the Message Continues ... i7
The Politics of Extremism
The Islamists and Hindutva Politics: Identities of Outlook
By Hassan N. Gardezi
On the surface it appears that Pakistan's Islamists (the right-wing Islamic political parties and their followers) and India's Sangh Parivar (a "family" of right-wing Hindu political organizations) work at cross-purposes with antithetical ideologies and political objectives. In reality they complement each other and facilitate the realization of common goals, with a remarkable coincidence of strategic designs. Their shared conviction that Hindu Muslim differences amount an irreconcilable civilization conflict that is to be fought to the end is both an ideological concurrence and a rationalization for driving the two communities apart.
At the heart of their common endeavors and identities of outlook lies the consuming project of maintaining a perpetual state of enmity between India and Pakistan, the two nation states conceived as embodiments of implacably hostile forces of Hinduism and Islam. In order to sustain this overriding project they employ ideological constructs and modes of action, which overlap substantially, differing only in specifics.
Nationalism and Religion
The ideological consensus of the Islamists and Sangh Parivar centers on conceptualizing nationhood of their respective states exclusively on the foundations of religion. Both draw on the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 as a critical event that formally established the separate national identities of Muslims and Hindus.
After independence the Islamists of Pakistan took the lead in systematically and aggressively constructing an Islamic national identity and grounding all politics in the consciousness so generated, whether real or false. They expediently hijacked the so-called two nation theory of the Muslim League to build around it an elaborate rationale for transforming Pakistan into a theocratic state. Maulana Maududi, an erstwhile opponent of a separate state for the Muslims of India, arrived in Pakistan soon after partition to set himself up as the chief ideologue of the Islamists and their political agenda. Wielding the apparatus of his tightly controlled religio-political party, the
Jamat-e-Islami (JI), and a prolific pen quoting Qura'n and Hadith (the Prophetic tradition), he claimed authority on defining the purely slamic brand of Pakistan's nationhood and adjudicating how the affairs of this nation state shall be run according to Islamic law. The Muslims of undivided India, he claimed, had "trampled the Congressite one nation theory under their feet...which was intended to weld all the communities inhabiting Hindustan into one nation" (Abula'la Maududi, Islamic Law and Constitution, Lahore, 1960). Pakistan, according to the Maulana, had emerged not as a Muslim state but an Islamic state in which the "ideology of Islam" is the only criterion of nationhood and full citizenship. There is no concept of a "territorial state" in Islam where all religious communities participate equally and enjoy equal rights to form a single nation. The Islamic state is an "ideological state" in which non-Muslims have a choice to embrace Islam as ideology in order to become full citizens or live as "zimmis" with specified rights and privileges (Ibid., pp. 140-141). Needless to say that although all other Islamists parties have essentially concurred with this conception of Pakistan's nationhood and a long line of the country's authoritarian regimes have found it expedient to legitimize their rule by recourse to "Islamic ideology," the people of Pakistan have never blessed it with their electoral endorsement.
On the other side, the Indian leaders of the independence movement made a conscious choice in 1947 in favor of a secular, pluralist state and enshrined the concept of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nationhood in the constitution of independent India.But with the weakening of the ruling Congress party, due mainly to its failure to solve the problem of persistent poverty and socio-economic inequalities, the marginal Hindu communal parties began to gain strength and push their exclusionist political agendas more stridently. The imposition of emergency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975 became a turning point, which led to a situation conducive to the politics of communal mobilization based on religion.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the rapid growth of Hindu nationalism on lines similar to the Islamic nationalism of Pakistan as the Sangh Parivar combine stepped up its activities to an unprecedented level. Endorsing the view of the Islamists that Hindus and Muslims living in the subcontinent were not just two religious communities, among others, but two distinct nations, they intensified their campaign to transform India into the Hindu rashtra (nation) of their vision. They too rejected the concept of a multi-religious, multi-ethnic state as a Congressite folly to be replaced by majoritarian Hindu rule.
Sangh Parivar, like its Pakistani counterpart, is bent upon converting India into an "ideological state." Hindutva or Hinduness, as the ideology of the Indian state is to determine who is an authentic citizen and who in not. With some semantic juggling Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs are included in the Hindutva fold but Muslims and Christians remain outsiders with their loyalties to the Indian State ever so suspect. At the same time there is no end to ingenious suggestions floated to resolve the problematic national identity of so many "outsiders" who have inhabited India for ages, there being as many Muslims in India as in Pakistan. A particularly imaginative Hindutva advocate has recently suggested that in order to acquire a homogenized Hindu national identity, Indian Christians and Muslims should be reclassified as Christi Hindus and Ahmedia Hindus.
In their zeal to tarnish the allegiance of Indian Muslims to their state, the Hindu nationalists are delighted to hear from Pakistan's Islamists that "Muslims in India are forced to serve kufr (infidelity) for their livelihood" (Brig. Retd. Usman Khalid, Frontier Post, Peshawar, March 10, 2000). Such statements unmistakably find resonance
in the chants of "Baber ki santan, jao Pakistan (the children of Baber, go to Pakistan)," whenever the Sangh Parivar fanatics go on frenzied communal riots.
The Rewriting of History The denial by Hindutva ideologues and their Islamists counterparts of the multi-religious, multi-ethnic roots of their respective national formations inevitably calls for a great deal of distortion and falsification of history. The Islamists must sanitize the history of Pakistan of its non-Muslim heritage, and the Sangh Parivar must likewise purge their Hindu rashtra of its non- Hindu antecedents. Here again the Islamists have a lead over their Indian counterparts. In alliance with the authoritarian regimes of Pakistan they have acquired a firm hold on devising of syllabi and teaching of history, and other cognate subjects, at all levels of education. Thus a student receiving formal education in Pakistan learns that the history of Pakistan's nationhood begins with
the conquest of Sindh and southern Punjab by Muhammad bin Qasim in 711 AD which inaugurated the spread of Islam in the region through a heroic war against the infidels. Thereafter, Muslim invaders from the northwest such as Mahmud of Ghazni, the great destroyer of Hindu temples, and kings such as Aurangzeb, a devout Muslim who tried to rule India by shari'a laws, loom large in the pages of Pakistan's history books.
Centuries of the region's ancient history covered by the Harrapan-Indus Valley civilization as well as long periods of Buddhist and Hindu rule are obscured by a strategy of silence. When it comes to the post-independence history of Pakistan, the Islamist version takes a more bizarre turn. Maulana Maududi figures among the founders of Pakistan, Hindus of East Pakistan are blamed for engineering the anti-Urdu demonstrations and sowing the seeds of hatred, Pakistan is credited with defeating the Indians on every front during the 1971 war, Gen. Ziaul Haq is said to have been chosen by destiny to start an Islamic revolution, and so on (K. K. Aziz, The Murder of History, Lahore, 1999).
The Indian Historians, among them a number of eminent Muslims, have been able to maintain a long and robust tradition of objective, critical historiography, affirming the composite nature of India's culture and national heritage. But over the last few decades this tradition has come under siege by Sangh Parivar's Hindutva ideologues who have made the writing and teaching of history a battleground for defining India's national identity. They tend to particularize the same historical events and figures that their Islamist counterparts constantly dwell upon, with the difference that the heroes of the one are villains of the other. While the Islamists lionize Mahmud of Ghazni as the fabled destroyer of the great temple of Somnath, the Parivar historians invoke his memory as the archetype of evil Muslim invaders persecuting the "native" Hindus. The intent is the same, i. e., to raise consciousness of religious identities and collective selfhood through
revival of historical memories, whether flattering or traumatic. Such was the case when in 1999 L. K. Advani, then President of the BJP, chose Somnath, the symbol of Hindu persecution by Muslim invaders, as the starting point of his rath yatra (chariot march), to Ayodhiya where a medieval mosque was to be destroyed and replaced with a temple.
Although stopped short of his destination, Advani succeeded well in arousing Hindu religious fervor as evidenced from the trail of bloody communal riots left behind by his caravan.
The Harrapan-Indus valley civilization also fares no better in the historical schemes of the Parivar Hindu nationalists. While the Islamists negate the distinct character and existence of this ancient civilization through a strategy of silence, their counterparts use the strategy of appropriation to achieve a similar objective. They take pains to substitute the widely accepted theory of the Vedic Aryan migration into India around 1500 B. C. with accounts of their native origins traceable as far back as 3000 B. C. Accordingly, they claim, that the Harrapan-Indus valley civilization was not a Dravidian creation, but simply a precursor of more recent Hindu culture, complete with prototypical Sanskrit script, sacrificial alters, Vedic hymns and domesticated horse. These excursions into history and archaeology enable the Parivar's leading lights to authoritatively categorize all Indians as outside invader except the Aryan Hindu "race" or those absorbed into the Hindutva fold.
The most elaborate piece of history fabricated by the Parivar chroniclers has to do with the existence of a 84 pillar Ram temple under the Babri Mosque in Ayodhiya. It is claimed that 340,000 devotees of god Rama lost their lives in their attempts to restore the temple since it was destroyed by Baber, the founder of the Moghal empire and replaced
by the mosque bearing his name. After several attempts the Mosque was finally demolished by the Sangh Parivar mobs in 1992 touching off massive communal riots throughout the subcontinent. Not to be outdone by their counterparts in India, Pakistan's Islamists set out immediately to demolish any Hindu temple they could lay their hands on. In Multan, the hometown of this writer, the famous Parahalad Mandir, standing in its
quiet greying majesty was razzed to the ground by mobs belonging to Maulana Noorani's JUI. Little did these zealots know or care that enshrined in the inner solitude of this temple was a great historical legend that had given birth to the universal Hindu festival of lights, devali.
Another identical strategic asset at the disposal of the two sides of soulless religious politics is the vast infrastructure of organized religion. In addition to the Temples and Mosques, both the Parivar and Islamist parties run thousands of religious schools in India
and Pakistan under different denominations which serve the purpose of ideological indoctrination and promotion of hatred against internal minorities and external enemies." Both control networks of vernacular newspapers and specialize in vituperative journalism. However, Sangh Parivar controls a much wider diversity of cultural institutions, drama and music clubs, literary associations, study circles, audio and video productions, publishing houses and service organizations. This versatility has enabled the Parivar combine to translate its activities into political support and electoral votes far beyond the reach of their counterpart across the border.
In addition Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the mother organization of Sangh Parivar has for long run drill camps to regiment thousands of Hindu youth in every corner of India. Some Islamist parties, on the other hand, have organized armed commando training camps since the 1980s when they got involved in the US-Pakistan sponsored jihad or holy war against the Soviet army in Afghanistan, shifting their sphere of action to the Kashmir front in due course.
More recently, Shiv Sena, the ultra-militant ally of the Parivar has also started armed training camps by the name of "Hindu Rashtriya Mukti
Army" to fight terrorism" in Kashmir (The Times of India, 29 September 2000).
Fascination with Power
Nothing harmonizes the politics of Islamist and Parivar camps more than the display and use of sheer physical power against internal and external "enemies." Internally, verbal and physical assault on minorities has been the common practice on both sides. Pakistan lost almost all of its non-Muslim population through emigration and secession of Bangladesh as a result of which one would have expected a future Free from communal violence. But that was not to be the case. The Islamists have never ceased to pick on existing Muslim sects to brand them non-Muslims and kafirs. As self-appointed guardians of the purity of Islamic beliefs, they are not just content with instigating sectarian violence.
Gen. Zia's dictatorial regime put another powerful weapon in their hands in the form of an expanded and ill defined blasphemy law which they have used with increasing frequency to destroy the lives of individual members of religious minorities and dissenting intellectuals in general.
A simple procedure of registering a police report on flimsiest of grounds can throw their targets at the mercy of fanatic lynch mobs.
When it comes to their perspective on external relations, the Islamists picture their state as the citadel of Islam, in conflict not only with "Hindu" India but the entire world of non- believers, alam-e-kufr. That explains their obsession with extolling the martial image of their nation and virtues of amassing modern armaments, including that ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the atom bomb. They were in the forefront of euphoric street celebrations when Pakistan detonated its nuclear devices in reaction to India's May 1998 atomic blasts, and now they are the main force against the signing of any test ban treaties.
The Sangh Parivar and its followers are equally thrilled by sensations of raw physical power over their perceived internal and external enemies. But unlike their Islamist counterparts prone to revel in the virile imagery of a distant past, they start by recovering from the long and checkered history of the subcontinent, narratives of persecution and humiliation suffered by Hindus as a religious community at the hands of "outsiders." This brings an element of self-righteousness to the project of defining their enemies who must atone for the sins of their forefathers. It is therefore not surprising that a quantum jump in the political fortunes of the Sangh Parivar during the closing decades of the 20th century coincided with a sharp escalation of violence against religious minorities. By the 1990s the intensity of this violence reached levels unseen since the partition riots of 1947, first targeting the Muslims and then Christians held accountable for the downfall of the great Hindu rashtra.
Consistent with re-cultivating the image of a powerful and aggressive Hindu nation is the obsession of Hindutva ideologues with exorcising all signs of "weakness" and pacifism from India's body politic. Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), operating
internationally on behalf of the Parivar, has been valiantly engaged in erasing the non-violent, pacifist image of India projected abroad by post-independence leaders such as Gandhi and Nehru. Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence or ahimsa was indeed assassinated by one of the RSS fanatics for demeaning the manliness of the Hindu rashtra by preaching the gospel of peace.
The ascendant dogma of Sangh Parivar is that only the strong command respect in the arena of world politics and only powerful weapons empower nations. It therefore should not have come as a surprise that the BJP coalition government wasted little time after its inauguration in 1998 to declare India a defacto nuclear weapons state by commissioning the atomic tests that sent shock waves around the world.
If there was any ambiguity about the motives behind these tests, it soon became pitifully clear in their aftermath. The VHP announced plans to erect a monument to national virility at Pokhran, the site of the atomic blasts and consecrate the rest of India with the sands from the ground zero. Others boasted of India's elevation to the status of a big power.
With BJP still in office, there is little hope that CTBT, a test ban treaty that India itself had proposed in its earlier gentler, kindlier incarnation, is going to be signed in the foreseeable future.
Consequences and Prospects
To conclude, a few words on the consequences of the ascendance of religious politics in Pakistan and India, and the prospects that lie ahead. In Pakistan where the dominance of Islamist parties and their control of the national political agenda has a longer and continuous history, the ideal of a tolerant, liberal, progressive and peaceful society has become merely a dream. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than General Musharraf's quick backtracking after displaying his preference for liberal reforms at the time of his October 1999 military coup.
The collapse of democracy and increasing economic hardship has left the masses of working poor too alienated to resist the power of the divine conglomerate. Although the middle class aspires for a prosperous, secure and progressive social system and would like to live in peace with India and rest of the world, it feels too intimidated to raise its
voice against the stranglehold of the mullahs on civil society.
Psychologists in Pakistan speak of an epidemic of clinical depression and rising suicide rates among sections of this class, especially women and persons in the prime ages of 15 to 40. Most discouraging for the prospect of progressive change is the denigration of the liberal and secular-minded intelligentsia. With the exception of a few brave souls in the English media, higher education and legal profession, they have been silenced, coopted or driven into exile voluntarily or otherwise.
The religious minorities, of course, bear the greatest brunt of the tide of Islamist intolerance and persecution, irrespective of class affiliation. Far from being the equal and full citizens of Jinnah's vision, they have been virtually disfranchised by the system of
Separate electorates and persecuted by blasphemy laws. The Ahmedias, once a vibrant and highly educated community, capable of contributing significantly to the cultural, economic and scientific development of Pakistan, are reduced to an anguished and demoralized entity since being legislated out of the pale of Islam and legally prohibited from observing such religious rites that may suggest that they are Muslims.
The Shia community seems to be next in line to suffer a similar dispensation. Venting their wrath on an ever-widening circle of designated non- Muslims is the tonic on which the monolithic nationalism and patriotism of the Islamists is nourished.
There is an interesting difference on this last point between the Islamists and the Sangh Parivar. The Hindutva ideology of the latter is at its core a Brahman faith with a hagiology, which is not shared by a large section of Hindus, particularly the masses of Dalits. Yet, the Hindutva ideologues go out of their way to claim not only the Dalits,
but also Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and tribal people with animistic faiths into their in-group. Only the Muslims and Christians are strictly defined as the out-group.
From an overall perspective, India is still better placed to reconstruct a socially regressive and peaceful society. It has a constitution that recognizes the cultural diversity of the nation, and affirms explicitly that the state by itself shall not espouse or establish or practice any religion. The Sangh Parivar fanatics no doubt use their street power to unleash terror against the minorities. But their ascendancy in the long run depends on their success in holding on to state power through the constitutionally sanctioned electoral process. No one knows this better than the BJP Prime Minister Vajpayee who heads a minority coalition government. The reality of electoral politics has forced him to tone down his communal rhetoric and to vacillate on his party's insistence to build the Ram temple at the site of the demolished Babri Mosque. The BJP has even elected a Dalit, Bangaru Laxman, as its president who took office by announcing that "Muslims are our flesh of flesh and blood of blood."
The BJP's Hindutva agenda also faces a stiff and increasingly organized resistance from a secular cultural intelligentsia which has a strong presence in the institutional structure of the Indian society and functions in an environment relatively free from intimidation. The main challenge before this intelligentsia is to re-appropriate the public space lost to Hindutva ideologues under the patronage of the BJP government, and to reassert India's secular, richly multi-cultural, democratic and pacifist identity.
Paradoxically, the parallels in the retrogressive politics of religion in India and Pakistan have also generated a new silver lining.
People in both countries have become aware as never before of the destructiveness of internal bloodshed and senseless enmity between the two countries. Recent dramatic increase in the cross-border contacts between civilian individuals and groups representing social movements of peace, justice and human rights has opened up new possibilities of
wresting the agenda of nation building and international relations from the hands of those who have kept the great people of South Asian subcontinent shackled to primordial conflicts and prejudices, ignorance and poverty. But this is no doubt a task that will require a great deal of perseverance and moral courage.
Note: This paper was written for the joint session of Pakistan Council of Social Sciences, Islamabad Cultural Forum and Islamabad Social Science Forum on January 5, 2001.
"As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, you (Muhammad) have no part in them in the least." (6:159, Noble Qur’an)