Extremism is growing at an alarming rate and incidents of religious and ethnic violence are becoming more commonplace in Modi’s India. Discourse and dialogue on these incidents is actively discouraged
By Sabah Mushtaq
Jawaharlal Nehru’s book, Discovery of India is based on the idea of India being a ‘composite nation’. Nehru envisaged India as a country made of a diverse collection of ethnic and religious groups which would be united by Indian nationalism. He saw Indian identity as many layered concept which grew out of the subcontinents long history of dealing with outsiders, some of who settled in India as rulers.
However, contemporary India is moving in a different direction. Extremism is growing at an alarming rate and incidents of religious and ethnic violence are becoming more commonplace. Discourse and dialogue on these incidents is actively discouraged. And while the world remains focused on the barbarity of militant Islamism and Muslim fanaticism, the rising wave of Hindu radicalism in India is ignored. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Narendra Modi’s 2014 victory was a great success for these extremists. Modi was able to downplay his Hindu-supremacist tendencies by focusing on promises of economic prosperity.
Following the BJP victory, incidents of violence against minorities have grown. This July, a Muslim bodybuilder named Naveed Pathan was brutally murdered with swords and sticks. Initially the police reported that Pathan was a gangster and his murder was most likely a gangland execution. However refutations to the claim of Pathan having any criminal connections emerged on social media. Despite calling itself a secular country, India failed to separate politics and religion and therefore failed to keep governance free of religious bias. This adds to the perception that the Indian government does not want to confront the issue of growing intolerance. In 2015, a nationalist Indian organisation with close ties to the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) issued a warning to Christians in Punjab, telling them that they had to convert to Hinduism or ‘prepare to die’. It is worth mentioning here that Modi himself is a former RSS activist.
As incidents of violence against Muslims, Christians and Dalits have grown, the Indian state has displayed an unwillingness to tackle the issue of growing intolerance in the country. This cannot continue indefinitely, otherwise Nehru’s ‘composite nation’ will self-destruct. Indian intellectuals had started warning that a situation like this would arise towards the end of the twentieth century. They said the deep connection which can be found between Indian politics and religion would undermine the foundations of Indian democracy. They cautioned that religious and ethnic politics could even undermine India’s territorial integrity. Thus it can be deduced that despite calling itself a secular country, India failed to separate politics and religion and therefore failed to keep governance free of religious bias. Dogmatists in India continue to utilise religion to mobilise their supporters. Unless action is taken to stop this from happening secular India will drown under a tide of religious intolerance.
The writer is currently serving as a lecturer in the department of Political Science and Pakistan Studies at Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore.