Turning India into a de facto theocracy has consequences for the region

Turning India into a de facto theocracy has consequences for the region

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There was a time when India took pride in being a secular state, a country where religion and sect were considered the individual’s private preference. The whole world mourned along with India when a Hindu nationalist extremist murdered Mahatma Gandhi for promoting Hindu-Muslim amity.  

India was also admired and cited as the largest democracy in the world. Its judiciary was respected for its independence and fairness at a time when many other countries in the developing world were still under the tutelage of dictators and military rulers. But gradually, this concept of ‘India shining’ and of being a secular state has disappeared. 

The BJP, the ruling party, takes pride in openly promoting and practising Hindu nationalism and showing its deep prejudice, especially against Muslims. India’s judiciary has fallen victim to this unfortunate trend as was evident from the 2019 Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya dispute, which favored the building of a Hindu temple at the site of a sacred mosque.

The BJP’s initial rise to popularity is also owed largely to its vigorous support for building the temple in place of the Babri Mosque at Ayodha. On 6 Dec. 1992, in full view of the world, with BJP leaders at the forefront, a charged crowd brazenly destroyed the mosque in record time.

Islam is the second-largest religion in India with a Muslim population of nearly 200 million -- comparable to Pakistan’s 220 million. It is also the country with the largest Muslim population outside of Muslim-majority countries. 

It would not be an exaggeration to assume that Modi is now trying to alter the very character of India into a monolithic Hindu dominated country.

Talat Masood

Now, the BJP government’s new citizenship amendment law is supposedly meant to protect the non-Muslim minorities of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It allows the granting of Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled these three countries before 2015. It is, however, seen as a measure to change the demographic character of Assam in favor of the Hindus.  

This legislation by Modi’s government has already triggered serious protests and will open up the rest of the region to a fresh influx of millions of Muslim refugees. The protesting crowds in Assam are being ruthlessly suppressed, and the harsh tactics are likely to backfire. 

Additionally, the unilateral revocation of Kashmir’s special legal status by India through an act of parliament in August this year, was not only a major violation of United Nation resolutions, but also betrayed India’s hegemonic designs. 

With President Donald Trump heavily preoccupied with impeachment proceedings and major powers, with the exception of China, on India’s side, Prime Minister Modi seems to have assumed this is an opportune time to settle the Kashmir dispute unilaterally. 

By abrogating article 370 and 35-A of its constitution, India plans to open up Muslim-majority Kashmir to non-Kashmiri Indians, for them to settle and buy property there; a move similar to what Israel has done in Palestine. Unfortunately, these discriminatory policies have become a resource in the hands of BJP politicians to win and retain power.

Historically, India has always comprised of regions formed on the basis of religious affinities, geography, language and social customs. The Mughuls and even earlier, the Maurayas and Guptas, did try to give it a centralized character but this did not last long. 

It would not be an exaggeration to assume that Modi is now trying to alter the very character of India into a monolithic Hindu dominated country. This has a huge downside, as minorities, especially Muslims already suffering, will get further sidelined with few opportunities of livelihood.

The BJP government’s policies are having a negative impact on Pakistan as well. By deliberately suppressing the economic advantages of geography and placing impediments on social and economic progress, India is doing great harm to the region.

Modi has centralized power and uses strong-arm tactics to bulldoze his agenda. But he has to recognize that state power alone cannot keep a diverse country like India united. Even in Kashmir and now in Assam, his coercive policies are facing serious resistance.

Since 1947, it was India’s democracy and its spirit of pluralism that bound it together. It allowed its many different peoples the freedom to express their diversities politically in the form of political parties, their own manifestos, programs and ideological moorings. Now, the BJP has introduced a completely different culture. It has introduced a hierarchy based on the dominance of the Hindu religion and this will no doubt aggravate the already existing economic disparity between Hindus and Muslims, and between the regions, ultimately threatening India’s unity.

-Talat Masood is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues.
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