On the slippery slope of religious fundamentalism

The BJP is the largest political party by membership in India and the world, as claimed by its leaders. Surprisingly, his claim to success lies not so much in his achievements as in his openly declared objects of hatred – Muslims, Christians, Dalits, women. His rise to power has invariably rested on the success of his hate campaigns.

The party only became a political force after LK Advani’s Rath Yatra in 1990, who went to Ayodhya ostensibly to build a Ram Mandir but ended up destroying the Babri Masjid, as that was the unstated goal . After that, it became the largest party in parliament in the 1998 and 1999 elections, but the numbers weren’t enough to say on its own. This was made possible, in 2014, by Advani’s protege, who had gained popularity for “teaching the Muslims of Gujarat a lesson” they were unlikely to forget in their lifetime.

The fact that the intensity of malevolence often increases ahead of an election in BJP-led states shows that the project is closely tied to its polling prospects. Communal violence or targeted attacks against individuals of a certain religion has been the preferred mode of aggregating its support base among Hindus.

These attacks are not a passing madness of midsummer of a lunatic fringe of the party. For example, the two spearhead organizations in the campaign in Karnataka, the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), are neither lunatics nor outcasts. They can very well be considered the vanguard of the political wing as they deal with issues that later become legislative enactments or executive decisions of the ruling party.

A closer look at the legislations enacted by BJP governments in the Center and in states like UP and Karnataka and the campaigns by its cadres reveal a systematic and well-orchestrated agenda to disenfranchise and dehumanize minority groups.

Citizenship Act (CAA), Triple Talaq Act, Revocation of Section 370 and Amendment of Section 35A in Jammu and Kashmir, Division of J&K State into two territories of the Union, the ‘love jihad’ legislations in the UP and other BJP-governed states all go well beyond the officially stated agenda of ‘not appease Muslims’.

Karnataka has now clearly overtaken UP with a series of attacks on Muslims, starting with the hijab controversy, calls for a ban on the sale of halal meat, stopping Muslim traders from doing business near temples or during Hindu festivals, telling Hindus not to buy goods from Muslim traders, and now the campaign to turn off loudspeakers used by mosques, etc.

All of these acts have a specific purpose. Denying or restricting the political, economic, social and religious space of Muslims and jeopardizing their lives and livelihoods. Never has any government made community hatred the basis of its policy as the current government of Karnataka. And even worse, the malicious intent is rationalized as a response to demands from the majority community when in fact, it’s just a small group of hate-filled militant cadres raising those demands – on instructions from at the top.

What is shocking is the ruling party’s complicity in paralyzing the state administration in the face of these thugs. What should be seen as complete incompetence of the Chief Minister and Home Secretary is projected as meeting the (imaginary) demands of the majority against ‘the other’. When the state acts flagrantly against a community, its only hope is the judiciary, protector and defender of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. But the promise of the Constitution has repeatedly failed them.

Victims then have little choice but to seek extra-constitutional means and turn to radical organizations. And that suits the far right better, because they want to eliminate the space for liberal democratic politics so that the majority community is forced to choose them as their “protectors.”

What are the options for oppressed minorities? Are they choosing Gandhian methods of nonviolent protest, or are they seeking protection from radical Islamic groups? Already, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, has embroiled himself in the hijab controversy. It may warm the hearts of radical groups in Kerala, just across the border of Dakshina Kannada district near Mangaluru and Udupi, where the hijab controversy first erupted. Did the Sangh Parivar push the dying monster to come to Mangaluru? Already, much blood is spilling on the streets of Kerala in the battles between Communist Party workers and BJP cadres. No one wants al-Qaeda cadres to come to Mangaluru.

Or are these attacks on Muslims in Dakshina Kannada districts a symptom of infighting within the BJP? Why were there no such problems when BS Yediyurappa was Chief Minister? Was he a more astute manager of differences within the party? Is he a more liberal politician, on the model of Vajpayee? Are some forces within the BJP trying to oust Basavaraj Bommai?

Bommai is at an impasse, unsure whether to crack down on the thugs within the Sangh Parivar or give in to their pressure and ban Muslims from selling halal meat and trading near temples. And what guarantee is there that the Sangh Parivar organizations will stop at these demands and not come up with something more vicious?

Either way, the path of religious fundamentalism is always slippery, and it will only sink further into a bottomless pit of hatred and violence. At some point, the state must assert itself and tell the people, especially those affected, that it will uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. And warn those who take the law into their own hands that they will be dealt with severely. It is the least expected of the Prime Minister.

(The author was formerly an official of the Union Cabinet Secretariat)

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