There are parallel strains in South Asia in the two neighbouring states of India and Pakistan where the respective bourgeoisie are at the back of a political change. In India it already has manifested in the form of an ethno-religious push popularly called Hindutva vis-a-vis the secular nature of the Indian state which now exists only on the pages of the Constitution but has seen its end in societal attitudes and customs. It asserts Indian middle class’ role in the affairs of the society and through it the philosophical-cultural reassertion of the RSS as an ideological patron and the BJP, its political face which minds the state.
The ‘Hindutva’ Saffron reigns supreme in India. The list is too long to entail what all and how all has it manifested in specific terms where 200 million Muslims still reside and suffer the physical, societal and legislative ostracisation at the hands of Hindu political, civil and establishment elites. Same is true for all other minorities, also in significant numbers, who are marginalised and frequently assaulted for their beliefs and customs, societal or religious. India now imagines its role in the world from a Hindu lens and has turned into a dominantly mythologically driven state and society.
How religiously good are RSS’ Hindus Rajbhas, perhaps we may never know, but they have unleashed a movement in the name of religion and consumed whatever was left of secularism and inclusivity in the Indian society. Lynching of Muslims is a daily affair. One may live in India as a person from another belief only if one desists from public proclamation of another religion through practice, custom, tradition or symbol. It is as bad as it was in Nazi Germany with its Holocaust, extermination and exclusivity. India’s Hindu middle class was agitated through most sensitive symbols of its imagined greatness as a religion and a culture and weaponised to turn into what is entrenched hyper-nationalism. Indian society has thus only regressed and defaced its liberal, inclusive and secular nature. Hyper-nationalism around religion is the common mantra for both the Indian state and the society threatening and destabilising the region and the neighbourhood. Around the sentiment the largely Hindu nationalist Indian army and paramilitary oppresses and occupies Indian held Jammu and Kashmir which remains a bleeding sore and a combustible flashpoint between two nuclear-capable neighbours.
The society that first changed on ethno-religious basis then translated into religious-nationalism which when weaponised shaped India’s internal and external policies. India today, like Nazi Germany, is a tinderbox of hate, misplaced passion, blind faith in deity driven leadership, and exhibits an aggression and assertion of what is only an imagined entitlement to superiority. Religion or religious illusions are too strong a lever of establishing one’s right over other’s wrong where the cult alone defines what is right. This is a classic case of exclusion of all others into an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ syndrome pitching the two in a deadly confrontation. It trumps any rule-based order destabilising the society and intuiting a paranoia difficult to behold. Controlling this Frankenstein makes for an impossibility. The rational irrational takes over.
In Pakistan, religion as a plank came later. It was the charismatic persona and image of Imran Khan that first touched people’s imagination. He was already a sports hero and when he became a viable political option people at large began identifying with the possibility of changed fortunes under his leadership. He galvanised their adulation into a political asset and turned an improbable victory against the dynastic hold of the now defamed and widely despised oligarchs in the Sharif and the Zardari families. Their tales of corruption were already fables and the nation for the most part was happy that they stood trumped at the polls. But then IK in power with his motley and philandering crowd of PTI failed spectacularly to run the government and bring a material change to the lives of the people. Rather, life became an ordeal.
A difficult global and pandemic environment was exacerbated with incompetence and lack of understanding and imagination in statecraft. Economic woes only multiplied and soon the chimera was worn out. The first to shed him as a saviour were the poor and the downtrodden for whom daily life became impossible. The others began having thoughts on how much longer could the state and the society suffer at the hands of such manifest incompetence. Recognising the political ground slipping from under him, IK only turned vicious (some say vengeful) till he was finally displaced by a combined opposition of exactly the same oligarchs that the people had been happy to see the back of. Failure came a full circle and left behind in its wake disappointment and tragic loss of faith in the political system. The consequence of reverting Pakistan back to the same hands who had in popular perception only plundered and looted for decades will always count as IK’s biggest failure.
Seeing the end coming, IK began his next phase of triggering sympathy and capturing the imagination of his supporters mostly consisting of romanticised youth who only had dreams to hold on to, and the middle class bourgeois – second generation professionals who were educated enough and professionally occupied to keep their heads above water far better than their parent’s generation but still lacked voice in a social economy which still was very much in the control of the few, families and dynasties, who retained control of the governance and policy structures in the country. In IK they feel they can take the control away from the excusive hold of the few making the system egalitarian and equitable for all. Sadly, the trusted Messiah did not live up to the image or his promise the first time but those who still dote on him believe he will deliver them from the manipulative hold of the alternates in power. IK has coined and sold his message well; almost to the point of blind faith among his followers.
This is when he also began invoking Riasat-e-Madina, the need to address Islamophobia, created a university to study the ‘seerat and sunnat’ of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and repeated the message at every opportunity, sometime every day, reinforcing his credentials as the man of god as opposed to the philandering and plundering other alternatives. This was a powerful message that no Muslim and especially the Pakistani Muslim will not notice. He became the leader of the righteous. He then invoked America and its resident animosity for her frivolity in relations with Pakistan and turned it into an imaginary pariah for the Pakistanis to detest, hate and fight against with Imran Khan at the head. What has garnered in classic manipulation of sentiment, hate, passion and nationalism, all tying together in a potent mix. Unless he turns back, even from the brink, we are well on our way to become the next hyper-nationalists in South Asia.
Going by India’s example we just may have another hyper-nationalistic and ethno-religious nation in the neighbourhood with a finger on the nuclear button. Fear the specter.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2022.
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