South Asia Citizens Wire | 2 November 2002
#1. Pakistan: The coming theocracy (Khurram Dastgir Khan)
#2. Elections in Pakistan - Turning Tragedy Into Farce (Shahnaz Rouse)
#3. India: Tolerant and Secular? (Mukul Dube)
The News International
Saturday November 02, 2002
The coming theocracy
Khurram Dastgir Khan
Witnessing the endless disputes, the bitterness and bargaining of
partisan politics, a widespread mood of disgust manifested itself
under all kind of auspices, reactionary and ambitious. The ideas of
liberalism had scarcely any advocates but many potential adversaries.
There was a feeling that the country lacked the means to meet the
challenges of transition: that the available leadership was not equal
to the crisis."
The above passage describes post-election 2002 Pakistan very well. In
fact, it is Joachim Fest's description of Germany in the 1920s. The
economic and social disorder of 1920s gave rise to National Socialist
Party in Germany. Pakistan's economic and social disorder of late
1990s has given religious parties their first electoral gain. And if
present trends continue, it will not be the last.
The 2002 election has obliterated a long-held piece of conventional
political wisdom -- religious parties have the street power but not
the vote. MMA's electoral success has precipitated what Lawrence
Ziring called the enigma of Pakistan's political development. In
words of the late Eqbal Ahmed, "In Pakistan, the issue of the
relationship between religion and the state has remained a source of
confusion, instability, and misuse of Islam in politics, a phenomenon
which contributed greatly to the violent separation of East Pakistan
While proclaiming nationhood on the basis of Islam, Pakistan's
founders were all constitutionalists. "To them there was no
contradiction between the Islamic state and a polity governed
according to modern democratic principles," writes Professor Ziring.
On the other hand, almost all Ulema (Islamic clerics) of united India
opposed creation of Pakistan. Yet, after partition, the very same
Ulema laid immediate claim to ruling it. In this tug-of-war, the
constitutionalists have had the advantage so far. But the rope is now
slipping from their hands. Unimpeded, religious forces will pull
decisively in the not-too-distant future. The result: a nuclear-armed
theocratic Pakistan by 2010.
The theocratic impulse has two strands, militant and non-militant.
Until 1979, Islamic militancy was hard to find on Pakistani soil. Gen
Zia-ul-Haq used the momentum of the 1977 anti-Bhutto
Tehrik-e-Nizam-e-Mustafa to start his Islamisation programme that
was, writes historian Ayesha Jalal, an effort to "establish his own
legitimacy without having to court mass support". The 1979 overthrow
of the Shah in Iran -- the first authentic Islamic revolution of the
modern era -- provided an additional boost. Long denied the spoils of
power, religious parties rushed to support the military regime.
Zia's political need dovetailed with the American need to fight a
proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. As the
US-newspaper CS Monitor wrote last year, "When the Soviets attacked
Afghanistan in December 1979, the initial prognosis in the West was
that the native population lacked the unity to resist. The answer,
agreed to in Washington, the Middle East, and Pakistan was -- Islam.
The creation of the mujahideen warriors was the result -- fighters
that would come from around the Muslim world and take up arms in the
name of a holy war."
The project succeeded quite well. A 'pipeline' of weapons, warriors,
and networks of engaged mullahs was established from the Middle East
through Peshawar, Pakistan -- and into Afghanistan. Money from the
Middle East and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) -- funnelled
through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) -- was
used to buy food, clothing, supplies, weapons, and intelligence.
Local madaris became ideological training grounds for those who were
termed by everyone from President Carter to President Reagan as
The Soviet Union's departure was accompanied, not coincidentally, by
the end of Zia's rule. But the military establishment never
relinquished control of the Afghanistan/Kashmir policy and its
domestic nexus. With funding coming from overseas, supplemented by
ISI finds and local donations, writes Harvard 's Jessica Stern,
"Pakistani government has essentially allowed Sunni Saudi Arabia and
Shi'a Iran to fight a proxy war on Pakistani soil." Prof. Stern
quotes one Pakistani militant group as saying that 60% of the group's
funds come from outside Pakistan, mostly from contributors in the
Middle East and from Hajjis who heard the group's representative
speak during Hajj.
Successive elected Pakistani governments in the 1990s found
themselves on their knees against sectarian violence. The state was
powerless to prevent burning of newspapers, lynching of alleged
blasphemers, and to compel frightened judges to issue verdicts
against guilty militants. Mansoora-like enclaves of different
religious groups sprung up across the country; mini-states that were
above the law because of their jihadi legitimacy.
It would be a mistake, however, to focus only on the militants.
Islamic rituals are more visible in Pakistani society now than they
were a decade ago. We see it in the ever-increasing number of males
of all ages wearing specific turbans; in a mass departure to perform
Umra during Ramazan; in lavishly-built mosques; and in the upsurge of
private and public gatherings for dars (teaching), prayer, and
hamd-o-naat (praise of Allah and the Holy prophet).
A new spiritualist movement has taken root, with a disparate but
better-educated group of murshad (spiritual leaders) catering to the
needs of people of all classes. This phenomenon has, strikingly,
spread from the middle classes upwards into the rich.
A readily perceptible part of the spiritualist trend is the Tableeghi
(evangelical) movement. From small beginnings in Raiwind near Lahore,
it has grown exponentially. Within Pakistan, this movement has
attracted men of all classes, ages, and professions. Its annual
prayer convention attracts nearly half a million delegates that come
from within and abroad.
The third important aspect of non-militant Islam is the brisk growth
in the number and scale of madaris (religious schools) across the
country. Madaris are evident particularly in cities, and a sizeable
number among these cater to females. These schools benefit from
philanthropy, which in Pakistan has always favoured religious
establishments and building mosques over other civil society
These madaris have filled a need created by rising unemployment and
the collapse of state education. There is no entry test, no fees, and
room and board is free. For an unemployed, indigent teenager willing
to undergo the rigmarole, enrolment in a madaris provides an
ascriptive dignity, prospect of employment in new mosques and in the
burgeoning mehfil/dars industry, in addition to spiritual rewards and
To be concluded
MERIP Press Information Note 109
October 18, 2002
Elections in Pakistan
Turning Tragedy Into Farce
(Shahnaz Rouse, professor of sociology at Sarah Lawrence College,
serves on MERIP's editorial committee.)
The results of Pakistan's October 10 elections to the national and
provincial assemblies -- the first such contests since Gen. Pervez
Musharraf grabbed power in a bloodless coup in 1999 -- seem to have
surprised many observers both within and outside the country. On
election night and the morning after, US media commentary focused on
the gains made by the coalition of Pakistani Islamist groups, the
Muttahida Majlis-I-Amal (MMA). Not only did the Islamists garner
approximately a third of the seats in the National Assembly, but they
also won a definitive majority in Sarhad (Northwest Frontier
Province) and a majority of seats in the southwestern province of
Commentators also pointed to the fact that no party won an outright
majority in the votes cast for the National Assembly. The Pakistan
Muslim League (Q), an 18-month old party backed by Musharraf and the
army, gathered the most votes, but nowhere near enough to form its
own government. Musharraf's supporters will have to form a coalition
with one of the four main parties that also won seats at the national
level: the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the Islamist coalition, the
Pakistan Muslim League (N) and/or independents.
Since the elections, leaders in the MMA have made headlines in the
West by pledging to "implement an Islamic system" in Pakistan and
demanding that US soldiers pursuing Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in
the northwest province leave the country. The MMA's victory in Sarhad
does indeed reflect dissatisfaction with the Musharraf regime's
alignment with the US in the war in Afghanistan and the ongoing "war
on terrorism," as well as militancy in the struggle between Pakistan
and India over the contested province of Kashmir. But Pakistani
Islamists' rebuke of Musharraf and the US is only part of the story
of the October 10 polling, and the success of the MMA in Sarhad and
Baluchistan is not simply a byproduct of events since September 11,
The historical roots of the Islamists' electoral strength trace back
to ethnic identification between the Pashtuns on both sides of the
border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the involvement of
segments of the population in the border zone in the first US
intervention in Afghanistan -- the Reagan administration's
bankrolling, with the Saudis and the Pakistani military, of an
anti-Soviet jihad in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But more recent
catalysts for the MMA's success were the May 2002 referendum that
extended Musharraf's presidency by five years and constitutional
"reforms" two months later that further enhanced the power of the
military in Pakistani politics. Both of these measures made a sham of
Pakistan's electoral process, producing voter apathy which has
benefited the groups coalesced under the MMA rubric.
Many voters who might otherwise have gone to the polls became
convinced that the elections were nothing but a mask for continued
military power. The Islamist groups, on the other hand, followed
their historical tendency to choose moments when democracy has been
weak or non-existent to mobilize for additional clout within the
state, in this instance through the electoral process. Some political
commentators inside Pakistan would add an additional explanatory
factor: corruption among the leadership of the four major
non-Islamist parties which oppose Musharraf's regime. By this
reading, only the "easily intelligible slogans" of the religious
parties spoke to the average person's economic plight. The
combination of consolidated military rule and the inadequacy of the
alternatives created the space for the religious parties to far
exceed any mandate they had previously achieved in the electoral
history of Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the provincial assembly vote demonstrates clearly the
fracturing of politics in Pakistan. While the MMA swept the northern
and southwestern provinces, the PML(Q) dominates in the Punjab, the
backbone of the Pakistani state since independence. Punjab, the most
prosperous province, sees itself -- mythologically -- as resting
above party or sectarian politics. Anti-Indian chauvinist rhetoric is
strong, as is support for the military. In Sindh, the Pakistan
People's Party, though without its most famous politician,
ex-President Benazir Bhutto, won a significant number of votes,
followed by the Muttahida Quami Mahaz (MQM). The southwestern
province of Baluchistan -- site of a vibrant and radical left-wing
movement in the 1970s -- has undergone a huge demographic shift since
Pakistan's involvement alongside the US in the first Afghan
intervention in the 1980s, with Pashtuns gaining in numbers.
Pro-Taliban forces within Pakistan have used this region to gain a
foothold in Afghanistan.
Two things become evident from these results: first, the nationality
question, which has plagued Pakistan since its inception in 1947, is
alive and well today. Does the average Pakistani identify with the
nation-state or with a particular, more localized nationality? Is the
average person Pakistani first or Pashtun or Baluchi? The nationality
question created the split between West and East Pakistan (now
Bangladesh), and continues to inflect present-day politics. The
October 10 elections suggest that there are now two contenders for
the national (all-Pakistani) mantle, the MMA and the pro-Musharraf
PML(Q), promoting two competing notions of national identity which
exist side by side -- one overtly religious, the other latently so,
with both propounding authoritarian and anti-democratic visions of
the state and its relation to civil society. The notion of identity
which the military dictator Zia ul Haq sought to promulgate in the
1970s, whereby the religious elements dominated, but did not compete
with, either the religiosity or authoritarianism of the regime, may
Second, many Pakistanis of all political persuasions are in fact fed
up with the corruption of the regimes during and since the era of Zia
ul Haq. In the electoral campaign, both the PML(N), the party of
deposed President Nawaz Sharif, and the PPP were rightly seen as more
interested in holding onto power than in sharing it, and unable to
bring about meaningful change. Since progressive groups on the left
have either been forcefully repressed (especially under Zia), or
thrown their support behind Benazir Bhutto in the misguided belief
that her party would contain the Islamist elements, the ballot
presented no viable alternative for Pakistani voters. Even the PPP
and PML(N) collaborated with the religious elements, as demonstrated
by the close links between the Pakistani military and religious
groups throughout the tenure of these parties in the 1980s and 1990s.
Every Pakistani military regime has justified its intervention in
politics with promises to "clean up" the mess created by previous
civilian governments. When the military came to power under
Musharraf, capital flight had drained the economy of resources, and
inflation was soaring. As in the past, the military's seizure of
power further destabilized the economy at first. It also aroused
anxiety among Pakistanis about another prolonged period of military
rule. Musharraf's regime tried to allay concerns on both counts. To
address the economic issues, the regime set up the feared National
Accountability Board, which has successfully recovered monies that
had been taken out of the country by threatening state reprisal as
well as by actual prosecutions. Musharraf also promised to hold
elections within three years, forming the National Reconstruction
Bureau (NRB) under the direction of a military officer. These
measures explain the support initially enjoyed by Musharraf and his
fellow generals when they came to power three years ago.
Ostensibly, the NRB was set up to "guide" Pakistan back to
"democracy." But it was clear by 2000 that the model of democracy
envisioned by the Musharraf regime was limited. Elections held for
various local bodies did not permit the participation of political
parties. This measure, it was suggested, would enable local figures
unconnected to existing party power structures to emerge, thereby
strengthening local participation and more closely reflecting local
concerns. But predictably, this system of representation reflected
and reproduced local hierarchies, more often than not favoring the
economically powerful. Musharraf's local bodies system closely
resembles the system of "Basic Democracies" introduced by the first
military regime in Pakistan under Ayub Khan. Most political activists
in Pakistan view Khan's system has having laid the groundwork for
assaults on genuine democratic process. Existing bureaucratic and
military interests are enhanced at the expense of politics itself.
More recently, the NRB shepherded two more regime initiatives into
being: the May referendum and the constitutional amendments of July.
The referendum in particular led to a precipitous decline, although
not a total collapse, in Musharraf's popularity; it was seen as a
ruse to stay in power, analogous to similar schemes pursued by Zia ul
Haq. Unlike Zia, however, Musharraf actually had a certain measure of
popular support -- not only because of his stance against militant
Islamic groups after September 11, but because earlier he had tried
to do away with the blasphemy laws introduced by Nawaz Sharif. Many
Pakistanis apparently hoped that what could not be achieved
politically -- through mass agitation against the draconian
legislation -- could be achieved by military fiat, though the same
military had begun the process of the country's Islamization in the
first place. The blasphemy laws are still on the books.
MUSHARRAF, VOICE OF REASON
In 1984, Zia ul Haq ran a referendum which asked "whether the people
of Pakistan endorse the process initiated by...the President of
Pakistan, for bringing laws in conformity with the injunctions of
Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy
Prophet (peace be upon him) and for the preservation of the ideology
of Pakistan, and for the continuation and consolidation of the smooth
and orderly transfer of power to the elected representatives of the
people?" In 2002, Musharraf's referendum question read: "Do you want
to elect President Musharraf as President of Pakistan for the next
five years for: survival of local government system; restoration of
democracy; continuity and stability of reforms; eradication of
extremism and sectarianism, and the accomplishment of the
Quaid-e-Azam's concept?" Language of reform and modernity aside, most
Pakistanis understood the referendum as a way for Musharraf to extend
his tenure as both president and army chief, and also to create a
constitutional role for the army in government decision-making.
Mounting domestic criticism following the referendum drive led the
military to fall back on constitutional amendments dictating the
parameters under which elections would be held. Again, a facade of
democracy was maintained: the amendments were introduced with great
fanfare on July 10, ostensibly for public debate and revision, but
few changes were made in the text. The constitutional amendments gave
Musharraf the right to dismiss the elected parliament. They created a
military-dominated National Security Council with the power to
override measures undertaken by future civilian governments. While
Musharraf claims to stand for "progress" and "sustainable democracy,"
his regime's initiatives exhibit curious similarities to the stated
beliefs of British colonial overlords and Zia ul Haq that "pure"
democracy does not suit Pakistan. Rather, the responsible ruler
appoints himself to establish a political system that "suits" the
needs of the country. The same military that encouraged the growth of
radical Islamism to support its covert wars in Afghanistan and
Kashmir now positions itself as the voice of reason and rationality.
PARTY OF ORDER
Though the election results are a repudiation of Musharraf, in the
short term, the constitutional amendments clearly continue military
interference in politics. Following the Turkish model for which
Musharraf repeatedly expresses admiration, the regime will pose as
the defender of a modernist government in Pakistan to justify
consolidation of its authority, a project which the MMA's
pronouncements in favor of introducing Islamic law throughout the
country can only facilitate. (Notably, Musharraf's first foreign
visit after the October 10 polls landed him in Turkey.) The divided
government and lack of national consensus indicated by the election
results is in fact precisely what the military would like. Posing yet
again, as the party of order, the military can return to direct rule
whenever it sees fit.
These deeper dynamics argue against single-minded fixation on the
MMA's victory in the Pakistani elections as a bad omen for the "war
on terror." The unfolding farce in Pakistan, once again, postpones
the ability of the Pakistani electorate to pick its own leaders, to
conduct its own politics (however messily) and to resolve issues of
internal dissension and ethnic difference. Narrow focus on Islamist
calls to oust US Special Forces misses sources of dissent --
especially military interference in politics -- that bode ill both
for US-Pakistani relations and for progressive internal
transformations in Pakistan.
(When quoting from this PIN, please cite MERIP Press Information Note
109, "Elections in Pakistan: Turning Tragedy Into Farce," by Shahnaz
Rouse, October 18, 2002.)
Tolerant and Secular?
The actor Farooque Shaikh said on a discussion show on television
recently that no religion claims to be absolute. Chandan Mitra, the
journalist, added that all religions preach tolerance. The two
gentlemen were not unusual in uttering this pious rubbish. All those
people say this who do not ever trouble to question religions but
only wish them to coexist peacefully. They treat religions much as
they treat Nature itself: like immutable givens. They speak out of
habit, merely regurgitating received wisdom. They speak without
applying their minds.
Shaikh was of course entirely wrong. The fact is that every religion
claims to be absolute, to be the Ultimate Truth. If it did not make
such a claim, it would be left with nothing to stand on. Every
religion is by definition unquestionable and not subject to the usual
rules of reason, evidence and proof. Every religion demands of its
followers unquestioning faith. This act of surrender to the divine
has been romantically glorified over the centuries, in all religions
and in literatures across the globe, but equally we could argue that
such surrender reduces otherwise thinking, acting people to
brainless, spineless, grovelling supineness.
Mitra may have been right in saying that all religions preach
tolerance. After all, tolerance is a Good Thing, and it would be a
strong and foolish religion which could resist the urge to make a
claim to it. But claims can be tall. We must go on to analyse if any
religion does or even can practise this tolerance business. Such
statements are sometimes made by people who actually are saying,
"Look how grand and good and liberal we are. See how much better our
religion is than those other ones."
Sparing the life of a vanquished enemy is a fine chivalrous gesture.
But if it is known that the enemy will never change his colours, that
he will remain an enemy to be feared, then the fine gesture reveals
itself to be a foolish and suicidal one. Real life is not Sikandar
and Porus, it is not Arthur's Round Table. It is religions butchering
Can religions coexist peacefully? I believe they cannot, because two
alternative absolutes must inevitably come into conflict: neither can
be accepted without automatically denying the other. They might
trundle along side by side for years or centuries, but when push
comes to shove they are bound to be pitted against each other. All
this talk of religious tolerance is the purest humbug.
No system of beliefs which considers itself absolute and
unquestionable can accept the existence of another system of beliefs
which makes the same claims. As a kingdom cannot have two kings, so a
world cannot have two gods just as, to give an example which will
be readily understood today, a corporation cannot have two CEOs.
There can be only one absolute, one single point at which everything
converges and stops.
Another journalist on the same show, Dileep Padgaonkar, edged nearer
to the truth in saying that each religion had at its core a system of
ethics, of definitions of good and bad; but he stopped short of
noting that each religion justified these definitions by reference to
one or other unquestionable absolute.
That a man should not pull his brother-in-law's moustache is a
perfectly sane and sound principle. But if someone were to question
me on the reason for it, I would not give the rational answer: that
moustache pulling can be painful and depilating and, when it happens
among relations, can lead to the disintegration of the kinship
network. Instead I would produce a cock-and-bull story about
mythological characters or divinities who created trouble for
themselves by engaging in the sport. The story will be swallowed
whole, for the reason that by definition it may not be questioned.
What is to prevent me, once I have tasted success, from setting out
other principles, each with its backing story which will be believed
because not believing is not an option? It is not a characteristic of
humankind to leave well alone, to not exercise a power which one has
seen oneself to possess. I can make up principles about beef or pork
or menstrual blood or alcohol or urine. In time I shall have a rule
for a person's every waking moment, for every conceivable situation
in which people can find themselves. This is just what religions have
done through history. Each religion has built up a body of rules and
principles to cover all eventualities. Should a new situation arise,
there are precedent analogues enough for it to rummage in its grab
bag and produce something to fit. If there are no analogues, it can
simply concoct a new rule, knowing that that will be accepted on the
basis of the acceptance given to so much else.
The bag is, of course, sacrosanct: all that comes out of it is by
definition correct and may not be challenged. My birth into religion
X obliges me to swallow all the tenets and rules of that religion
with my eyes closed, never mind what my reason tells me, never mind
that millions of people who are essentially like me, certainly
neither better than me nor worse go about swallowing different sets
of tenets and rules.
It is this acceptance of something without demur or question, this
justification of principles by reference to supra-rational sources,
which reduces the basically sound ethical system of a religion to a
travesty. It has happened, in every religion, that the sound core of
the ethical system has had added to it a mass of rules which are
nowhere near as sound. This shrubbery, this ornamentation, these
bodies of "hanger-on" principles, may have been born of historical
accidents or even of the idiosyncrasies of historical figures who
were important in the religions in question. That is a matter for
speculation. What is important is that each of these non-essential
"principles" is absolute, even the one that I should not pick my nose
in the dark while facing north-west; or east or south-east, as those
other religions have it.
Religions are all many centuries old. The believer today has no way
to tell myth or fairy tale from religious teaching devised by people
who had a grasp over realities and wanted to protect the followers of
their religions from dangers. Under-cooked pork can cause
trichinosis, for example, so pork and the meat of all cloven-footed
animals is banned. The faithful are told that the ban has a divine
origin, precisely because that justification is quicker and simpler
than a rational one, and because it is absolute.
Yet the pig is an important part of the diets of many peoples who are
in no way behind those who forbid the eating of pork.
Equally, later developments may supplant and obscure earlier
realities. Beef was eaten in Vedic India, for the reason that cattle
were reared and therefore available. But along the line vegetarianism
was imposed ex post facto on ancient India and the cow somehow became
holy (though not that other profusely lactating bovine, the water
buffalo) and so may not be eaten but has the right to freely obstruct
road traffic. (I do not think the prospect of bovine spongiform
encephalitis, "Mad Cow Disease", far in the future and on another
continent, was the original reason for the ban.) A large body of
myths and legends surrounding the cow has built up over the
centuries. Today the animal has come to be associated firmly with
gods and goddesses and sages, and who would dare to question
divinities and quasi-divinities?
Yet many peoples, in no readily apparent way inferior to the cow
venerators, routinely dine off that creature. (Some even attribute to
it an absence of intelligence, as seen in the insult commonly traded
between human females: "Stupid cow.")
Is India a secular country, as common wisdom holds it to be? No, it
is not: it is merely a multi-religious one. The two ideas have been
confounded so thoroughly that we no longer know the difference.
"Secular" means lay, of the world, not pertaining to religion. A
country or society cannot be described as secular just because it is
home to not one religion but many. To be secular in the full sense,
it must have no religion at all. In practice, of course, it is
usually considered sufficient if religion does not intrude into the
area of civil life.
But in Indian politics we have an excellent example of just such an
intrusion. All politics is not necessarily bad, as some with
anarchist tendencies hold: what is bad is politics tainted by
religion. Throughout history, across the world, religions have sought
to wipe out other religions because all have invaded the space of
political power and have twisted that power. Each religion has warped
political power by implicitly or explicitly declaring its own
expression of it justified by an unquestionable absolute.
This is the road of irrationality, and it leads inevitably to murder
and war and, as we saw recently in Gujarat, to genocide. In this last
example, the State in the province, required by the Constitution to
be secular, was blatantly religious. Its functioning was dictated by
one religion and its actions and its inaction were aimed at the
destruction of another religion. Whatever the framers of our
Constitution may have meant by secularism, certainly it was not this.
The future of our country has been questioned in a fundamental way,
and one of the paths open to us along which some lunatic barbarians
wish to drive us has been shown to us with great clarity. If that
is not the path we wish to take and no sane person can want that
we must decide very soon and very firmly just what is the role we
shall allow to religion. If religion is allowed to define and
dominate State, disaster is the certain consequence. The Vedic
Taliban will grab power, and its rule will be bloodthirsty and aeons
away from any kind of rationality.
Rationality is the key. Over the millennia, humankind has advanced in
every field because of the growth of rationality except in
religion, where there simply is no space for it.
Abstract of forthcoming lecture by Batuk Vora being delivered at:
-Nov. 4 at Kondotty - Kerala in a Seminar Against Fascism organised
by the progressive writers association; and
-Nov. 9-10 at Bhopal conference on 'Divisive Trends in Society and
the role of Media, State and People'.
(1) Short introduction of Gujarat Lok Sangharsh Samiti which I
represent and my past and present role as a columnist-journalist in
the struggle against divisive trends in Gujarati society;
(2) Gujarat has become a live laboratory of the 'politics of
exclusion' or divisiveness in true sense of the word. We are
witnessing here a testing ground for a divisive vision of life
seeking legitimacy through acts of enmity, hatred and segregation day
in and day out even after so called normalcy was restored, with
active connivance of the state government against the constitutional
rule of law;
(3) A short description of the socio-economic background.
Communal carnage or genocide in Gujarat have posed a huge question
mark before the very roots of our democratic life, our identity as a
civilization and a consensual worldview that has held India together
over the last several centuries. Gujarat has a distinct personality.
We find Gujaratis spread out in 128 countries and almost half the
tourists of India come from Gujarat. One time glorious liberal
Gandhian and Mahajani culture exist no more now. Most outstanding
peculiarity of Gujarat is its total domination by vocal and lively
middle class which has changed sides in political battles several
times in the past according to serve its own short-term interests. A
fear psychosis and a sense of injustice among the majority community
is being constantly whipped up by divisive forces;
(4) A myth that Muslims were constantly favoured by the state and
by all those secular minded people, media and parties is being
systematically articulated and spread. Hindus are reminded through a
wide network of propaganda tools (handouts, magazines, schools,
cartoons, hoardings, posters, public speeches, press releases, etc)
saying that they were the apostles (upasak) of 'mahashakti', with
Trishul (trident) in the hands of Shiva, Sudarshan in the hands of
Krishna and Bow and Arrow with Rama. They should give up timidity,
tolerance and unmanliness and rise to destroy the enemies. Only the
riots afford an opportunity to 'teach' Muslims a lesson and avenge
the historical defear of Prithviraj Chauhan at the hands of Mohammed
Ghauri. Statues of Shivaji and Rana Pratap have been installed
wherever they can in the last three decades. Violence is publicly
applauded by the Sangh Parivar through a public posture hammering on
'we' and 'they' in their publications, posters, hoardings at the
entrance of each village saying 'Hindu Rashtra is welcoming you!'.
Post carnage, many of the 300 carnage affected village leaders
declare 'We have finished 'them' off for ever and not a single Muslim
lives here now!'
(5) Obsessed with idol worshipping, barefoot marathon walk to one
or the other god-goddess's abode, day and night loud and noisy
chanting of Rama, huge processions off and on in the name of this or
that god, a peculiar annual ceremony in a village near Ahmedabad
involves thousands of local people pouring tons and tons of pure
ghee on the streets and inside the temple'endless holidays to pray
one or the other deity'all this has become a thriving 'enterprise'
for a large number of middle class people who otherwise also have
been known for its entrepreneurship and hard work in business. Partly
this is also due to rising unemployment, stalled industrial
development, declaining agricultural growth and general economic
recession. Extremist Hindu and Islamic politicians have been taking
full advantage of this by merrily mixing religion with power politics
without any inhibition;
(6) Lastly, current situation of Gujarat, with the state assembly
election looming large on the concerned people, the state is actually
sitting on a volcano of not so hidden communal anger, alienation and
potential flare up. Gujarat has seen at least two dozen communal
flare ups within last couple of months, after so called normalcy was
restored. Neighboring state of Maharashtra has seen at least 57
communal clashes within last two years. Only difference is that
Gujarat government connives at such incidents while Maharashtra state
government takes care not to allow largescale conflagration'
(7) After the minority bashing, next declared target of the
extremist sections of Sangh Parivar are secular writers,
intellectuals, TV anchors, journalists, NGOs and social activists who
are all lumped together as 'pseudo-secular, pro-Musharraf,
pro-Muslim, anti-Hindu and even anti-India!'
Nov 3, 2002
Statements by Thackeray and Togadia
point to a dangerous trend in politics
By B. Krishnakumar
Their numbers have been growing ever since fundamentalism brought
India's liberal edifice crashing down in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
Ranged on either side of the communal divide, they have been spewing
venom. Yet they continue to be a minority.
Of late, those on the extreme fringe, wearing saffron and green,
respectively, have been blowing their hate horns with added fury.
Witness the Dussehra day rally blast from Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb
Thackeray: time for Hindus to form suicide squads and strike back at
the extremists in the Muslim community.
Blowing Hate horns: Balasaheb Thackeray
Like the holy day, his speech too has become an annual ritual looked
forward to with much enthusiasm by the faithful. The applause starts
when he throws down the gauntlet at enemies of Amchi Mumbai (topping
the current hate list are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in the
metro), of Maharashtra and, of course, of India. It reaches a
crescendo when he warns such elements of dire consequences and then
dares the authorities with that unsaid taunt: touch me if you can.
By and large, those in and out of power refrain from responding to
'the same old Dussehra day ritual'. At the most, some senior
politicians would call their political rival-personal friend and
counsel restraint. The issue would then be papered over.
The scene changed after Chhagan Bhujbal broke away from the Sena and
hitched himself on to Maratha strongman and Nationalist Congress
Party (NCP) leader Sharadrao Pawar's bandwagon. On July 23, 2000,
Bhujbal ordered the police to take all precautions to ensure peace
after a court issued an arrest warrant against Thackeray in a case
relating to inflammatory speeches and editorials in party organ
Saamna back in 1992-93. The Congress-NCP government in the state,
where Bhujbal is home minister, has now asked the police to file a
complaint under the Indian Penal Code for 'promoting enmity between
different group; and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of
The government was reacting to Thackeray's comments on a recent
communal flare-up in Solapur: sections of the Muslim community had
gone on the rampage in response to a comment made by a US-based
preacher, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, about Prophet Mohammed. "[There
was] no outcry in Pakistan or even the Arab countries. Why then did
Solapur burn? They said Pakistan flag was burnt. So why did you get
incensed? If this is what you Muslims feel about Pakistan, you should
really leave this country. People tell me I should lead the country.
I say give me the Army. I will rein in everybody, flush out the
Muslims." This utterance incurred a lot of opprobrium the next day.
Thackeray has been all praise for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra
Modi, especially after what he calls was a 'reaction to the burning
of the train bogies in Godhra'. They have a lot in common: they brook
When it comes to breathing fire, they have two more of a kind to
propagate Hindutva-Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Ashok Singhal and
general secretary Dr Pravin Togadia. Singhal has been matching
Thackeray comment for comment on everything from the issue of
minorities to questioning Sonia Gandhi's legitimacy in heading the
Congress, to accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party of being spineless.
Of late, even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has come in their line
of fire for going soft on the Hindutva mandate.
Togadia's reference to Sonia Gandhi as Italy ni kutri (dog from
Italy) at a public meeting in Kutch drew fire from the media and his
political friends and foes alike. "One may not agree with the
politics of Sonia Gandhi or her party's programmes, but that does not
mean that she should be criticised by stooping to this level," said
Pawar, a former Congressman who had raised Sonia's foreign origins as
a political issue.
"Hindu culture has taught us to respect women," said Bhujbal. "Though
Togadia advocates Hinduism, he does not seem to have understood it
himself. His Hinduism is only meant for political purposes."
Maharashtra Health Minister Digvijay Khanvilkar was equally vehement
in rejecting Togadia's remarks.
Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said Togadia's statement was an
example of a disturbing trend in Indian politics. "It is imperative
that political leaders across spectrum come together and restore the
dignity of political life," he said.
VHP was hardly apologetic. Its spokesperson Visheshwar Dewedi said
the Congress was not above blame. "Let the Congress apologise for all
its past misdeeds, then Togadia will tender an apology."
A thumping of chests, similar to that of the Hindutva brigade, is
happening among the extremist fringe of the Muslim community, too.
Consider this: Get our leader (People's Democratic Party leader Abdul
Nazar Madani) out of jail in Tamil Nadu and keep him in a Kerala jail
or else we will resort to direct action, warned a leader of the party
in a televised press conference. It was such elements that caused a
tear in the delicate fabric of communal peace in Solapur.
Even as Hindutvaites are instigating the 'Hindu fraternity' to take
on the 'enemies', atrocities on the Dalits have been revived with a
vengeance-the most recent horror being the lynching of five of them
at Jhajjar in Haryana. The lower castes are still not allowed inside
some temples in Rajasthan, and in highly literate Kerala, discord
reigns after a lower caste man is made a temple priest.
The violent vibes have gained an ethnic flavour with the
Tamil-Kannadiga face-off over Cauvery waters. It has become a
reel-life kind of melodrama with heroes, heroines, directors,
producers et al lining up on either side of the water divide.
Time for the frenzy-making charismatic leaders to do a rethink: will
they be able to control the vengeance-seeking mobs they are
tongue-lashing into ethno-religious formations? Or they may end up
victims of the demoniac forces they are unleashing.
With Dnyanesh Jathar/Mumbai and Kartikeya Sharma/Delhi
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