Monday, January 05, 2004

BJP's state election strategy confirms Muslim fears for general elections in 2004

by Qazi Umar

"Take any politically volatile issue - nuclear tests, the Babri mosque, TADA or the anti-Muslim pogroms engineered and backed by the government - in each the Congress Party has sown the seeds and the BJP has reaped the hideous harvest. The Congress has done hypocritically what BJP does proudly."

The outcome of the elections on December 1 in four Indian states (Delhi, Rajastan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) confirms beyond any possible doubt that the BJP's electoral strategy and future political direction are based on attacking India's Muslims and promoting the Hindu-fundamentalist agenda of the Sangh Parivar. The success in "Operation 2003", as the party called the recent elections, is expected to be a launch-pad for BJP to try a similar experiment for "Mission 2004", the forthcoming general election, in which Vajpayee's government is hoping to obtain a second term.

On December 20 environment minister T. R. Baalu and health minister A. Raja resigned from the BJP-led central government. Both ministers, along with nine other MPs, belong to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, which is one of the allies of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. DMK's decision to withdraw is easily explained: the government has misused POTA (the Prevention of Terrorism Act) against one of its leaders. The DMK and several other parties that joined the BJP-led alliance at the centre have won elections with Muslim votes and with political manifestoes diametrically opposed to that of the BJP, yet they joined to form a government. But none of the ministers or parties has protested the misuse of POTA against Muslims; nor did any of them resign after the genocide in Gujarat.

The BJP government is exploring various options to improve the BJP's fortunes in the general elections. Within days of coming to power in 1998, and even before winning enough seats in parliament to achieve political legitimacy, BJP declared India a "nuclear power".

The myths that India is a Hindu-majority nation, and that Congress is a national party, were first floated by 'Mahatma' Gandhi in the 1930s. Lord Linlithgow, the British viceroy, disliked Congress profoundly, considering it a "movement of Hindu hooliganism". Gandhi neutralised leaders such as Subash Chandra Bose and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who tried to change this 'Hinduness' within Congress. Ambedkar, "father of the Indian constitution", wrote in his masterpiece Pakistan or the Partition of India, " It is no use saying that the Congress is not a Hindu body. A body, which is Hindu in its composition, is bound to reflect the Hindu mind and support Hindu aspirations. The only difference between the Congress and the Hindu Maha Saba [the founding party of BJP] is that the latter is crude in its utterances and brutal in its actions, while the Congress is politic and polite."

Take any politically volatile issue - nuclear tests, the Babri mosque, TADA or the anti-Muslim pogroms engineered and backed by the government - in each the Congress Party has sown the seeds and the BJP has reaped the hideous harvest. The Congress has done hypocritically what BJP does proudly. The opposition parties, led by the Congress, launched a public agitation after the Gujarat genocide, demanding Modi's resignation. Criminals are not meant to resign but to be charged, tried and convicted. The Supreme Court has the option of acting in the light of hundreds of testimonies. The constant infiltration of all the instruments of state denies even the Supreme Court independence action.

On December 10 M. G. S. Nara-yanan, the chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), was removed from his chair for the simple reason that he challenged the body's policies of distorting history textbooks and allowing Sangh Parivar candidates into the organization. This is just one instance of routine injustice and the erosion of civil liberties in India today.

After 'independence' (transfer of power from British imperialism to Brahminic hegemony, as Ambedkar defines the independence of India), Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, decreed that Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs would also be called Hindus. Morarji Desai's government forbade Thames Television to make a film on Untouchables, in order to protect India's image abroad. And how does India protect its image? Bollywood is one means. In Johannesburg, London and New York Bollywood movies are subtitled in English. Kuala Lumpur adds subtitles in Chinese and Malay. In Tehran we even see dubbed Bollywood movies with Sharukh Khan speaking in Farsi. It is not a bad idea to camouflage India's horrifying poverty and underdevelopment by distracting attention to its undeniable riches of music and colour.

In 1978 India observed International Anti-Apartheid Year in flamboyant style. A. B. Vajpayee, the then foreign minister, while addressing the UN general assembly, denounced apartheid in South Africa and racial discrimination in other parts of the world. But 23 years later, in 2001, as the prime minister of India, the same Vajpayee denied exit visas to Dalit activists to present their case at the Durban conference on racism.

Advani proclaimed in 2001 that all of India should identify itself with "Ram". Gandhi was the first to float this slogan of "Ram Rajya". Gandhi used his loin-cloth and spinning-wheel to exploit the marginalized, poverty-stricken and illiterate masses of India for his own political ends. Advani and the BJP decided to use technology: the launch of television in India was an opportunity for the serialization of the Ramayana and Mahabarath. Water, food, electricity and shelter are scarce in most Indian villages, but Ramayana would still be shown somehow. Advani's 'Ram chariot' had a Muslim driver, and a Dalit laid the foundation-stone of the Ram Temple on the debris of the 464-year-old Babri mosque. Ram, a mythological figure in the Vedas (perhaps originally a feudal king), who killed Shambuk, a Sudra ascetic, still fascinates the Sudras (the lowest caste in the four-tier caste system) and Dalits (untouchables, not even in the caste system), who were fully involved in the demolition of the Babri mosque and its consequences.

Narasimha Rao's 'secular' Congress government watched the karsevaks raze the Babri mosque in broad daylight; then his governor in India's "integral state" issued orders to shoot unarmed protesters, and we have to wait for Asia Watch, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to expose Jagmohan's brutal policies in Kashmir.

The Ram Temple has become a 'national' issue. Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Dalits and Sudras (comprising more than 900 million people in India) have nothing to do with Ram, history and archaeology having proved substantially that he is a myth. But the Ram Temple still heads the political manifestoes and brings electoral victories, thanks to the role of the supposedly free media in the 'world's largest democracy'.

Another electoral plank of the BJP is the so-called ban on cow-slaughter, their main allegation being that Muslims slaughter cows for Id-ul-Adha. Uma Bharati, a criminal charged in the Babri mosque demolition case, became the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh after the December 1 state elections. The first law she passed was the ban on cow slaughter. For most Indians beef is a staple; for Dalits, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs and others the cow is not a 'holy God'. Even Brahmins were once beef-eaters, as shown by their own Vedas. There are more than 200 million cows in India, despite their daily slaughter for food. Yet one Bal Thackrey appeals to countries all over the world to export their 'living Gods' (cows) to India, so that India can save them. Cow-leather and beef exports contribute millions of dollars to the Indian economy every year; surely Vajpayee should close down these industries before he talks about a ban on cow slaughter?

The 'anti-conversion' bill is another issue that the BJP and Sangh Parivar use for electoral purposes. In 1981 in Meenakshipuram, thousands of Dalit families accepted Islam. This provoked the anti-conversion bill in the mid-1980s. In Maharashtra, a Marati play was called Meenakshipuram, not merely to pay tribute to an event in Tamil Nadu, but to promote conversion (to Islam, or to any other religion that does not encourage a caste system) as the most feasible method of rescuing people from the caste system. The Indian constitution approves the freedom to choose, practise and propagate any faith. Ambedkar set the trend of conversion when he kept his vow not to die a Hindu by converting to Buddhism, with tens of thousands of his followers. He even dared to burn the Manusmruti, the Hindu scripture that advocates caste-based discrimination. Millions of Dalits and tribals have accepted Christianity and Islam.

The sacrifices, commitment and services of Christian social activists and organizations in the ghettoes of India to improve the condition of the masses are unparalleled in modern Indian history. Yet the Sangh Parivar justifies the brutal murder of a Australian missionary, Graham Staines (with his two children), who sacrificed his life to serve leprosy patients, and Staines' widow displayed remarkable love and compassion by forgiving the murderers and continuing to serve. But it still took six years for the Indian judiciary to convict one Dara Singh of the Staines murders.

Christian churches are razed to the ground, and Vajpayee responds with a call for national debate on conversion. Yet nobody calls for a national debate on the forced assimilation of Dalits and Tribals into Hinduism. There is no anti-assimilation bill to rein in the VHP and Bajrang Dal. Every year independence day celebrations set off violent protests in the north-eastern states. Advani is even exploring the "genuineness" of "cross-border infiltration" across the Bangladesh border. Dalits and tribals are barred from entering Hindu temples, never mind being priests, yet the VHP wants to 'reconvert' them to Hinduism. There is not even an 'anti-reconversion' bill in India.

For Narendra Modi, "the Butcher", India is an "emerging industrial power"; for his party India is also an emerging "nuclear power". Arundati Roy in 1998, following India's nuclear tests, quoted some statistics in her essay, End of Imagination: "We are a nation of nearly a billion people. In development terms we rank No. 138 out of the 175 countries listed in the UNDP's Human Development Index (even Ghana and Sri Lanka rank above us). More than 400 million of our people are illiterate and live in absolute poverty; more than 600 million lack even basic sanitation and more than 200 million have no safe drinking water." Perhaps Vajpayee and Modi are not aware of these facts.

Information technology (IT) is booming in India. Indian software engineers are employed all over the world. Hyderabad and Bangalore, the two IT hubs, compete with some of the best companies in the world. The world today is supposed to be a 'global village' and "information is at the tip of one's fingers", yet in India there are at least 950 million people who have never touched a keyboard. In effect India's rural economy is being garrotted. It is the Brahminical legacy: colonize knowledge, build four walls around it, and use it to the Brahmins' advantage. The Manusmriti advocates molten lead being poured into a Dalit's ears if he overhears any part of the sacred scripture. It is no coincidence that although India keeps one foot in the forefront of the "information revolution", millions of its citizens are illiterate.

The BJP is desperate to implement a uniform civil code, the main target being polygamy among Muslims, although statistics have unequivocally demonstrated that Hindu society is more polygamous. If democracy in the rest of the world is about manufacturing consent and manipulating public opinion, in India it is also about distorting history and exploiting ignorance, poverty and prejudice.

Muslim leaders do not realise that the Sangh Parivar's agenda is utterly anti-Muslim. Even if Gujarat is not repeated in the rest of India, it is still only a matter of time before the BJP comes to power anyway. The oppressed masses of India are desperately awaiting a leadership that will dismantle the "Ram politics" of the "world's largest democracy".

At the moment the only effective strategy for Muslims in India would appear to be dissent.

Source: Media Monitors Network, January 5, 2004

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