Hindutva, Nationalism, and Fascism

By Nyla Ali Khan

In the wake of Modi’s reprehensible attempt to stoke the flames of communal hatred and sectarianism in Gujarat and the judgment of the Lucknow branch of the Allahabad high court regarding the Ram Janmabhoomi site, our memories of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation of 1989 are refreshed. A disused sixteenth century mosque in Ayodhya, the Babri Masjid, was demolished by Hindu supporters of the Saffron movement who hoped to construct a temple, the Ram Janmabhoomi, on that site. Hindu-Muslim riots swept Northern India in the wake of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation. In the case of the majority Hindus, the militant Hinduism that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement incited challenged the basic principle that the nation was founded on: democracy. Community was evoked in order to create nostalgia for a fabricated past that was meticulously contrived. The progressive attempts of left-wing activists were challenged by the construction of a mythic history asserting national tradition in a classically fascist form.

This project of constructing the history of a nation involves selective appropriation of past and present histories and an abrogation of major parts of those histories. For instance, Kai Friese reports in the New York Times that in November 2002, during the reign of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the National Council of Education Research and Training in India, which is the central Indian government organization that finalizes the national curriculum and supervises education for high school students, circulated a new textbook for Social Sciences and History. The textbook conveniently overlooks the embarrassing fact that the architect of Indian independence, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist in 1948, a year after the proclamation of independence.

In this nationalist project, one of the forms that the nullification of past and present histories takes is the subjection of religious minorities to a centralized and authoritarian state. Thus, the Babri Masjid, an obscure little mosque, was destroyed by an unruly mob that rallied around the Bharatiya Janata Party. By blatantly advocating and supporting the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the BJP and its votaries negated the legislation of the highest court of law in the land that sought to protect the site by staying its appropriation by any political party. The legislation was not only abrogated by the active mobilization of the fractious crowd, but by the bigwigs of the BJP who presided over the demolition of the mosque. This movement, as Vijay Mishra observes, received financial support from Hindu immigrants in the West, ‘and the funding of Hindu institutions, temples, and other purportedly ‘ňúcharitable’ enterprises by diaspora Hindus, particularly those from the United States, can be established beyond doubt’ (194). Such appeals and unambiguous encouragement to enjoin the native crowd to commit violence were, according to Aijaz Ahmad, ‘replete with appeals to masculine virility, national pride, racial redemption, contempt for law and order’ (Lineages183).

Some of the current problems in J & K can be traced to the surging Saffron wave in India. From the 1970s onwards, the effective generation in the Kashmir Valley came to be the new educated middle class which was witness not the tremendous work of their predecessors toward communal amity traceable to hundreds of years of collective zeitgeist, but found themselves victims of unemployment and a decrepit infrastructure. They were witnesses to the rising Saffron wave in India. They were witnesses to an All India Party struggling to capture power at the centre and foregrounding in their election manifesto their aim of demolishing a mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. The Brahmins of Kashmir, popularly called Kashmiri Pandits, getting central government jobs in a ratio out of proportion to their demographic percentage, compounded this feeling.[1]/p>

From the 1970s onwards Islam became resurgent at the international level. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, the ‘secular’ government of the Shah of Iran was ousted and he fled the country in disgrace and ignominy. Political unrest in the Soviet Union generated a demand for independence by its Central Asian republics of Kazakhastan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, and Tajikistan, which resisted even offers of a federal or confederate connection with the erstwhile Soviet Union, resulting in their independence in 1991 and the formation of a Commonwealth of independent states comprising different racial, linguistic, ethnic groups of people.[2] The ultimate surrender by withdrawal of the massive forces of the former Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989 after having been an occupation force in that country for ten years with enormous fire power instilled in the youth of Kashmir a feeling that no military might can keep a resistant people tethered to another by sheer force.

For more than sixty years the Kashmir conflict has remained like a long pending case in a court of law between the two nuclear giants in the Indian subcontinent, India and Pakistan. The Kashmir imbroglio has worsened partly out of disillusionment that was generated by perceiving the hollowness of Indian secularism, partly out of the ignominy that Kashmiris felt in being tied to a government and a polity that is getting increasingly religionized. The insurgency in Kashmir grew into a low intensity warfare made lethal by the firepower of India, accompanied by killings, assassinations, plunder, pillage, rapes, taking of hostages, counterinsurgencies, and ambushes. The backcloth has remained the same for the past twenty years, which is a recipe for disaster. The history of the past twenty years on the subject has ceased to be history; it has degenerated into statistics and data: number of land mines, number of ambushes, number of suicide attacks, number of abductions and rapes. But Kashmir has not moved an inch further than where it was in 1989; on the contrary, the alienation in Kashmir is greater; the brutal killings have increased; and the psychological wedge between the people of India and the people of Kashmir has become wider. The increasing communalization of Indian politics is a juggernaut that annihilates the myth of secularism in India. As a poignant reminder to the student of Indian history and subcontinental politics, I would like to point out that Jawaharlal Nehru observed in the Constituent Assembly of India that the greatest danger to India will not be from Muslim communalism but from Hinduism which could potentially become expansionist and communally belligerent.[3]

Nyla Ali Khan is a Visiting Professor at the University of Oklahoma, Norman.


[1] I find it pertinent to point out that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s recognition of the political and socioeconomic dominance of Kashmiri Pandits and his arduous attempts to pull Kashmiri Muslims out of the morass of illiteracy and servility were misinterpreted as his communal and divisive politics.

[2] The only bond between these diverse people was a thin veneer of Islam interpreted differently by these newly created nation-states.

[3] I wish to acknowledge that the late P. N. Duda, legal luminary and prolific writer made available to me the manuscript of his Causative History of Kashmir with permission to use it extensively. I owe some of my conceptualization of the communalization of Indian politics and its impact on the Kashmir imbroglio to his work.

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