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SACW | 2 Nov. 02

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asia Citizens Wire | 2 November 2002 __________________________ #1. Pakistan: The coming theocracy (Khurram Dastgir Khan) #2. Elections in Pakistan -
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2002
      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
      in 1971."

      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
      'freedom fighters.'

      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

      (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
      have ruptured.

      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.


      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.


      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?

      Mukul Dube
      [July 2002]

      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
      one another.

      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!'



      The Week
      Nov 3, 2002

      Hate Rhetoric

      The fire-breathers
      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
      no opposition.

      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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