In a democracy the
opinion of the majority has to hold the sway in the day-to-day life of the
people. As such it will be but proper to consider the practical conduct of the
life of majority as the actual life of the national entity.
Have those [Muslims]who remained here changed at least after that [Partition]? Has their old hostility and murderous mood, which resulted in widespread riots, looting, arson, raping and all sorts of orgies on an unprecedented scale in 1946-47, come to a halt at least now? It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan.
Prime Minister Narendra
Modi has mastered the art of saying one thing and doing another. A case in
point is what he said on the campaign trail in 2014, on Aadhar and MNREGA among
others, and what his government has done since. After the BJP’s stunning
landslide in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly elections, he arrived for a
victory lap at the party headquarters in Delhi. He made a fine speech about
humility and the spirit of generosity such a verdict brings. He wanted the
party to emulate a fruit-laden tree whose branches droop from the weight of its
goodness, and suggested that now that the BJP had decimated its rivals, it was
time for humility and accommodation.
Five days later, Modi along with BJP president Amit Shah—there are really no other decision makers in the party—gave evidence of their new-found sensitivity: Yogi Adityanath, a saffron-clad sanyasi who heads an order of monks, the man whose word is de facto law in Gorakhpur, and an unapologetic advocate for violence against Muslims for all kinds of perceived wrongs going back 1,000 years, was appointed the chief minister of UP.
If Modi has to be taken at his word, the fire-breathing Adityanath, with a questionable grip on facts and philosophy, is the embodiment of the BJP’s historic victory.
In one decisive step the BJP declared what it had been unsuccessfully trying to skirt since 2014: it is a Hindutva party that fetishises the masculine brand of politics and nationalism first articulated by Vinayak Savarkar and M. S. Golwalkar. In its universe, the Muslim is always the suspect, if not the enemy; follower of a foreign prophet, descendant of invaders, and a person whose loyalties do not lie with Bharatmata, the enchanted motherland of a glorious civilisation of Hindus.
It reassured its diehard supporters that while its language may have been couched in sophistry with slogans like “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas”, with every electoral victory the greasepaint was coming off. After UP, the unvarnished face of Hindutva has reared its head. “Mandir wahin banayenge (We will build the temple there)” has made a comeback, and “Ayodhaya ke baad, ab Kashi ki baari hai (After Ayodhya it is the turn of Kashi)” cannot be far behind. It smells like 1992 again.
BJP’s unparalleled electoral successes built on the back of Modi’s image as a strongman, Shah’s ruthless election management, and a listless opposition, has ensured that we are now living in an era that has seen the greatest democratic marginalisation of Muslims in north and western India since Independence.
BJP’s unparalleled electoral successes built on the back of Modi’s image as a strongman, Shah’s ruthless election management, and a listless opposition, has ensured that we are now living in an era that has seen the greatest democratic marginalisation of Muslims in north and western India since Independence. The Muslim and her vote are irrelevant to BJP, nowhere more so than in UP that has four crore Muslims. No more “tushtikaran”, anodyne BJP-speak for that anodyne word: “appeasement”.
For a long time, the assumption was that Muslims vote en bloc and tactically. They make their vote count, and that has granted them sway over parties that pander to them, which includes everyone but the BJP. Numerous studies and election results have shown the assumption to be a myth, and in any case, apart from in a few scattered pockets, Muslims are not in a majority in any constituency in the country. In the first-past-the-post system, non-Muslim voters will always outnumber the Muslim voter.
The problem was that Hindus, though a majority, were divided along multiple caste, class, and personal interests that override a Hindu identity. Therefore, the Hindu vote never became enlightened enough to rise in the defence of Hindus. How to form a rainbow of unified Hindu votes, and indeed a pre-Islamic Indic identity that takes pride in the glories of antiquity, has always been the question that has vexed the ideologues of the RSS, Jan Sangh, and the BJP.
Under Modi and Shah, in the name of development and the strategic sounding of the dog-whistle of communalism, this rainbow coalition of Hindu votes has been stitched in huge swathes of the country. It is a stupendous achievement for the BJP, one that threatens to forever change the democratic landscape of India. Development is a legitimate aspiration and excuse, and the subliminal fear and loathing of the Muslim is a bubbling discontent—both causes find their salvation in Modi, the vikas purush with a 56-inch chest. Who doesn’t want jobs and a government that promises to deliver? Which Hindu has any objection to building a mandir in Ayodhya?
As long as this rainbow coalition holds—and with the state of the opposition it could hold for a long time—and as long as Modi and Shah deliver on the twin promises of jobs and keeping the Muslims in check, they will continue to triumph in election after election. UP’s victory and Adityanath’s appointment have laid bare this template.
“Muslim politics in
India” is a popular catchphrase. It signifies the “appeasement” BJP hates so
much, even though there is little evidence of it in socio-economic indicators.
It denotes a surrender of Hindu interests and pride, whatever they encapsulate
at any given point of time, by politicians and parties who don’t know better.
It is a more benign articulation of the “two-nation theory”.
Stripped of euphemisms, it simply means that courting Muslims in any manner is an affront to all Hindus, and that Muslims are lesser Indians, their loyalties forever suspect, their allegiance eternally doubtful, their beef-eating ways purposefully provocative. It says without saying it in as many words, that as a minority community they should accept the cultural primacy of the majority, and mould their actions in deference to it. If it means giving up a 500-year old mosque in Ayodhya for the sake of an older temple that allegedly existed there—though belief, not fact, is paramount in this matter—so be it.
India is a constitutional republic, and the Constitution does not weigh down the present with the sins of the past, save for the acknowledgment of atrocities against Dalits and tribals, and certain fundamental rights granted especially to minorities. The RSS, BJP and their umbrella of Hindutva organsiations seek to do the opposite: blame present-day Muslims for conquests of the past, somehow wipe away 1,000 years of history, the dark period of Islamic rule from which the Hindus have never recovered. Prime Minister Modi has often referred to the period as one of slavery. The RSS calls for a complete rewriting of history—any such exercise done with academic rigour should be welcomed—but then wants historians that will give the conclusions it wants.
UP is the birthplace
of Muslim politics in India, even though the first major act in that direction
was the partition of Bengal by the British in 1905. Ostensibly done for
“administrative reasons” it was the first modern recognition of Muslims as a
separate people from Hindus, and the first major act in the divide-and-rule
game of the British. It was also the period of the Bengal Renaissance, under
which a slew of Hindu reformist movements emerged. The Arya Samaj, founded in
1875, was one of the major proponents of cow protection movements across
northern India, and the ancestors of today’s Gau Raksha Dals were birthed in
the late 19th century. Around the same time, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s Aligarh
Movement also took root in UP. It was the first native articulation of Muslim
interests as being distinct from Hindu interests, and advocated that Muslims
should put their interests first or they risked being ridden roughshod over by
the majority community. According to Khan, this could be achieved by a
wholehearted support of the Raj and western education. By the time the
partition of Bengal happened, there had been a series of small-scale riots,
particularly in UP, over the issue of cow slaughter.
UP has a historical legacy of communalism unique in the Indian context. It was the playground for radical Islamic impulses and reactionary Hinduism. For Hindus, it was a populous region that not only saw the worst of Aurangzeb’s bigotry—from jizya to large-scale destruction of temples—but also contained the country’s most political, most assertive Muslim population.
UP is also the major theatre of Wahhabism in India. Syed Ahmad Shah Barelvi, one of the earliest Wahhabis is from the state. He provided the intellectual argument for Wahhabism in India and the idea of India as Dar-ul-Islam or an Islamic state was often spoken of. The late 19th century and early 20th century saw many trials of Wahhabis for acts of violence and “treasonous” activities. From then to Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League’s demand for a separate Muslim nation, which by the 1940s had found vocal support in UP, the region along with Bengal and Punjab became a communal cauldron, always ready to boil over.
UP has a historical legacy of communalism unique in the Indian context. It was the playground for radical Islamic impulses and reactionary Hinduism. For Hindus, it was a populous region that not only saw the worst of Aurangzeb’s bigotry—from jizya to large-scale destruction of temples—but also contained the country’s most political, most assertive Muslim population. The fight back was on all fronts: the rise of Hindi, refuge in tales of glory about the days before the Muslim invasions, reforms in Hinduism, and a sustained other-isation of Muslims.
It is the playbook that continues to dominate even today. It has guided the early RSS pracharaks, leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha, and later the BJP to the various Muslim organisations and maulanas that claim they spoke for the ulema.
Three things have
shaped Gorakhpur in the last hundred years, its place in larger history and the
Independence movement notwithstanding. It was the headquarters of the
Northeastern railway, the biggest railway zone of India, and therefore the one
that doled out the biggest contracts executed across the Hindi heartland. It
attracted all kinds of mafia elements to the town. Its influence has diminished
since 2002 when Ram Vilas Paswan as railways minister split the zone into three
The other institution that shaped Gorakhpur is the Gita Press, a project of Hindu nationalist Marwaris to print low-cost editions of sacred texts, and through their journal Kalyan propagate the Hindu cause.
While Gita Press continues to remain a revered institution, Gorakhpur for long has belonged to the Gorakhnath Mutt, and by extension its mahant or head priest, a position Adityanath has occupied since September 2014. The mutt administers two temples including one in Nepal, has millions of followers among which count the Nepal royal family, and runs many schools and colleges. An editor who worked in Gorakhpur said of the math: “If you want to see old-style Thakur feudalism, come to Gorakhpur.”
The last three mahants of the Gorakhnath Mutt have been Rajputs, in an area full of erstwhile zamindars and rajas. The temple is all-powerful and Adityanath who founded the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), an armed collection of largely upper caste youth united in the mission of cultural nationalism, prevails over all. The many educational institutions of the mutt provide the perfect setting for intellectual grounding and recruitment for the Vahini. Through the years, HYV cadre have been implicated in many acts of violence, In a 2007 case of rioting and murder many HYV members were arrested including Adityanath.
Adityanath is an interesting choice as UP chief minister. He is the only leader whose stature and support are independent of the party, even Modi, in eastern UP. Everything BJP lays claim to—Ayodhya, Hindutva, riots—belongs to Adityanath as a legacy of the mutt he heads. To Avaidyanath, his guru, and Digvijay Nath, his guru’s guru—leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha—belongs the honour of resurrecting the Ram Janambhoomi movement. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and BJP took it national. Both mahants were tireless crusaders for the cause, and their life and actions are an inheritance that sits well with Adityanath. His unequivocal, strident speeches on the subject carry with them the weight of 125 years of Hindutva politics that came out of the Gorakhpur Mutt. He is not just a politician; he is a monk representing a millennium-old order.
One of the quotable quotes on Adityanath’s website translates as: “Hindutva is the consciousness of India. Any attack on it is an invitation for annihilation.” Such sentiments enjoy massive support in UP, partly because people like Aditynath and parties like BJP are among the few to deal head on with the question of Islamic radicalism. Other political parties and the liberal brigade are silent, embalmed in the shroud of their own hypocrisy. It is a real threat in the eyes of the people; the evidence abounds. When neighbourhood mosques in Bihar and UP broadcast sermons on the creation of an Islamic State in India, or declare terrorists killed across the world as martyrs, and this goes unchecked, BJP propaganda starts to ring true.
Since being sworn in, however, Adityanath has made the right kind of speeches, and it remains to be seen what his rule entails for UP. His supporters already see in him a future prime minister. What he does in UP, what cocktail of development and Hindutva he mixes may have an impact beyond India’s most populous state.
For the Muslims of UP
and other BJP-ruled states the message couldn’t be clearer: Old style politics
that preyed on real and imagined fears that considered the community a monolith
in need of protection is dead. This is the BJP era, the time of Modi and
Adityanath. They have made it clear that they do not see any need to engage
with Muslims as a community, that there are no community-specific sops or
concessions that they are going to provide. They have promised no
discrimination in delivery of government services, but offered no protection
from attacks by their violent vigilante army. Electorally, they don’t need
Muslims as long as a unified Hindu vote comes to them.
Rightly or wrongly, the onus to engage with the BJP remains on Muslims, or they risk being left out of the political process altogether as long as the BJP rules.