Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

India's Muslims and Christians Become a Football for the Right-Wing BJP

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

India's Muslims and Christians Become a Football for the Right-Wing BJP

Article excerpt

India's Muslims and Christians Become a Football For the Right-Wing BJP

Prof. M. M. Ali is a consultant and specialist on South Asia based in the Washington, DC area.

The callous manner in which India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been treating the religious beliefs of its Muslim and Christian citizens in recent months has become a matter of increasingly serious concern to minorities living in India. They are being pushed, cajoled, threatened and insulted in every conceivable way by the right-wing Hindus who constitute the majority of the BJP.

As if pre-programmed, the current anti-Muslim and anti-Christian tirade began when the BJP's new president, Bangaru Laxman, called upon its ruling coalition to invite the two minority communities into its fold. Laxman, however, is not an upper-caste Hindu as are the other BJP stalwarts, but comes instead from the lowest-status group, the Dalits. No wonder, then, that Muslim and Christian Indians received the invitation with skepticism.

Responding to Laxman's invitation, senior Indian Muslim leader Syed Shahabuddin pointed out: "As a political party, the BJP has always ignored the genuine grievances of the Muslim community: under-representation in the political structure, economic deprivation, educational backwardness, deliberate demonization of the community, vilification of all that Muslims hold dear and sacred."

Seasoned Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar reminded Laxman that "the entire tone and tenor of the Rashtria Swayemsewak Sangh [RSS] thinking is Hindu...two other members of the [BJP coalition] Pariwar, the Bajrang Dal [BRD] and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad [VHP], want to Hinduize the country and harass non-Hindus, particularly the Muslims and the Christians, and make them feel like second-class citizens."

The BJP--whose right-wing components cited above by Nayar really call the shots--wasted no time not only in distancing itself from Laxman, but in coming out swinging at the minorities with renewed animosity. Among the most vehement spokesmen addressing the RSS-organized National Security Camp on Oct. 15 was party chief K.S. Sudarshan, who told India's Muslims they had "the blood of [the legendary Hindu gods] Rama and Krishna running in their veins," and went on to assert: "It is necessary for Indian Christians to sever their ties [to the Vatican] and accept that there are other ways of salvation." Sudarshan advised Christians instead to have a "Swadesi [indigenous] church."

When questioned about his attendance at the National Security Camp, Home Minister Advani, responsible for internal harmony and security and known to be Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's right-hand man, retorted: "RSS is to us what Gandhi was to the Nehru government. How do you disown an organization with which we have been associated since our childhood?"

Asked about Sudarshan's remarks to Indian Muslims and Christians, Advani replied: "Let Muslims and Christians respond."

Both Vajpayee and Advani, incidentally, are active members of the RSS. While Vajpayee is frequently soft-spoken, Advani is vocal and does not mince words.

In view of the prime minister's continued ill health, Home Minister Advani is likely to assume greater power and may eventually replace Vajpayee. Laxman will realize soon enough that he has been brought in to head the BJP coalition only to mollify criticism, not to exercise any political authority. …

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