By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Every week there is news from India of a fresh lynching, mostly of a Muslim or a Dalit accused of transporting beef. The Indian liberals (and I use the word liberal very loosely for their claim to liberalism can often be quite hollow, much like some of our own Pakistani liberals) have resorted to the mantra that “India is becoming like Pakistan”. This presupposes that India was at some point in its history actually a liberal and secular land of milk and honey. I put to you that India is and always has been a staunchly majoritarian and deeply casteist society. It is Pakistan, equally majoritarian and fascist, that has mirrored India and not the other way around.
The original sin in the modern era was Gandhi’s blatant, unrestrained and deliberate introduction of religion into politics. It was Gandhi who made cow slaughter a national issue. True he wanted Muslims and Christians to voluntarily give it up but he was forthright about the primacy that the issue of the cow enjoyed in Hinduism.
On 6 October 1921, Gandhi wrote in Young India: “Cow protection is the central fact of Hinduism... Cow protection is the gift of Hinduism to the world. And Hinduism will live so long as there are Hindus to protect the cow...Hindus will be judged not by their tilaks, not by the correct chanting of mantras, not by their pilgrimages, not by their most punctilious observances of caste rules, but their ability to protect the cow.” When asked why he was supporting the Islamist Khilafat Movement led by his hand picked Mullahs of Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind, Gandhi said that he felt by supporting Muslims on their religious issue of Khilafat, he could persuade the Muslim knife to spare the Hindu cow. Today Mahatma’s followers are less patient than he was. They are ready to kill for the cow to prove themselves good Hindus. It was Mahatma Gandhi who opened this door. He also opened a number of other doors which allowed forces of reaction and superstition to come pouring forth and he was unabashed about it writing “I don’t accept a politics without religion, polity is a servant of religion, a polity without religion leads to doom as it kills ones soul.”
Yet Gandhi’s invocation of religion had more to do, perhaps, with morality of it, even if his morality was often selective and in turn alienating for Non-Hindus in India. This gap he tried to bridge by encouraging the most reactionary of religious fanatics from the Muslim side into politics. They came in droves, ready to beat up anyone who questioned this holy matrimony of Hindu and Muslim divines. Indeed Jinnah was physically assaulted by Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar primarily because Jinnah refused to call Gandhi Mahatma and Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar a Maulana. Self-righteousness gripped the Indian independence movement, with the moderates and liberals being sidelined by new, darker forces of religious superstition. We see this alive and well in politics of both Pakistan and India today.
The new Indian Republic, born out of the partition of India, started taking steps almost immediately to firmly place Hindu majority rule at the centre of the discourse. One of the earliest acts of the Nehru Cabinet was to approve the rebuilding of Somnath Mandir. To be fair Pandit Nehru personally disliked the idea because he was somewhat secular though not entirely unburdened of his Brahmin privilege. Nevertheless he went along with his more forceful cabinet colleagues like Sardar Patel and K M Munshi in this act that underscored the rebirth of the Hindu Rashtra. After Sardar Patel, the hardliner, died, Pandit Nehru once again feebly protested the idea but was overruled by his Congress party government. Accordingly Rajendra Prasad the first President of India presided over the inauguration ceremony and performed the installation of the Lingam there. The “secular” Congress government also “removed” a mosque from the location. This event was the forerunner to the Babri Mosque dispute years later. The state was clearly establishing religion from the get go even if it protested to be secular. Indeed it protested too much while doing the exact opposite.
Obviously India’s majoritarianism was much more subtle than the Pakistani variety, where we put religion squarely in the middle of the constitution starting with the Objectives Resolution. Indian majoritarianism, however, was subtle and therefore far more effective. Tokens like Muslim presidents and ministers were offered as proof of Indian multiculturalism, all the while Muslims, their language and their culture faced direct onslaught and full might of the state. Massacre in Hyderabad’s Operation Polo where an estimated 40,000 to 100,000 Muslims were slaughtered in a span of two weeks were covered up and reports about the genocide buried by Nehru himself. Indian secularism therefore was very much akin to putting a lipstick on a pig. It was for show and masked the reality of the deeply non-secular undercurrents in its polity. It showed in the policy of Indira Gandhi and her persecution of Sikhs for example. Her assassination led to Congress led Hindu reprisals and pogroms against the Sikh community. All this happened long before the Hindu Nationalist BJP took over. BJP has merely unmasked the true face of Indian politics.
Pakistan too has always been a badly majoritarian society. Jinnah’s pronouncements about the protection of minorities and their equal rights were disregarded almost immediately after his death. Like Pandit Nehru, Jinnah too proved to be ineffectual against the overarching ambitions of his Muslim co-religonists who used and abused religion at will. The country has become a veritable hellhole for religious as well as sectarian minorities. It has been a full-blown theocratic state at least since 1984. Religious liberty has died a thousand deaths in Pakistan.
The only way a truly secular society in South Asia could have come about was if all the parties had agreed to the Cabinet Mission Plan, a solution which would have created enough mutual checks and balances on Hindu and Muslim elites for them to work towards a united future. Unfortunately, the Cabinet Mission Plan was sabotaged at the very outset by the centralizing ambitions of the Congress Party. As a result we are left with a situation where two majoritarian states are held hostage by extremists within their ranks. This is the cross all of us in South Asia have to bear.
Daily Times, July 17, 2017