Secularism Reconsidered


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Source: Asian Affairs: An American Review, Fall95, Vol. 22 Issue 3, p181, 26p
Author(s): Wirsing, Robert G.; Mukherjee, Debolina
Abstract: Examines the implications for India's secular tradition of the mounting political success of India's right-wing Hindu nationalist movement, in particular the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Electoral rise of the BJP; Erosion of India's secular tradition; Revisionist critique of Indian secularism by the scholars Embree, Larson and van der Veer.


I. Introduction

In this essay we consider the implications for India's secular tradition of the mounting political success of India's right-wing Hindu nationalist movement, in particular the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). We note in our examination of electoral data that the BJP's strength in the national parliament (Lok Sabha) rose from 2 in 1984 to 119 in 1991, and that following two waves of state legislative elections, ending in April 1995, the BJP is now in power in four states (Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Rajasthan), while it is the principal opposition party in five others (Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, and Himachal Pradesh). In the case of the critically important and politically tumultuous state of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP's decision in June to support from the outside the minority Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government placed the BJP, for the moment at least, in the ranks of the "friendly" opposition. In any event, the states in which the BJP is now formally in power account for 108 (19.8%) of the 545 seats in parliament, and the states where it is either in power or the principal opposition party account for well over half of India's population.

This essay addresses two questions: (1) In electoral terms, how strong is the present rightist surge?; and (2) Ideologically, does it threaten the displacement of India's secular tradition by confessional politics?

II. The Electoral Rise of the BJP

The BJP's immediate political predecessor, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), never achieved impressive results in electoral terms between the time of its founding by Dr. Shyarea Prasad Mookerjee in 1951 and its virtual merger with the omnibus Janata Party in 1977.[1] In national elections, it had its best showing in 1967; but even then it secured less than 10 percent of the vote (9.41%) and less than 7 percent of the seats (6.73%) in the Lok Sabha. At the time of its merger with the Janata Party, it seemed, in fact, to be on a downward trajectory.

Founded in April 1980, in large part from the ranks of the BJS, the BJP has experienced, in contrast, a remarkable rise in its political fortunes--from winning 2 seats in the Lok Sabha (0.4%) in 1984, with 7.4 percent of the popular vote, to winning 119 seats (23.3%) in 1991, with 21 percent of the popular vote? In the 1991 elections, it secured 10 percent or better of votes cast in fifteen of India's twenty-six states, 25 percent or better in seven states, and in one state (Gujarat) a clear majority. Its share of the popular vote in the 1991 parliamentary elections was higher than its 1989 share in the overwhelming majority (20) of states (table 1). Viewed with the simultaneous and fairly precipitous decline of the once-dominant Congress party, the BJP's harvest at the national level of both votes and seats can only be judged impressive (figures 1 and 2).

The BSP also has been much more successful than the BJS in state legislative elections. Although by the 1960s the BJS was contesting in virtually all of the states, and in 1967 succeeded in mounting a strong challenge to the Congress in at least two of them (Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh), it never succeeded in capturing power in any of them. Control of state government also eluded the BJP during the 1980s. Nevertheless, the party managed a gradual, if uneven, upward climb throughout the decade. In state legislative assembly elections held between 1980 and 1989, it succeeded in gamering over 10 percent of the vote in seven states, and over 30 percent in two (Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh). The breakthrough came in 1990, however, when the BJP showed impressive gains in six states (Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan): it won an absolute majority of seats in Himachal Pradesh and Mad-hya Pradesh, forming the government on its own in each. In alliance with the Janata Party, it formed a coalition government in Gujarat and Rajasthan (as the dominant partner in the latter). Equally dramatic, perhaps, were its gains in legislative elections in 1991 when, apart from demonstrably expanding its electoral support base in Assam and West Bengal, it polled 34 percent of the vote and secured an absolute majority of seats in Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous and, arguably, politically most pivotal state (table 2).

Destruction by a raging mob of Hindu militants of the controversial sixteenth-century Babri Masjid (Babar's Mosque) at Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, in December 1992, prompted the Congress-I government at the center to dismiss the BJP-led state governments in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Rajasthan, and to place these states under direct federal rule. Unfazed, the BJP entered the 1993 state elections under the jaunty slogan "Towards Ramrajya: Today five states, tomorrow the whole country." The party's confidence, however, proved largely misplaced. It won a resounding victory in Delhi, which by then had achieved statehood, and managed to improve its standing in Rajasthan, but it was voted out of power in Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and the key state of Uttar Pradesh. This debacle left it in effective control of the governments of two politically less-consequential states--Delhi and Rajasthan.

The BJP recovered considerable ground in the ten state elections of late 1994 and early 1995. It pocketed 28 percent of the vote in Karnataka, emerging for the first time as the principal opposition party in that state, and establishing itself, more generally, as a political force to be reckoned with in India's South. And it claimed major victories in two important states of western India--scooping up two of every three seats in the Gujarat legislative assembly and, in alliance with the Shiv Sena (ShS), taking control of government in Maharashtra as well. As India's most industrialized and third most populous state, Maharashtra was an especially enviable prize (table 3).

In the face of all this, two conclusions seem inescapable. First, given its impressive electoral performance over a large part of India, the BJP clearly merits ranking among India's "mega-regional" parties, as Harold Gould proposed in 1992,[3] and may possibly bid for standing as a national party. Second, having established itself by spring 1995 as the governing power or leading opposition party in nearly 40 percent of India's states, including most of its more populous ones, the BJP has to be judged a serious contender for central power. This does not mean that the BJP is likely to capture a clear majority of seats in the Lok Sabha in the upcoming eleventh general elections, which may be held as early as April 1996, and thus to form the government in its own right. In India's increasingly competitive multiparty system, the prospects for any political party being able to accomplish that appear to be fading. It is well within the realm of possibility, however, for Indians to wake up the morning after the next elections to an India ruled by a coalition government that includes the BJP.

Of course, any such outcome is highly contingent upon the BJP's success in overcoming a number of apparently unavoidable structural barriers to a mobilization effort that is rooted in Hindu nationalism. Foremost among these barriers is the presence of deep cleavages within Hindu society. They also include the growing gap between Hindus and Muslims (and other religious minorities), and fissiparous tendencies--rooted in ideology as well as in differences in the social composition of support groups--within both the Hindu nationalist movement and the BJP itself. To most interpreters of Indian politics, these barriers, taken together, have seemed extremely formidable. Although they should not be taken lightly, we believe that their ability to resist the BJP fide has generally been overstated. The reasons for this judgment follow in the next three sections.


I. Cleavages within Hindu society

Hindu nationalism has long had as its explicit aim the construction of a homogenized, revitalized and supralocal HIndu identity. Labelled Hindutva ("Hinduness") by the anti-Muslim leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, V. D. Savarkar, in a tract first published in 1923, this identity has certainly gained over the decades ever-larger numbers of adherents from increasingly wider strata of India's hugely heterogenous society, But precisely hojw many of the 82.7 percent of India's population who are Hindu (moret han 700 millionin 1991) can be said today to have acquired a uniform sense if Hindu cultural identity and/or to identify strongly with the Hindu nationalists' political project for implementing Ramrajya (Rule by Ram) is focus of considerable controversy. The characteristic response of most observers has been that no such uniformity, whether of cultural identity or of political objective, is to be found across the landscape of Indian politics, where powerful and conflicting Hindu sbidentities dominate and, may well be gainig strength.

From his examination of Uttar Pradesh politics, Paul Brass, for instance, concluded that the BJP's electoral success there in 1991, in both the parliamentary and state assembly elections, stemmed to a great extent from the consolidation of the upper-caste Hindu vote, not from successful recruitment of the all-important, because most numerous, lower castes to the BJP banner. He conceded that the BJP made some inroads into the huge Scheduled Caste and backward caste voting groups there, but the BJP, he observed,

has always had some support among backward castes and part of it arises out of the normal dynamics of local inter-caste conflicts in this heterogeneous society. Many backward castes, like other caste Hindus, have no doubt been moved by the new political cult of Ram, but there has been no consolidation of these castes in a self-conscious and prideful Hindu identity which is integral to the upper caste Hindu identification with this cult. Even less has there been a Hindu consolidation among the lower castes. . . . . The BJP cannot integrate upper castes and backward castes into a consolidated Hindu party. It cannot . . . become the regional party of north Indian Hindu nationalism, let alone a ruling all-India party of the Hindus.[4]

Emergence in the last few years in sections of the Hindi Belt of powerful political movements, mobilized from various combinations of the poor, the backward classes, and the minorities, unquestionably stiffens Brass's challenge to the BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, a coalition of the Samajwadi Party (SP), drawing its support pri-manly from the state's Muslims and Yadavs (the latter being the largest of the so-called Other Backward Caste groups in U.P.), and the Bahujan Samaj Party, based in the state's large dalit population ("the oppressed," including tribals and ex-untouchables), handed a surprising defeat to both the BJP and Congress in the state assembly elections of October 1993. And in neighboring Bihar, Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav, the son of a landless farmer, easily won a second term as chief minister in April 1995 with strong support from the state's Muslims, backward castes (especially Yadavs), and dalits.[5]

An unbridgeable rivalry between the two components of the ruling coalition in Uttar Pradesh, as we have already noticed, led to their breakup in June this year. That supplied the BJP with a chance to bolster its influence in this key state, which accounts for eighty-five Lok Sabha seats, and to attempt to reshape the state's politics in the crucial months leading up to general elections. Critics rebuked the BJP for its opportunism and scoffed at the likelihood that this preposterous "marriage of convenience" could last out the pre-election period.[6] But the powerful caste-based differences that split the BSP-SP coalition, the willingness of the smaller and hard-pressed BSP to curry BJP support at the time by taking strong anti-Muslim positions,[7] and the fact that aggressive BSP-SP efforts to mobilize the backward and lower castes nationally under their respective banners had virtually come to naught in the state assembly elections of 1994-95 were arresting indications that an all-India wave of the downtrodden was not in the making and that, in the volatile chemistry of Indian politics, a BJP-orchestrated alliance of Brahmin and dalit might not turn out to be so bizarre after all.

In a recent essay, Canadian scholar John R. Wood queries whether the BJP's romp to victory in the Gujarat state elections of March 1995 could be replicated nationwide in the upcoming general elections--whether Gujarat, one of India's most urbanized, industrialized, and literate states, with historically an unusually strong identification with the all-India level of politics, might be India's political harbinger. Gujarat, he says, manifests all the symptoms of India's current political crises, including worsening communalism, upon which BJP electoral mobilization feeds. The roots of Hindu-Muslim communal conflict, he observes, in fact ran especially deep in Gujarat, which in 1969 was the scene (at Ahmedabad) of post-independence India's first major Hindu-Muslim clash. Along with Bombay, he notes, Gujarat experienced the most savage, post-Ayodhya anti-Muslim communal slaughter in India, with "the number of deaths in Gujarat's towns. . . proportionately higher than anywhere else in India."[8] There was clear evidence, he suggests, of BJP involvement at this time in pre-planned and systematic attacks on Muslim homes and shops.[9]

It is in the caste alignments seen in the 1995 Gujarat election results that Wood spots what is potentially the most arresting development of all--strong support by the downtrodden for the BJP. "What may be most significant," he writes,

is that whereas elsewhere in India the Congress has lost much of its support among the "disadvantaged" to new backward caste and dalit coalitions, in Gujarat it lost it to the BJP. The BJP has generally been seen as a high and middle caste-dominated party. In the Gujarat election, however, the BJP won 15 of 26 Scheduled Tribe seats and 10 of 13 Scheduled Caste (ex-untouchable) reserved seats.[10]

India Today's exit polls of voters in the 1995 state elections in Maharashtra and Gujarat offer another way to look at the BJP's potential to diversify its caste composition and to emerge as a more pluralistic (albeit Hindu) party. In both states, the BJP drew voters from both higher- and lower-caste groups. In both, it clearly drew more heavily on upper-caste voters, especially Brahmins, and far more lightly on dalit--and especially Muslim--voters, than did the Congress. Nevertheless, in both states, and particularly in Gujarat, dalit support was far from negligible (tables 4 and 5).

The somewhat surprising reconfiguration of caste voting patterns in these two states clearly does not constitute irrefutable evidence that a momentous national trend favoring the BJP is afoot. In seeking to unify Hindus under its banner, the BJP is obviously still faced with overcoming a whole host of cultural divisions apart from caste that include religious sect, language, and tribe. Moreover, its leaders face the daunting task of matching their broad electoral plans to the unique political circumstances of each local constituency. For the moment, however, Brass's basic thesis "that the so-called Hindu majority remains divided;. . . that the fundamental political division in [north India] is between the elite and backward Hindu castes;. . . [and that these divisions] far outweigh the significance of the so-called Hindu vote" appears to rest on somewhat less firm grounds than before.[11]

2. Cleavages within the Hindu nationalist movement.

There has been a strong tendency for scholars writing from a liberal-secular-ist perspective to group the various strands of Hindu nationalist (communalist, fundamentalist) militancy into a relatively monolithic movement. These scholars often treat the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps/RSS), founded in 1925, as the ideological "mother" of the Hindu nationalist "family" of organizations, most prominently including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council/VHP); the VHP's youth wing, the Bajarang Dal (Hanuman Group); and the BJP itself. Writers from this perspective tend to minimize the ideological, tactical, and factional differences among these strands. Malik and Singh, for instance, in a recent study of the Hindu nationalist movement, comment that "the BJP has virtually become the political ann of the RSS"; that the RSS, thus far at least, has provided "the guidance, the intellectual stimuli, the motivation, the cadre, and the seasoned leaders for the BJP"; and further, that the BJP has drawn very heavily on the ranks of the RSS for candidates in both parliamentary and state assembly elections.[12] Frykenberg, in his work on Hindu nationalism, allows that "the fiery tonic of Hindutva ... can be diluted by inner strife."[13] But his repeated references to the "BJP-VHP-RSS syndicate" and "BJP-VHP-RSS axis" leave little doubt that what he chooses to call Hindu fundamentalism is for him essentially a single-minded movement. "In the forefront of this movement," he writes,

have been the interlinked forces of the BJP, the VHP, and the RSS, with other militant groups such as the regional Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena also throwing themselves into the fray. Each element in this sometimes awkward BJP-VHP-RSS axis (political paxty, missionary agency, and training institution) has had its own part to play in a concerted bid to take control of the country in the name of Hindutva.[14]

Statements as sweeping as this obviously risk overstating the unity of India's right-wing Hindu forces. Neither the BJP nor the RSS (or the two of them in alliance) is free from factions or frictions. And the level of collaboration we are witnessing among the BJP, RSS, VHP, and assorted other regional militant groups, such as Maharashtra's Shiv Sena, clearly does not add up to what is ordinarily implied by the term "syndicate." We should recognize that the BJP, in drawing support from these groups, pays a considerable political price. The support they bring to the BJP is tentative and subject to constant review. In particular, forging common goals among them may--in almost inverse relation to the growth of the BJP's role in the management of government--grow still more difficult. Not only do these organizations have different objectives, they also represent vastly different regional and social constituencies. As Malik and Singh themselves have observed,

the BJP and the RSS both represent the Hindu middle class, which displays considerable polish and intellectual sophistication, while the bulk of the followers of the VHP come from the lower middle class and the Hindu working classes with vernacular education. They may not have much patience for the RSS and the BJP's strategic considerations.[15]

By the same token, however, there is no compelling reason to believe that these structural weaknesses in the Hindu nationalist movement's organizational edifice are any more serious or fundamental than those that have plagued the Congress party for decades. In spite of its weaknesses, the Congress has managed to retain power at the center for over forty years. In particular, available evidence does not support the argument that these weaknesses pose anything close to an insuperable obstacle to the continued and, so far, politically advantageous collaboration of the movement's disparate strands. No doubt, "papering over the cracks" in an alliance as opportunistic as that forged in Maharashtra between the BJP and the Bal Thackerayled Shiv Sena may prove more than awkward for the politically junior but nationally aspirant member of the team.[16] But with the stakes as large--and as promising--as they presently seem to be for the movement, one should treat with considerable skepticism reports of its imminent disintegration.

3. The cleavage between Hindus and Muslims.

With an eye on the 17 percent of India's population that consists of religious minorities, BJP partisans often claim that their party's appeal extends across not only the caste and regional divisions of Indian society, but also across its religious divisions, not excluding those between Hindus and Muslims. In support of this claim, they cite Muslim and other religious minority candidates contesting elections under the party's label, as well as survey data suggesting the support of religious minority voters (including Muslims) for BJP candidates.

It is a fact that the BJP (and the BJS before it) has routinely sought out Muslims to grace its candidate lists. Exit-poll results from the recent Maharashtra and Gujarat state assembly elections show that some Muslim voters, notwithstanding the BJP's Hindu nationalist reputation, do undoubtedly cast their votes for BJP candidates (see tables 4 and 5). What is known of Indian voting behavior strongly suggests, however, that the present modest levels of Muslim support for the BJP, barring a sudden and unexpected overhaul of the party's program, strategy, and image, are most unlikely to expand either rapidly or dramatically, and that the party's claim to multi-sectarian appeal is essentially without substance.

One stout barrier against such an appeal is the strongly ingrained Muslim political tradition of cautious pragmatism---of collective and calculated self-defense, in other words, against anti-Muslim communalism--at the ballot box. This pragmatism has often caught the eye of scholarly observers. In their survey of minority voting patterns, Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph, for instance, concluded that, at least since the 1977 parliamentary elections and probably before then, "prudential calculations concerning which party is likely to win and be in a position to offer help and protection" had largely governed Muslim electoral behavior.[17] Contesting the conventional view that Congress enjoyed a "special relationship" with the Muslim minority, the Rudolphs maintained that Muslim voting behavior depended heavily on the proportion of Muslims in a constituency--that the lower it was (the more vulnerable to communal attacks, in other words), the more likely that Muslim voters would support national centrist parties like the Congress and Janata. They found little evidence, particularly in constituencies where Muslims were found in substantial numbers, that Muslims had ever, even during the Nehru years, trooped to the polls in blind fidelity to the Congress. "It is [leftist] class and [Muslim] confessional parties and candidates," they argued,

not centrist parties like Janata or Congress, that have support in constituencies where Muslims are a majority . . . or approximate a plurality. . . . Indeed, it could be argued that it is they rather than Congress or other national centrist parties that have a special relationship to the Muslim minority.[18]

Paul Brass's investigation of Muslim voter behavior in Uttar Pradesh in the period of the BJP's political ascent showed a similar intensity of prudential calculation. He found strong evidence that the most powerful single consideration dominating their voting strategy in the 1991 parliamentary elections, for example, was the desire to defeat the BJP.[19]His and other findings suggest that, for the BJP, the gulf between Hindus and Muslims remains very wide indeed.

A second and perhaps even more formidable barrier to a communal crossover by the BJP is the fact that, in contemporary India, appeals to communalism, on balance, are seen to pay greater political dividends than appeals to secularism. Though the BJP has been judged in some quarters to have overplayed the communal card at Ayodhya, and thus to have provoked a backlash among members of India's steadily growing middle classes, who worry about the BJP's ability to govern the country responsibly,[20] there are no signs of its retreat from communal politics. On the contrary, BJP leaders appear confirmed in their belief that the deepening cleavage between Hindus and Muslims, while no doubt imposing a cost on the party in those constituencies where Muslims can exercise a swing vote, constitutes more a political benefit than a barrier for the BJP. Sadly, available evidence suggests they may be right, For one thing, communal polarization has so far not produced a consolidated Muslim vote behind anti-BJP candidates. In the 1991 general elections, according to Brass, efforts by Muslims in Uttar Pradesh to accomplish this generally failed, and in some instances, acted counterproductively "to polarize an opposite Hindu vote, which worked in favor of the BJP."[21] For another, the political consequences of communal riots seem to work overwhelmingly to the advantage of the BJP. We noted earlier the near coincidence of intensified communal savagery and the BJP's unprecedented electoral success in Gujarat's recent state elections. In this same regard, Brass observes that the widespread doting that occurred in Uttar Pradesh before and during the 1991 campaign, far from stimulating an anti-BJP backlash, produced (1) a concentration of Hindu voting for the BJP and high Hindu voter turnout, (2) intimidation of Muslim voters and thus low Muslim voter turnout, and (3) even some shift in Scheduled Castes votes to the BJP.[22]We should add here that among a number of disturbing current trends in India is the spread of chronic communal violence to all parts of the country, including the usually placid south.[23]

As Hindu-Muslim relations continue to polarize on an all-India basis, practical political incentives to play a conventional secular chord diminish. This is clearly the reading presently being given to the communal situation by the BJP leadership which, far from reaching out to accommodate Muslims, seems tacitly committed to their alienation. In April this year, in the immediate wake of the BJP-Shiv Sena victory in Maharashtra, Sella leader Bal Thackeray belligerently declared the new government's intent to close the state to ethnic outsiders (in particular, Bengali Muslims). Thackeray also gave less-than-subtle hints that he intended to make good on the Sena's promises to bring the state's Muslims to heel. While the brazenness of his comments was no doubt embarrassing to his BJP allies, their willingness to acquiesce hardly lent credence to the BJP's expressed intent to give the party a socially more inclusive and pacific face.[24] Then, setting the party's national election strategy in motion, the BJP leadership announced a campaign in mid-July aimed at exposing the Narasimha Rao government's "soft" policy on Muslim-majority Kashmir and its continuing "appeasement" of Indian Muslims.[25] Party President L. K. Advani at the same time announced plans for enacting uniform civil codes, an archly provocative step anathema to many Muslims, in the four BJP-ruled states.[26] The party was giving every sign, in other words, of willingness to scrap entirely any plans it might have had to compete seriously for Muslim votes. Just this was implied in the comment of a senior BJP leader who, crowing over the cleverness of his party's uniform civil code gambit, reportedly said: "'We will be only too happy if the political situation so develops that the Congress (I) Government is in the company of fundamentalists while we are on the side of gender equality and the right to live with dignity.'"[27]

In the first part of the essay, we argued that the current rightist political surge in India has transformed the BJP almost overnight into a political powerhouse to be reckoned with, whether in or out of power, in most of India's large and more important states and increasingly at the federal level as well. We have acknowledged that the BJP's continued progress is highly contingent on its ability to triumph over a number of substantial structural obstacles. In this connection, however, we have suggested that these obstacles are either less formidable than often alleged or, in the case of the Muslim-Hindu cleavage, represent more benefit than barrier.

We now move to a consideration of the second and still more difficult question posed in the introduction, a question addressed to the ideological meaning and consequences of this rightist political surge. The first position we take is that while virtually none of India's political parties professes to he anti-secular, secularism, as understood in the liberal nationalist idiom of Nehruvian India, is today unquestionably in serious danger of political irrelevance; and second, that while the BJP's rise in importance is an obvious symptom of secularism's decline, this decline began long before the BJP appeared on the scene. We maintain that India's confessional tendencies, in fact, have very deep and tenacious societal roots and that, in spite of the fact that confessional politics had been formally banished by India's founding fathers to the sidelines of Indian politics, it had from the beginning been an integral part of the mix both of mainstream Indian nationalism and of the day-to-day practice of politics, especially at the local and regional level. The implications of this are both profound and disturbing.

III. The End of Secularism?

Prominent in both Indian and Western scholarly analyses of Indian politics and society for well over a decade has been the theme of steadily worsening erosion of India's secular tradition, of the increased mixing of religion with its politics, and in particular, of the rise of militant Hindu nationalism. Dominating these analyses has been the perspective that Indian secularism in the earlier stages of Congress role (specifically, the Nehruvian era) had functioned relatively well; that its practice had been seriously subverted by later generations of Indian leaders (foremost among them Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, and her son Rajiv), precipitating a general decline in its observance; and that it was both possible and essential to achieve its revitalization. Although there is no reason to differ with the general proposition that Indian secularism is ailing, one must question the idea that it was ever solidly entrenched in India, that responsibility for its "recent" failure can be pinned on any particular Indian leader, and that, with the proper exertion, its slide from grace can be reversed. We maintain that Indian secularism's troubled state is neither a recent nor a superficial development and, moreover, that the ideological transformation India is now experiencing may leave even less political space for secularism in the future.

Characteristic of the logic of the school of thought on Indian secularism that has been up until now dominant was the argument by Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph in their widely read and influential In Pursuit of Lakshmi (1987). In this study, the Rudolphs contended that what they called "confessional politics" (meaning mobilization of the electorate by religion-based, nonsecular, or what in India are generally labeled "communal" political parties) was clearly on the rise in India. The Rudolphs argued that confessional politics was helped along by a variety of forces, including the attractions of Hindu revitalization for new generations of upwardly mobile Hindus, the spread of a more popular and homogeneous Hinduism via print and electronic media, and the manipulations of political opportunists. "By the mid-eighties," they said, "the secularism of India's centrist consensus no longer commanded the understanding and commitment of the postindependence generations."[28]

The Rudolphs declared that the Congress party embodied the historical legacy of "inclusive nationalism and cosmopolitan secularism preached and practiced by [Mohandas] Gandhi and [Jawaharlal] Nehru." Yet, "It]he Congress-I," they maintained, had itself in the course of the 1980s "moved dangerously close to becoming a Hindu confessional party."[29] They observed, however, that, outside the Hindi heartland in North India, Hindu confessional politics remained weak; that prior to 1980 it had not attracted much political support anywhere in India; and that for Congress to continue to court Hindu confessionalism "would not only threaten its principles but would also jeopardize its standing as a national party."[30] Much was at stake, they pointed out, in the decisions that Congress leaders would now have to make in this regard. India's secular tradition, they recalled, had drawn from partition the chilling lesson "that religious politics kills. What in India is called 'communalism' destroys civil society and the state."[31]

The Rudolphs' portrait of India as home not only traditionally but by sheer necessity to a liberal and secular brand of nationalism has been echoed and embellished in recent years by Ashutosh Varshney,[32] Surjit Mansingh,[33] Robert Eric Frykenberg,[34] Yogendra K. Malik and Dhirendra K. Vajpeyi,[35] Rajni Kothari,[36] and Joseph Tharamangalam,[37] to name but a few. Naturally, these commentators differ in regard to the specifics of Indian secularism's contemporary decline. Common to virtually all of them, however, is the fundamental belief that India's liberal and secular brand of nationalism, whatever its faults, has no acceptable alternative--that it is, for all practical purposes, a moral imperative. If the BJP came to power with its right wing in command, observes Varshney, it would mean

the end of India as we know it civilizationally (and perhaps also territorially). As Ayodhya has shown, the right wing is bigoted, communal, and exclusionary. Hatred is the cornerstone of its politics. It will bring back the hatred associated with the 1947 partition, not the understanding that created India as a nation. To believe that 110 million Muslims can be beaten into submission is to believe a lie, a most dangerous lie.[38]

In a similar vein, Frykenberg, arguing that the BJP-RSS-VHP position on caste and untouchability represents "an attempt to impose subservience of all communities to the will of One powerful minority by means of force, intimidation, and terror," observes that

all that stands between India and chaotic disintegration is the Constitution--the Rule of Law. But if this structure of laws is now to be increasingly violated, not just in letter but in spirit, one can only begin to imagine how frightening may be the future of communal (and religious) strife. It may simply hasten the tearing apart of the body-politic.[39]

No less common to these scholars is the view that India's historical identity and unity have always been derived mainly from its culture, not from politics or economics, and that this culture is inherently, inalienably, and anciently pluralistic, syncretistic, and tolerant--in other words, perfectly compatible with and supportive of the liberal and secular nationalism of modern India. "A pluralist democracy and secularism" to quote Varshney again,

can thus be civilizationally anchored. This vision of politics requires recalling the pluralistic and syncretistic heroes of India's past, explicitly defending a politics and ideology of secularism in cultural terms, and mobilizing the people on that understanding . . . . Syncretism, pluralism, and tolerance--defended as attributes of Indian culture as it has historically existed, not simply those of Hinduism, and placed at the center of India's political discourse--remain India's best bet.[40]

This liberal and secular interpretation of Indian nationalism has naturally suffered wholesale rejection by the partisan stalwarts of Hindu nationalism, who describe it scornfully as "pseudo-secularism." But it has also come under hostile scrutiny in recent years from growing numbers of Indian and Western intellectuals who deplore it not because they subscribe to the tenets of Hindu nationalism but because they question fundamentally the tenets of secularism itself.

Two Indian scholars--the sociologist T. N. Madan and the social philosopher and psychologist Ashis Nandy--were among the earlier and most influential of this group.[41] Both took the position that secularism was an alien, Western invention; that under the auspices of contemporary modernization theory it had been arbitrarily elevated to a "universalized" feature of all societies transiting from tradition to modernity; that "as a generally shared credo of life" as Madan observed, it "is impossible, as a basis for state action impracticable, and as a blueprint for the foreseeable future impotent"[42]; and that it needed replacement by something better suited to India's indigenous cultural genius. Arguing that political progress could not be made in India by denying "the very legitimacy of religion in human life and society"[43] Madan confessed to having no substitute for secularism readily at hand. Nandy avowed himself an anti-secularist and argued passionately that "to accept the ideology of secularism is to accept the ideologies of progress and modesty as the new justifications of domination, and the use of violence to sustain these ideologies as the new opiates of the masses."[44] He maintained, in language that was scarcely distinguishable from that of Varshney, that India's political salvation lay in the recovery of the religious tolerance inherent in traditional Hinduism.

Our essay is in harmony with the contention of these two authors that West-ern-style secularism has failed to take deep root in India, and moreover, that it ill fits--indeed, it may well be fundamentally inappropriate in---t e Indian cultural environment. We depart from them, however, in the way we conceptualize Indian nationalism and in particular, the historical relationship of Hindu religion to Indian nationalism. We argue that a far more comprehensive, powerful, and persuasive critique of the liberal and secular interpretation of Indian nationalism is available, in fact, in the revisionist work of a handful of scholars--notably the Columbia University historian Ainslie T. Embree,[45] the University of California religious historian Gerald James Larson,[46] and the Dutch comparative religionist Peter van der Veer.[47] These scholars base their position not in anti-modernism, as such, but upon a fundamental reinterpretation of the political role (more precisely, in the constructivist language of Larson and van der Veer, of the political discourse) of religion in India. This reinterpretation, we will observe, goes a long way toward answering the question of whether the contemporary rise of Hindu nationalism represents the overthrow of India's secular tradition and the triumph of confessional politics.

At the risk of excessive simplification and conflation of the complex, diverse, and richly textured arguments advanced by Embree, Larson, and van der Veer, we attempt here a brief, composite distillation of their revisionist critique of Indian secularism.

(1) Indian secularism is consistent with and protective of Hindu religious values; Indian secularism and Hinduism do not lie at opposite ends of an ideological continuum. The defenders of India's liberal and secular model of nationalism have always been willing to concede that Indian secularism has a unique character. In contrast to the Western tradition of secularism, which implied the social and political marginalization of religion -- in other words, its demotion by modern civic society to a lesser role in the shaping of cultural values -- the Indian proponents of secularism "were asserting religious neutrality, not hospitility or indifference."[48] Built into their concept of secularism was the judgment "that no religion would be given a special recognition by the state and that all religions would have equal status and equal honor."[49] this "neutralist" position, as the Rudolphs observed, harboed a profound contradiction--the "simultaneous commitment to communities and to equal citizenship."[50] And it is this ultimately irreconcilable contradiction, they believed, that eventually led to the undoing of the Indian secular state.

From the revisionist point of view, the uniqueness of the Indian version of secularism is best understood not as religious neutrality but as the implicit conflation of the spiritual with the secular -- the subtle infusion, in other words, into the ruling elite's concept of the civil order of Hindu religious values. The close identification with both the Indian nation and the government acquired by the Congress party from its long leadership of the independence movement, followed by dominance of the state, meant, for the policy of secularism, "that the personal religious preferences of party leaders and politicians were confused with the national culture, or, to use a related concept, that Hinduism was equated with the civic religion."[51]

Indian secularism, to put it another way, is both deeply religous and deeply Hindu. "The secularism that is one of the most cherished goals of the dominant Indian political culture," observes Embree.

is derived not from modern Western political practice but from Gandhi's translation of nationalist ideals into the vocabulary of neo-Hinduism. The theological basis of Indian secularism is not a denial of the claims of religion but an assertion -- one can say a profoundly dogmatic one --that all religions are true.[52]

Larson, taking a similar line, speaks of the "dense religious complexity" that forms the context of the debate over Indian secularism, and argues

that in many ways the discourse about "religion" and the "state" or "nation" in modern Indian is very much a "hybrid" discourse in this sense and that it is important to understand the significant differences and subtle nuances that separate this "hybrid" discourse of India from other discourses about "religion" and the "state." To be sure the words tend to look and sound the same -- for example, "secular state," "nation," "individual," "citizen," "religion," and so forth -- but the usages and meanings of the words tend to diverge rather significantly from their usage and meaning in the conventional discourse of modern social science.[53]

Defending his characterization of the modern Indian state "as a Neo-Hindu, multinational civilisation-state," Larson cautions that this neither

a negative criticism of modern India nor is it claim that it is somehow illegitimate to refer to modern India as a "socialist," "secular," and "democratic" state. It is only to specify and to make clear that the terms are being used somewhat differently in the Indian context, and that when one begins to "hear" and "understand" the in-house hybrid discourse of modernity in contemporary India, one begins to get a much better sense of what has been and what is at stake in the religious and political straggles unfolding in India since independence.[54]

Another way to put this is to say that there is an element of truth, however self-serving, in the BJP's claim that Congress's secularism is "bogus pseudo-secularism." A far better way to put it, however, is to observe, with van der Veer, that "in India the most important imaginings of the nation continue to be religious, not secular. . . ."[55]

(2) The construction of Hinduism as inherently pluralist, syncretist, and tolerant does not hold up under close scrutiny. It is part of an ideological self-portrait drawn by the partisans of secular Indian nationalism. From the revisionist perspective, there is nothing uniquely tolerant about Hinduism. In a chapter entitled "The Question of Hindu Tolerance," Embree concedes that India's extraordinary heterogeneity left no alternative to its leaders but to assert Hinduism and Indian society's tolerance of other religions and systems of thought. But the denial implicit in their unifying ideology that religious differences inevitably produced conflict entailed its own risk. "The question of Hindu tolerance was," Embree writes,

more than an academic discussion of the nature of a religious world view; momentous political issues involving the rights of minorities were being obscured by the assertion that Hinduism was uniquely tolerant and willing to absorb other systems into itself. That the Islamic community in India wanted neither to be absorbed or tolerated seems to have occurred to very few exponents of Hindu tolerance, but neither is it self-evident that Hinduism is really tolerant and absorptive in the sense that has so often been claimed.

"My own understanding of Hindu civilization," he explained,

is that it is neither absorptive nor eclectic, for the truly astonishing factor in Indian civilization is the endurance and persistence of its style and its patterns . . . . It is the endurance of this Civilization, despite its encounter with a host of other cultures and other political influences, that has led many observers to conclude that the Hindu style is absorptive, synthesizing, or tolerant. What they see is something quite different, namely, Indian civilization's ability to encapsulate other cultures and make it possible for many levels of civilization to live side by side. But encapsulation is neither toleration, absorption, nor synthesis.[56]

Underlying the constant and scarcely temperate verbal skirmishing marking the rhetoric of contemporary Indian politics is an awareness that the assertion of Hindu tolerance, whatever its philosophical merit, carries heavy political weight. "The construction of 'tolerance' as the essence of 'Hindu spirituality,'" writes van der Veer, should thus be understood as a discourse intended not only to unite competing Hindu groups but also as an avenue of complaint about the intolerance of those who do not wish to be included, such as Muslims.[57]

By the same token, he notes, routine substitution by secular nationalists of "communalism" in place of "religious nationalism" carries the strong flavor of political insult.[58]

"It is not unusual," writes Larson in the same vein,

to encounter interpretations of modem India since independence as the "communal" "bad guys" (read "rigid" Muslims, or even better, these days, "fundamentalist" Muslims, or "right-wing," "fascist" Hindus) versus the "secular" "good guys" (read the "courageous,' and "modern" supporters of the Congress and other mainstream "secular" political forces fighting for the integrity of the nation in order to overcome "fissiparous" tendencies). Such Manichaean rhetoric is perhaps recognized by most thoughtful persons for what it is: either the political propaganda of those in power or the exaggerated discourse of popular journalism rushing to meet its deadlines.[59]

(3) Hindu religious nationalism has been the dominant strain in Indian nationalism from the beginning, and it remains so today. The Congress party historically has represented primarily the liberal face of Hindu nationalism; but it is above all else Hindu nationalist. Scholars of a secular persuasion have generally drawn a sharp distinction between the two great Congress leaders, Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the former conceded to have engaged in confessional politics, albeit as "a vehicle for community reform that could bring communities together"[60] the latter held up as an agnostic, humanist, and true secularist. Making much of this distinction allows for a deviant strain within Congress, but at the same time preserves the integrity and purity of the basic Nehruvian secular ideal--the ideal alleged to provide the dominant model for independent India's first decades.

In contrast, our revisionist authors emphasize the essential historical continuity and ideological unity of Indian nationalism. Van der Veer, for instance, holds that "Hindu nationalism has been strong from the days of the Cow Protection Movement in the nineteenth century through to the present day, and it belongs to the mainstream of Indian nationalism";[61] and that "many of the basic valuations, the dynamics, and equally important, the ruling ideas of the pre-partition and the post-partition nationalist movements were remarkably similar."[62] These authors minimize, moreover, the difference between Nehru and Gandhi. Larson, for instance, acknowledges that Gandhi and other prominent Congress leaders, such as the famed philosopher and second president of India, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, "clearly represent a positive and explicit Neo-Hindu conceptualization of the nationalist movement," but

Nehru's view is likewise Neo-Hindu to the core. . . . Gandhi's and Radhakrishnan's view that all religions are true, and Nehru's agnostic view that the ultimate truth of all religions cannot be determined but can be tolerated within a broad-based democratic polity are both within the boundaries of a Hindu or a Neo-Hindu interpretation of religion. They are simply two sides of the same Neo-Hindu coin of a broadly tolerant universalism.[63]

(4) The two sides in this struggle--secular nationalism and Hindu nationalism--are, in spite of their habit of name-calling, "remarkably alike in many respects"[64] Their likenesses, says Larson, are fivefold: (1) The Gandhian-Nehruvian secular Neo-Hindu orientation is linked to a more synthesizing and moderate religious tradition, the BJP conservative Neo-Hindu orientation to a more strident and aggressive religious tradition. But they "both are very much products of the Indo-Anglian period" They "both emerged from the older liberal democratic tradition of the Indian National Congress," and they "both, in other words, are fully modern religious orientations with authentic credentials deeply rooted in the nation's freedom struggle." (2) In contrast to such apolitical Hindu religious traditions as the Satya Sai Baba movement, both are thoroughly politicized religious orientations. (3) Both "are representative of reformist but nevertheless 'high' or 'forward caste' orientations." (4) Both favor a strong central government and are willing "to use police, paramilitary and military force to retain power at the Centre both internally (for domestic purposes) as well as externally (for foreign policy purposes)," and thus both "represent rather authoritarian visions of the Neo-Hindu civilisation-state." (5) Both seek to monopolize the term "secular" for themselves while denying its use to the other side?

The choice facing Indians today, in other words, is not between Hindu nationalism and secular nationalism at all, but rather between two rival species of Hindu nationalism, the one conservative, the other liberal. True, even in this latter, more constricted version of the choice there remain fairly stark alternatives. But a rollback to a religion-transcendant secularism does not seem to be among them.

IV. Summary and Conclusions

The arguments made in this essay are that the BJP seems politically here to stay; that the barriers thrown in its path by India's ethnically and socio-economically fractionated electorate, while formidable, pose no insuperable obstacle to its continued political progress; and that, while its sweep of the forthcoming 1996 national elections seems quite unlikely, its inclusion in a coalition government at the center, potentially as its dominant member, must be reckoned as one of the more likely of conceivable outcomes. Clearly, India is in the midst of a fairly radical realignment of political forces; the BJP, so far at least, has been its principal beneficiary.

We have argued, furthermore, that secularism's advocates in India should not find much to comfort themselves in the expectation that traditional Indian tolerance can somehow be revitalized and brought to the rescue. On the contrary, we have held that the Saffron Surge should not be interpreted as an aberrant, transient, or much less a perverse political trend that can be arrested by a determined reassertion of the Nehruvian staple of liberal, secular nationalism. We have suggested, instead, that the BJP, while clearly acting as a standard bearer for a more overt, sometimes shrill and essentially conservative species of confessional politics, is far less of a political novelty in India than its liberal critics want us to believe. There may well be an ideological transformation going on in Indian society, but it is not adequately described as the result simply of a collapsing moral commitment to secularism and the surrender of the Indian body politic to communal madness. Whatever else it may represent, this transformation in the country's national ideology mirrors a basic realignment of political forces in the country that is conferring increased political legitimacy upon religious group identities hitherto denied, obscured, and denigrated. This process of realignment involves the peeling away, so to speak, of the veneer of liberal secularism that has enveloped Indian politics from the start and the simultaneous exposure of the Hindu religious nationalism that was always underneath. This is by no means an entirely benign process. Signs are, however, that it is probably irreversible.

Having argued that the BJP and Hindu nationalism are likely to remain promineat and problematic fixtures in Indian politics for the indefinite future, what can we say about the probable impact of these developments upon the political fortunes of India's huge numbers of non-Hindu minorities, in particular its more than 110 million Muslims? The answer to this all-important question must of necessity be tentative. Present circumstances, however, indicate the following:

1. The rightist surge in Indian politics confronts Indian Muslims with a substantially enhanced array of fairly obvious immediate and long-term political risks, including, of course, the near certainty of increased victimization at the hands of fanatic Hindu mobs.

2. Of the items on the disappointingly short list of positive risk-reducing political alternatives available to Indian Muslims, the most practical remains the opportunity for trading consolidated Muslim voting support in exchange for protection. This alternative, it appears, has actually been enhanced somewhat in recent years by the nearly complete changeover from the traditional one-party dominant (Congress) system to the multiparty, coalitional politics now emergent in India. One should allow for the possibility that over the longer term, the rising appeal of Hindu nationalism, by contributing to the more effective political mobilization of Indian Muslims, might even, assuming that the Muslim minority efficiently deploys its electoral assets, yield positive as well as negative consequences for them.

3. Although the massive political "orphaning" (utter political neglect) of India's Muslims by the mainstream (Hindu-dominant) political parties seems wholly improbable in India's competitive environment, the Muslims' drift toward new militant and terrorist movements of their own, in the face of Indian secular-ism's glaring incapacity to insure its "hostage" Muslim minority against collective reprisal, seems almost certain.[66]

One final observation: Religious nationalism, Hindu and otherwise, runs in fairly steady company with Indian politics. It did at the time of partition, and it does so today. Denial will not induce its disappearance. Without doubt, developing constitutional measures to contain and tame religious nationalism is among the foremost challenges to contemporary Indian statecraft. But this task can hardly begin without confronting the discomforting fact that the antidote to increased communal fanaticism and violence is unfortunately not to be found in increased doses of dogmatic liberal secularism. "Secularism," as T. N. Madan enlighten-ingly put it,

is the dream of a minority which wants to shape the majority in its own image, which wants to impose its will upon history but lacks the power to do so under a democratically organized polity. In an open society the state will reflect the character of the society. Secularism therefore is a social myth which draws a cover over the failure of this minority to separate politics from religion in the society in which its members live.[67]

In this sense the Saffron Surge performs at least one meritorious service: It forcefully reminds us that the calumnious association made for many years by India's westernized ruling elite of religious nationalism, which it labeled "communalism," with medieval theocracy, irrationality, and narrow parochialism needs to be replaced by a conception of group religious identity--both Hindu and Muslim--that is more reflective of and more generous toward the actual religious experience and belief of the Indian people. We close with Ayesha Jalal's especially felicitous phrasing of this need. "The process of decolonization in South Asia will not have been completed" she said,

until social and cultural hybrids prise open contrived ideological monoliths and begin altering prevailing states of mind better versed in the unambiguous language of departed colonial masters than in the inimitable fiexibilities, richness and enchanting nuances of their own historic multiplicities.[68]

Table 1 BJP Performance in the 1984, 1989, and 1991 Parliamentary Elections, by State
Legend for chart:

A - State
B - Total Seats
C - Seats won 1984
D - Votes (%) 1984
E - Seats won 1989
F - Votes (%) 1989
G - Seats won 1991
H - Votes (%) 1991


B       C      D       E       F       G       H

Andhra Pradesh

42      1     2.2      0      2.0      1      9.6

Arunachal Pradesh

2      --      --      --      --      0      6.2


14      0      0.4     ENH[a]  ENH     2      13.8


54      0      6.9     9      13.0     5      19.0


7       0      18.8    4       26.2    5      41.7


2     --     --       0      0.7      0      15.4


26     1   18.6      12     30.5     20      52.1


10     0    7.5       0      9.3      0      11.2

Himachal Pradesh

4      0   23.3       3     45.3      2      42.6

Jammu and Kashmir

6      0    1.7       0      7.2    ENH     ENH


28     0    4.7       0      2.6      4      28.1


20     0    1.8       0      4.5      0       4.0

Madhya Pradesh

48     0   30.0      27     39.7     12      43.7


48     0   10.1      l0     23.7      5      19.5


2      0    7.0       0      2.3      0       9.4


2     --     --      --     --        0       9.0


1     --     --      --     --       --      --


1     --     --      --     --        0       3.0


21     0    1.2       0      1.3      0      10.0


13     0    3.4       0      4.2      0      16.6


25     0   23.7      13     29.6     12      41.9


1     --     --      --     --       --      --

Tamil Nadu

39     0    0.1       0      0.3      0       1.7


2      0    0.8       0      0.6      0       3.0

Uttar Pradesh

85     0    6.4       8      7.6     50      35.3

West Bengal

42     0    0.4       0      1.7      0      11.7

Source: Adapted from Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr. & Stanley A. Kochanek, India: Government & Politics in a Developing Nation, Fifth ed. (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993), 315-17; V. B. Singh (ed.), Elections in India, Volume 2: Data Handbook on Lok Sabha Elections, 1986-1991 (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1994), 23--62; and Yogendra K. Malik & V. B. Singh, Hindu Nationalists in India: The Rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (Boulder: Westview, 1994), 186-87.

a ENH: Election not held.

Table 2 BJP Performance in the 1990, 1991, and 1993 State Assembly Electionsa

Legend for chart:

A - State
B - Election year
C - Total number of seats
D - Seats contested
E - Seats won
F - (%) Seats
G - (%) Votes

A                B         C       D         E        F      G

Assam          1991       126      NA       10       7.9     NA
Bihar          1990       324     221       39      12.0   11.6
Delhi          1993        70      70       49      70.0   43.5
Gujarat        1990       182     143       67      36.8   26.4
Haryana        1991        90      NA        2       2.2   10.3
 Pradesh       1990        68      51       46      67.6   42.7
               1993        68      68        8      11.8   36.2
Kerala         1991       140     130        0         0    4.7
Madhya Pradesh 1990       320     270      219      68.4   39.2
               1993       320     320      116      36.3   39.0
Maharashtra    1990       288     105       42      14.6   14.6
Mizoram        1993        40       8        0         0     NA
Orissa         1990       147      64        2       1.4    3.9
Rajasthan      1990       200     120       86      43.0   25.2
               1993       200     197       95      47.5   39.5
Tamil Nadu     1991       234      99        0         0    1.7
Uttar Pradesh  1991       425     416      223      52.5   34.0
               1993       425     425      177      41.6   33.4
West Bengal    1991       294     292        0         0   11.4

Source: Adapted from Yogendra K. Malik & V. B. Singh, Hindu Nationalists in India: The Rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (Boulder: Westview, 1994), 182-84, 209.

a The 1990 state assembly elections were held in 7 states (Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, and Rajasthan); the 1991 elections in 6 (Assam, Haryana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal); and the 1993 elections also in 6 (Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Mad-hya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh). The 1993 state assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan were mandated following dissolution of the BJP-led governments in these four states by the central government in the wake of the Babri mosque incident in late 1992.

Table 3 Growth of the BJP, 1994-1995 State Assembly Elections[a]
Legenf for chart:

A - State
B - Total number of seats
C - Seats won by BIP
D - Seats (%)

      A                 B        C       D

Andhra Pradesh         294       3      1.0
Arunachal Pradesh       60       0        0
Bihar                  324      40     12.3
Goa                     40       4     10.0
Gujarat                182     121     66.5
Karnataka              224      40     18.0
Maharashtrab           288      63     21.8
Manipur                 60       0        0
Orissa                 147       5      3.4
Sikkim                  32       0        0

Source: Compiled from India Today, 31 March 1995, 34-55; and Times of lndia, 11 December 1994. Sources vary slightly in details. a A total of ten state elections were staged over a period of six months from November 1994 to the end of April 1995. b The BJP contested in alliance with the Shiv Sena. The BJP contested 117 seats, the Shiv Sena 171. The Shiv Sena won 74 seats (25.6%), yeilding an alliance total of 137 seats (47.4%), enough to form the government.

Table 4 How Indians Voted, by Caste and Community, Exit Polls, Maharashtra State Assembly Election, 1995
Legend for chart:

A - Party
B - Brahmin
C - Maratha
D - Backward
E - SD/ST[a]
F - Muslim

    A             B      C        D        E       F

Congress/I       18     32       32       41      44
BJP/SS[b]        64     36       32       17       7

Source: India Today, 15 March 1995, 24-26.

a Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

b The BJP contested in alliance with the Shiv Sena. The BJP contested 117 seats, the Shiv Sena 171.

Table 5 How Indians Voted, by Caste and Community, Exit Polls, Gujarat State Assembly Election, 1995
Party      Brahmin     Patel     SC/ST[a]      Muslim

Congress/I   29         26         47            44
BJP/SS[b]    59         62         31             9

Source: India Today, 15 March 1995, 26-28. a Scheduled Castes and
Scheduled Tribes.

GRAPH: Figure 1. % of Vote for BJS/BJP and Congress

GRAPH: Figur 2. % Seats for BJS/BJP and Congress


1. For background on the BJS, see Craig Baxter, Jana Sangh: A Biography of an Indian Political Party (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969); and Bruce Graham, Hindu Nationalism and Indian Politics: The Origins and Development of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

2. For a detailed discussion of BJP electoral performance at the national and state levels from 1980 to 1993, see Yogendra K. Malik and V. B. Singh, Hindu Nationalists in India: The Rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (Boulder: Westview, 1994), 179-213.

3. Harold A. Gould, "Patterns of Political Mobilization in the Parliamentary and Assembly Elections of 1989 and 1990," in India Votes: Alliance Politics and Minority Governments in the Ninth and Tenth Geneal Elections, eds. Harold A. Gould and Sumit Ganguly, (Boulder: Westview, 1992), 22.

4. Paul Brass, "The Rise of the BJP and the Future of Party Politics in Uttar Pradesh," in India Votes, 276.

5. Rajkamaljha and Farzand Ahmed, "Laloo's Magic," India Today, 30 April 1995, 26-35.

6. Dilip Awasthi, "Allies of Convenience," India Today, 30 June 1995, 38-47.

7. Ibid., 44-45. BSP leaders reportedly described Muslims as traitors and gave backing to Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray's stand on the expulsion of Bangladeshi Muslims.

8. John R. Wood, "On the Periphery but in the Thick of It: Some Recent Indian Political Crises Viewed from Gujarat" unpublished paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Asian Studies Association (South Asia Council), Montreal, 6 June 1995.

9. Ibid., 9. Wood reports that in the Surat area of Gujarat, "BJP party workers had previously collected information about Muslim families while ostensibly helping to renew ration cards. During the riots, trucks with loudspeakers directed Hindu mobs toward Muslim homes and shops."

10. Ibid., 18.

11. Paul Brass, "Caste, Class, and Community in the Ninth General Elections for the Lok Sabha in Uttar Pradesh," in India Votes, eds. Gould and Ganguly, 123-24. In his more recent reexamination of the BJP phenomenon in India, Brass has recast his judgment of the party's prospects enough to allow at least for the temporary capture of national power. The obstacles in its path, he concedes, "may not be sufficient to prevent the rise to power of the BJP at the Center for a time, but they will work against its consolidation as a new hegemonic force in the Indian political order." Paul Brass, The Politics of India Since Independence, 2d ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 345.

12. Malik and Singh, Hindu Nationalists in India, 163-64, 175.

13. Robert Eric Frykenberg, "Hindu Fundamentalism and the Structural Stability of India," in Fun-damentalisms and the State, eds. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991), 3:251.

14. Ibid., 249.

15. Ibid., 169.

16. L. Rattanani, "Papering Over the Cracks," India Today, 31 July 1995, 40-41.

17. Lloyd I. and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, In Pursuit of Lakshmi: The Political Economy of the Indian State (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987), 199-200.

18. Ibid., 195.

19. Brass, "The Rise of the BJP," 269-71. Since the Muslims' voting strategy in Uttar Pradesh succeeded neither in consolidating the Muslim vote fully behind the Janata Dal candidates nor in preventing the massive consolidation of Hindu votes behind the BJP, Brass judged it to have been an overwhelming failure.

20. See, for instance, Malik and Singh, Hindu Nationalists in India, 132. For a discussion of polling evidence suggesting that support for demolition of the mosque at Ayodhya was fairly high among Hindus, especially among the middle claves, see Pradeep K. Chhibber and Subhash Misra, "Hindus and the Babri Masjid," Asian Shrvey 33:7 (July 1993): 665-672.

21. Brass, "The Rise of the BJP," 270.

22. Ibid., 275.

23. According to one report, Tamil Nadu was the only Indian state not to experience any communal clashes in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition. N. Subramanian, "Target Munani," India Today, 31 July 1995, 43.

24. See Scott Neuman, "India Pol Asks Muslims to Hunt Illegals," United Press International wire-service, CompuServe Mail, 30 March 1995; and Clarence Fernandez, "Indian Hindu Party Chief Rules By Remote Control," Reuters wire-service, CompuServe Mail, 2 .April 1995. See also M. Rahman et al, "Maharashtra: Thackeray's Sena Scare," India Today, 28 February 1995, 22-31.

25. "Rao Says Congress Must Preach Reforms to Win Polls," Reuters wire-service, CompuServe Mail, 25 July 1995.

26. Manoj Mitta, "Uniform Civil Code: A Calculated Gambit," India Today, 31 July 1995, 98.

27. Ibid., 98.

28. Rudolph and Rudolph, In Pursuit of Lakshmi, 46.

29. Ibid., 38, 46.

30. Ibid., 46.

31. Ibid., 38.

32. See, for example, Ashutosh Varshney, "Contested Meanings: India's National Identity, Hindu Nationalism, and the Politics of Anxiety" Daedalus, 122:3 (Summer 1993): 227-61; and "Battling the Past, Forging a Future? Ayodhya and Beyond," in India Briefing, 1993, ed. Philip Oldenburg (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993), 9-42. In "Contested Meanings," Varshney maintains that the unraveling of India's "secular project" stemmed importantly from the organizational decay of the Congress party. And its decay, he argues, is owed as much as anything to the ill-use of political power by Indi-ra Gandhi, during whose tenure as head of the Congress (1969-1984), and especially following her return to the prime ministership in 1980, Congress experienced the precipitous degeneration of what Varshngy calls Nehru's "tolerant secularism" into Indira's "arrogant secularism." As a political force, he says, Hindu nationalism was inconsequential until the mid-1980s.

33. Surjit Mansingh, "The Political Uses of Religious Identity in South Asia," in Fundamentalism, Revivalists and Violence in South Asia, ed. James W. Bjorkman (New Delhi: Manohar, 1988), 17093.

34. Frykenberg, "Hindu Fundamentalism," 233-55.

35. Yogendra K. Malik and Dhirendra K. Vajpeyi, "The Rise of Hindu Militancy: India's Secular Democracy at Risk," Asian Survey, 29:3 (March 1989): 308-25.

36. Rajni Kothari, "Cultural Context of Communalism in India," in Responding to Communalism, ed. S. Arokiasamy (Anand, India: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1991), 18-36.

37. Joseph Tharamangalam, "Nehru's Legacy of Secularism in India" in The Nehru Legacy: An Appraisal, eds. Amal Ray, N. Bhaskara Rao, and Vinod Vyasulu (New Delhi: Oxford & IBH Publishing Co., 1991), 37-55.

38. Varshney, "Contested Meanings," 255.

39. Frykenherg, "Hindu Fundamentalism," 252.

40. Varshney, "Contested Meanings," 254-55.

41. T. N. Madan, "Secularism in Its Place," The Journal of Asian Studies 46:4 (November 1987): 747-59; Ashis Nandy, "The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance," in Mirrors of Violence: Communities, Riots and Survivors in South Asia, ed. Veena Das, (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990), 69-93.

42. Madan, "Secularism in Its Place," 748.

43. Ibid., 757.

44. Nandy, "The Politics of Secularism," 90.

45. Ainslie T. Embree, Utopias in Conflict: Religion and Nationalism in Modern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

46. Gerald James Larson, India's Agony Over Religion (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995).

47. Peter van der Veer, Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

48. Embree, Utopias in Conflict, 87.

49. Ibid., 87.

50. Rudolph and Rudolph, In Pursuit of Lakshmi, 38-39.

51. Ibid., 89.

52. Ibid., 44. "The Indian version of secularism," Embree added at a later point in his book, is based not upon a rejection of transcendental values but upon almost a polar opposite view: the assumption that all religions in some fashion are true, and therefore no rational person will take offense at another's ritual. Secularism was regarded, probably correctly, as a characteristically Indian solution, based on Indian metaphysics. [89]

53. Larson, India's Agony Over Religion, 181-82.

54. Ibid., 201.

55. van der Veer, Religious Nationalism, 22. Upon her release from a brief incarceration in May 1995, Sadhvi Ritambhara, the fiery and outspoken leader of the VHP's women's wing, affirmed the religion-nationalism relationship with characteristic bluntuess. "For me," she said, "Hinduism connotes nationalism. If nationalism is a crime, I shall commit it again." Quoted in M. K. Singh, "Sadhvi Ritambhara: Portrait of Defiance," India Today, 31 May 1995, 15.

56. Embree, Utopias in Conflict, 23-25.

57. van der Veer, Religious Nationalism, 73.

58. Ibid., 22.

59. Larson, India's Agony Over Religion, 191.

60. Rudolph and Rudolph, In Pursuit of Lakshmi, 39.

61. van der Veer, Religious Nationalism, 198.

62. Larson, India's Agony Over Religion, 199-200.

63. Ibid., 198.

64. Ibid., 275.

65. Ibid., 275-76.

66. "The BJP's militant tactics," says Brass, "are likely also to precipitate new militant and terrorist movements among Muslims and other religious and regional minority groups which will threaten the very preservation of the Indian Union, whose unity its leaders claim to cherish above all." The POlitics of India Since Independence, 345.

67. Madan, "Secularism in Its Place," 748-49.

68. Ayesha Jalal, Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 246.



Copyright of Asian Affairs: An American Review is the property of Heldref Publications and its content may not be copied without the copyright holder's express written permission except for the print or download capabilities of the retrieval software used for access. This content is intended solely for the use of the individual user.Copyright of Asian Affairs: An American Review is the property of Heldref Publications and its content may not be copied without the copyright holder's express written permission except for the print or download capabilities of the retrieval software used for access. This content is intended solely for the use of the individual user.
Source: Asian Affairs: An American Review, Fall95, Vol. 22 Issue 3, p181, 26p.
Item Number: 9512190098

Record: 5


India's Fragile Secularism Under Siege
Source: Harvard International Review, Summer93, Vol. 15 Issue 4, p42, 4p
Author(s): Venkat, Arvind
Abstract: Discusses the secularism as a political issue in India. Threats to India's secular heritage; Destruction of mosques; Effects of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on initiatives for reforms; Ayodhya crisis; Impotence of the opposition; Instability of government.


A fundamental premise of secular democracy is that no faith should gain the special favor of the government in the practices or promulgation of religious beliefs. This ideal often conflicts with the opinions of a large portion of the population who wish to uphold their religious beliefs at the expense of minority religions. The usual result is bloodshed, as violence erupts between religious factions. As a secular nation with a significant Muslim minority, India has confronted this problem since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. The greatest threat to India's secular heritage to date may have occurred on December 6, 1992, when 200,000 Hindu zealots descended on the city of Ayodhya and destroyed the Babri Masjid Mosque, which they claimed stood on the birth site of Rama, an important Hindu deity. As news of the mosque's destruction spread across the Indian subcontinent, riots erupted in New Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi and Dhaka, resulting in thousands of deaths and throwing the government of India into crisis.

In the aftermath of this upheaval, many Indian officials blamed the destruction of the mosque and the resulting riots on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which for the past six years had agitated for the destruction of the mosque and the construction of a Hindu temple in its place. But it remains unclear whether the BJP incited its supporters to riot. Many BJP leaders claim that they simply brought their followers to the mosque, at which time the crowd took action of its own volition. Emerging evidence suggests, however, that the BJP may have caused the destruction of the mosque for political, rather than religious reasons. The BJP rose to prominence as a result of tensions between Hindus and Muslims during the late 1980s and emerged as the leading opposition party in 1990. By once again focusing the country on religious issues, the BJP may hope to gain power from the governing Congress(I) Party, which in recent years has regained public confidence through extensive economic and internal reforms.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister, during the May 1991 general election ensured that the Congress(I) Party would undergo serious structural change, since it could no longer rely on the dynastic power of the Nehru-Gandhi family for legitimacy. Unexpectedly, this tragic event has given impetus to major reform programs. The Congress(I) Party began the process of changing itself into a more representative political organization by holding grass-roots level elections for high party officials for the first time since the era of Indira Gandhi. In addition, the current government of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao initiated economic reforms that, among other market-oriented changes, opened India to more foreign investment. These reforms have already begun to strengthen India's economy, restoring public confidence in the Congress(I) government. In contrast, opposition parties, including the BJP, have proven incapable of forming a viable alternative to the much-strengthened Congress(I).

A brief history of religious relations in India since independence will lay the groundwork for an understanding of the country's recent turmoil. During the post-independence era, the Congress Party has dominated India's political stage, controlling the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, after all but two general elections in the last 46 years. The Congress Party, under the leadership of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, promulgated the Indian Constitution, which clearly defines India as a secular nation and thus guarantees the rights of all minorities. Since Nehru's tenure, the party has been relatively consistent in promoting religious tolerance within the country by granting exemptions from certain government policies to minorities. For example, minorities are in certain cases exempted from government birth control policies that conflict with religious beliefs. These tactics have largely prevented wide-scale religious upheaval in India, though isolated incidents have occurred in certain regions.

On the March

The passage of time, however, has laid bare long-hidden tensions that are likely the results of such policies. Organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSSS) and the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which in previous years were considered political fringe elements, have moved to the forefront of the political scene; these groups promise to promote the rights of the vast Hindu majority which, they contend, has suffered from the preferential treatment granted to minorities. The BJP, which during the early 1980s won only two seats in the Lok Sabha, has risen to become the leading opposition party within India, holding nearly 130 of the 513 seats in the Lok Sabha and controlling numerous state governments in Northern India. The BJP was able to acquire such power under the saffron banners of Hindu nationalism, claiming that the Hindu majority status in India warrants certain privileges.

Why did these doctrines suddenly become appealing to the Indian electorate? In previous years, governmental programs for minorities focused on religious tolerance, rather than economic rehabilitation. But during the 1980s, the Indian government began to grant minorities economic benefits, such as hiring preference for government jobs, in an attempt to improve their generally lower standard of living. These practices, together with a renewed explosion of Hindu nationalism generated by separatist conflicts in Punjab and Kashmir, have elevated the tension between Hindus and religious minorities. As a result, many Hindus view the BJP as the only party that represents their interests.

The BJP, however, has not as yet been able to vie for power at the national level, because of the seeming unwillingness of the party leadership to address other issues that face India, particularly economic and foreign affairs. The only time that the BJP has supported the party or coalition in control of the Lok Sabha occurred in 1989 with the election of V.P. Singh and the Janata Dal, a party to the left of the Congress(I) on the ideological spectrum. For a brief period of time, Singh was successful in uniting opposition parties against the government of Rajiv Gandhi. Yet the BJP did not participate in the government directly, but only lent support to the government on important issues to ensure Singh's majority in the Lok Sabha. Indeed, it was the question of whether to build a Hindu temple on the site of the Babri Masjid Mosque that caused the downfall of the Singh government. Singh ordered the arrest of Lal Kisban Advani, the leader of the BJP in Parliament, when the Hindu nationalist leader announced the party's intention to march on Ayodhya in October, 1990. Advani's detention resulted in BJP support for a no-confidence motion against the Singh government, which caused the government's downfall.

For the next three years, the unstable Indian political environment was governed by the minority government of Chandra Shekar, who was supported by the Congress(I) Party on crucial issues in the Lok Sabha. This arrangement allowed Shekar's government to remain in power until the Congress(I) Party withdrew its support in a dispute regarding the alleged surveillance of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The election that followed in May-June 1991 was marred by violence culminating in the assassination of Gandhi and the election of a minority Congress(I) government under the leadership of Rao.

Consolidating the Congress(I)

The new Prime Minister has instituted a series of reforms that have dramatically altered the structure of the Congress(I) Party. For the first time since the era of Indira Gandhi, the party held elections at the grassroots level for local and national party officials. These elections in 1991 allowed members to vote for state level Congress(I) officials, who in turn elected the party's national officers. This action has made the party's governing body more accountable to its membership. In previous years, members of the dominant Nehru-Gandhi family simply appointed their supporters to key posts without consulting regional party officials.

In addition, Rao has opened up his cabinet to potential rivals by appointing Sharad Pawar, now Chief Minister of the state of Maharashtra, as Defense Minister and Arjun Singh as Human Resources Development Minister. Each has his own constituency within the party and has been labeled by the press as a potential rival to the Prime Minister. Their appointments to the Cabinet, however, appear to have successfully united the party behind Rao's leadership, as indicated by their statements following the destruction of the Babri Masjid Mosque. Pawar, in an interview with India Abroad on December 18, 1992, while still Defense Minister, commented, "The party is totally with [Rao]." He went on to say that "the real mood of the Congress Party in Parliament [is] that under the leadership of Narasimha Rao, we will try to resolve the situation." Cabinet minister Singh is quoted in the same issue saying, "Rao should be the 'rallying point' for secular forces around the country in the fight against communalism."

The Rao government, under the guidance of Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, has also taken bold steps to reform India's economy. These reforms call for expansion of the private sector into areas such as electronics, power, steel and civil aviation; encouragement of foreign ownership in Indian companies; partial deregulation of certain government-controlled industries such as oil and coal production; convertibility of the Indian rupee; and gradual removal of most restrictions on foreign trade. These policies, initiated by Rajiv Gandhi and accelerated by Rao, are widely credited with fueling a five percent increase in GDP for the period between 1985 and 1990. The Economist Intelligence Unit projects a 5.6 percent increase in GDP for the period between 1990 and 1995. Such dynamic growth has brought further economic prosperity to India's middle class, placing this increasingly powerful constituency squarely behind the Congress(I) Party.

Impotent Opposition

In contrast to this strengthening of the Congress(I) Party, the three major opposition parties in the Lok Sabha have failed to resolve serious internal problems. Both the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) have been seriously weakened by the collapse of Communist regimes around the world. These two parties formally separated during the 1960s over an ideological dispute concerning differences between the Maoist view of Communism and Khrushchev's attempts to reverse Stalinist policies in the Soviet Union.

Since that time, the CPI has been reduced to ten seats in the Lok Sabha while the CPI(M) has gained control of the state governments in Kerala and West Bengal. Nevertheless, the CPI(M)'s loss of control of the Kerala government to the Congress(I) Party during the 1991 general elections illustrates the weakness of its position. It is unlikely that this group will provide a serious threat to the Congress(I) government in the foreseeable future, because Indians fear that the Communists would deprive them of what wealth they have. Indeed, the Communists have never increased their authority beyond the two states of West Bengal and Kerala.

The Janata Dal, under the leadership of former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, is another opposition group that has proven unable to contest the growing popularity of the Congress(I) Party. During his stint as Prime Minister, Singh had to satisfy the demands of a disparate coalition of parties that spanned the ideological spectrum from the CPI(M) to the BJP. The short duration of his government's existence has contributed to the image of the Janata Dal as a party that cannot provide stable government.

While in power, the Janata Dal implemented recommendations from the controversial Mandal Commission report on caste relations, which dated from the Nehru-Gandhi era and called for the further reservation of government jobs for the lower tiers of the Hindu caste system and the so-called Untouchables. This position continues to alienate the Janata Dal from those higher caste Indians who, while having held positions of influence during ancient times, do not enjoy such power today. These higher castes form a voting block large enough to hurt the Janata Dal. Such factors have certainly contributed to the Janata Dal's inability to gain control of any state government since the fall of the Singh Government. Another indication of the party's decline is its reduction to 55 seats, from its previous total of 141, in the Lok Sabha.

In contrast to the Communists' and the Janata Dal's decreasing popularity, the BJP has amassed a considerable amount of power in dramatic fashion, riding a wave of recent tensions between India's 800 million Hindus and 100 million Muslims. Armed with this issue, the party has won control of the governments in four northern states: Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state. But this issue does not hold much weight in other regions of the country where fewer minorities reside. The Congress(I) Party's capacity to address other issues more effectively has isolated BJP influence to the North, preventing inroads into the central and southern Indian states, thus obstructing any BJP bid to control the parliament.

The inability of the opposition parties to present themselves as a viable alternative to the Congress(I) appears to have been the principle cause of the Ayodhya crisis. It is plausible to argue that the BJP led their followers to the site of the Babri Masjid Mosque and simply lost control of them. A prominent BJP leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee, stated in an interview with India Abroad on December 18, 1992 that he "had told Advani not to collect so many [people], but he was confident that they would be our men and we would ask them [to observe restraint]." However, in the same interview, Vajpayee offers, "[The crowd was] very determined to do away with the structure." Witnesses report that many mid-level BJP officials appear to have goaded the crowd to destroy the mosque. In particular, B.L. Sharma, a BJP member of Parliament, as quoted in numerous Indian newspapers, is thought to have told the crowd after the destruction of the mosque that they had "accomplish(ed) the mission." These accounts suggest that the BJP did play an organizing role in the destruction of the Babri Masjid Mosque.

At the same time, it remains uncertain whether the BJP's top leadership desired to use the destruction of the mosque as a means of bringing the issue of communal relations back to prominence. Regardless of their initial intentions, BJP leaders seem to have seized on the event for this purpose after observing its effect on the populace. This idea is demonstrated by the statements of Murli Manohar Joshi, the BJP president. Joshi asserted in an interview, which appeared in Indian newspapers during late December, that his followers should aggressively fight the government without remorse. This interview was given following his and Advani's arrest on charges of spreading communal violence through the incitement of rioting in Ayodhya. Such statements would seem to indicate an intention by BJP leaders to capitalize on the destruction of the Babri Masjid Mosque.

Rao's actions in response to the destructive rioting of the mob in Ayodhya also show that this issue has come to dominate the national scene. Through the recommendations of Rao's cabinet to the President of India, Shankar Dayal Sharma, the government, as allowed under the Indian Constitution, has declared "central rule" in the four states in which the BJP had power. This central rule gives the full power of state government to the governor who is appointed by and is accountable to the President of India. Rao has also enacted curfews in some Indian cities to curtail the violence. The gravest indication, however, of the threat to Indian democracy posed by the crisis is the recent arrest of the two leading BJP figures, Joshi and Advani.

Secular Excess

Many political analysts in India view this event as an overreaction by the Congress(I) government that may precipitate further violence. Indeed, these measures undertaken by the Rao government may initiate a process whereby civil liberties such as the right to assembly are eroded to ensure the maintenance of law and order. Unless Rao is careful, he may be accused of destroying Indian democracy in order to save it. Despite these extensive and perhaps dangerous government efforts, the threat of communal violence continues. With the possibility of further Hindu retributions against Indian Muslims, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, a prominent Muslim religious leader, warned in the December 21, 1992 issue of Time, "The country is heading toward civil war."

The days following the destruction of the Babri Masjid Mosque were characterized by frenetic activity in the Indian government. Rao defeated a no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha on December 21, a victory that he claims validates his handling of the crisis. However, the continuance of violence in some regions of India has caused the Prime Minister to ask for the resignation of his cabinet. In doing so, Rao hopes to counter the extensive criticism of those in Parliament who contest his handling of the crisis. Unless the Congress(I) government comes up with a way to defuse the issue of religious relations in India in an effective manner, the prospect of further violence seems likely.

Such measures may include the building of both a Hindu temple and a Muslim mosque on the site of the Babri Masjid Mosque and the banning of those organizations that support communal divisions in India. The proposed ban would not include political organizations such as the BJP. It would, however, include those groups that call for the violent division of India along communal lines such as the VHP and RSSS.

In addition, the Congress(I) government faces other challenges that have been exacerbated by the Ayodhya crisis. Relations with Pakistan have deteriorated over recent years as a result of India's attempts to put down an apparent uprising by some Kashmiris to separate the contested state from India. These Kashmiris, predominantly Muslim, have at times sought and allegedly received financial aid from Pakistan. India also claims that Pakistan has provided weapons and military advisers to the members of this movement.

With the rioting that occurred in Pakistan after the destruction of the Babri Masjid Mosque, it is possible that Pakistan will point to these events to show the necessity of Kashmiri secession from India in order to protect the predominantly Muslim Kashmiri populace. Such an occurrence may cause further tensions between the two nations. Rao has discounted such arguments by pointing to the vast majority of Indian Muslims who have supported India's claim that Kashmir is an integral part of the nation.

The economic reforms started by the Rao government may also be in jeopardy as a result of the Ayodhya crisis. These reforms are dependent on the infusion of loans and aid from such institutions as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The early stability of Rao's leadership encouraged these organizations to provide loans to India to aid the process of making the Indian rupee a convertible currency. However, with the recent violence in India and Rao's dismissal of the cabinet, it is possible that such aid could be reduced, if not eliminated, for lack of stable government. Instability poses an extraordinary threat to the country's bold plans for continuing market-oriented economic reforms.

In the coming months, the trial of Joshi and Advani is likely to favor the interests of the BJP and the cause of Hindu nationalism, if the public perceives the two leaders as martyrs. Conviction of these leaders might result in further Hindu reprisals while an acquittal may cause similar violent actions by Muslims. Such a situation could set off further unrest and even precipitate the fall of the Congress(I) government. It may then be possible for the BJP to gain a plurality within the Lok Sabha by winning the seats from the so-called Hindi Belt of the Northern states where the issue has much weight. These states are large enough to permit this kind of democratic "revolution."

With the possibility of such a scenario, the future of a secular India and its democratic institutions may rest on Rao's precarious balancing act between repression and religious chaos.




Arvind Venkat is a Staff Writer for the Harvard International Review.

Copyright of Harvard International Review is the property of Harvard International Review and its content may not be copied without the copyright holder's express written permission except for the print or download capabilities of the retrieval software used for access. This content is intended solely for the use of the individual user.Copyright of Harvard International Review is the property of Harvard International Review and its content may not be copied without the copyright holder's express written permission except for the print or download capabilities of the retrieval software used for access. This content is intended solely for the use of the individual user.
Source: Harvard International Review, Summer93, Vol. 15 Issue 4, p42, 4p.
Item Number: 9702271687

Record: 6

Source: Contemporary South Asia, 1993, Vol. 2 Issue 1, p47, 19p
Author(s): Copley, Antony
Abstract: Discusses the Indian secularism from Gandhi to Ayodhya. Role that religion should play in modern society; Relationship of Gandhi with religion and politics; Secularism and the constitution; Gandhi's concept of secularism; Attitudes of the Hindu communalists; Hindu fundamentalist protest over Ayodhya.

`No other issue since India's independence'--a historian's judgement--`has generated such violent passions, led to such widespread riots, gripped the people with panic, fear and anger, and threatened to destroy the democratic, secular consensus envisaged by the architects of the Indian Constitution'.(n1) `In retrospect the laying of the foundation stone of the Rama temple in Ayodha on 9 November (1989) can be seen to be a dangerous turning point in the history of independent India,'--a journalist writing--`The seeds for a disintegration of the secular vision of the country were sown on that day'.(n2) Anyone scanning the Indian press in recent years would find many similar forecasts of doom. If traumatic memories of the communal bloodbath of the partition no doubt underlie such appalled responses to current conflict between Hindus and Muslims, mortality figures--567 deaths between 1 September and 20 November 1990, for example--are grim enough.(n3) The confrontation in Ayodhya throws into relief an issue which bedevilled the history of the Indian nationalist movement and is of concern to all countries in South Asia, the relationship between religion and politics, and, more darkly, its seemingly inevitable concomitant relationship with communalism. The only safeguard against this wretched deterioration in Indian political life is an Indian version of secularism, and its apparent weakness in withstanding the recrudescence of communalism over the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhumi dispute forces its reconsideration, a historical enquiry that takes us back to its Congress progenitors, Gandhi and Nehru, and to the story of a counter-ideology of the Hindu fundamentalists. It is a story to which no country in the region can be indifferent.

Statement of the issues

Clearly at the heart of the matter lies a question of the role that religion should play in modern society. The evident, all-pervasive role that religion continues to play in Indian society and culture is in fairly marked contrast to that in the far more secularized societies of Europe and America. This creates an almost impossible choice between seeking to preserve and cherish this religious way of life in India or working for a more secularized culture in a more modernized India. This choice inevitably colours the debate on secularism. Some will go along with an Indian version of secularism which seeks to protect the role of religion in Indian life: others believe that the only way forward is a diminution of its influence, a separation certainly of religion from politics, and the creation, through a more prosperous society, of a more secular culture. It seems a pretty tall order for the foreseeable future to imagine any fundamental shift in the religious character of Indian life. Despite the emergence in recent decades of a much larger middle class, with its modern and secular outlook, it makes more sense to work within the parameters of religion continuing to play a major part in Indian life, and hence politics. There would be many who doubt, if India is to be true to its culture, it could be otherwise. All commentaries on secularism in India have to be measured against that expectation.

Praful Bidwas' secularist critique(n4) has so to be seen, although his is a not unpersuasive attempt to differentiate between an acceptable form of interaction between religion and politics and its perversion in communalism. `Religion has never been', he asserts, `a politically integrative force or an adequate criterion for the definition of national identity in the modern period... Religion has been at the root of brokenness (fragmentation) of society'. Hinduism was quite unsuited for any political role in a modern society: `there is no way in which Hinduism itself, brittle and multilayered, can be forged into the foundation for any pretension to modernism, pluralism, or democracy'. According to his definition of the `modern', religion, quite simply, can play no part in modern democratic politics: `modern society and politics are founded on an altogether different premise, a human centred one pertaining to the here and now, a universe marked by material definitions, interests and activities ... Secular democratic politics is nothing if not the desacralisation of the spaces of public activity and the domain of the polls'. But he then plays off one form of dialogue between religion and modern politics against another; `a benign, soft one where religion through an internal process of questioning aspires to develop approximations to secular ideals of justice, equality and humanist universalism' [and surely here he had Gandhi in mind though he does not say so], and a second, `a clash, often violent, between religion and modern politics deriving from the former's effort at intruding into and appropriating the domain of the latter. This form of interaction, aggressive, revanchist, hate-driven, parochial, and usually destructive is what could be called a last ditch battle by religion for the temporal world'. This is communalism. The first is inclusive, introvert, aware of injustice and the need for healing, the second, exclusive, looking inward and backward, `fuelled by prejudice, insecurity and hatred'. He concludes with a blistering attack of the Hindu fundamentalist position: `the forced attempt to forge a Semitic, monolithic, chosen people, identity for Hindus based on a perverted, sexist, and iniquitous version of the great tradition (promoted at the expense of folk or little traditions) stands in sharp contrast to the enlightened effort at founding a modern social rationale for religion, as, say, in Vivekananda'.

Gandhi, religion, politics

Gandhi's challenge lay in introducing his religious values into Indian nationalist politics without this drift into communalism, and their seeming connection in his political career continues to pose the most morally disquieting question for historians. There is the disturbing paradox that a national leader who was wholly opposed to all forms of communalism and desperately opposed to the partition may have unwittingly contributed to both. Indian nationalists were confronted with the conundrum of how to relate nationalism, essentially a western concept, although not necessarily a secular one--think of the writings of Mazzini--to an Indian society and culture which was pluralistic and religious and one in which the spheres of society and politics had traditionally been kept apart. An overriding temptation for the nationalists in the early phase of the Nationalist movement, themselves seen as an alienated minority elite in their quest for a new national identity, was to cut the gordian knot and bring religion and politics together. The way through to a more popular expression of political nationalism lay in appealing to religious loyalties. Such was the choice of Dayanand Saraswati and Tilak; their Hindu revitalization programmes were matched by Muslims and the result was a horrible warning; in the 1890s there was the first wave of modern communal conflict. Gandhi was a moral scientist--and here I'll be following the arguments of Bhikhu Parekh(n5)--his was a quest for a new morality for an India in a state of moral crisis; on the one hand threatened by an industrialist, urban, secular, western culture and, on the other, weighed down by its own ossified, traditional, culture. Parekh locates Gandhi in a spectrum of intellectuals from traditionalist to modernizing. He draws an interesting and original distinction between the critical traditionalist and the critical modernist, the former believing that cultures are autonomous and survival lies in discovering solutions from within, the latter believing that India could gain from taking on board new ideas from without. If Gandhi rejected both merely traditionalist and modernizing approaches, he is seen as closer to the critical traditionalist, to thinkers such as Vivekananda and Aurobindo than to Rammohan Roy. Gandhi shared their view that only religion would provide the necessary revitalization for both social and political change and that the answers lay within Hinduism. But Gandhi looked to Hinduism for the way it sought answers rather than for any actual set of beliefs; to quote Parekh's paraphrase of this argument: `Its history was a story of new insights constantly gathered by great spiritual adventurers'.(n6) Gandhi clearly saw himself as such an adventurer; religion was to be studied as a science and his life was to be a series of scientific experiments with such religious truths. If Gandhi was wholly at one with Hinduism in believing in the primacy of the spiritual, he was fundamentally to redefine its relationships to this-worldly affairs. His was a search for a new yugadharma, a moral code specific for his own age, and Gandhi believed that the essence of such a moral code lay in a life of service, a love for one's fellow human beings. For Gandhi this led to political action:

in this age, only political sannyassis can fulfil the ideal of sannyasa. No Indian who aspires to follow the way of true religion can afford to remain aloof from politics. In other words, one who aspires to a truly religious life cannot fail to undertake public service as his mission, and we are today so much caught up in the political machine that service of the people is impossible without taking part in politics.(n7)

To quote Parekh's interpretation, `if political life could be spiritualised, it would have a profoundly transformative effect on the rest of society... Political action was therefore the only available path to moksha'.(n8) It is worth observing here that Gandhi was drawing heavily on Christian concepts of social service and that Christians, especially in India, likewise believed in the transforming role of religion in politics, be it the pro-Gandhian beliefs of Charles Andrews, or the illiberal, imperialist rhetoric of the British Israelites. In this readiness to learn lessons from other religions or cultures, Gandhi drew closer to the critical modernists. But here Parekh is curiously blind to how radical a transformation Gandhi sought to work on India. For not only did Gandhi draw religion into politics, he prioritized politics in an entirely revolutionary way and, in the view of Ashis Nandy,(n10) in a highly destructive manner. Traditionally many of India's social problems had been settled outside the political arena, by various subsystems, as Nandy phrases it, by family, religion, community, locality, all guided by distinctive dharmic codes. Politics had been a specialist preserve, amoral, dispassionate, ruthless. Gandhi encouraged alternative solutions in the public domain, a high-risk strategy that worked in a period of high idealism during the nationalist struggle but was fatal thereafter: the consequence is a democratic process log-jammed by the sectarian demands of pressure groups, caste, communal, linguistic, highly divisive, often hopelessly corrupt. Maybe this overprioritizing of politics is the most negative consequence of Gandhi's leadership, but it remains to investigate another serious charge, that Gandhi's introduction of a religious mode into politics led, however inadvertently, to a heightening of communal awareness and to communal conflict.

There can be no disputing that Gandhi's first large-scale non-cooperation movement and all too brief trial of civil disobedience coincided with, or was fairly soon followed by, serious outbursts of communal violence. The most obvious example of coincidence was that of Malabar,(n11) of succession, the Kohat in the North West Frontier Province.(n12) Self-evidently, such communal violence betrayed Gandhi's aspiration for an all-Indian, popular, nationalist movement and his ideals of social harmony and non-violence, but in the volatile and highly experimental world of popular nationalism, intentions were no guarantee of consequences. Gandhi may have been mistaken in latching on to so conservative a cause as Khilafat, but he had successfully brought Hindu and Muslim together in South Africa and here seemed an opportunity to do so again in India, and if this could be seen to be opportunist, then Muslim leaders were equally so in this exploitation of Pan-Islamism. There was also no way of knowing how an all-India appeal would excite local politics, although historians are now aware of the outcome: Judith Brown observes, `as the national movement became entangled with local level politics, local activists and protagonists used and manipulated the all-India campaign and certainly generated local support but at times also threatened to wreck it'.(n13) `Communal violence', according to the analyst of the Kohat riots, `is caused by tension between communities sustained to such an extent that what in normal times would seem trivial leads to a violent riot'.(n14) Jawaharlal Nehru attributed communalism to `too much religiosity'.(n15) Judith Brown agrees: `once religion was thus let loose in politics it became uncontrollable and self-perpetuating: fear and violence bred fear and violence and prominent all-India politicians could not contain it'.(n16) The Khilafat movement gave new powers to local ulamas and, as K. N. Panikkar has shown, if the long-term causes of the rebellion of 1921 in Malabar lay in the economic and social exploitation of a Muslim tenantry by a Hindu landlord class, it was mistaken but self-interested belief of local Muslim priests that Khilafat was to usher in an Islamic state that led economic protest to deteriorate into communal and the enforced conversions of Hindus. In Kohat it was likewise the ulamas, sensing a decline in their new found influence with the passing of the Khilafat movement, who worked on majority Muslim sentiment and encouraged mob violence against the minority urban Hindu community. Of course it takes two sides to bring communities to this level of antagonism; McGinn concludes that the Kohat riots `represented a search for power and influence by communalists on either side by creating a stronger identity'.(n17) And if heightened religiosity was to blame, then Gandhi's style of leadership and his use of religious symbolism cannot be overlooked: `part of the Gandhi's public image was that of a Hindu holy man, and in places this almost shaded into veneration of him as semi-divine. There were reports of regular Gandhi puja worship. But charismatic appeal was not the foundation for a stable and disciplined political following. Those who venerated him could easily turn to violence and arson'.(n18) Religiosity `is the refusal to separate religion from politics and social and economic life'.(n19) It seems unfair to blame such communal violence on Gandhi's advocacy of economic and social transformation in the name of a religious ideal, of the recreation of Ram Raja, of the Kingdom of God on earth, but there were connections, and one has to ask, did Gandhi have any answers to these risks from the intrusion of religion into politics?

One drastic solution was the fast. Confronted by the worsening communal situation on his release from jail, and in specific response to Kohat, Gandhi embarked on a three-week fast for Hindu-Muslim unity in September 1924, though he admitted this was no solution: `for the time being I have put away in my cupboard this Hindu-Muslim tangle. This does not mean that I have despaired of a solution. My mind will eternally work at it till I find a solution. But I must confess to you today that I cannot present a workable solution that you will accept'.(n20)

In the longer term the answer lay in Gandhi's concept of secularism, and as so much of his definition was to underlie that enshrined in the Constitution, this must be explored. Firstly, what did he mean by religion?

It is not the Hindu religion, which I certainly prize above all other religions, but the religion which transcends Hinduism, which changes one's very nature, which binds one indissolubly to the truth within and which even purifies. It is the permanent element in human nature which counts no cost too great in order to find full expression and which leaves the soul utterly restless until it has found itself, known its Maker and appreciated the true correspondence between the Maker and itself.(n21)

Parekh reaches out to define the inclusivism of Gandhi's position: `for Gandhi, Indian civilisation was not only plural but pluralist, that is committed to plurality as a desirable end'.(n22) Intolerance, in Gandhi's belief, did irreparable harm to one's own religious understanding. No religion contained all of the truth: all religions were a way of approaching the truth: only religious tolerance would guarantee that all of the truth would be found. It was a view that drew its inspiration less from high culture, though Gandhi believed that Hinduism itself `included all that he knew to be best in Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism'(n23) and more from India's folk culture, where he witnessed Indians of all communities ready to share in each other's cultural and religious life. Gandhi's inclusivist version of religious tolerance became substantially India's version of secularism.


Secularism and the constitution

Difficulties lie in the way of comprehending the Indian version of secularism should one seek to foist on India expectations that the State should keep its distance from religion or should encourage secular values. As some Indians, including Nehru, did attempt to do just that--there are clauses in the Constitution which seek to limit the intervention of the State in religious institutions--there is clearly room for confusion. In fact, independent India inherited an ancient tradition that the function of rulers was to protect dharma, one that was passed on to it by both the East India Company and the Raj through their policy of religious neutrality. Clearly there was scope for ambiguity. How could the State itself avoid, with this mandate, taking on a religious coloration, and how could it avoid favouring the religion of its choice, the Company and Raj, Christianity, Independent India, Hinduism? The way out for Independent India is, of course, a demonstrative protection of the minorities. Donald Eugene Smith's is probably as good a description of Indian secularism as we are likely to get: `To most Indians secular means non-communal or non-sectarian, but it does not mean non-religious. For most, the basis of the secular state is not a "wall of separation" between state and religion, but rather the "no-preference doctrine" which requires only that no special privileges be granted to any one religion'.(n24) Obviously much of this was underpinned by realpolitik: Gandhi recognized the need to placate the Muslims and counter Jinnah's two-nation theory; Nehru saw how essential such a secularism was if Kashmiri Muslims were to see themselves as citizens of independent India. Another major concession, and one in clear breach of any modern definition of secularism, was the retention of Muslim personal law. Nehru agonized, but gave away. Maybe this alone persuaded the now much diminished and very frightened Muslim minority that India remained dar-ul-islam rather than dar-ul-harb, a state in which, according to the ulamas, Muslims could practice their faith. It was an attempt to weaken that concession in the Shah Bano affair that put Muslims on their guard, provoked Hindu fundamentalist response, and was to put the Ayodhya dispute in the forefront of Indian politics.

In 1976 one Shah Bano, after 43 years of marriage to a prosperous lawyer, was divorced in traditional Muslim fashion. She was to fight a case for maintenance all the way to the Supreme Court and win: in 1986 she was awarded Rs 500 a month.(n25) In the Islamic Shariat law, once the husband has returned the wife's mehr, or dowry, responsibility for the wife's maintenance falls on her family, so this decision was in clear breach of Muslim personal law. This was hailed as a victory for secularism and a feminist triumph to boot. Muslim women were now to enjoy the same rights as those of other religions, under Indian personal law. Belatedly it looked as if the Constitution was going to fulfill its directive principle, Article 44, and introduce a uniform personal law. But Rajiv Gandhi's government, alarmed at Muslim anger, lost its nerve and in the Muslim Women's Act was to reverse the decision of the Supreme Court. Here was a betrayal of secularism and of the equality of women before the law. Congress could once again be blamed for unscrupulous politics, its courting of Muslim conservative interests as a way of securing the Muslim vote-bank. The argument is devious. Debashis Chakravarty(n26) argues that Congress sees it as in its interest to keep the Muslims as a separate and insecure minority, inducing them, if they are to keep Hindu communalism at bay, to turn to Congress for protection. If this is a fair analysis, it helps explain why many left-wing sympathizers are so hostile to Muslim communalism.(n27) Significantly, progressive Muslims now see the wisdom of abandoning Muslim personal law and an assimilationist approach to independent India. After all, theirs is a population largely born after 1947 and they know no other loyalty.

Attitudes of the Hindu communalists

The challenge to the Gandhi-Nehru secular state comes from self-proclaimed leaders of the Hindu majority community. The charge is simple and it is easy to see how it comes about: they brand it as pseudo-secularism (reference to Muslim personal law) and minorityism. It encourages ugly communal abuse against the Muslims, inspired largely by irrational demographic fears. Sarvepalli Gopal argues that it is up to the Hindu majority community to set a secular example and, if so, clearly this fundamentalist leadership is betraying its historic task.(n28) But the problem goes back a long way and was in the forefront of the thinking of the critical traditionalists: how could you fashion a strong Indian state which did not have a Hindu identity? Parekh argues their greater sense of political realism: `the themes of conflict, statecraft, autonomy of political morality, political realism, courage, will-power and physical strength, which were all curiously absent in the writings of the modernists and critical modernists, dominated the thought of the critical traditionalists'.(n29) Here Gandhi, with his emphasis on a decentralised, even village-based state, compares poorly. He is seen as lacking a sense of how strong the state needs to be if it is to engineer economic and social modernization. The critical traditionalists were well aware, if Hinduism was to be the backbone of the new state, it would have to absorb profound economic and social reform. Did the critical traditionalists have any doubts that Hinduism, an essentially amorphous faith, could take on such a role without betraying its inner nature? Ashis Nandy has argued that Hindu culture is essentially feminine, and cannot take on these aggressive masculine roles and remain true to itself.(n30) It simply was not a faith which lends itself to such state formation. Besides, such a programme would inevitably alienate the minorities. No such doubts were to deter the Hindu fundamentalists, though we might be right to argue that theirs was an oversimplification and distortion of the views of the critical traditionalists, and certainly mere traditionalism also informs this rhetoric.

Alternatively, it can be argued that the ascription `communal' is misleading. Here, instead, was an attempt to forge a new Indian identity out of the Hindu majority. A far more haunting and searching question follows: why did no such nationalist movement appear? Bruce Graham has examined the reasons for the inability of the Jan Sangh to mobilize such a nationalism.(n31) Will its successor, the Bharitya Janata party (BJP), experience a similar fate?

Initiators of such a nationalism were the Hindu Mahasabha--its origins lay in a number of regional associations but its first all-India meeting was in 1915--and the Rashtriya Swayasevak Sangh (RSS), a para-military organization, a kind of Hindu home-guard, set up in 1925. The former sought a distinctive political role, based on an appeal to the Hindu majority, but one which a wing of the Congress party was to frustrate through its own conscious appeal to the same constituency. The founder of the RSS, Keshav Hedgewar, an Andhra Brahmin, initially saw his volunteers as a force for protecting those Hindus at risk from communal violence. But his longer term aim was the physical (quite literally) and cultural rejuvenation of the Hindus, with an emphasis on hierarchy and discipline, and a basic distrust, even alienation, from the party-political and democratic process. From the very beginning, there were contradictory tendencies in the Indian right, a readiness to become involved in the necessary give and take of political life, and an almost Olympian distaste for such politics. The Congress party's response, concerned over its acquiring any overt Hindu communal identity, was to forbid joint membership of the Congress and the Hindu mahasabha, and persist in its bid for Muslim support. Yet every move Congress made to woo the minorities further alienated the Hindu fundamentalists. Notoriously, N.V. Godse, Gandhi's assassin, was a member of the Hindu Mahasabha and a former member of the RSS, though subsequent investigation was to show that the RSS had played no part in his conspiracy. Gandhi had done everything possible to stave off partition. Even after partition, on the eve of his murder, friends were in Pakistan, seeking some solution to the division of financial assets between the successor states.(n32) Such moves merely further identified him as an appeaser of Muslims and Pakistan. The new government of India was to be curiously lenient in its response to Gandhi's murder. If Nehru declared, on 3 April 1948, `the alliance of religion and politics in the shape of communalism is a most dangerous alliance and it yields the most abnormal kind of illegitimate brood',(n33) the Mahasabha was only suspended until May 1949, and the RSS was banned only for a few months longer. But such developments destabilized the relationship between the RSS and the Mahasabha. The leadership of the former--Madhev Sadashiv Golwalkar, a Maharashtrian Brahmin who succeeded Hedgewar in 1940 on the latter's death--appalled at the emergence of Pakistan and at the ease with which its organisation, with a membership in 1947 of between 400,000 and 500,000 had been so easily banned, saw the necessity for a more active role in politics, and this inevitably led to a clash of interests with the Mahasabha. They turned to Shyam Mookerjee, son of the distinguished vice-chancellor of the University of Calcutta, Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee, and a member of Nehru's cabinet in 1950. Here were the beginnings of the new Jan Sangh party, launched in May 1951. Once again, there were contradictory strategies: if the RSS allowed its members to join the new party, it still identified its own role as cultural and stood outside politics, whereas Shyam Mookerjee, until his premature death in 1953, was ready to lead the Jan Sangh into the thicket of Indian politics. Any capacity for mobilizing the Hindu constituency was still undermined by a right-wing leadership of Congress, especially that of Patel and Tandon, although as Nehru successfully led the Congress in a more liberal and secular direction, its opportunity increased. Yet independent India was still confronted by the paradox of the would-be leadership of the majority community behaving as if they were leaders of an oppressed minority. Graham has persuasively demonstrated how the Jan Sangh tended to narrow its appeal to certain lower-middle-class strata, small industrialists and small businessmen, employees in the lower levels of the professions and the civil service, failing to win any substantial support from the urban working class and the peasantry. Part of the explanation for this lay in the limited appeal of its ideology, and we have now to define the nature of the Right's critique of the secularism of Congress and of its own definition.

The way out of an account of their politics as communal was for the Indian right to define Hinduism in cultural rather than religious terms. All Indians are, by this definition, Hindus. The Indian minorities have no separate identity: they are Hindu Muslims, Hindu Christians, Hindu Buddhists, etc. Former terrorist and President of the Hindu Mahasabha, V.D. Savarkar, in his Hindutua (Hinduness) (1923) provided a key text. This became a riposte to Jinnah's two-nation theory. Here also was strong, anti-western sentiment, especially against India's anglicized political elite. Golwalkar, in his We or Our Nationhood Defended (1939), took an even more aggressive line, branding Muslims as being as much foreigners as the British. Here was an organicist view of Indian nationalism in the making, a means of transcending all sects and divisions, and fashioning a Hindu unity, a Sangathan. A similar rhetoric was to inform the ideology of the Jan Sangh. Deliberately they exchanged Hindu for Bharitya, a Sanskrit word, meaning a member of the Indian nation. They turned the Congress definition of secularism on its head. To quote their manifesto: `Secularism as currently interpreted in this country, however, is only a euphemism for the policy of Muslim appeasement. The so-called secular composite nationalism is neither nationalism nor secularism but only a compromise with communalism of those who demand price even for their lip loyalty to this country'.(n34) This did not exclude the minorities; it just arrogantly insisted that they be Indian on the terms of the Hindu majority. Indeed, Muslims were encouraged to join the political organizations of the Jan Sangh, if not the cultural, though few were to do so. Vajpayee put this case almost blandly; `the Muslims or the Christians did not come from outside India. Their ancestors were Hindu. By changing religion one does not change one's nationality or culture'.(n35) Overt Hindu communalism had become discredited in the backlash to Gandhi's assassination, and the Jan Sangh had to narrow their sights, opposing the Hindu code, and sniping at a Muslim way of life still shored up by the Urdu language and loyalty to the Shariat. But these did not prove to be electoral winners, for in Uttar Pradesh, focus of the anti-Urdu campaign, the Congress Government was itself staunchly pro-Hindi, and in terms of national politics, the Jan Sangh merely identified itself as a narrow, northern, regional, Hindi, imperialist party. Admittedly the Right persisted with a strong nationalist line on Pakistan and Kashmir but it was a programme that failed to win over the masses. This was an ideology still too identified with Brahmanic Hinduism. It did not touch Indian folk culture, with its mass Hindu religions of Saivism and Vaishnavism. Graham concludes: `it was as though the community to which it was appealing existed in a large extent within the party's imagination'.(n36) Clearly, there was scope for a more populist politics. Here the BJP was to reveal far more manipulative skills in its exploitation of an issue such as the Ayodhya temple dispute.

The challenge from the Right in the 1980s--and we might have to agree to see right-wing nationalism, Hindu fundamentalism and communalism as overlapping phenomena--was to be far more sustained. The Jan Sangh (and we are overlooking its experience of persecution during Indira Gandhi's Emergency Regime and office in the Janata Government) was renamed, in April 1980, the Bharitya Janata party. Another organization, sired by the RSS in 1964 as a religious front, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (the Hindu Worldwide Organization), now came into its own. It it difficult to see where, during the flare-up of communalism in the 1980s, the balance of power lies between these communal organizations. The RSS was revitalized and seems to be the senior and most respected, but it remains a shadowy and rather sinister godfather figure in the background. In the forefront and seemingly the driving force is the VHP. There is a nastier but regional organization, the Shiv Sena, something of an embarrassment to the others through its endorsement of terrorism, though they were ready to make use of it. But the party which stands to gain the most from this Hindu fundamentalism is the BJP. Here is a party which sees itself as poised to take power at the centre and is certainly taken as a serious threat. Amongst its leaders is Lal Krishnan Advani, born in 1928 to middle class parents--they owned a department store--in Hyderabad, Sind. He was educated by the Irish Fathers at St Patrick's school, Karachi. In attempting to describe the political ambitions of Advani one runs up against the difficulties in characterizing the movement as a whole. Certainly there is a strong communalist element. At the age of 15 in Hyderabad in 1951 he joined the RSS. After migration to India, he joined the Jana Sangh and went on to become its president from 1973 to 1977. He was to suffer 2 years imprisonment during the Emergency. His political power base is Delhi. As India Today has put it: `For better or worse the aggressively pro-Hindu ideological stance is now solidly identified with Advani'.(n37) Yet he is rather a bookish man, no natural demagogue, and one who seeks to put himself across as nationalist rather than communalist and as a true secularist. One has a real sense that the BJP's is but a tactical alliance with Hindu communalism and that they'd dearly like in time to distance themselves, certainly from the VHP, though not the RSS, and to present themselves as a moderate, all-India party. Personally I cannot see this high-risk strategy in the long run prevailing, though in the short run it is reaping rich political dividends.

Many factors reactivated Hindu communalism in the 1980s. One catalyst was high-caste alarm at the conversion to Islam of dalits, untouchables, in the Tamilnadu village of Meenakshipuram in 1984, itself possibly the work of petro-dollar-fed Muslim fundamentalism. The rise of Sikh fundamentalism in the Punjab also played on Hindu nerves. A more speculative interpretation is the redeployment of the Weber thesis on religion and the rise of capitalism to Hinduism: it had, if it were to provide the moral discipline necessary for its rise, to take on the character of a hard-edged Semitic faith. Indisputably this is about the pursuit of political power. To understand why Ayodhya became the focus of this communal and political battle, one has to disentangle history from mythology and look at the past.

The Ayodhya dispute

Myth rather than history has fuelled Hindu fundamentalist protest over Ayodhya.(n38) Hindus believe that Ram, incarnation of Vishnu, and one of the most sacred figures in Hinduism, was born there, in the treta yuga. King Vikramaditya rediscovered this birthplace in the 4th century AD and built some 300 temples to mark the occasion, including one to mark the site of Ram's birthplace, the meaning of Ramjanmabhumi. The Moghul Emperor, Babur, with the promise of victory should he do so, destroyed the temple in 1528 and built a mosque in its place, the Babri Masjid, although so powerful was the spirit of Ram that to do so he had to leave clear the temple's sanctum sanctorum. All pilgrims to Ayodhya believe this account and nothing that the archaeologist or historian says will persuade them to the contrary. Archaeologists question there being any urban site at Ayodhya at the alleged date of Ram's birth, and find no evidence of any temple on the site of the Babri Masjid mosque. Tulsidas, author of the Hindi version of the Ramayana, significantly written post-1528, make no mention of the destruction of a temple on the site. Historians date the beginnings of Ram worship at Ayodhya only from the foundation of the Ramanandi sect in the 12th century. However, Ayodhya had become a major pilgrimage centre by the 16th century, for Buddhists and Jains as well as Hindus, but it only came into its own as a Hindu centre with the decline of the Moghul Empire in the early 18th century.

The origins of the mythology lie in the 19th century. Then there were, indeed, serious disputes between Hindus and Muslims over temples and mosques. In 1853 a group of orthodox, Sunni, Muslims attacked the Hanuman temple, Ayodhya's most important temple, claiming that it was built on the site of a mosque. They were repelled and many who took shelter in the Babri Masjid mosque were killed. Further efforts to seize the mosque were frustrated by the British troops of the Naub of Awadh, but, to appease Muslim feeling, he gave permission for a new mosque to be built near the Hanuman temple. This inspired the Hindu counter-claim that the Babri Masjid mosque was built on the site of a former temple, the Ramjanmabhumi. With Awadh's annexation in 1856, it lay with the British to sort out this dispute. Their initial response was to treat it as a law and order matter; their compromise was to allow only Muslims to worship in the mosque but to sanction Hindu worship at a specially erected platform, the Chabutra, illegally constructed near the mosque in 1857. But the British, convinced that the Muslims lay behind the Rebellion of 1857 and still constituted a threat, and anxious to legitimize their authority in the eyes of the Hindu majority, saw fit to feed this mythology. Much is made by secular-minded historians of both this official literature and Miss Beveridge's introduction to her translation of Babur's memoirs, where she accused Babur of just this act of vandalism. That there was a temple to mark Ram's birthplace and that the entire Ayodhya complex could be seen as commemorative of his birth suggests the irrationality of this claim.

And there events rested until the aftermath of the partition when, with communal passions inflamed, on the night of 22 December 1949, miraculously, or so Hindus claimed, the images of Rama and Sita appeared in the mosque. In fact, the District Magistrate, K. K. Nayer, had authorized their entry.(n39) He refused to obey the order of the Commissioner of Faizabad, Shyam Sundarlal Dar, that they be removed, denied Muslims the right to worship in the mosque and sanctioned Hindu worship, albeit in a restricted fashion, for the main gate was to remain locked. Not surprisingly, K. K. Nayer became a hero of the fundamentalists and went on to be a Jan Sangh MP. The seriousness of these developments was immediately apparent to Congress: Nehru considered dropping everything and embarking on a campaign against communalism in Uttar Pradesh. Yet Congress had itself fielded a religious candidate in the 1948 elections against a secular minded Socialist, although those who invaded the mosque had abused the name of Gandhi and the Congress party. The dispute was now to become a legal one, with a long history of claim and counter-claim, and so it might have persisted had the fundamentalists not seen it as an issue they might exploit, scorning the legal process and dragging it into the political arena.

Hindu fundamentalism was to exert a spectacular influence on Indian politics in the 1980s. Plans for the first of the BJP's rath yatras (marches) had to be delayed for a year through Indira Gandhi's assassination in September 1984. Rajiv Gandhi's government became alarmed. Having surrendered to Muslim communal pressure with the Muslim Women's Act, it now gave in to Hindu pressure. The Faizabad District judge on 31 January 1986, authorized the opening of the main gate and free access of Hindus to worship in the Babri Masjid mosque. This merely provoked the setting up of the Babri Masjid Action Committee and fed further Hindu communal demands, this time to build a new temple. Failure of Rajiv Gandhi's government to control the murderous Hindu challenge in its nationwide (and indeed worldwide)(n40) collection of bricks to build the temple, the so called shilanyas pujas, goes some way to explain the defeat of Congress in the elections of November 1989. The worst communal violence was in the Bhagalpur, Bihar, with the deaths of some 1,000 Muslims.

If the new left Janata government was somewhat improbably kept alive by the tactical support of the BJP, the same Ayodhya dispute was to bring about its downfall in December 1990. Government policy towards Kashmir and Punjab always jeopardized the alliance, but it was V. P. Singh's championing of the OBC's through his implementation of the long delayed Mandal Commission Report that seriously rattled the party, for this threatened to divide their Hindu constituency. This was not without risk: opposing Mandal might win them high-caste urban votes but could lose them low-caste votes in the villages. Advani's decision on 15 October 1990, effectively breaking the alliance, for a rath yatra from Somnath in Gujerat to Ayodhya, to build the temple, took the government by surprise. Advani traversed the land in an air-conditioned Toyota van, modelled on the chariot driven by Arjuna in the recently televized version of the Mahabharata. Arrival at Ayodhya was designed to coincide with a high point in the parikrama festival. The shocking deaths of 567 in communal conflicts, mainly in Uttar Pradesh, but pan-Indian in scope,(n41) belied the BJP's claim that this was a peaceful protest. At one stage, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Janata government in Uttar Pradesh promised a decisive intervention: its Ordinance on 20 October 1990 would have brought the disputed area under government control. Bowing to Muslim pressure, it was withdrawn. Yet both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Yadav's Janata government in Bihar had acted positively: nearly 200,000 were arrested in both states. Advani was arrested on 23 October. A messy and violent confrontation followed: 30 kar sewaks (would-be temple builders), were killed, before the security forces gave into their pressure and they poured all over the disputed site and destroyed part of the wall of the mosque. V. P. Singh's government, doomed anyway by the withdrawal of BJP support, resigned.

Everyone recognized that its successor, the bizarre minority government of Chandrashekhar, was but an interlude before mid-term elections. This forced the BJP to address the inherent contradictions in its strategy: it had, on the one hand, to deal with the rising expectations of the VHP and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal--frustration of their hopes to build the temple would lead to a renewal of violence--and, on the other, to decide how to put themselves forward as a responsible, potential government party. Malayam Singh made the former a little easier by capitulating and welcoming the VHP's leadership (Ashok Singhal had been wounded in the October fracas).(n42) The latter was met in part by putting forward the moderate Vajpayee as their candidate for Prime Minister. Rajiv Gandhi's assassination was to overshadow the elections--and the Rajiv sympathy factor lost the party votes in the renewed election--but the political dividends of Ayodhya once again became apparent: in 1984 it held only two Lok Sabha seats; in 1989 this rose to 85; in 1991 to 119. In Uttar Pradesh a Hindu backlash was to deliver a stunning defeat to the Janata government and, for the first time ever, the State was to have a different party in power from that of the Centre, for Kalyan Singh's BJP now faced Narasimha Rao's Congress.

Following the elections, the BJP pursued a familiar two-pronged strategy, on the one hand, exploiting communalism on the Ayodhya issue, with an eye to the November byelections; on the other, posing as champions of national unity, with plans for its Ekta yatra, from the South to the North, to end with the unfurling of the national flag in Srinagar.

With the party in power in Uttar Pradesh, there was an even more awkward balance between allaying the fundamentalist enthusiasm of the VHP and demonstrate its own responsible exercise of power. Kalyan Singh bowed to the former in stating, on 1 October 1991, that the temple would be constructed `much sooner than expected'. Advani backed him up with reference to the relocation of the mosque.(n43) Ashok Singhal took up the running, threatening that work on the temple would commence 18 October, and that Kalyan Singh would pave the way.(n44) Indeed, on 11 October the Uttar Pradesh government did acquire 2.77 acres of land adjoining the disputed site, ostensibly to develop a complex for pilgrims, the Ram Katha park (previously considered by N. D. Tiwari's Congress Government). This studiously left unresolved 3200 square feet of the disputed mosque area. Ambiguously Kalyan Singh declared: `the exact date of the building construction of the temple is yet to be decided'.(n45) Protest followed, with Muslims in Lucknow, organized by the Babri Masjid Action Movement Coordination Committee (one of the features of the dispute was ever wider and tougher protest by Muslims), taking to the streets and courting arrest, asserting that the land acquired was part of a Muslim graveyard, and that the case was still before the Allahabad High Court (sitting in Lucknow). Extraordinarily, the VHP now set about destroying Hindu temples on the land acquired. The Janata party joined the protest, with some 2,000 supporters, on 21 October, also courting arrest in Lucknow. V. P. Singh protested the demolition by Hindus of the temples, a nice inversion of the dispute, and announced his intention of practising satyagraha at the disputed site on 29 October, and called on all secular forces for their support (another feature of the conflict was the seizure of the Mandir issue by the Janata party, aware of the loss of momentum of the Mandal, and its own loss of influence). The Allahabad High Court, in a decision worthy of Portia, sanctioned the Uttar Pradesh government's acquisition of land but laid down that no permanent structure was to be built on the site. Meanwhile Kalyan Singh's government set about frustrating V. P. Singh's plans. Seventeen Companies of the Provincial Armed Constabulary, the PAC, were assembled at the disposal of the local magistrate. On 28 October, V. P. Singh, together with 500 of his supporters, was arrested at Barabanki, well short of his destination: all he could do was protest that the central government should declare its position on the Allahabad Court's interim award. The fundamentalists then made their move. Kar sewaks planted saffron flags on top of the mosque. They drove off a fact-finding mission, working for the campaign of National Unity. Kalyan Singh blandly informed the Centre, `some elements tried to create a problem in Ayodhya today'.(n46) The Centre finally responded, summoning a meeting of the National Integration Council (NIC). `What is at stake', The Hindu announced in its editorial, `is not just whether India is to be secular or a Hindu rashtra. The survival of India as a nation-state is inextricably linked to its existence as a pluralistic and avowedly democratic society'.(n47) The BJP and Kalyan Singh came into line with the NIC, (although the VHP remained unrepentant),(n48) but by then it had mobilized its support for the byelections anyway. Interestingly, local religious leaders, in particular Mahant Nritya Gopal, had been leading instigators of the kar sewaks. The Deccan Herald wondered if Advani's concurrence with the NIC witnessed a turnabout on his refusal to accept a legal solution to the dispute.(n49) In fact, all this was simply tactics: the party recognized that they shared a common ambition with Congress to out-manoeuvre the Janata party, and that it was wise to play down VHP extremism. To quote Suma Mitra, `at the moment the BJP is clearly trying to strike a responsible posture and will not make a single move which will tarnish its image'.(n50) If it was to gain but one Lok Sabha seat, it secured 11 of the 17 Assembly seats, and continued to dominate politics in Uttar Pradesh.

Following the byelections the party turned its attention to its Unity march. Murli Manohar Joshi, who had succeeded Advani as party president, announced the march's departure from Kanyakmuri on 11 December 1991, and its arrival at Srinagar on Republic Day, 26 January, 1992. Its motto would be, `Abolish Article 370, eliminate terrorism, save the country'. Article 370, Joshi claimed, had given special status to Jammu and Kashmir and `had squeezed two lakh Indian citizens out of the valley'.(n51) Drawing attention to the special status of Kashmir was yet another way of asserting the pseudosecularism of the Constitution. In the BJP's constant search for symbols, the march began on the centenary of the birth of the Tamil patriotic poet, Subramaniam Bharati, (its place of departure was an attempt to win more of a following in Tamilnadu), and also on the date of the martyrdom of the 9th guru, Tegh Bahadur, with the one Akali leader consistently opposed to militancy in the Punjab, Sardar Jivan Singh Umrangal, present. Joshi compared his march to Gandhi's Dandi; `the Congress was again appealing to the League, but we will not allow another vivisection of the country'. Advani, in the Lok Sabha, advocated replacing the Minority Commission with a Human Rights Commission, and the need to introduce a uniform civil code.(n52) The party would have been wise to pay greater attention to Amunallah Khan's threat in Islamabad to cross into Kashmir with his separatist supporters on 11 February 1992.(n53) If the march never attracted the same degree of attention as the Ayodhya issue, anxieties were expressed: The Statesman accepted that `the inspiration is not religion but calling the bluff of the pseudosecularist forces in the country. So far so good'. But it wondered `if it is reasonable to come to the tentative conclusion that the BJP's ideals are being pursued at the wrong juncture of Indian history, when unthinking violence is in the air. In such a volatile situation a 45 day march might amount to tempting providence'.(n54) On 20 December 1991 the Jammu and Kashmir State government announced its decision to ban the entry of the march into the Kashmir valley.(n55) The Prime Minister made it clear there was no question of abolishing Article 370. The BJP scorned the ban and vowed 100,000 activists would reach Srinagar at any cost. Violence struck in the Punjab, where terrorists murdered four passengers in the bus cavalcade and wounded 30 others.(n56) Home Minister, Chavan, insisted the flag-raising contingent be reduced to 100. The march carried on. Meanwhile, the Kashmir guerillas hit the police HQ in Srinagar, injuring, amongst others, the police chief, J. N. Saxena. Some 50,000 marchers gathered in Jammu. But the BJP leadership began to come to their senses, saw how ill-clad the marchers were, anyway, for this last stretch up the valley, and spoke of reducing the number of buses from 1500 to 3. In the end, Joshi was flown in, the flag unfurled but not raised--the flagpole broke--and the ceremony in Lal Chowk square, empty of Kashmiris and witnessed only by Indian troops, and a handful of politicians, was all over in 17 minutes.(n57) Subsequently India conceded the right of the UN to debate Kashmir issue. If Pakistan troops were to fire on Amunallah Khan's followers on 11 February(n58) (it had nothing to gain from encouraging his separatism), all that the march had in the long run achieved was reactivation of the Kashmiri support for the separatist cause. The BJP had weakened Indian unity and damaged its own political reputation.

It would be a strange conclusion that in so religious a society as India, religion should be kept apart from politics. It is hard to share the belief of secularists, such as Khushwant Singh, that this could be done.(n59) It has, somehow, always felt unfair to blame communalism on Gandhi's encouragement of a religious content to Indian politics, though it remains uncomfortably true that they coincided. Nehru blamed communalism on the elites. Maybe a Muslim feudal elite did encourage Muslim communalism, and maybe a Hindu urban class, more middle or lower middle class than an elite, out of a sense of economic insecurity and a threat to their social status, have exploited Hindu communalism. If the politics of such groups lie in the manipulation of the sentiments of an impoverished mass, then the utopian solution lies in the conquest of poverty. But surely the Left were correct to point to a solution in terms of popular attitudes. Gandhi's faith in a folk culture of religious pluralism shared this outlook. We may simply get ourselves tied in knots if we try to differentiate between a western-style secularism, encouraging a non-religious value system, and one that derives from the mutual tolerance of this religious pluralism. I was very encouraged by the way the poor of both communities, if mainly in the villages, in the Global Image programme, rejected the politics of the communalists.(n60) The Indian Constitution largely got it right. The challenge is to make the Constitution work.


This article was written in early 1992. If it is not the historian's task, though maybe it is that of the political scientist, to forecast the future, should one not at least have imagined the worst-case scenario of the demolition of the mosque? In retrospect, it seems all too horribly predictable that the communal hysteria incited by the fundamentalist politicians and the sants would pass beyond their control and spill over into the shameful vandalism of 6 December 1992 and the consequent widescale communal slaughter.(n61) We will have to await the outcome of the public enquiry to know if the Centre was reasonable in putting its faith in due process of law. Interpretations on future developments vary. Pessimists foresee India's secular state giving way to a sectarian, religious one.(n62) Optimists see a clearing of the air, a discrediting of the BJP and the Right and a leftward direction in the political process.(n63) But one can take little comfort from the erection of wooden barricades around the Gyan Vyapi mosque.(n64) The communal madness has yet to play itself out.

Notes and references

(n1.) Mushirul Hasan, `Competing symbols and shared codes: inter-community relations in modern India', in Sarvepalli Gopal (ed) Anatomy of a Confrontation. The Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhumi Issue (New Delhi: Viking, 1991) p. 100. If this collection of essays is the most helpful available, and is particularly aware of the power of myth, it may put too much faith in the emergence of a European-style secularism in India.

(n2.) Times of India, 28 November 1989, quoted ibid, p. 115.

(n3.) Ibid, p. 100.

(n4.) I was lucky in the occasional pieces I found in the Indian press during my visit, from late September 1991 to early January 1992. See Praful Bidwas, `The Sena VHP offensive. Disintegrative politics of identity; The Times of India, 25 October 1991. Other good essays include Asghar Ali Engineer, `Secularism: where do we err?' The Hindu, 18 November 1991.

(n5.) Bhikhu Parekh, Colonialism, Tradition, and Reform. An analysis of Gandhi's political discourse (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1989). This is the most sophisticated recent enquiry into the place of religion in Gandhi's politics.

(n6.) Ibid, p. 88

(n7.) Ibid, p. 92.

(n8.) Ibid, p. 91.

(n9.) Gerald Studdert-Kennedy has explored this theme. See his `Gandhi and the Christian Socialists', History Today, Vol 40, October 1990, pp. 19-26; and his British Christians, Indian Nationalists and the Raj (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981).

(n10.) See Ashis Nandy, At the Edge of Psychology: Essays in Politics and Culture (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981). A whole issue of The Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, Vol XXII, No 3, 1984, was given over to a discussion of this critique.

(n11.) For a recent analysis of Malabar see K. N. Panikkar's Against Lord and State: Religion and Peasant Uprisings in Malabar: 1836-1921 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989). The difficulty in analysing Malabar is in determining whether social and economic or religious causes do most to explain the rebellion. Panikkar hedges his bets, but in today's climate in India it is important to be more precise.

(n12.) See Patrick McGinn, `Communalism and the North West Frontier Province. The Kohat Riots, 9-10 September 1924', South Asia Research, Vol 6, No 2, 1986, pp. 139-158.

(n13.) Judith M. Brown, Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 164.

(n14.) McGinn, op cit, Ref 12, pp. 124-141.

(n15.) Ibid, p. 149.

(n16.) Brown, op cit, Ref 13, p. 136.

(n17.) McGinn, op cit, Ref 12, p.156.

(n18.) Brown op cit, Ref 13, p. 168.

(n19.) McGinn, op cit, Ref 12, p. 149.

(n20.) Brown, op cit, Ref 13, p. 189.

(n21.) Gopal, op cit, Ref 1, pp. 14-15.

(n22.) Parekh, op cit, Ref 5, p. 75. Parekh points out, however, an intolerance in Gandhi's inclusivist position: it would be unacceptable to those faiths which believe their's was a unique revelation.

(n23.) Donald Eugene Smith, India as a Secular State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), p. 92.

(n24.) Ibid, p. 381.

(n25.) For one account of the Shah Bano affair, see `The Muslims: a community in turmoil', India Today, 31 January 1986.

(n26.) See Debashis Chakravarty's two blistering articles `Muslim question I: community trapped in a concept', The Statesman, 4 December 1991; `Muslim question II: how politics overrules progress', The Statesman, 5 December 1991.

(n27.) This surfaced in a particularly interesting `crossfire' debate in India Today, 15 May 1991. For example, Bipan Chandra, `secular people ... have not been criticising minority communalism as strongly as they have been criticising majority ...'

(n28.) Gopal makes the point in his introduction though this was also Nehru's position. Op cit, Ref 1.

(n29.) Parekh, op cit, Ref 5, p. 67.

(n30.) The theme of Nandy's The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of the Self under Colonialism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983).

(n31.) For the history of these early Hindu nationalist movements I have relied on Myron Wiener, Party politics in India, the Development of a Multi-Party System (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957); and B. D. Graham, Hindu Nationalism and Indian Politics. The Origins and Development of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

(n32.) See Jehangir P. Patel & Marjorie Sykes, The Gift of the Fight (Rasulia: Friends Rural Centre, 1987), especially Chapter XII, Peace with Pakistan 1947-48. This is one of the most enlightening memoirs by those who knew Gandhi.

(n33.) Smith, op cit, Ref 23, p. 473.

(n34.) Graham, op cit, Ref 31, p. 50.

(n35.) Ibid, p. 96.

(n36.) Graham, op cit, Ref 31, p. 255.

(n37.) See Inderjit Badhvur, `Saffron seer', India Today, 31 March 1990. Other pieces drawn from the same journal include `Militant revivalism' India Today, 31 May 1986; `Hindu divided family', India Today, 30 November 1991.

(n38.) The point is well made by both Peter van der Veer in his Gods on Earth (London: Athlone Press, 1988), the most authoritative account of religious institutions in Ayodhya; and Neeladri Battacharya in `Myth, history and the politics of Ranjanmabhumi', in Gopal, op cit, Ref 1. Disconcertingly, van der Beer does not query Babur's destruction of the temple. The historical account of the Ayodhya issue that follows substantially draws on the Gopal collection of essays, and the contemporary dispute is largely compiled from India Today, Frontline and cuttings from the Indian press taken during my stay in India.

(n39.) There was an informative Global Image programme `The Godmen are coming' on Channel 4, 4 February 1992. The current incumbent priest in the mosque squarely laid responsibility on K. K. Nayer.

(n40.) And, indeed, considerable support did come from ex-patriate Hindu communities, themselves on the defensive as a minority and peculiarly susceptible to such communal demands.

(n41.) See `Anatomy of a carnage', India Today, 15 January 1991.

(n42.) See `Aiming high', India Today, 15 May 1991.

(n43.) The Political Observer, 1 October 1991.

(n44.) The Hindu, 7 October 1991.

(n45.) The Hindu, 16 October 1991.

(n46.) The Deccan Herald, 1 November 1991.

(n47.) The Hindu, 2 November 1991.

(n48.) See the analysis of Frontline, 9 and 22 November 1991.

(n49.) See the editorial, Deccan Herald, 5 November 1991.

(n50.) Indian Express, 10 November 1991.

(n51.) The Hindu, 23 November 1991.

(n52.) The Statesman, 12 December 1991.

(n53.) The Statesman, 13 December 1991.

(n54.) The Statesman, 14 December 1991

(n55.) The Statesman, 21 December 1991

(n56.) The Independent, 24 January 1992.

(n57.) The Independent, 27 January 1992.

(n58.) The Independent, 12 February 1992.

(n59.) See Singh's contribution to the debate, in `Crossfire', India Today, op cit, Ref 27.

(n60.) Op cit, Ref 39.

(n61.) For a full analysis see India Today, 31 December 1992.

(n62.) See Conor Cruise O'Brien, `Will India fall to the Zealots?', The Times, 8 December 1992.

(n63.) See James Manor, `Storm in an Indian teacup', The Independent, 9 December 1992.

(n64.) `Indian Muslims braced for more confrontations', The Independent, 20 January 1993.




Antony Copley, Reader in Modern History, Rutherford College, The University, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NX, UK

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