South Asia Citizens Wire | February 2, 2003
#1. More weapons, less peace
A militarised South Asia will be insecure, unhappy (Praful Bidwai)
#2. A Degenerating Nuclear Logic (Achin Vanaik)
#3. The Other Face of Fanaticism (Pankaj Mishra)
Communalism Combat (Bombay)
January 2003 , Year 9 No.83
More weapons, less peace
A militarised South Asia will be insecure, unhappy
BY PRAFUL BIDWAI
South Asia, home to the largest number of the world's poor people, is
poised to burn more and more money on acquiring lethal weapons and
building military forces. The region, with a population of 1.3
billion, has some of the lowest social and human development
indicators in the world.
Barring Sri Lanka (much like India's Kerala), all South Asian states
fall within the bottom one-fourth of the Human Development Index
charts compiled by the United Nations Development Programme. They
perform even worse in respect of indices for literacy and health for
children. In the 2002 HDI, India ranks a shameful 124 (among 173
countries). Pakistan is even lower (138). Nepal ranks 142 and
Bangladesh 145. Sri Lanka is at a more respectable 89.
Yet, South Asia is the second largest importer of weapons from the
global arms bazaar. It is expected to spend upwards of $130 billion
over the next 15 years on buying armaments-a sum that is about a
third of India's entire annual gross domestic product (GDP).
South Asia is getting rapidly militarised - thanks to internal
conflicts within its member-states' borders, external rivalries,
largely between states, and above all, because of its rulers'
preference for military solutions to social and political problems.
As the South Asian states look for security through military means,
their societies and peoples become more and more insecure, in the
real sense of the term, related to food security, income security,
security of employment, gender security and personal security.
Militarisation in South Asia has many aspects: sharply rising
military expenditures, the expanding role of the military and
military-related institutions in public life, and the regimentation
and militarisation of society and of daily life itself. Here we look
mainly at the first issue.
Militarisation is steadily growing in all respects in all South Asian
states. Not one of them can boast, like Costa Rica in Latin America,
or Austria in Europe, that they have reduced defence spending, and
cut or dismantled their armies, and yet gained in security.
India is South Asia's biggest spender, given its sheer size. It is
also the world's second biggest importer of arms, next only to China.
India's military expenditure this year is officially Rs. 76,600
crore. But if other hidden spending - such as subsidies to defence
production companies and classified imports - is added, the military
budget will probably go up to Rs. 85,000 crore. Contrast this with
the entire expenditure on primary education of Rs. 35,000 crore, in
the public, private, municipal and panchayat sectors put together.
India's defence spending has doubled over the past five years - the
highest such increase in any five-year period since Independence.
This did not happen even after the China war. As India builds its
nuclear arsenal, the expenditure will skyrocket.
The Indian government spends roughly 3.5 percent of GDP on the
military, and yet another 0.5 or so on the Central paramilitary
forces. But in contrast to this total of four percent of GDP, its
expenditure on health is a mere 1.3 percent of GDP.
In many developed countries, public expenditure on health is 5 to 7
percent of GDP. And even in developing countries like Malaysia,
Mexico, Thailand, Egypt, Peru or Zimbabwe, the figure is double or
triple the Indian ratio. India's spending on education, which the
government promises to raise to 6 percent of GDP, has now fallen to
under 3 percent of GDP.
Military expenditure is certain to sharply exceed the budgeted figure
this year because of the unbudgeted mobilisation of 7 lakh troops at
the border for 10 long months. This is officially stated to have cost
Rs. 7,200 crore, but the real figure may be Rs. 10,000 crore or so
(i.e., 13 percent higher than the budget). The Rs. 10,000 crore is
four times higher than the Central health budget and exceeds the
Centre's entire budget for education! Yet, there has been no debate
on whether such mobilisation should have taken place following the
December 2001 Parliament House attack, what its objectives should
have been, and how much should have been spent on it.
India has just signed a huge $3 billion contract with Russia to lease
four Tu22 M3 long-range aircraft - capable of dropping nuclear bombs
on China - and two Akula class submarines which are nuclear-propelled
and can deliver nuclear warheads at long distances. Nuclear
submarines can hide underwater for months at a time and can
devastatingly deliver a surprise strike. The Russian deal alone
raises India's military expenditure by 25 percent. The money will
come out of social sector programmes.
Pakistan has always spent a larger proportion (5 or 6 percent) of its
GDP on the military than India. Although its population is seven
times smaller than India's, its armed forces are only about one-half
of India's size. Pakistan overtly crossed the nuclear threshold,
following India, in May 1998 - and immediately went into financial
insolvency. Besides an ambitious programme to stockpile nuclear
material for bombs, it has spent huge amounts on ballistic missiles
like the Hatf and Ghauri. This drove the government deeper into the
red, inviting the term "failing" or "failed" state - until the
September 11, 2001 attack brought the US into the region, on to
Pakistan's soil and revived the economy of this "strategic partner"
Defence spending, which had fallen for two years, has since been
raised. Pakistan is now charging the US $60 million a month for the
use of its bases. The state of public services in Pakistan is even
more appalling than in India. But that has not prevented the
government from committing more funds to the military. Pakistan's
sole nuclear adversary, India, is furiously assembling its nuclear
arsenal and readying it for deployment and use. This is drawing
Pakistan into a potentially runaway arms race with India.
Already, the 10-month-long border mobilisation has hurt Pakistan
economically. There is a strong likelihood that increased spending on
nuclear and missile programmes will soon raise Pakistan's military
budget upwards of 6 percent of GDP, which could prove ruinous to the
economy and to the people.
Besides the two major South Asian rivals, Bangladesh has also
witnessed a sharp rise in military spending, at an average annual
rate of 4 percent since the mid-1980s. The nuclear tests of 1998 by
India and Pakistan generally strengthened the pressure for greater
military preparedness and spending in the neighbourhood. Bangladesh
bought eight MiG-29 fighters in 1999, whose need and utility have
been strongly questioned. The successor government (led by Khaleda
Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party) now wants to sell these off.
The new government however has close ties both with the military and
Right-wing Islamists. In fact, it has recently used the military
largely for civilian purposes - e.g. traffic management - and to
harass its political opponents. This has created huge strife in
Nepal has now become a deeply crisis-ridden country, thanks to the
Maoist insurgency, the Royal family's assassination, and the recent
dismissal of an elected government by King Gyanendra. The King has
all but directly usurped power and substantially undermined the gains
of the democratisation process from 1990 onwards. Nepal is considered
to be a "failing", if not a "failed" state, even as the monarchy
intrudes into political life and arbitrarily doubles its allowances
drawn from the state exchequer. The Royal Nepal Army's budget has
been doubled this year even as its anti-insurgency activity has
increased. But its writ does not run in 45 to 50 out of Nepal's 75
districts. Twenty-two districts have no communication with Kathmandu.
India has pursued a confused and inconsistent policy on Nepal. The
King is inviting foreign powers, especially the United States and
Britain, to play a major role in Nepal. There is extensive training
by US troops of the Nepali military. The US supports this role in the
name of fighting "terrorism".
Sri Lanka has suffered the worst ravages of militarism in South Asia
through the "war" with the Tamil separatists since 1983. Once the
best model for human development in the entire Third World - and the
first country to have a universal social welfare and food guarantee
system - Sri Lanka has over the past two decades become a highly
militarised society, with bunkers and barbed-wire fences dotting the
entire country. Today, the welfare schemes for which the country was
rightly famous, stand dismantled.
In 1985, Sri Lanka's military spending was 2.6 percent of GDP. By the
mid-1990s, it doubled. It has since reached a horrifying 10 percent
of GDP. The size of the armed forces has increased six-fold over
these years. Today, Sri Lanka has about 7 soldiers per 1,000
population (India has 1.2 and Pakistan 4.6).
There is some good news however: the peace process being brokered by
Norway. There have been three rounds of talks between the government
and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and some progress towards
demilitarisation in the North. But there are misgivings on all sides.
It is not clear if the LTTLE has fully given up the separate state
demand. It is trying to establish despotic one-party rule in
whichever area the army vacates. The Muslim minority is not happy.
And the government too is divided. If the peace process is fully
democratised, with assurances of political pluralism, and if it wins
consensual support, Sri Lanka could get out of the mess. But that is
not yet assured.
Bhutan, the tiny Buddhist kingdom, remains a totally authoritarian
monarchy, with little separation between the army, the police and the
civil authorities, all controlled by the Palace.
A significant aspect of militarisation in South Asia is the growing
role of militarist thinking, which promotes the use of force to
resolve disputes and differences. This trend has grown in the whole
region. The US' extremely negative example in declaring an unending,
prolonged, global "war" on terrorism after September 11, 2001, has
had a disastrous impact on South Asia. It has strengthened Right-wing
militarist tendencies and rationalised brutal force in the name of
fighting anything that can be branded "terrorism".
Parallel to this, and supplementing it, is the advance of
ethnic-religious political movements and parties like the BJP-RSS in
India, the MMA in Pakistan, and the extreme Right Islamic alliance
with which the BNP shares power in Bangladesh's ruling coalition.
Ultimately, security has to do with justice, equality and freedom, as
well as people's empowerment. These are all under threat in South
As economic growth falters, as income and regional disparities
sharply increase, and as human securitydecreases, South Asia's elites
rely more and more on force to regain "security". This is happening
increasingly at the level of daily life. As crime rises, along with
joblessness, displacement and destitution, the rich build higher and
higher walls around themselves, the police become increasingly
brutal, and the polity less and less accommodative and consensual -
and society more and more insecure.
The search for security through military means is counterproductive.
(The writer is a widely-read columnist and peace activist).
The Hindu, 23 January 2003
A DEGENERATING NUCLEAR LOGIC
By Achin Vanaik
Are our memories so short? Doesn't anyone remember that veritable
deluge of voices in Summer 1998 from the ranks of our 'strategic
establishment' who assured us that regional stability would be
enhanced by first India and then Pakistan going openly nuclear? The
wondrous workings of deterrence would usher in greater nuclear
security for both countries as well as reduce the likelihood of
conventional military conflict and tensions. There were those in the
anti-nuclear camp who pointed out that this was inverted logic. That
militarization-nuclearization are the symptoms and expressions of
political hostility and cannot themselves undo or lessen that
hostility since they can never address the deeper causes sustaining
those hostilities. Indeed, that such nuclearization would only
exacerbate tensions. But their voices were simply ignored or
Four-and-a-half years down the line who was right? Can anybody doubt
or deny that relations between India and Pakistan are more embittered
than in decades? That the presence of nuclear weapons, far from being
the soothing balm they were purported to be, have simply added a
dangerous, and new, layer of tensions to a situation of already
abiding unease? The easy way out to explain this is to assign all the
blame to Pakistan - its perfidiousness, abetment of terrorists,
initiation of Kargil, and so on. Even if one accepts such a one-sided
assessment that effectively exculpates India from all responsibility
for the deterioration in mutual relations, it still exposes the lack
of foresight by the pro-bomb lobby in India that was earlier so keen
to claim all kinds of healing powers for the nuclearization of the
region, which incidentally, was initiated by India not Pakistan?
Remember, too, the oft-repeated claim that there would be no
competitive arms race between India and Pakistan! Yet both countries
test, accumulate more weapons-grade material to make more and better
warheads, expand the range of their missiles, put in place nuclear
command and control systems which they assure us will work and make
matters safer, even as both governments spew venom at each other and
indulge in a language of irresponsible nuclear arrogance and
brinkmanship that was rarely ever witnessed between the US and the
former USSR even at the height of the Cold War. The reason for this
contrast in styles and patterns of political behaviour is obvious.
The conflict between the US and the USSR was primarily ideological
yet abstract - a clash between two systems upon which the passage of
time would be left to pronounce comparative judgement. The conflict
between India and Pakistan has long been directly
political-territorial, repeatedly involving military engagement
(conventional wars), and now with the rise of religious extremism in
both countries (and the hatreds inspired by such extremism) far more
dangerous even in its ideological dimension.
This is the context in which we have to view the latest developments
of the setting up of a Nuclear Command Authority in India with its
claim of institutionalizing alternative chains of command (should the
'enemy' launch a pre-emptive 'decapitating' strike), and the dilution
of its previous No Use commitment to non-nuclear states that are now
warned that they can face nuclear attack even if they use chemical or
biological weapons, though a huge chasm in terms of consequences
still separates nuclear weapons from even these weapons. The
degenerative logic of seeking security through nuclear weapons has
now taken hold. The Musharraf government in the typical fashion of
nuclear bomb buffs has to claim various virtues for Pakistan's
nuclear arsenal. So he declares that but for its nuclear power India
would have launched a conventional attack on Pakistan. Moreover, he
warns, Pakistan will reply 'unconventionally' to any future
conventional Indian assault.
The obvious follows. An India that has already claimed various
virtues for its nuclear arsenal and keen to disabuse Pakistan of its
belief that it can hide behind a nuclear shield, had already in the
past through the figure of the defense minister, George Fernandes,
(and others) declared that India was not deterred by the Pakistan
'bluff' and fully prepared to teach it a lesson, if need be. Not
surprisingly, the same George Fernandes (again not alone by any
means) now seeks to 'reassure' the Indian public that even if a
couple of Indian cities are bombed, India will devastate Pakistan in
reply. What an extraordinary state of affairs! Not one 'expert' is
prepared to inform the Indian public that actually carrying out a
second strike can never be an act of security retrieval or
enhancement (once a first strike has taken place one's security has
gone) but can only be an act of revenge. Moreover, it is a senseless
act of revenge because it only initiates a further action-reaction
chain of nuclear exchanges. Nor is anyone prepared to point out that
if today India has the capacity to inflict more damage on Pakistan
than vice versa, in due course (some years down the line) Pakistan
will acquire the missile range and stocks of warheads capable of
effectively wiping out all of India, and that it is little
'consolation' for India to be able then to wipe out Pakistan several
For all the current talk of being able to inflict "unacceptable
damage" on the other side, the honest truth is that no can know for
sure that after a significant or substantial or massive enemy first
strike whether enough would be left over to inflict unacceptable
damage in a retaliatory second-strike, besides the fact that such an
act is merely irrational revenge. It was the constant search for the
always elusive 'credible' second-strike capacity that drove the US
and USSR to an arms race that reached truly insane levels, and that
will drive India and Pakistan to emulate them on a much lower but
still constantly escalating scale. Fear of a decapitating first
strike has pushed India into developing "alternative" chains of
command. No doubt Pakistan with much less strategic-territorial depth
has done the same. Shorn of its euphemistic tone what this means is
that both countries are committed to a certain level of dispersion
and delegation of authority to use nuclear weapons away from the
Prime Minister or even the very topmost layer of political control,
since decapitation can itself be very substantial. This
dispersion-decentralisation of authority is itself a risk, and
furthermore, there is still never going to be any guarantee that such
alternative chains of command will not be deeply disrupted or
adequately survive a massive first strike.
One should, therefore, expect a new kind of 'infighting' to now
emerge within the Indian pro-nuclear lobby itself. There are going to
be a number of voices now calling for abandoning the No First Use
posture since this might be read by Pakistan as an invitation to
launch a massive first strike sometime in the future. Over time one
can also expect more voices to be raised about the need to move
towards very high levels of preparedness such as provided by a
"launch-on-warning" posture. It will then be argued that to make
deterrence truly effective it is necessary to do this because only
then is a massive second-strike attack against Pakistan virtually
guaranteed so that it cannot hope to destroy India's retaliatory
capacities through a huge first-strike no matter how decapitating or
destructive this might be. So Pakistan will never strike first.
Deterrence through a launch-on-warning posture is, of course, yet
another level of madness in nuclear strategic thinking but that does
not mean it won't come about. From 1982 to 1992 Russia made a No
First Use pledge but like the US, it nonetheless in the eighties
adopted a launch-on-warning posture.
Even as regional nuclear disarmament is the only genuine assurance
against use of nuclear weapons in South Asia, there is also the need
for promoting nuclear risk-reduction measures as a transitional
measure. It is a striking indication of the deep irresponsibility of
the two governments of India and Pakistan and of their respective
pro-nuclear strategic establishments that to this date, the only
serious efforts at drawing up, publishing and publicly distributing
such risk reduction proposals have come from the ranks of the
anti-nuclear disarmament movement.
o o o
[ For related material visit
South Asians Against Nukes:
The New York Times
February 2, 2003
The Other Face of Fanaticism
By PANKAJ MISHRA
On the evening of Jan. 30, 1948, five months after the independence
and partition of India, Mohandas Gandhi was walking to a prayer
meeting on the grounds of his temporary home in New Delhi when he was
shot three times in the chest and abdomen. Gandhi was then 78 and a
forlorn figure. He had been unable to prevent the bloody creation of
Pakistan as a separate homeland for Indian Muslims. The violent
uprooting of millions of Hindus and Muslims across the hastily drawn
borders of India and Pakistan had tainted the freedom from colonial
rule that he had so arduously worked toward. The fasts he had
undertaken in order to stop Hindus and Muslims from killing one
another had weakened him, and when the bullets from an automatic
pistol hit his frail body at point-blank range, he collapsed and died
instantly. His assassin made no attempt to escape and, as he himself
would later admit, even shouted for the police.
Millions of shocked Indians waited for more news that night. They
feared unspeakable violence if Gandhi's murderer turned out to be a
Muslim. There was much relief, also some puzzlement, when the
assassin was revealed as Nathuram Godse, a Hindu Brahmin from western
India, a region relatively untouched by the brutal passions of the
Godse had been an activist in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
(National Volunteers Association, or R.S.S.), which was founded in
the central Indian city of Nagpur in 1925 and was devoted to the
creation of a militant Hindu state. During his trial, Godse made a
long and eloquent speech claiming that Gandhi's ''constant and
consistent pandering to the Muslims'' had left him with no choice. He
blamed Gandhi for the ''vivisection of the country, our motherland''
and said that he hoped with Gandhi dead ''the nation would be saved
from the inroads of Pakistan.'' Godse requested that no mercy be
shown him at his trial and went cheerfully to the gallows in November
1949, singing paeans to the ''living Motherland, the land of the
Now, more than half a century later, many Indians feel that the
R.S.S. has never been closer to fulfilling its dream. Its political
wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party, B.J.P.), the
most important among the ''Sangh Parivar'' -- the ''family'' of
various Hindu nationalist groups supervised by the R.S.S. -- has
dominated the coalition government in New Delhi since 1998. Both Atal
Bihari Vajpayee, India's prime minister, and his hard-line deputy and
likely heir, L.K. Advani, belong to the R.S.S., and neither has ever
repudiated its militant ideology.
In the last five years, the Hindu nationalists have conducted nuclear
tests and challenged Pakistan to a fourth and final war with India.
They have taken a much harsher line than previous governments with
the decadelong insurgency in the Muslim majority state of Kashmir,
which is backed by radical Islamists in Pakistan. After a terrorist
attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, they mobilized
hundreds of thousands of troops on India's border with Pakistan. The
troops were partly withdrawn last October, but a war with Pakistan --
one involving nuclear weapons -- remains a terrifying possibility and
is in fact supported by powerful, pro-Hindu nationalist sections of
the Indian intelligentsia.
The Hindu nationalists' attempts to stoke Hindu fears about Muslims
also appear to be succeeding among many of India's disaffected
voters. In December, the B.J.P. won elections in the western state of
Gujarat, despite being blamed by many journalists and human rights
organizations for the vicious killings of more than 2,000 Muslims in
Gujarat early last year.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch, the worst violence
occurred in the commercial city of Ahmedabad: ''Between Feb. 28 and
March 2 the attackers descended with militia-like precision on
Ahmedabad by the thousands, arriving in trucks and clad in saffron
scarves and khaki shorts, the signature uniform of Hindu nationalist
-- Hindutva -- groups. Chanting slogans of incitement to kill, they
came armed with swords, trishuls (three-pronged spears associated
with Hindu mythology), sophisticated explosives and gas cylinders.
They were guided by computer printouts listing the addresses of
Muslim families and their properties . . . and embarked on a
murderous rampage confident that the police was with them. In many
cases, the police led the charge, using gunfire to kill Muslims who
got in the mobs' way.''
The scale of the violence was matched only by its brutality. Women
were gang-raped before being killed. Children were burned alive.
Gravediggers at mass burial sites told investigators ''that most
bodies that had arrived . . . were burned and butchered beyond
recognition. Many were missing body parts -- arms, legs and even
heads. The elderly and the handicapped were not spared. In some
cases, pregnant women had their bellies cut open and their fetuses
pulled out and hacked or burned before the women were killed.''
Narenda Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, who is also a member of
the R.S.S., explained the killings as an ''equal and opposite
reaction'' (a statement he later denied) to the murder in late
February of almost 60 people, most of whom were Hindu activists, by a
mob of Muslims. The Human Rights Watch report disputed this defense,
charging that the Hindu nationalists had planned the Gujarat killings
well in advance of the attack on the Hindu activists. It cited
widespread reports in the Indian media that suggest that a senior
Hindu nationalist minister sat in the police control room in
Ahmedabad issuing orders not to rescue Muslims from murder, rape and
Many secular Indians saw the ghost of Nathuram Godse presiding over
the killings in Gujarat. In an article in the prestigious monthly
Seminar, Ashis Nandy, India's leading social scientist, lamented that
the ''state's political soul has been won over by [Gandhi's]
killers.'' This seems truer after Hindu nationalists implicated in
India's worst pogrom won state elections held in Gujarat in December
-- a fact that Praful Bidwai, a widely syndicated Indian columnist,
described to me as ''profoundly shameful and disturbing.''
Not much is known about the R.S.S. in the West. After Sept. 11, the
Hindu nationalists have presented themselves as reliable allies in
the fight against Muslim fundamentalists. But in India their
resemblance to the European Fascist movements of the 1930's has never
been less than clear. In his manifesto ''We, or Our Nationhood
Defined'' (1939), Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, supreme director of the
R.S.S. from 1940 to 1973, said that Hindus could ''profit'' from the
example of the Nazis, who had manifested ''race pride at its
highest'' by purging Germany of the Jews. According to him, India was
Hindustan, a land of Hindus where Jews and Parsis were ''guests'' and
Muslims and Christians ''invaders.''
Golwalkar was clear about what he expected the guests and invaders to
do: ''The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu
culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence
Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but those of glorification of
the Hindu race and culture . . . or may stay in the country, wholly
subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no
Fears about the rise of militant Hindu nationalism, present since the
day Godse killed Gandhi, have been particularly intense since the
late 1980's, when the Congress -- the party of Gandhi and Nehru that
had ruled India for much of the previous four decades -- was damaged
by a series of corruption scandals and allegations of misrule. The
B.J.P., which began under another name in 1951, saw an opportunity in
the decay of the Congress Party.
In 1989, it officially began a campaign to build a temple over the
birthplace of the Hindu god Rama in the northern town of Ayodhya.
(The Hindu activists whose train was attacked last February had been
assisting in the construction of the temple.) Hindu nationalists have
long claimed that the mosque that stood over the site was built in
the 16th century by the first Mogul emperor, Babur, as an act of
contempt toward Hinduism. The mosque was a symbol of slavery and
shame, B.J.P. leaders declared, and removing it and building a grand
temple in its place was a point of honor for all Hindus.
In December 1992, senior B.J.P. politicians watched as an
uncontrollable crowd of Hindus, armed with shovels, pickaxes and
crowbars and shouting ''Death to Muslims,'' demolished the mosque. It
is estimated that at least 1,700 people, most of them Muslim, died
during the riots that followed. In March 1993, Muslim gangsters,
reportedly aided by the Pakistani intelligence agency, retaliated
with simultaneous bomb attacks that killed more than 300 civilians.
The struggle over the construction of a Rama temple on the site
continued throughout the 90's, inflaming both sides. Muslims (who
form 12 percent of India's population of more than one billion) and
secular Indians protested the Hindu nationalist attempt to rewrite
history. But the nationalists fed on a growing dissatisfaction among
upper-caste and middle-class Hindus. In March 1998, facing a
fragmented opposition, the B.J.P. emerged as the single strongest
party in the Indian Parliament, and Vajpayee and Advani took the top
two jobs in the federal government.
After the massacres in Gujarat last year, the Hindu nationalist
response was shockingly blunt. ''Let Muslims understand,'' an
official R.S.S. resolution said in March, ''that their safety lies in
the goodwill of the majority.'' Speaking at a public rally in April,
Prime Minister Vajpayee seemed to blame Muslims for the recent
violence. ''Wherever Muslims live,'' he said, ''they don't want to
live in peace.'' Replying to international criticism of the killings
in Gujarat, he said, ''No one should teach us about secularism.''
Vajpayee has worked hard to build close ties with the United States.
Recent joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean and frequent visits
by Colin Powell seem to confirm Washington's view of India as a
long-term ally against radical Islamism and China. But Vajpayee's
efforts can also be seen as part of R.S.S.'s millenarian vision of
India as a great superpower -- and not just in Asia. A clearer sense
of his worldview can be had from a long discourse K.S. Sudarshan, the
present supreme director of the R.S.S. and an adviser to Vajpayee and
Advani, delivered to R.S.S. members in 1999.
In the address, he described how a new epic war was about to commence
between the demonic and divine powers that forever contended for
supremacy in the world. Sudarshan identified the United States as the
biggest example of the ''rise of inhumanity'' in the contemporary
He claimed that India exercised the ''greatest terror'' over America,
a theme he had touched on in his praise of India's nuclear tests in
1998 when he said that ''our history has proved that we are a heroic,
intelligent race capable of becoming world leaders, but the one
deficiency that we had was of weapons, good weapons.'' He ended his
speech by predicting the ''final victory'' of Hindu nationalism.
"The Hindu nationalists are especially cautious at present,'' an
Indian journalist told me this fall. ''Their fascistic nature has
been obscured so far in the West by the fact that India is a
democracy and a potentially large consumer market. They have managed
to speak with two voices, one for foreign consumption and the other
for local. But they know that religious extremists are under closer
scrutiny worldwide after 9/11, and they know that they don't look too
good after the killings of 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat.''
When I arrived at the R.S.S.'s media office in Delhi, I was told by
the brusque young man in charge, ''The R.S.S. is not interested in
publicity.'' Sudarshan declined my request for an interview. Deputy
Prime Minister Advani also declined to be interviewed on his
connection with the R.S.S. Other members bluntly refused to talk to
what they described as an ''anti-Hindu'' foreign newspaper.
One person who would talk was Tarun Vijay, the young editor of an
R.S.S. weekly who was described as the ''modern face of Hindu
nationalism.'' Vijay shows up frequently on STAR News, India's most
prominent news channel, and speaks both Hindi and English fluently.
He is known as one of Advani's closest confidants.
When I ask Vijay about the R.S.S.'s role in the killings in Gujarat,
his normally suave manner falters. ''Westerners don't understand,''
he says agitatedly, ''that the R.S.S. is a patriotic organization
working for the welfare of all Indians.''
It must be said that his own career seems to prove this. He was so
impressed by the ''selflessness'' and ''patriotism'' of the R.S.S.
members he met as a young man, he says, that he left his home and
went to work in western India protecting tribal peoples from
discrimination. ''Some of my best friends are Muslims,'' he says.
''My wife wears jeans, and she wears her hair short. We eat at Muslim
homes. There are reasonable people among Muslims, but they are afraid
to speak out their minds. We are trying to have a dialogue with them.
We are trying to talk with Christians also. After all, Jesus Christ
is my greatest hero. But the left-wing and secular people are always
portraying us as anti-Muslim and anti-Christian fanatics.''
'The superior organization of the R.S.S., which now reaches up to the
highest levels of the Indian government, is its strength in a chaotic
country like India. Christophe Jaffrelot, a French scholar and the
leading authority on Hindu nationalism, says he believes that the
mission of the R.S.S. is to ''fashion society, to sustain it, improve
it and finally merge with it when the point [is] reached where
society and the organization [are] co-extensive.'' Bharat Bhushan, a
prominent Indian journalist, agrees. The R.S.S., he says, is ''the
only organization which has consistently geared itself to micro-level
politics.'' Its members run not just the biggest political party in
India but also educational institutions, trade unions, literary
societies and religious sects; they work to indoctrinate low-caste
groups as well as affluent Indians living in the West.
The scale and diversity of this essentially evangelical effort is
remarkable. Highly placed members of the R.S.S. conduct nuclear
tests, strike a belligerent attitude toward Muslims and Pakistan and
push India's claims to superpower status, while other members are
involved in almost absurd small-time social engineering.
I was startled, for instance, when Vijay triumphantly showed me the
headline in his magazine about the patenting of cow urine in the
United States. Western science, he said, had validated an ancient
Hindu belief in the holiness of the cow -- yet further proof of how
the Hindu way of life anticipated and indeed was superior to the
discoveries of modern science.
This was more than rhetoric. Forty miles out of Nagpur, at a clearing
in a teak forest, I came across an R.S.S.-run laboratory devoted to
showcasing the multifarious benefits of cow urine. Most of the cows
were out grazing, but there were a few calves in a large shed that,
according to the lab's supervisor, had been ''rescued'' recently from
nearby Muslim butchers. In one room, its whitewashed walls spattered
with saffron-hued posters of Lord Rama, devout young Hindus stood
before test tubes and beakers full of cow urine, distilling the holy
liquid to get rid of the foul-smelling ammonia and make it drinkable.
In another room, tribal women in garishly colored saris sat on the
floor before a small hill of white powder -- dental powder made from
The nearest, and probably unwilling, consumers of the various
products made from cow urine were the poor tribal students in the
primary school next to the lab, one of 13,000 educational
institutions run by Hindu nationalists. In gloomy rooms, where
students studied and slept and where their frayed laundry hung from
the iron bars of the windows, there were large gleaming portraits of
militant Hindu freedom fighters.
I sat in the small office of the headmaster, a thin excitable young
man. From the window, above which hung a large fantastical map of
undivided India, I could see tribal women who had walked from their
homes and now sat on the porch examining the sores and calluses on
their bare feet, waiting to meet their children during recess. The
principal explained to me how the R.S.S. member in charge of the
federal government's education department was making sure that the
new history textbooks carried the important message of Hindu pride
and Muslim cruelty to every school and child in the country. His own
work was to make the students aware of the glorious Hindu culture
from which tribal living had sundered them. The message of the
R.S.S., he said, was egalitarian and modern; it believed in raising
low-caste people and tribals to a higher level of culture.
According to John Dayal, the vice president of the All India Catholic
Union, the R.S.S. has spent millions of dollars trying to convert
tribal people to Hindu nationalism. Dayal, who monitors the
missionary activities of the R.S.S. very closely, claimed that in
less than one year the R.S.S. distributed one million trishuls, or
tridents, in three tribal districts in central India.
B.L. Bhole, a political scientist at Nagpur University, saw a
Brahminical ploy in these attempts. ''The R.S.S. can't attract young
middle-class people anymore, so they hope for better luck among the
poor,'' he said. ''But the basic values the R.S.S. promotes are drawn
from the high Sanskritic culture of Hinduism, which seeks to maintain
a social hierarchy with Brahmins at the very top. The united Hindu
nation they keep talking about is one where basically low-caste
Hindus and Muslims and Christians don't complain much while accepting
the dominance of a Brahmin minority.
''The R.S.S. has been most successful in Gujarat, where low-caste
Hindus and tribals were indoctrinated at the kind of schools you went
to. They were in the mobs led by upper-caste Hindu nationalists that
attacked Muslims and Christians. But the R.S.S. still doesn't have
much support outside Gujarat. This is a serious setback for them, and
the only thing they can do to increase their mass base is keep
stoking anti-Muslim and anti-Christian passions and hope they can get
enough Hindus, both upper caste and low caste, behind them.''
The consistent demonizing of Muslims and Christians by Hindu
nationalists may seem gratuitous -- Christians in India are a tiny
and scattered minority, and the Muslims are too poor, disorganized
and fearful to pose any kind of threat to Hindus -- but it is
indispensable to the project of a Hindu nation. The attempt to unite
low- and upper-caste Hindus in a united front against Muslims and
Christians has certainly worked in the state of Gujarat. Ashok
Singhal, the president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu
Council, V.H.P.), yet another R.S.S. affiliate, seemed to accept
proudly the charge of inciting anti-Muslim hatred when he described
last year's pogrom in Gujarat as a ''victory for Hindu society.''
Whole villages, he said, had been ''emptied of Islam.'' ''We were
successful,'' he said, ''in our experiment of raising Hindu
consciousness, which will be repeated all over the country now.''
This sounds like an empty threat, but the B.J.P.'s gains in the
recent elections in Gujarat, where it did best in riot-affected
areas, may have encouraged hard-liners to think that they can win
Hindu votes by whipping up anti-Muslim hysteria elsewhere in India.
Narendra Modi is to be the star campaigner for the B.J.P. in the
local elections later this month in the north Indian state of
Himachal Pradesh, an area with almost no Hindu-Muslim tensions to
date. Virbhadra Singh, a senior opposition leader from the Congress,
wonders if the Hindu nationalists have hatched an ''ill-conceived
plan to stage-manage some terrorist incident in the state.''
John Dayal fears that Hindu nationalists may also target Christians.
''They have never been more afraid,'' he told me. ''I have been
expecting the very worst since the B.J.P. came to power, and the
worst, I think, may still be in the future.''
The worst possibility at present is of a militant backlash by
Muslims. In the villages and towns near Ayodhya, I found Muslims full
of anxiety. They spoke of the insidious and frequent threats and
beatings they received from local Hindu politicians and policemen. At
one mosque in the countryside, a young man loudly asserted that
Muslims were not going to suffer injustice anymore, that they were
going to retaliate. His elders shouted him down, and then a mullah
gently led me out of the madrasa with one arm around my shoulders,
assuring me that the Muslims were loyal to India, their homeland,
where they had long lived in peace with their Hindu brothers.
Saghir Ahmad Ansari, a Muslim social activist in Nagpur, told me that
the Muslims he knew felt ''that the Hindu nationalists, who were
implacably opposed to their existence in India, now controlled
everything, the government, our rights, our future.'' He said he
worried about the Muslim response to Gujarat. ''When the government
itself supervises the killing of 2,000 Muslims, when Hindu mobs rape
Muslim girls with impunity and force 100,000 Muslims into refugee
camps, you can't hope that the victims won't dream of revenge,'' he
said. ''I fear, although I don't like saying or thinking about this,
that the ideology of jihad and terrorist violence will find new
takers among the 130 million Muslims of India. This will greatly
please the Islamic fundamentalists of Pakistan and Afghanistan.''
His fears about vengeful Muslims were proved right in September, when
terrorists reportedly from Pakistan murdered more than 30 Hindus at
the famous Akshardham temple in Gujarat in ostensible retaliation for
the massacres last winter. It was the biggest attack in recent years
by Muslim terrorists outside of Kashmir, and the Hindu rage it
provoked further ensured the victory of Hindu nationalist hard-liners
in December's elections.
The growth of religious militancy in South Asia is likely to excite
many Hindus. As they see it, Gujarat proved to be a successful
''laboratory'' of Hindu nationalism in which carefully stoked
anti-Muslim sentiments eventually brought about a pogrom, and a
Muslim backlash seemed to lead to even greater Hindu unity. A few
months ago, I met Nathuram Godse's younger brother, Gopal Godse, who
spent 16 years in prison for conspiring with his brother and a few
other Brahmins to murder Gandhi. He lives in Pune, a western city
known now for its computer software engineers. In his tiny two-room
apartment, where the dust from the busy street thickly powders a mess
of files and books and the framed garlanded photographs of Gandhi's
murderer, Godse, a frail man of 83, at first seems like someone
abandoned by history.
But recent events seem to Godse to have vindicated his Hindu
nationalist cause. Gujarat proved that the Hindus were growing more
militant and patriotic and that the Muslims were on the run not just
in India but everywhere in the world. India had nuclear bombs; it was
growing richer and stronger while Pakistan was slowly imploding. Only
recently, Godse reminds me, Advani advocated the dismemberment of
India has turned its back on Gandhi, Godse claims, and has come close
to embracing his brother's vision. Nathuram did not die in vain. He
asked for his ashes to be immersed in the Indus, the holy river of
India that flows through Pakistan, only when the Mother India was
whole again. For over half a century, Godse has waited for the day
when he could travel to the Indus with the urn containing his
brother's ashes. Now, he says, he won't have to wait much longer.
Pankaj Mishra is the author of ''The Romantics,'' a novel, and is at
work on a book about Buddha.
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