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Against the backdrop of the vicious targeting of Muslims in India, it is not uncommon to hear some well-meaning individuals argue that Hindutva politics is hurting Hindus, and that they need to oppose this politics as it is against their interest. That it is turning Hindu youth into hateful mobs and taking their focus away from the material issues they should be concerned about. Why don’t they think about unemployment? Or rising fuel prices? The Hindutva groups are targeting Muslims because they want Hindus to get distracted.
To the extent to which these arguments are intended to wean ordinary Hindus away from the anti-Muslim bandwagon. they are perhaps unexceptionable. This politics of violence has caused immense cognitive damage to the Hindus. Their ability to comprehend the world and society is seriously impaired. They have also lost their sense of the self.
The well-wishers of Hindus are worried and rightly so. Thanks to activities of those promoting Hindutva politics, Hindus – known as a tolerant religious community – are now acquiring a reputation for being one of the most bigoted people in the world. Worse, they also do not understand that this politics of hate will harm the Indian economy. For example, the campaign against halal certification will actually harm Indian export businesses, as that certificate makes the commodities produced by mostly Hindus acceptable in Muslim majority countries and even among Muslims residing in India. If halal certification is made illegal, as the Hindutva-driven mobs demand, obviously, Indian – and mostly Hindu – businesses will suffer.
This line of argument is followed by corporate leaders like Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. After attacks on Muslim businesses increased and calls for the boycott of Muslim traders intensified, she tweeted, “Karnataka has always forged inclusive economic development and we must not allow such communal exclusion. If it became communal it would destroy our global leadership.”
After being attacked by BJP IT cell leaders – who claimed that similar criticism in the past by corporate leaders like Rahul Bajaj after the 2002 pogrom was ‘proven wrong’ – Mazumdar-Shaw added that she was confident the matter would be resolved peacefully and firmly by the Karnataka chief minister. Of course, a peaceful resolution presupposes the existence of a ‘dispute’ between two parties whereas the boycott call is nothing but a one-sided attack on Muslims, which needs to be stopped. Perhaps this was her polite way of making this point without putting the Hindutva groups on the mat. But has Hindutva politics actually been bad for Indian business and its ‘global leadership’?
According to BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya, the Gujarat automobile sector showed marked improvement after the pogrom in 2002. He is right. The killings did not dent the image of Gujarat as a business destination. After all, was it not Ratan Tata himself who set up shop in Gujarat after 2002 and saw in Narendra Modi the future leader of India?
This proves that the pogrom – which happened as Modi (famously described by the Supreme Court in 2004 as a ‘modern-day Nero’) was “looking elsewhere” – did not damage the economic prospects of the state under his stewardship. It remained a favourite destination for the corporates. The marginalisation and silencing of Muslims did not sully the image of Gujarat as far as they were concerned. On the contrary, the state became and was presented as a ‘development model’.
By 2014, a large section of Indians, and Hindus in particular, saw it as a model to be followed. Which Gujarat did they want their states or India to become? The Gujarat with anti-Muslim hatred or sans this hatred? We know that the answer we get is not honest. Perhaps the people answering do not even care. As long as there is ‘development’ and corporate profit, it does not matter if Muslims are facing violence. Gradually, the violence against Muslims became an irrelevant footnote in the Gujarat story.
How difficult is it for all of us to say that Indian society should not be allowed to become one that tolerates and inflicts violence on Muslims? Or that a government which tolerates and inflicts such violence should not be elected. It should also not be difficult to condemn violence against Muslims on the simple grounds that it violates their rights. Even if the violence never hurts the interest of Hindus, it is surely still impermissible.
A narrow approach to condemning violence – that we should speak out against it only because it affects us personally – is not what India needs. Yes, violence diminishes the perpetrator as well as those tolerating it silently or enabling it by their non-action but only those with a heightened consciousness realise that. For the rest of us, the fact that Hindutva politics is detrimental to the existence of Indian Muslims and Christians should surely be sufficient reason to not let it take roots in or rule our country.
Of course, these arguments are meant to persuade ordinary Hindus from being part of such acts of violence. But, as Sara Ather recently observed, those who argue along these lines suffer from a touch of narcissism: Hindutva’s target on the ground may be Muslim but it is Hindus who are the ultimate target. “Just imagine,” says Ather, “how much an average Indian liberal must think of himself as the centre of the universe, that an entire genocide has to be constructed for him to stop thinking about rising fuel prices.”
The fact is that Hindutva is a very old ideological project which is anti-Muslim and anti-Christian at its core. They are the actual and intended targets – and this is reason enough for the politics of Hindutva to be resisted and opposed.
“By insulting, violating or killing Muslims, you cease to be a good Hindu” is not as powerful an argument as saying that you have no right over the life of a Muslim or Christian and therefore you cannot touch them. That they have a right to live their life the way they want, and as citizens they have as much of a right to live free from coercion as you do.
A friend recently reminded me that Hindus need to regard Muslims and Christians as their fellow beings. You cannot ruin the life of a people because they are numerically smaller than you and because you know that the state’s authorities will stand by you or will aid you. It is criminal to do so.
Hinduness is not the issue now. The lives of Muslims are. We need to say it as it is.
Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.