By Mixing Religion With Politics, India is Going Down Pakistan’s Road

What began under Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan in 1977 is being repeated in India.

Credit: PTI

Credit: PTI

Never have we resembled Pakistan as much as we have begun to in the last few years.

Pakistan’s journey of blatantly mixing sharia-based Islam with politics began way back in the year 1977 when then Army Chief General Zia-ul-Haq first deposed Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in an army coup and imposed martial law in the country. One fine morning after Zia took charge of the country, a lady news anchor appeared on the official Pakistan TV channel with a hijab. She signed off the news bulletin with ‘Allah hafiz‘ instead of customary ‘Khuda hafiz,’ which was till then in vogue among Muslims of the Indian sub-continent as a phrase to say goodbye.

‘Allah hafiz’ was the official signal of the Zia regime announcing the beginning of a hardened Arabised sharia-based Islamic Pakistan instead of the somewhat liberal Muslim country it had been. Since then, till this moment, Pakistani public life has been mired in religion and the polity is being increasingly pushed into the hands of jihadist elements like Hafiz Saeed.

We Indians scoffed at Pakistan orthodoxy and rightly labelled the country as a rogue state as terror and violence became a routine affair. But no one had anticipated that, led by the Sangh parivar, we too would begin the deadly game of mixing politics with religion.

Our own journey in that direction started way back in the early 1990s when the Indian political establishment suddenly faced a massive social crisis after the release of the Mandal Commission report on quotas for the backward classes in government jobs and educational institutions. It was a major blow to the Hindu social establishment and threatened the caste based hierarchy. At this critical stage of social churning within Hindu society, the Sangh stepped in, with L.K. Advani setting out on a ‘rath yatra’ and polarising the country along a mandir-masjid axis. The strategy was simple. The emerging caste divide within the Hindu society was to be diverted with the Hindu-Muslim divide. And, for this purpose, an enemy, an Other, had to be created – that enemy was “the Muslim”, the Babar ki aulaad, who was obstructing the construction of Ram Temple at the site of Babri Masjid.

As we saw, this sharply engineered Hindu-Muslim divide of the early 1990s led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid with massive bloodshed across the country in 1992. The strategy of communal divide lent not just respectability to the BJP but also overnight transformed it into a national political alternative to a somewhat liberal but faltering Congress party that had failed to take on the emerging Mandal challenge.

The socially threatened Hindu establishment suddenly saw possibilities in Hindutva as a bulwark against the caste-based challenge to its position. Language began to change too – first, ‘secularism’ was mocked as ‘pseudo secularism’ and thus discredited, forcing secular forces to go on the defensive. Expressions like Muslim vote bank and Muslim appeasement emerged, feeding a siege mentality among the Hindu majority from an emerging ‘Muslim enemy’. It was a conscious game to create a political Hindutva.

All this was mimicking Pakistan. Zia had painted the members of the Ahmadiya sect as a threat to Pakistani Muslims. In India, these forces began to play the age-old British colonial card of creating a Hindu-Muslim divide. The natural corollary was, therefore, the need of a Hindu saviour to tame the emerging threat.

Initially, this saviour was Advani. But in the months and years to come, a new hardliner Hindu Hriday Samrat was created – Narendra Modi. Once again, taking a leaf out of the Pakistani book of mixing religion with politics, the Sangh created proxies like the Bajrang Dal, Hindu Sena, and Hindu Vahni. What actors like Saeed were to Pakistan, figures like Adityanath became to India.  If Saeed was keeping the threat of India alive, Adityanath was doing the same job with his campaigns of gau raksha and love jihad to unite Hindus. These were the new saviours of the majority community with the sole purpose of keeping an imaginary threat alive in the minds of that majority.

Mixing religion with politics is a deadly strategy for a modern and diverse country like ours. It is a spiralling game that could spin out of control. Pakistan began its journey of Islamising politics in 1977 – it is now at the mercy of its jihadist proxies. You never know when proxies become powerful enough to outwit the system and their creators, as we see in Pakistan every now and then.

This is what happened when Modi outsmarted Advani in the race for prime ministership. Who knows one day Adityanath may do the same to Modi – he may dispense even bigger doses of religion into our polity.

We have seen the outcome of mixing religion with politics in our neighbouring country. Our founding fathers in their wisdom had refused to accept Jinnah’s two-nation theory in 1947, which had blatantly used religion to carve out Pakistan. Are we not now taking the same road?

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  • Siddhartha

    The article represents yet another propaganda narrative, lacking objectivity and intellectual honesty. There is an ostrich like belief that secularism was flourishing in India, till BJP rode to power. If that be the case, why has justice not been blind in the pre-BJP period. Why did so many incidents like Batla House, Samjhauta Express, Malegaon get politicized to the extent that it did, where pre-trials were held for long periods without law enforcement authorities being able to secure convictions, even when there were friendly Govts at the State and the Centre. And talking about Mandalization of politics, would the author care to comment on the post Mandal effects – it was not a blow to the Hindu social establishment as he wrongly points out, but it was a blow to a merit based system, and added fillip to caste and identity politics. The unfortunate outcomes were OBC creamy layer monopolized opportunities, and oppression of Dalits were institutionalized by successive OBC govts in Bihar and UP. If the rise of the Hindu fringe is a matter of concern to the author, turning a blind eye to the blatant minority politics of SP, RJD, TMC and now TRS is hypocritical. It is disgraceful for the author to compare Yogi Adityanath with the international terrorist, Hafeez Saeed. Last If we have regressive personal laws in this country who is to blame for that ? This is where the elites, leftists and Islamists find common ground and regrettably rather than moving the country forward, choose to oppose for the sake of opposing. Lastly, India will never become a Pakistan, because Hinduism is inherently more tolerant and will self correct to limit the influence of the fringe. Reformists and reform minded Hindus through the ages have been able to bring that balance.

    • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

      “India will never become a Pakistan”…….
      I dont think we can be sure about that.
      Pakistan by its very intent and its construction is an Islamic state, and politics is inextricably mixed with religion over there. That’s no surprise.
      India, on the other hand, started out as being a “secular” state, which by its strict definition means one where the state is separate from religion. We can now all see how that has been changing. Using religion as a prop, as a means to a political end – be it as “minority appeasement” or “majority arousal”, depending on the political party and its ideology – has become an accepted and open strategy of statecraft. Political leaders are now garnering brownie points for themselves based on what they say and do about this or that religion. Electoral fortunes are getting tilted this way or that depending on a leader or party’s religious views and actions. Religion seems to be climbing up the rankings as the number one determinant of elections, threatening to overtake critical analysis of development on other fronts like health, education, jobs etc.
      Religion has started becoming a distraction, allowing the state to blithely shake off accountability for what it has been elected to do – bring all round progress. We are making it too easy for the state!
      This is what is slowly but surely making us resemble Pakistan.
      I fervently hope we never get there. And the only way of ensuring that is to recognize the risk and nip it in the bud.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    There is one more comment I would like to make on this subject – more like a word of caution.
    Due to our collective dislike and contempt for Pakistan, it is easy to brush aside as preposterous the notion that we could be going down the same road as Pakistan. However, we should consider the following:

    1. M.S.Gowalkar is one of the ideological gurus of the RSS, and obviously therefore the BJP. Anyone who has read his “We or Our Nationhood defined” can clearly see what he is propounding – a nation called Hindustan, not India:

    “In Hindusthan, the land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu Nation….Those only are nationalist patriots who, with the aspiration to glorify the Hindu race and Nation next to their heart, are prompted into activity and strive to achieve that goal. All other are either traitors and enemies to the National cause, or, to take a charitable view, idiots.”

    He follows that up with:

    “….This example strongly substantiates our proposition that in this country the Hindus alone are the Nation and the Muslims and others, if not actually anti-national, are at least outside the body of the Nation.”

    And further on:

    “The foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen’s rights.”

    2. We might claim that Hinduism is inherently more tolerant and would never allow other religions to be subjugated to itself. But Hindu texts and scriptures are vast and complicated, and open to many different interpretations. Gowalkar in fact does precisely that – interprets words and phrases in ancient Hindu texts to eventually claim:

    “From this we can safely conclude, that even in the remotest past, full understanding of Nationality and its resultant National consciousness were constantly awake in the ancient Hindus and not an imported sentiment of present day origin”.

    Which effectively means that according to Gowalkar a Hindu nation is pre-ordained and justified by Hinduism. In his view, Hinduism’s “tolerance” is merely limited to bestowing a great favor on “foreign races” by tolerating them – as long as they follow the rules given in (1) above.

    I have quoted Gowalkar for obvious reasons.
    If HIS is the ideology we have accepted and have agreed to help flourish in this country, then we ARE INDEED heading down Pakistan’s violent and bloody road. We might as well do that with our eyes wide open, instead of living in denial.
    On the other hand, if this is NOT the ideology we want our country to subscribe to then we better take action – fast.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    The term “minority appeasement” is a red herring, IMO – a term used (and over-used) cynically to arouse the majority to a state of righteous anger. It is as if “minority appeasement” has made the majority in this country worse off than the minority, and has brought tremendous social and economic benefits to the minority at the cost of the majority!
    But that’s a separate discussion, which I won’t go into.
    But I TOTALLY AGREE with you that religion should be PERSONAL – the moment it sneaks into the public sphere and into statecraft, the trouble begins.
    The terribly sad thing about all the religion/minority/majority/nationalism debate is how it DISTRACTS from the issues that should have been the most critical for us at this moment – jobs, health, education, the environment etc. These are the matters on which we should be QUESTIONING our elected leaders, holding them ACCOUNTABLE.
    — Why does dengue and chikengunya happen all over the country EVERY YEAR, killing hundreds?
    — Why is it a struggle to get our children admitted into college despite decent grades in class 12?
    — Why are 60% of engineering graduates unemployed every year?
    — Where are the new jobs? 100 lakh of us are looking for jobs every year, but new jobs available are about half of that.
    — Why are our cities among the most polluted in the world, causing sickness to children and adults alike?
    These, and many more like these, must be the issues we should be debating about and grabbing our leaders by the throat on!
    Instead – just look how easily we are letting them off the hook by fighting self-created demons!
    We are committing an injustice against OURSELVES.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    True. Which is why we must stop playing their game, because it leads nowhere other than electoral bounty for them. Instead, hold our leaders accountable on issues that matter.

  • AJ

    Shaving of a head of a widow, compare that with FGM in Islamic societies(still happening) and you know the degree of tolerance. No religion is perfect, Hindus recognize this hence we adopt. Polytheistic religion are way above monotheistic religion if history is any indicator.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Mr Nagpal sir, thanks for your comments and I would like to respond to some of the points that you have raised. I shall be happy to continue the discussion – as long as it is rational and civil :-))

    1. You said: “…..Hindus are plural and secular by birth and upbringing”. This statement actually doesnt have any meaning. Why? Because by its definition the word “secular” means the “condition of being separate from religion, of not being exclusively aligned with or against any particular religion”, and this being its definition it CANNOT be applied to Hindus (or Muslims, or Christians). It is applicable only to the STATE, i.e. the government. Whether Hindus are secular by birth or not is immaterial (and really they are NOT SECULAR, because they ARE ALIGNED to a particular religion) – it is the STATE that needs to decide if it is secular or not.

    2. You said: “secularism is there in Indian constitution to make sure state doesn’t yield to unreasonable demands of Islam and Christianity….”. NOT AT ALL. Secularism is there to emphasize that in this land where several religions coexist and have often clashed with each other, THE STATE MUST BE TOTALLY IMPARTIAL to all religions. Why so? Because aloofness (aka neutrality) of the state is A MUST to ensure the PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE of all religions. It is much like the neutral umpires in cricket 🙂

    3. You said: “…. at the cost of the majority i.e. Hindus”: How so? What is the cost that Hindus have incurred due to this so-called minority appeasement? Are they being prevented from practicing their religion? Have they being unfairly denied education or employment? Are they being ghettoized? Have they being denied loans from banks, or from buying property in any area of their choice? Take a look at the socio-economic data – and they clearly show that minorities are actually WORSE OFF than the majority in all significant socio-economic markers. In fact, they are almost at par with the SC/STs. I am not denying that minority appeasement exists in some form (so does appeasement of every party’s vote bank), but IMHO it is far from being the looming monster it is being made out to be.

    4. You said: “….only BJP is the only truly secular and plural national party”. Why? Because it does not indulge in minority appeasement like other parties do? Well, I would argue that the BJP runs at the other end of the spectrum – it does “minority suppression”. Look at whats happening around us – the BJP and its friends by their words and deeds are consciously and blatantly playing the religion card and arousing the majority to suppress the minority, to push them into a corner. As I have said in a comment further below, that is the ultimate aim of the BJP’s ideological guru the RSS. Therefore, to me it seems obvious that the BJP is NOT RELIGION NEUTRAL, and so it is NOT SECULAR.

    5. And finally, you said: “….Hindus didn’t bother about secularism yesterday and also today”. As I tried to explain in point #1 above, it is not for Hindus to bother about secularism. Secularism is a notion that the STATE needs to think about. And if the state aligns itself with a particular religion or favors one particular religion over others, then it is NOT SECULAR. And that is when it starts resembling our illustrious neighbor!