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