Almost eight months since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected for a second term on promises of economic development, the BJP and its ideological ally the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have instead focused their attentions on a familiar theme – fuelling communal tensions.
This time the alliance has made an unprecedented attack on the nation’s foundational tenets: the Indian Constitution. India is currently being ruled by a regime of executive orders and polarising policies, which are being used to manoeuvre around issues of race, religion and identity.
Violent integration: Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)
On 5 August 2019, possibly one of the darkest days in India’s history, Home Minister Amit Shah tabled a motion in Parliament to abrogate Article 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution. The move essentially stripped Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) of the degree of autonomy the region had enjoyed since its secession to India on 26 October 1947.
For many years the RSS has been using rhetoric of ‘Pakistani terrorism’ to call for the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. Whilst it cannot be denied that J&K is perhaps the most militarised region in the world, given Pakistan’s interest in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), the RSS has been claiming that the terror elements of J&K were misusing the special provisions to fan communal and separatist feelings in the Valley.
During his Independence Day address on 15 August, Narendra Modi proudly said he had finally fulfilled India’s dream of “One Nation, One Constitution,” referring to his government’s offence on J&K just a few days before.
India’s unilateral decision to breach its legal agreement with the people of J&K resulted in nearly 38,000 troops being deployed to the Valley as schools, businesses and everyday life came to a grinding halt. The irony of this is that while the Hindu nationalists’ audience of Modi cheer, the nation remains divided four months on.
J&K’s Muslim majority population continues to simmer with fear, anger and frustration, and local human rights movements have warned that the Valley is now open to RSS infiltration and expansion as they forge ahead with their anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Exclusion based on religion
In his April 2019 election campaign, Amit Shah alleged that the state of Assam was a refuge for “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh, labelling them “termites” and promising to throw them out if the BJP returned to power. Dilip Ghosh, the Chief of the BJP in West Bengal, said that “illegal Bangladeshi Muslims pose a security threat to the inhabitants of the state and the country.”
With BJP propaganda claiming that ‘outsiders’ were taking over the jobs, livelihoods and traditions of legitimate Indians in the northeast, including Assam, calls have emerged for the implementation of a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), which list the names of all citizens of India.
The NRC was first used in the northeast state of Assam to facilitate migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh who were fleeing persecution during the Bangladesh Liberation War in the 1970s. Now, nearly 2 million people have been excluded from the final list, creating the possibility of rendering them stateless. The outcome has torn families apart, with parents claiming that their children are missing from the list. Many immigrants who were born in India or who have lived in India all their lives, and who claim to have the necessary documentation also face a bleak future.
Against this controversial backdrop, the government has passed a new law called the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which applies across India. The law allows only non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to acquire citizenship, resulting in violent protests in Assam which claimed several lives and caused some property damage.
While the government claims that the legislation is to protect minorities who are persecuted on religious grounds, its argument seems unsubstantiated given that it has refrained from addressing the plight of the Ahmadiyya, Shia, and Rohingya Muslims in India’s neighbours, as well as of Tamil Hindus from Sri Lanka. The question being asked is if the government genuinely wants to help fleeing religious minorities, why isn’t every group that has been historically persecuted based on religion eligible to apply? For Amit Shah, it seems that his intent for the law is to roll out an all nation NRC exercise and further his blatant agenda of anti-Muslim rhetoric to fuel the dominant political discourse.
In his book ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’, RSS icon M.S. Golwakar asserted that the idea of an Indian ‘nation’ must mean nothing else but a ‘Hindu Nation’ – that India is innately a land of Hindus. It typifies the narcissistic conception of past fascist regimes, using the language of victimhood – the “Hindu” (David) is now standing up to the “Other” (Goliath).
The drive for a Hindu rashtra (nation) has put the entire democratic and secular foundation of India on an undeniably perilous road. A type of ‘cleansing’ is taking place through the use of political propaganda, religious misgivings and legal misdeeds. We are witnessing a race-religion war in the largest democracy in the world which could well lead to fundamental, long-term change in India, at the expense of religious minorities across the country.
By CSW’s South Asia Team Leader