s religious demography.

While it is true that there were numerous Muslim incursions into India, these invasions happened hundreds if not thousands of years ago and therefore, blaming the current generation for the incursions of their forefathers and othering them for the past is not just wrong but outrageous. Furthermore, in terms of conversions there are proofs that bulk of the conversions to Islam had happened voluntarily and not by force.

Therefore, questions that may be asked are: firstly, whether all Muslim invasions were bad and secondly, is it possible that some Muslim invasions and invaders, in fact, benefitted India and thirdly, how correct is it to blame Muslims for mass conversions and finally, whether othering of Muslims is in the best interest of India?

Before we answer these questions and put these issues into India’s current political contexts, it may be useful to critically portray more generally the typology of invasions in terms of their intents and characteristics and the varied impacts invasions have had on the invaded societies.

History of Invasions – a Political/Economic Overview

A political/economic overview of invasions, invaders and impact on invaded societies reveals following scenario:

  • Invasions for loot and plunder: there are those that invaded foreign countries to loot, plunder, and massacre. Examples – Zengis Khan’s invasions in Central Asia; Sultan Mahmud’s and Nadir Shah’s invasions of India, Swedish Vikings in Europe, Nazi invasion of Poland etc. etc.
  • Invasion, permanent occupation, colonization and racial subjugation and othering of the invaded: there are those that invaded, occupied, and made occupied countries/territories their homes and dispossessed the original inhabitants through race-based policies and persecutions. Examples – English/Dutch invaders/settlers in apartheid South Africa/Zimbabwe (Rhodesia).
  • Invasion, permanent occupation and near annihilation of local people: there are those that invaded, occupied, colonised, settled and ruled occupied foreign land through decimation and near-annihilation of local indigenous population. Examples – Anglo-Saxons in USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Spanish/ Portuguese invasions and colonial occupations of Latin America.
  • Invasion, colonisation, and exploitation and transfer of resources from the colonised countries to the metropolis: then there were those that invaded, conquered, and colonised the invaded territories to exploit and siphon off the wealth of the colonies. Examples – British in India and in numerous other in Asian and African countries; the French in Indochina, in Africa; Belgium in Congo. and the Dutch in Indonesia etc; and finally,
  • Invasion, occupation, adoption of the invaded country by the invaders as their homes, contributions to the adopted/settled country’s economic wellbeing, administrative and territorial consolidation, and cultural enrichment: Examples – the Mughals in India, the Anglo-Saxons in New Zealand etc.

Muslim invasions of India fit the 5th model and among the Muslim invaders the Mughals invaded, settled in, and ruled India the longest and thus impacted the   Indian society, most.

The Mughals in India

In 1526, the Mughal forces of Babur, the Timurid ruler of Kabulistan, defeated in Panipat the much larger ruling army of Ibrahim Lodi, the Sultan of Delhi, a Muslim ruler, and inaugurated the Mughal dynasty’s 300-year reign in India.

During their 300-year long reign, Mughals enriched India at many levels. To begin with, the Mughals fought many battles with numerous feuding princely sates and conquered and pieced together and brought under one administration two/third of what constitutes India, today.

They also introduced fully functioning decentralized administrative, revenue and judicial systems, elements of which persist till today; constructed fine infrastructure and irrigation facilities; nurtured and promoted a blend of art, architecture, literature, cuisine, and music that have morphed into something that are now uniquely Indian.[iii]

Recounting the contributions of the Mughals in India’s economy, Cambridge economic historian, Angus Maddison in his book ‘The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective’, noted that when Mughal empire – the ‘settler/developer’ invaders – fell at the hands of the British in 1857, India’s share of global GDP was 24.4 per cent. Whereas, thanks to their wanton loot and plunder when the British, the ‘colonial/plunderer’ invader left India in 1947, India’s share of global wealth slumped to 4.2 per cent.

Most Mughal emperors (except Aurangzeb) were Sufi types and thus were tolerant of other faiths. During the Mughal period, Muslims frequently inter-married and at times, without converting.

The Mughals treated their subjects equally and without religious bias, a fact which the Rutgers University Professor Audrey Trushke in her new book, ‘Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court’, confirms by stating that the Muslim rule in India – mainly the Mughal period – was one of “tremendous cross-cultural respect and fertilization.”

Trushke further argues that the Hindu/Muslim division in India was not a creation of the Muslim rulers but of the British.

Similarly, Indian historian Harbans Mukhia, an authority on medieval India, has argued that “the Mughals came to India as conquerors but lived in the subcontinent as Indians, not colonisers. They merged their identity as well as that of their group with India and the two became inseparable, giving rise to an enduring culture and history.”[iv]

In other words, the Muslim invaders of India, especially the Mughals who belonged to the invader/settler model of invasion treated India as their home and enriched India at multiple levels, namely at economic, social, and cultural levels.

Sadly, Hindutva crusaders either do not know the history or deliberately ignore history and promote Muslim hatred to advance their political agenda.

Furthermore, their other main complaint against the Muslims that the ‘invading’ Muslims “forcefully” converted Hindus to Islam is anything but true.

Indeed, if history is any guide, it is evident that most mass conversions in India that happened mainly among the low caste Hindus, occurred voluntarily “to escape the inequities of the Hindu caste system.”[v]

In sum, Modi government’s blanket stigmatization and othering of Muslims as alien predators are not just false but brazenly mean. These hate campaigns have since promoted serious discord among India’s people and divided them acrimoniously and much worse, have stopped people from bonding with each other to evolve from a country to a nation.

Let us see what happens when a country stops to evolve as a nation.

‘Country’, a colonial construct

In the past, there were no countries. There were empires, civilizations, and nations.

Countries are a colonial construct and emerged through colonial occupations where artificially drawn political and administrative boundaries were put together by the colonialists to loot and plunder the wealth of the colonized. The colonially administered landmass was called ‘country.’

However, history suggests that not all countries survived after decolonisation. Some survived and some disintegrated and there are valid reasons why this happened.

Countries where post-colonial governments of the newly independent states treated their citizens fairly and inclusively, helped these countries to evolve from countries into nations, survived. The Gulf countries are good examples of this.

Before colonisation, most Gulf states functioned either as groups of tribes or were parts of the Ottoman empire. Then they were colonised by the British. However, after the British left, their governments pursued policies that were inclusive and helped citizens to bond with each other, and these countries evolved into nations and survived.

On the other hand, countries where people faced group-based prolonged and structured injustices and stopped growing as nations, fractured, and collapsed.

The Indian sub-continent collapsed even before decolonisation, and this was because the Muslims who constituted one/third of colonial India’s population were afraid of losing their power in a Hindu majoritarian post-colonial independent India and thus to avoid marginalization demanded as a condition of decolonisation, autonomous political and administrative arrangements for the Muslim majority states/provinces of British colonial India but were denied.  This contributed to the disintegration and partitioning of India into a Hindu Majority India and a Muslim majority Pakistan in 1947.

Then, as we know by now, Pakistan, the Muslim majority country which was divided into two parts, East and West Pakistan did not last that long either and for the same reasons. The group based prolonged and structured injustices that disadvantaged the people in the East, the ethnic Bengalis vis-à-vis the West, where Pakistan’s establishment was located, contributed to mass dissent in the East that led to a 9-month long vicious civil war, contributing to the separation of the East from the West Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh, a new state in the sub-continent in 1971.

Europe also has had its fair share of post-colonial breakups of countries for the same reasons – the group-based structured injustices. Examples are breakup of Yugoslavia into Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and that of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

In Africa, part of Ethiopia, Eritrea separated itself again for the very same reasons – structured prolonged injustices along ethnic lines.

In other words, countries that are colonial constructs are inorganic entities that attain durability when they transform themselves into nations and the key to a country transforming itself into a nation and gaining permanency of a sort is through polices that promote bonding of its citizens.

Hindutva, a threat to India’s growth as a nation?

Sadly, BJP’s Hindutva inspired anti-Muslim hate-campaign is completely oblivious to these facts and of the factors that make and unmake a nation.

Indeed, their divisive policy does not augur well for future of India and yet most Indians do not seem to see the danger BJP’s policies and actions have put them into.

On the contrary, the othering, and stigmatisation of Muslims have become so pervasive and entrenched so deep in the psyche of majoritarian Indians that BJP’s vigorous anti-Muslim campaign is changing the mindsets of average Indians including their intellectuals of their perceptions of Muslims. For example, recently, when at a class, a professor at a college in India asked a student his name, and on hearing a Muslim name, he responded by saying “Oh, you are like Kasab” (Kasab was a Pakistani, a Muslim terrorist who was involved in a bomb attack in Mumbai in 2012).[vi] This incident demonstrated the extent and intensity of negative perceptions of the Muslims that have evolved in India, lately.  This is not just unfortunate but ominous.

Time that Indians take a good look at the history and realize that BJP’s othering of Muslims, 214 million of them, may satisfy BJP’s sadistic sectarian ego and help realizing their political ambition but there is little doubt that these ideas and actions are fracturing India and stopping India to grow into a nation from a country and history tells us that when a country stops to grow into a nation, it collapses!

 

The author M. Adil Khan is a retired senior policy manager of the United Nations and an academic.

[i] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-13170914

[ii] https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/bjp-manifesto-outlines-modis-vision-of-indian-nation-49798/; https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-the-caa-and-nrc-1630771-2019-12-23

[iii] https://owlcation.com/humanities/Religious-Toleration-in-Mughal-India

[iv] https://upsc4history.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/mughals-and-their-contribution-to-india/

[v] https://www.csmonitor.com/1981/0730/073047.html

[vi] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/like-kasab-manipal-professor-told-muslim-student-on-hearing-his-name-3559951?fbclid=IwAR28yvSodbl56y4VlS6IfnbImX1lpWWBffIQVRJuI7fBmVG1oYibcKnTGxE