Posts Tagged ‘Congress party’

Raina: India’s Failed Secularism

October 8, 2008

A recipe for disintegration

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page

I

As I suggested in my previous column (“Sweet Time for the Left in India”, ZNet, Sept. 2, 2008) events on Wall Street have shown what a fortuitous circumstance it was that the Indian Prime Minister, in his own words, remained a “bonded slave” to the supporting Left parties until the other day.

Had he had unfettered freedom in matters economic, India would be sinking today faster than a tanker.

Likewise, how fortuitous for India’s beleaguered Christians that the good Prime Minister had to suffer “embarrassment” while traveling Christian lands recently. Think that in France, the spunky Sarkozy called the Kandhamal mayhem a “massacre” to his face.

Thus, superseding the travails of the Christians in Orissa, it was the rebuke to India’s “image” that registered powerfully. A circumstance that makes you think how much “nationalism” is often a matter of image and how little of any actual concern for the people who inhabit the nation.

That “embarrassment” has at least yielded some concrete threats to the BJP/BJD government in Orissa after the many politic secular noises about the arson, rape, and murder there. Will it lead to a constitutional dismissal of the government, though? Think again; elections are round the corner in many states. And, as always, the Constitution must give way to canny political considerations. Remember that Modi was allowed to carry on despite the total and proven complicity of the state in the butcheries in Gujarat in 2002

Speaking of which, how unfortunate for India’s Muslims that no country in the world that the Indian Prime Minister has visited or is likely to visit should want to embarrass him about the excesses committed against Indian Muslims. Something that suggests the colossal helplessness that has become their lot.

II

I have suggested elsewhere that the secular protestations and pretensions of the Republic of India have remained a paper-provision through the years of India’s existence as a sovereign nation-state primarily owing to the failure of the Congress party to honestly and fearlessly embrace and enforce the Republican principle of citizenship.

All its rhetoric notwithstanding, the Congress remains reluctant to transcend the denominational identity of Indians in political and governmental practice.

From day one, its electoral traditions have tended to be guided by considerations of the social identity of candidates—as much as of any other party—with scant effort made to transform the given and inherited biases of the polity.

Just as the Congress incorporated rather than confronted feudal social practices and formations through the “freedom movement,” it has sought to cater to rather than educate out of existence those formations in the electoral career of independent India.

Not surprisingly, this social and intellectual failure has coloured the ways in which India’s law-enforcement and investigative agencies, indeed often its juridical institutions, at lower levels especially, have operated in approaching the culpabilities of the “majority” and “minority” communities variously.

Consider, for example, that the bail plea of under-trials in the matter of the Godhra train burning of 2002 locked away under the draconian POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) was heard by the highest court in the land in February-March of this year, but the judgement remains in abeyance. In the meanwhile, one more under-trial, Hussein Mohammed Dhobi, age 65, has died there in custody—the fourth fatality in the matter. Nothing has appeared in public as to how those detainees are treated.

Think also that only the other day a CNN-IBN/Hindustan Times countrywide Poll revealed that 87% of Indians think that the police force is communal (read sectarian on the side of the “majority”). As well as an Amnesty International finding that the most corrupt institutions in India are the Police, the Politicians, and the Lower Judiciary! Why Amnesty should either have not looked into the bureaucracy and the corporate sector, or found nothing there remains a surprise.

These facts taken together help explain why it is that the Congress party which never tires of tom-tomming its role in formulating a secular-democratic republic has never yet given a nation-wide call for mobilization on behalf of the secular principle. Something that contrasts rather tellingly with the preparedness of people in Turkey to congregate in the millions whenever that principle is there seen to be in jeopardy. One would have imagined that,learning from Gujarat, and witness to the “majoritarian” rage now in evidence state after state, now would be a good time.

III

Thus it is that when the local head of the Bajrang Dal in Uttar Pradesh makes the public pronouncement that the strategic objective of this terrorizing arm of the RSS is to transform the secular republic into a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu theocratic state; see The Hindu, Thursday, October 2nd,’08) no cognizable offence is seen to have been committed. Not to speak of treason against the state as by law established.

Imagine, on the other hand, a call coming from some Muslim organization that they mean to turn India into an Islamic state. Within seconds, the organization would be banned and its members locked up as jehadi “terrorists.”

The crude and abiding fact is that the Congress party never really internalized the fatal truth of the insight that Jawahar Lal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, had voiced as far back as 1937.

Writing on “Hindu and Muslim Communalism,” Nehru had warned that whereas the communalism of the “minority” is patently what it is—sectarian banding together of a defensive nature—that of the Hindu “majority” is always likely to masquerade as “nationalism.” (See Nehru On Communalism, ed. N.L. Gupta, published by Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee, 1965, p.9). And, needless to say, that is then but a short step to fascism.

It is ofcourse a well-recorded fact that within the Congress leadership of those times, more than a few were not only members of the communal Hindu Mahasabha, but believed at heart that Indian social pluralism of centuries notwithstanding, India was at bottom a Hindu nation.

The penetration of the communal virus of those times must suggest something of the quality of the intellectual, cultural, and political battle that Nehru and a few others that notably included Muslim leaders (Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Saifuddin Kitchlu, Asaf Ali, to name but a handful) and organisastions (Jamiat-e-ulema-e-Hind) put up against sectarian obscurantisms that disfigured both communities to ensure the founding of a secular republic.

It is to be noted that secularism was subsequently to be designated by a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court of India as one of the “basic” features of the Constitution not amenable to amendment by parliament.

Indeed, in an interesting book titled Nehru’s Hero, Lord Meghnad Desai records how during the Nehruvian phase of Independent India, the Nehruvian emphasis on progressive secularism and social pluralism was constantly reflected in the cinematic products of the Bombay Film Industry.

Continued . . .

When faith uses force

September 30, 2008

Behind a new outbreak of violence against Christians in India lies a long-running campaign for Hindu cultural dominance

Protest in New Delhi against Hindu anti-Christian violence in India

An activist demonstrating in New Delhi against the violence of hardline Hindu groups against Christians in several Indian states, September 29 2008. Photo: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Standing next to France’s President Sarkozy, the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh today made a heartfelt plea over the spread of anti-Christian violence in India. The sight of Hindu mobs smashing churches and prayer halls while Christians in the country are killed or left cowering under tarpaulin sheets in refugee camps is, as Dr Singh rightly described, a “national shame”. There are calls from within the ruling Congress party, which relies on the votes of Christians and Muslims in India, to ban Hindu extremist organisations such as the Bajrang Dal, which uses force when the force of argument fails.

There has been bloodshed on both sides. One Christian priest was “cut to pieces” in front of his wife. A Hindu priest was shot dead for campaigning against religious conversions. The violence, which has left nearly two dozen dead, has spread across six states. Even after the Pope intervened, the Roman Catholic archbishop of one of the worst affected areas in eastern India said the situation was “out of control”.

What lies behind this violence is nothing less than a struggle for the soul of India. Religion is deeply rooted in this country of one billion. The divine was fundamental in the creation of post-independence India. Unlike Europe, in India the Gods will not disappear in a blaze of rational thinking.

But views of God led to a schism in Indian nationalism. One side is rooted in secular thinking: that beneath the differences among India’s religions there is a common creed, a moral order articulated in the country’s constitution. Opposing this is the Hindu right. Their philosophy aims to unify the country under the banner of the majority religion. It sees the country’s post-independence constitution as an instrument forged by “pseudo-secularists”, which now needs to be updated to reflect the Hindu character of India.

Christians in India long pre-dated the British, who sponsored missionary activity with little success. In 1947, only 3% of the country was Christian. There’s an unmistakable tint to Christianity in India: the priests are mostly upper-caste Brahmin converts and the flock is mostly drawn from the country’s untouchable communities known as Dalits. Contemporary Hindu anger centres on the idea that India’s rise will see an explosion of Christians in the country – a takeover by a foreign ideology like that experienced by South Korea in the 1960s.

The Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata party, says it is against proselytisation through coercion, inducement, or by vilifying any faith. That conversion continues, therefore, and that it remains legal, drives Hindu groups into a bloody frenzy. By decrying the violence but remaining powerless to prevent it, the Indian prime minister exposes his strength and weakness. The Indian federal government could suspend state administrations – for failing to quell violence. This is the nuclear option of unseating a democratically elected local regime. Instead, the Indian prime minister chooses only speak up.

Martha Nussbaum, the noted American philosopher, draws a comparison with 1950s America where only a few groups such as the Ku Klux Klan would openly advocate violence, but “where the whole society was suffused with attitudes that … often condoned violence against African Americans, attitudes that clearly affected the behaviour of the police and other officers of the law”. This remark is telling because, in the southern Indian town of Mangalore, it was Christian churches that were attacked, yet the leaders of Hindu mobs walked free for days, untouched by the police.

The violence is the really about the clash within. Like the United States, India has never had a state-imposed religion. It has always had a tradition of sects and religious minorities, which coexist and compete with each other without suffering state persecution or patronage. Instead of trying to capture state power for the purpose of waging a cultural war, the Hindu right would do the country a service by reforming itself from within – promoting equality and unifying its own denominations and sects.

Religion’s role in India must be one of restraining passions, not inflaming them.

To keep up with Randeep Ramesh’s blog from India, go here.


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