Haunted by the Politics of Hate: Behind the Prosperous Facade Lurks an Ugly Strain of Hindu Fundamentalism, Argues Ziauddin Sardar

By Sardar, Ziauddin | New Statesman (1996), January 30, 2006 | Go to article overview

Haunted by the Politics of Hate: Behind the Prosperous Facade Lurks an Ugly Strain of Hindu Fundamentalism, Argues Ziauddin Sardar


Sardar, Ziauddin, New Statesman (1996)


The old year closed with the discovery of a mass grave. On the banks of the Panam River in Gujarat, Muslim villagers of Pandharwada found the skulls and bones of relatives who had been declared "missing" by officials, but who had in fact been massacred by Hindu fundamentalists. As the remains were being unearthed, elsewhere in the country the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was celebrating its silver jubilee.

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India, the ancient land of spiritualism, is home to many religions--Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Christianity. But the emergence of Hindu fundamentalism has made religious hatred and riots commonplace, and it threatens to undermine the multi-religious and multicultural nature of India itself.

Needless to say, not all Hindus are fundamentalists. Hinduism is probably more diverse than most faiths, and even Bollywood promotes a variety of Hinduisms. However, religious fundamentalism wedded to an ideology of Hindu nationalism is now a strong presence in India, and that is thanks largely to the BJP. Founded in 1980 (the name means "Indian People's Party"), it held power from 1998 to 2004. Its ideology of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, is based on the idea that all Hindus are one and that India, therefore, is an exclusively Hindu nation that should be ruled by a Hindu government. The BJP is umbilically linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu militia known for their extreme violence.

The party began as an ostensibly secular party, pledged to follow Gandhian socialism, but this soon revealed itself as a posture designed to hide its support for the violent communal politics of the RSS. That connection became evident when the BJP branded Muslims as "invaders" and "outsiders" and began openly to preach hatred against them.

Hindu chauvinism, and support for the BJP, is not a phenomenon of rural areas and "ignorant people", as is commonly assumed. It is above all a middle-class cause, endorsed and promoted by educated, cultured businessmen and politicians. On the whole the rural masses favour the Hindu gurus who dominate Indian television--certain channels are exclusively devoted to the discussion and promotion of Hindu spirituality. It is the news channels, catering largely to the Indian middle class, that promote more communal brands of Hinduism. The message is always that other religions, such as Islam and Christianity, are an imposition on "Hindu India". This is the spectre that haunts India.

It has already claimed countless victims. Its most pernicious manifestation is the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, launched by the BJP. Its followers claimed that Muslims had built a mosque on the site of the birthplace of the Hindu deity Ram, in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. They also demanded that this mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, be converted to a Hindu temple dedicated to Ram. The agitation stirred a series of religious riots that reached their climax with the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. In this campaign the BJP not only openly encouraged Hindus to kill Muslims, but played a prominent part in the killing. Last 6 December the party celebrated the anniversary of these events as Shaurya divas, a day of bravery that all Hindus should be proud of, and the party has produced a list of 3,000 other mosques all over India that it aims to convert into temples.

The western Indian province of Gujarat is the laboratory of Hindutva policies. The BJP has ruled the state for the past decade and its chief minister, Narendra Modi, is a champion of violent Hindu nationalism. It was in Gujarat that Muslims were openly and systematically massacred in March 2002, in one of the worst incidents of inter-communal violence in recent times. A report from the National Human Rights Commission pointed out that the killing of Muslims was led by "well-organised persons, armed with mobile telephones and addresses". …

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