Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mosque Crisis Tests Political Strategy of India's Muslims

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mosque Crisis Tests Political Strategy of India's Muslims

Article excerpt

MUSLIM anger over last month's destruction of a mosque in Ayodhya, India, continues to simmer in south Asia.

Five Bangladeshi Muslims were killed on Monday when police stopped a crowd of protesters who were planning on marching into India to rebuild the demolished shrine. Last week, police in a town near Ayodhya arrested hundreds of Indian Muslims who wanted to offer prayers where the mosque stood.

The mosque's demolition by radical Hindus supportive of the country's main opposition group, the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has polarized the country. Much attention has focused on whether non-BJP politicians can unite to form a secular front to counter the BJP's sectarian politics.

But some commentators say the reaction of India's Muslims, who make up 11 percent of the country's 844 million people, is crucial. The rise of Hindu nationalism has seemed more threatening since the destruction of the mosque, and many Indians fear that a BJP government, although it still seems a remote possibility, would make Muslims second-class citizens, cutting back their role in the power structure and circumscribing Muslim religious and cultural life.

"The outcome {of the Ayodhya crisis} will depend on what the average Muslim makes of all this. For them it was a blinding flash," says Arun Shourie, a former newspaper editor seen as quietly supportive of the BJP. Mr. Shourie says Indian Muslims have been guilty of "a politics of intransigence" during the past 10 to 15 years, voting en bloc in efforts to win concessions from Indian governments.

Reacting to organized Muslim demands, for instance, the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi allowed Muslims to practice their own personal law. The Indian government was also quick to ban Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses." These and other decisions have been seen as protections of Muslim orthodoxy in ways that exceed the Constitution's mandate that India's government respect all religions equally. …

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