Crescendo on Communalism

Hindu and Muslim politics have become double-faced, looking forward to change and looking forward to religion, which means caste, conservatism and priesthood
Ram Ugrah Lucknow

Communal hysteria is one of the striking features of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections marked with a crescendo at its climax in campaigning by all political parties in the fray. Vituperative hate speeches on communal lines by leaders of BJP and Congress alike against each other are motivated simply by politics of communalism. It is apparently indicative of the aggressive resurgence of caste and communal politics for attracting the voters. Sadly enough, it is politically promoted by abandoning the ideology of secularism to the detriment of our constitutional and democratic ideals.

 Argumentation on communalism versus secularism seems to be undying. Secularism meant that no one following any particular religion would suffer any disability in the eye of law and that men of all religions will have equal opportunities, privileges and rights under the Constitution.

This is what secularism should mean to all secularists. But some Hindus draw a distinction between their secularism and non-communal secularism by attributing all possible virtues to one religion above all religions.       

The past two decades have seen a dramatic collapse of the old political formations and parties which dominated the politics of the Nehruvian era followed by a gradual erosion of the secular-nationalist imagination. One of the factors responsible for it was the re-emergence of caste and religion in public discourse. The failure of political parties to absorb adequately people of all religion into their fold is a shortcoming of Indian secularism. Regretfully, not enough has been done to secularize life in India.

Gandhiji was the most religious-minded of men and his attempt was to spiritualize politics, but he affirmed the universality of all religions and did not think that all religions were equal only in the eye of law. Hinduism which was known for many protestant movements is losing its philosophical inspiration and becoming ritual more than ever and Islam in India seems to have lost its capacity for introspection.

Hindu and Muslim politics have become double-faced, looking forward to change and looking forward to religion, which means caste, conservatism and priesthood. We must understand that unity in diversity is the essence of national integration. But Hindu revivalists want a unity based on a monolithic structure. To them all Indians are Hindus; the Indian nation is the Hindu nation. This is anachronistic.

The name “Hindu”, for the people and for the religion, was given by the Muslim invaders and conquerors. It could be applied to all Indians before Islam and other religions came but it could no longer be so applied. The rapid integration of the diverse elements of the country had to be based on secularism and socialism, which Parliament adopted, is a secular idea. The secularist provisions of non-discrimination in the Constitution are not enough; it provides recognition of institutions with religious denomination.

Addressing Delhi Congressmen on 6 September 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru remarked “It sounds nice to some people to hear that they will create a Hindu Rashtra. But the moment you talk of a Hindu Rashtra you speak in a language which no other country except one can comprehend and that country is Pakistan because they are familiar with that concept.

“As enshrined in our Constitution, we have proclaimed to the world that every citizen has equal rights whatever religion or caste or creed he may belong to and everyone is an equal shareholder in India’s freedom. You believe in this then, what  these communal organizations say is wrong useless and harmful and ought to be suppressed.

“We have opposed communalism not only in minority communities, but also in the majority community. The argument applies to caste divisions and their functioning on the political plane. …It exists and encourages fissiparous tendencies and maintains divisions in our society, which undoubtedly weaken and prevent the growth of a real democratic spirit’’, he averred,

There has been progress towards secularism, but it has not been spectacular. Hindu law has been stripped of its scriptural formalism which made it a deadweight on the evolution of Hindu society, but secularism would mean a common civil code, and though Hindu personal law has been codified, personal law remains.

After going deep in its genesis, it is found that communal violence is triggered by secular issues like land disputes, eve-teasing and mixed marriages which acquire a religious tone as seen in the recent carnage of Muzaffarnagar in U.P. The elite is largely responsible for instigating communal violence and speak the language of hatred for the other community in public.

Communities need to be mobilized on the basis of primordial group identities like caste and religion. In India, unlike the West, society is organized into communities and not along democratic and individualistic lines. The middle class is the new target for mobilization. The 250 million of the middle classes are the ‘new emerging castes now forming the key to electoral success. The BJP formation  has successfully tapped this caste.

Already, we have seen communal politics at its height in the late eighties. The BJP had adopted a sober programme in 1980 (of secularism and Gandhian socialism) lost 1984 elections very badly and could get as less as two seats in Parliament. Thereafter, the BJP launched an aggressive attempt to create a hysteria among the Hindu masses, especially the OBCs and Dalits, on the issue of Ram temple.

The slogan mandir wahin banayenge  (we will construct the temple only i.e. at the site of Babri Masjid) made an impact creating a mass hysteria among the Hindus but a sense of great insecurity among Muslims. The BJP then began to touch new heights, especially in the Hindi heartland in 1990 when L.K.Advani took out a Rath Yatra for arousing the religious sentiments of Hindu masses.

When we ponder over the past few general elections and ask ourselves what the issues were, we invariably find that it is always something vague, anti-incumbent rhetoric, secular and communal issues. It’s never about specific economic policies or even a larger vision for the country.    

 Unfortunately, Indian democracy with a large illiterate socially, economically, disempowered electorate is still trying to define its identity as a nation. It might be decades  before such a thing as caste ceases to matter in elections.

   (The writer is a senior freelance journalist based in Lucknow.)