October rage in India: surprising?
By Imtiaz Gul
Express Tribune, October 21, 2015
A string of events in recent weeks — mostly involving Shiv Sena and RSS activists — shook not only outsiders but also a large number of Indians. Invariably, many have begun questioning whether this attack on the ‘unwanted citizens’ within India amounts to an assault on the secular foundations of the country, or does it reflect a genuine push for establishing the grandiose Hindutva vision across India?
Dozens of Shiv Sena zealots, for instance, stormed the BCCI office in Mumbai on October 19, chanting slogans in protest against BCCI President Shashank Manohar’s meeting with Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Shahryar Khan and demanded the guests go back. The same day, members of a Hindu extremist group threw black ink on a Kashmiri lawmaker, Engineer Rashid, outside the New Delhi Press Club. A week earlier on October 14, Shiv Sena activists doused the face of Sudheendra Kulkarni in black paint for hosting the launch of former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s book. They went to the extent of describing Kulkarni as a bigger threat to India than the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attack. In Mumbai, the police brutally assaulted two Muslim teenagers — Asif and Danish Shaikh — and told them to go “back to Pakistan”. An angry mob, lynched a Muslim compatriot, Mohammad Akhlaq, on September 30 for allegedly eating beef. Elsewhere, RSS and BJP activists and leaders want a total ban on beef and are openly advising beef-eaters to leave India.
As the list of religious militant absurdities grows, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged caution, drawing — justifiably so — the ire of Congress President Sonia Gandhi (on October 18) who said, “The prime minister says Hindus and Muslims should not fight. I say that they do not fight on their own, they are made to fight.”
Should we be shocked and surprised over the juvenile exuberance, misplaced arrogance, overplayed pretence of innocence and an over-projected sense of self-righteousness currently flowing out of India? We should not. Nor should we judge the Shiv Sena and the RSS. Simply because, as pointed out by veteran Indian lawyer A G Noorani in one of his recent columns, Modi is a ‘proud sevak’ of the RSS. “It was an unprecedented journey; but caused little surprise. On September 4, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Nagpur, the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, to present himself before RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Almost his entire council of ministers and the BJP’s parliamentary board were there to demonstrate their accountability to the RSS,” wrote Noorani.
According to Noorani, Modi “was proud to be a Swayamsevak and he had reached where he had because of the values he had imbibed as a member of the RSS… Modi is a lifelong RSS activist (pracharak), having left his family to dedicate himself to the organisation. It, in turn, ensured his rise to the post of the highest executive of the country.” Why should this not be a licence for the proponents of ‘Akhand Bharat’ or the believers of Hindutva to kill opponents?
In a way, Modi and his cohorts have sanctioned and encouraged violence and high-handedness vis-a-vis Indian Muslims by banning beef or allowing the RSS and Shiv Sena goons to physically threaten Pakistanis or those speaking in favour of Pakistan. As pointed out by Sanjay Kumar in a blog in this paper, the Indian “leadership has to go beyond political gain and loss in order to build a new architecture of peace in the subcontinent”. Vinod Sharma of the Hindustan Times, in an interview with a Pakistani channel on October 19, underscored that “they can win elections through this toxic and infective diatribe but certainly cannot repair and build relations”. Both Sharma and Kumar called on Indian leaders to transcend petty parochial party positions and work for creating lasting legacies. Kumar also pointed out that Angela Merkel’s way of accommodating Syrian refugees in her country has catapulted her political stature to new levels. She did so in the face of fierce opposition but she remained firm. Will South Asia ever get such a statesperson or keep reeling from parochial mediocrity?
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies