India under extremist threat

Published: October 25, 2015


PHOTO: AFP/FILE The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

The world needs to take notice and India should start to worry. A number of recent unpleasant incidents have involved the members of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the RSS. They were aimed at humbling the Muslim minority in the country. These events seem to indicate that the country now faces an extremist challenge. It would be tempting to compare the developing Indian situation with the one Pakistan faces. However, it would be a mistake to equate the two situations. To begin with, Pakistan has, in the form of the National Action Plan, a better understanding of the problem and how it might be resolved. The same recognition has as yet to lead to the formulation of an appropriate public policy response in New Delhi.

October rage in India: surprising?

Let me begin with a brief history of the RSS. It was founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a physician, who lived and practiced in what was then the Bombay Presidency of British India. This region has now been renamed Maharashtra and is the centre of the RSS. The original purpose of the organisation was to challenge British rule by adopting Hinduism as the basis of opposition. The RSS did not buy the approach adopted by the leadership of Indian National Congress (INC) of using the instruments that were part of the Western political order to gain independence. In fact, the principles and practices of Western liberal democracy also informed the style of campaign followed by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his All-India Muslim League (AIML). The INC was prepared to use civil disobedience as an instrument for applying pressure on the British rulers. Its leaders were prepared to court arrest and fill Indian jails while Jinnah and the AIML confined their campaign strictly to the accepted approaches.

The RSS chose to operate very differently. Its focus was on inculcating Hindu values among its followers. Drawing on what it saw as the approach followed by the extremist nationalist groups such as the Nazis in Germany, it imparted military and physical training to those who joined the organisation. The idea behind this was to develop the capacity to physically confront the British to force them to leave the subcontinent. Once that happened, India would be turned into a Hindu state. However, the liberals won the day. They were able to persuade the British to leave India in the hands of the Indians. Much to the disappointment of the Hindu nationalists, M K Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru conceded Jinnah’s demand for the creation of a separate Muslim state.

11 times Shiv Sena made Indians want to bury their heads in the sand

Some political scientists such as Subarata Mitra have suggested that by allowing the AIML to leave India, it became possible for the leaders of the new country to create a liberal democratic order for the nation-state they had inherited. According to this interpretation, the Muslim League’s continued presence in an undivided India would have deflected the making of the country’s constitution into providing special rights for the Muslim community, which then constituted a bit more than one-quarter of then British India’s total population. With a large chunk of the Muslim population gone into the newly created state of Pakistan, India’s constitution-makers could focus their attention on equal rather than special rights.

The Indian Constitution is one of the most liberal governing documents in the emerging world. It grants equality to all citizens no matter their religion, caste or creed. That said, it also recognises that there is a class of citizens who need “affirmative action” to help them catch up with those Hinduism had granted a higher status. There were a limited number of special rights given to the Muslim minority as well. They were allowed to follow their own family laws.

Building hysteria: Shiva Sena activists disrupt Pakistani play

Some of these provisions went against the belief system of the RSS. Since Narendra Modi had cut his political teeth as an RSS member, it was expected that once he gained power through elections, he would pursue the Hindu agenda. This the new prime minister has not done in an open way. He has indicated through his actions, although not through his words, that he was unlikely to follow the RSS agenda. Thus disappointed, the members of this powerful organisation have decided to take matters into their own hands. They are enforcing some deeply held beliefs by resorting to violence. There have been murders of Muslims accused of eating beef; in one particular case a man was killed since he was transporting cows the attackers believed were bound for the slaughter house. Prime Minster Modi has not used the bully-pulpit to denounce this kind of violence, fearing that strong words from him would further antagonise his support base. It is now clear that India is heading towards a major crisis.

Shiv Sena targets Mahira, Fawad

The RSS demands concern not only the “holiness of the mother cow”, it also wants those who converted to other religions to return to the Hindu fold. It wants all symbols of the Hinduism — and the religion is full of symbols, including the pictures and figurines of major and minor deities — to be protected by law. An Australian visitor was attacked since he had the head of a Hindu deity tattooed on his body. Suddenly, India is faced with a problem that runs deeper than the one Pakistan faces in terms of dealing with extremism. The developing situation in India will have profound consequences for South Asia. 

Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2015.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (30)

  • Nadeem
    Oct 26, 2015 - 12:06AM

    No doubt ,India is in the trouble water of Extremism. It would be foolish to consider that Nirandra Modi does,t has power in his hand. It has to act as Prime minister of the country rather than party leader and control the situation with iron hand.Recommend

  • Pakistani Liberal
    Oct 26, 2015 - 12:30AM

    Today the Indian Prime Minister has said “Diversity is the strength of India” in his weekly address. Can the Pakistani Prime Minister say this even as a prank?

    We can only wish we have the Indian constitution and strength of Indian institutions. Let us focus on our national life scarred by sectarian and ethnic hatred. Recommend

  • pk
    Oct 26, 2015 - 1:39AM

    Look who is worried. A theocratic state who by constitution is preferential to one religion and considers other religions as third grade. There is state sanction on killing of individual on insulting one particular religion but it’s ok if other religion get insulted. Thanks but no thanks.Recommend

  • ajeet
    Oct 26, 2015 - 1:43AM

    The author fails to understand that anti minority laws are state sanctioned in pakistan and its law and order issue in India. So Pakistan’s dream of equating a military ruled theocracy under a democratic facade with the worlds largest democracy won’t work.Recommend

  • sabi
    Oct 26, 2015 - 2:01AM

    Fascists can not stay for permanent (they believe) if just relying on electoral, hence they try make every attempt that can close the door for opposition to challenge their regime.They will definitely try to play with the law of the land and they know it how to coat pills.
    Finger crossed!Recommend

  • Anjaan
    Oct 26, 2015 - 2:11AM

    The concerns expressed in this article is simply fear psychosis from the Muslim point of view … it does not reflect the issues and interests of the Hindus in their own land, India … !! … RSS is a nationalist cultural organization in India that works for preserving and protection of the age old Hindu values of India in the interest of the Hindus in India …Recommend

  • vinsin
    Oct 26, 2015 - 2:52AM

    Pakistan has no minorities left. Most of the Muslims stayed in India. Author has not explained why Muslims need to have special status? Author is saying that Pakistan has the right to become an Islamic state and Saudi Arabia too but India should not become a Hindu State. I one sentence author demands equality and in other special status/Sharia. Subcontinent was not partitioned to give special status to Muslims. Nehru opposed special status and Jinnah demanded partition and Muslims voted for it.Recommend

  • SabaQ
    Oct 26, 2015 - 3:33AM

    There are several differences in extremism in India and any other country in the world.

    India is too big and too diverse to be controlled by a single ideology unlike in Pakistan where it is a monolithic society in terms of religiosity.
    In India democratic institutions are firmly in place and there is also a huge educated middle class who does not want their progress to be hindered.
    India is not a weaponized society. Despite incidents of intolerance it is not forseeable for India to plunge into disarray like Pak. But animosity towards Pak is another story. It is rising.

  • someone
    Oct 26, 2015 - 3:39AM

    Well sir , moharram passed peacefully in “Hindu” India while there were two attacks in Pakistan and one in Bangladesh , the Muslim countries. I think world should,in fact, has taken notice of situation in Pakistan so much that UN had to step in. Irony is, you spent your valuable time in writing about India instead writing about dire situation in your own country. What is with intellectuals of Pakistan? It seems they have lost all hope in Pakistan and so diverted attention towards India and even ink throwing incidents in India seems to have more attention than bomb explosions in Pakistan. PPP is asking shiv Sena to be declared terrorist organization while no one asked for actions against LeJ. Seems Pakistani lives are cheaper than Indian ones. Sad.Recommend

  • Prakash
    Oct 26, 2015 - 5:43AM

    Law and order is state subject and the isolated incident of lynching of Muslim alleged to be storing beef happened in UP ,where the Modi’s opposition Samajwadi Party ,which has Muslim support base is in power.There has not been wide spread riot on beef issue,which is very sensitive
    Issue for majority Hindu.Civil Society is up in arms against any dilution of India’s secular Character and 40 Writers have return their Government honored rewards.Recommend

  • vasan
    Oct 26, 2015 - 5:55AM

    The same thing was said about Gujarat many times over. But nothing much has happened there. The beef incident is condemnable, despicable and punishable. But that is taken care by the law. The church burning incident in Delhi, nun raping incident in W Bengal were also attributed initially to BJP/RSS combine. But now everyone knows who was behind all these crimes. We have what is called “Elections” once in 5 years and the people would be the judge.Recommend

  • Do
    Oct 26, 2015 - 6:22AM

    Ladies and Gentlemen, this article is a perfect example of a slippery slope argument.Recommend

  • Prakash
    Oct 26, 2015 - 6:34AM

    Some fringe elements are giving bad name to Modi’s BJP but that does not mean that India’secular constitution and tradition is any
    Way in danger.After Ghar wapasi (conversion to Hinduism)incident ,there has not been any incident ,all those poor people who participated in that event have return back to their original fold of religion since then.Hinduism has no concept of prociltization and as it caste system decided by birth-what will be caste of new convert?Recommend

  • Sameer
    Oct 26, 2015 - 9:24AM

    So to whom do you show India’s intolerance? China,which bans Ramzan….or USA, where Muslims are striped at airport….or Europe, where large anti Islam rallies happens on regular basisRecommend

  • Jatin
    Oct 26, 2015 - 10:02AM

    Invaders trying to teach lessons to the original people of subcontinent. The problem is getting bigger because for 1000 years the so called minorities have taken undue advantage of the liberal values of this beautiful subcontinent. They have snatched a big part of the land and still not happy and always wants more. On top of it now wants they want to force their culture of intolerance on largely liberal values of this country. But we will survive and get back to our original shape and size with human values. Recommend

  • Oct 26, 2015 - 10:02AM

    Sad, generalising to suit personal hatred. This moharam I witnessed one of the largest procession. There were huge traffic jam making all of us wait for almost half hour. When someone remarked “they are converting it to Pakistan” one volunteer angrily remarked..”we are Indians. This peaceful procession can never happen in Pakistan”
    I was proud of him, he is bold enough to defend himself.
    Dear author, first please don’t compare a nation of 1.25bn (125crore) with 20 crore nation. We will have hand count of differences, while you have thousands of them. Even US has accepted that we are better than even them.Recommend

  • TiffinBox
    Oct 26, 2015 - 10:50AM

    An article by a Muslim intellect. No, I am not surprised.Recommend

  • Dubya
    Oct 26, 2015 - 2:54PM

    The author sees the whole world with green eyes … so things which are not green are complete orange for him …
    He forgets that India is a proven Democracy and not a theocratic state from where he emerges .. Seems does not have the iota of Indian ethos …
    He should actually bother about Pakistan after 2020 … as then either it will be in four parts or would be suffering an aftermath of the Indian second strike ….Recommend

  • Feroz
    Oct 26, 2015 - 3:10PM

    We do not live in an insular world where everything is compartmentalized. When atrocities of the kind being perpetrated elsewhere happen, ripples can be felt everywhere. Where the Constitution and Law and Order machinery is strong, in normal process punishment will be meted out. No one can remain above the Law, the Supreme Court has already ruled that appointments to the Judiciary will be made by them and not the Executive or Legislature. In India the Institutions are strong enough to guard their own domain, providing necessary checks and balances.Recommend

  • ivehadit
    Oct 26, 2015 - 4:37PM

    Huge democratic tradition developed over the last 70 years in India. Writers returning medals a clear example of that. Hopefully voters will rebuke the BJP in Bihar to bring it back to its senses. You cannot excoriate 20% of your population and hope social and economic progress will continue unabated.Recommend

  • Vectra
    Oct 26, 2015 - 4:38PM

    Glad that some pakistanis are always thinking about India than pakistan itself.Recommend

  • Oct 26, 2015 - 5:05PM

    @pk: Instead of worrying who is saying please concentrate what is being said. As an Indian my head hangs in shame for what is happening. The way our constitution is being trampled. The only hope and I say hope is the way every section of Indian society is reacting in disagreement and strong voices are emerging to oppose. Hope “Hum honge Kamyab” Recommend

  • someone
    Oct 26, 2015 - 7:25PM

    I don’t know if you know anything about constitution trampling. I give you two examples. The Shah Bano case and 1975 emergency. Both happened during “se ular ” Congress rule. Please cite one such example from the era when BJP was in power.Recommend

  • Rawalpindi Kid
    Oct 26, 2015 - 8:38PM

    @Jatin: India Liberal? That’s exactly the opposite of what this article shows. Massacres of muslims, burning of trains, demolition of mosques, killing of muslims accused of beef eating, banning beef eating, terrorizing sports and entertainment personalities of Pakistan, etc. etc. Are these examples of liberal India, or increasing extremism that has tacit approval of the political parties in power? You guys quote the terrorists in Pakistan. The big difference is they ARE terrorists and we are fighting them, and in India’s case many of the above are being carried out by your political forces that are in power and many of you appearing in these forums are making excuses for them rather than condemning these actions. We make no excuses for the terrorists in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Oct 26, 2015 - 8:56PM

    @someone: I always wonder as to why most of the commentators supporting the present hatred mongers have to hide their real names. And also on any critical issue why congress is draged. Does every one who criticises the present govt. Is necessarily a congress man. No Most are free thinking citizens who love our country above party lines. So please restrict to the points being raised and do you think what is happening to destroy the unity and tolerance in this country is OK.Get above party lines. Respect our constitution and save the variety of this hate mongering please insted spread love.Recommend

  • observer
    Oct 26, 2015 - 10:16PM

    Well, Enough of Politics, Extremists and Threats.

    Time for some basic Arithmetic.

    How many dead of hate crimes in India during the WHOLE of October 2015?

    And, How many in just 1 city in Pakistan on just 1 day?

    End of lesson.Recommend

  • Samyak
    Oct 26, 2015 - 10:36PM

    People in Pakistan are so concerned about India. Its almost romantic. ;)Recommend

  • BCCI
    Oct 26, 2015 - 11:23PM

    Well said dude. If this doesn’t shut these so called intellectuals, then nothing else would. Recommend

  • Parvez
    Oct 27, 2015 - 12:14AM

    A small point you missed was that this Indian / Hindu extremism is contained within the four walls of India. For the rest of the world its something they will observe but I doubt they would interfere. Recommend

  • Oct 27, 2015 - 11:39AM

    However much we may try to defend and sidetrack the issue, the truth is what the writer is pointing out. I am sure the that this country that is India will with stand this storm in the cup and emerge with a stronger social integrity and mutual respect. Hindu psyche is not hate but love.Recommend

More in Opinion