Wheels within wheels in India
India has been in turmoil after hijab wearing students were banned from attending school in Karnataka. In a viral video, when a hijab clad student is chased by ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan shouting men, she responds by shouting Allah-o-Akbar.
Journalist Rajdeep Saradesai noted: ‘This is what bigotry does to a nation: divides us on dress, food and religion. When we should be worried about jobs for young, we focus on their dress!’
There are wheels within wheels in India. The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has never shied away from using an anti-Muslim agenda during election campaigns to fire up its right-wing Hindu voters. It is no accident that the hijab protests come in the wake of a high-stakes election in India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh (UP) which is the build up to the 2024 national parliamentary elections.
Governance issues, which have long bedevilled India, have been replaced by identity politics. UP’s saffron clad Chief Minister with a criminal past, Yogi Adityanath, makes no bones about advocating Hindutva, calling the election a battle between 80 percent and 20 percent, effectively making it a Hindu versus Muslim contest. A win for Adityanath will cement his path as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s successor, hence the strategic use of the religion card.
The tearing down of the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 by Hindu extremists, after a campaign by BJP leaders, helped to barrel the party on to the national stage. After a court handed the disputed site to the Hindus, Modi has started building a grand temple while Adityanath has mentioned another disputed site in Mathura, where he has claimed that he will build a similar project. The election appears to be a referendum on the strategic plan to make India a Hindu nation.
Hindutva, the ideology of Hindu nationalism, is fixated on the othering of Muslims. The growing anti Muslim narrative is illustrated by the ‘Bulli Bai’ incident when Muslim women were traumatized to find themselves being auctioned on an app. When Bollywood icon Shahrukh Khan raised his hands in a Muslim prayer at Lata Mangeshkar’s funeral, he was set upon by BJP ministers who accused him of spitting on the departed soul. Ajay Mishra, who killed four protesting Sikh farmers by running over them, got bail after four months but Umar Khalid, accused of organizing protests against injustice, is languishing in jail after 28 months. Mr.Modi’s anti-Muslim agenda is evident in the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act which provides citizenship for refugees who came to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan with the caveat that they cannot be Muslims.
As comedian Vir Das said, “I come from an India where we have the largest working population under 30 on the planet, but still listen to 75-year-old leaders with 150-year-old ideas.”
Under Modi’s watch, Muslims have been lynched, beaten and forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram.’ The cow has become a polarizing flash point with Muslims murdered for allegedly storing beef. Friday prayers of Muslims in Gurgaon, Delhi have been interrupted by protesters who called them jihadis and Pakistanis and demanded that open prayers should be stopped in spaces where they had worshipped for years.
Two decades after Modi was accused of turning a blind eye to Muslim killings in Gujarat, he has succeeded in bringing secular India to its knees. He has used religion to divert attention from his handling of the Covid pandemic, the economy, unemployment, and inflation.
Mahatma Gandhi is now being demonized in India while his assassin Nathuram Godse, a worker of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fountainhead of BJP, is idolized. During the investigation into Gandhi’s assassination, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to Syama Prasad Mookerjee, former president of the Hindu Mahasabha, and a cabinet minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru government: ‘There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in this conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of the Government and the State.’
But for Modi and his party faithful, India is not the secular republic envisaged by the country’s founders, but a Hindu nation. As comedian Vir Das said, “I come from an India where we have the largest working population under 30 on the planet, but still listen to 75-year-old leaders with 150-year-old ideas.”
The situation in India brings to mind the prescient words of Mohammed Ali Jinnah who said in 1943, ‘’when you (the Congress) talk of democracy, you mean Hindu Raj, to dominate over the Muslims, a totally different nation, different in culture, different in everything. You yourself are working for Hindu nationalism and Hindu Raj.. have your Hindustan if you can.. But I am not going, as long as there is life left in a single Mussalman, to have this Hindu Raj.’’
- Maheen Usmani is a Pakistani author and journalist. She tweets @MaheenUsmani