Secular India or ‘Hindu Pakistan’!

Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor, my former boss at the United Nations, is in trouble for pointing out a hard truth plain to most of the world. He had commented last year at a public meeting in Kerala that if Narendra Modi returned to power for a second term, India would turn into ‘Hindu Pakistan’. Finding his comments offensive, a court in Calcutta recently issued an arrest warrant for him surmising that his comments were ‘harmful to national harmony’. Luckily, this was a bailable warrant and he was spared the torture of spending time in a dingy Calcutta prison cell.

Shashi Tharoor, a former United Nations Under-Secretary-General, is now an esteemed parliamentarian of the opposition Congress Party. Today’s Congress is a vastly depleted political force, but Tharoor remains an estimable intellectual powerhouse.

His arguments were simple: in Pakistan, minority rights are trampled daily, consigning Hindus, Christians and even the Ahmadi Muslims to second class citizenship. The same fate awaited the Indian minorities. A new constitution would be drafted that would tear apart the secular character of the nation.

That Tharoor was not exaggerating is borne out by the news coming out of India every day.

Mr. Modi’s goal, it appears, is to create a new civilization where India and Hinduism become synonymous. A large section of the Indian populace has enthusiastically embraced the concept, using Jay Sri Ram (JSR, my coinage) its new coded call for Hindu hegemony. (For a parallel, think of Trump’s MAGA – Make America Great Again). Their enthusiasm often turns violent - costing human lives. Recently in Jharkhand, a young Muslim man was lynched for refusing to say ‘Jay Sri Ram’. This was the fourth such incident in Jharkhand alone. In the same State, a Muslim Congress MP was publicly humiliated for refusing to say JSR, with a subsequent video that went viral. Even the Chief Minister of West Bengal has come under attack for her reluctance to join the chorus. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that 49 top intellectuals in India have written to Prime Minister Modi urging him for his personal intervention. They called the situation ‘war-like’.

In the past, with the active participation of BJP supporters, Muslims have been publicly lynched for either selling, eating or even storing meat. Forcible conversion is another phenomenon tolerated – some would say even encouraged - by the regime.

Watching some Indians trying to best one another on their Hindu loyalty, it seems logic or rationality is no longer in vogue.  Opium or not, they all appear to be high on religion.

Modi wants his Indians to feel proud of their Hindu identity. This is clearly aimed at making all other Indians– especially Muslims – unwanted in their own country. Mr. Modi has gone on to present India as a country that had achieved remarkable – some would say unbelievable – scientific progress dating back to ancient times. Some four years ago, he told a roomful of adults that India had already mastered the science of cosmetic surgery a millennium ago. Proof? Why, look at Lord Ganesha’s trunk. Of course, this was impossible without advanced cosmetic surgery. And, yes, India also had very advanced genetic science, without which Karna, a mythological character, could not have been born outside his mother’s womb.

Taking the queue from their chief resident scientist, some certified Indian scientists have decided to follow suite. This year in January, at a science conference held in New Delhi, the Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University said – without a hint of irony or humour – that India already knew about stem cell technology and its medical application dating back thousands of years. This is attested by the Mahabharata – the Hindu epic story and religious text – which presents the story of a mother who had given birth to more than one hundred children. This may have evoked some laughter in the room, but undeterred, the eminent scientist went on to state that when Lord Rama went to war against the Demon King Ravana, he had in his arsenal at least a dozen aircraft that could safely land on landing strips already built in what is now Sri Lanka. The only question that remained unanswered was why only 12! In those days, he continued, Indians even had guided missiles in their arsenal as proven by the fact that the Mahabharata tells of ‘Vishnu Chakra,’ which Vishnu, the preserver, used to crush moving targets. What could be more infallible!

What, however, remains unclear is why such an advanced civilization knew nothing about toilets. Many Indians, with lessons learned from their ancient forebearers, continue to relieve themselves out in the open.

Of course, saner Indians have dismissed such infantile claims, but that is no reason for the Modi government to stay away from formalizing such lessons from history into school text books. A special committee has been formed and the task is going ahead full steam, the former education minister Satyapal Singh had announced.

How could independent India that had spent the first sixty years of its existence promoting secularism dug so deep into Hinduism? Clearly, the secular project once championed by Nehru, Mawlana Azad and the ilk, has failed. This created a vacuum that has now been filled by Modi and his Hindutva. These JSR-followers firmly believe that Indians should first and foremost be Hindu and feel proud about it. This ‘Hindu First’ project did not grow out of thin air. A section of Hindu leaders has been campaigning long for the recognition of the superiority of India and its Hindu civilization that supposedly predated other great civilizations such as Greece, Rome etc. This meticulous political project, continued over several decades, is now yielding fruits and Mr Modi is its finest peach.

Why is claiming that history rooted in myth so important? “Rewriting Indian history and teaching their version of it is crucial to justifying the ideology of Hindu nationalists,” explains Indian historian Romilla Thapar, writing in the New York Times. Extreme nationalists require their own particular version of the past to legitimize their extreme actions of the present.

It is clear from the recent elections in India that secularists are retreating. To avoid total annihilation, even the Congress Party, once of Gandhi and Nehru, was forced to embrace the Hindutva creed with zest. Realizing that the Ganges was now flowing upstream, newly installed leaders of the Congress – namely Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi – quickly jumped into the fray, claiming their share of Hindutva. Rahul donned marigold garlands, Priyanka embarked on her own Ganga Yatra. Neither gesture helped - no one likes a fake Pope.

The craze for Hindutva has reached such a fever pitch that you can now buy cow urine at fancy malls and roadside stores in New Delhi or Bombay. After all, if cows are holy, so is its urine. There are also all kinds of fancy cosmetics made from cow dung. One of the hottest items on sale is lip balms made from cow dung.  (If you think this is all baloney, please read more here from America’s National Public Radio:

The prime goal of this social engineering is turning India into a Hindu State. This is somewhat like Israel, which is a state for Jews. In this new India, Muslims and others will still be able to live, but they must recognize that Ram is their Lord too. The argument goes somewhat like this: since Hindus are the original people of India and they are all native-born, all people living in India are fundamentally Hindus. Muslims and followers of other religions are mere converts which are results of foreign invasion happening many years later. Hence, the demand that Muslims too must take pride in proclaiming JSR. The consequences of this thinking are already beginning to project into future policy. Well known BJP stalwart Subramanian Swamy has demanded that Muslims who want the right to vote in Indian elections must first admit that they are Hindus by birth.

Mr Tharoor’s warning of a “Hindu Pakistan,’ viewed within this context seems quite logical. Pakistan was established as a homeland exclusively for Muslims. People belonging to other religions could still live there, though subject to the primacy of Islam. From its very inception, the founders of secular India had rejected the attempt to turn India – and Pakistan – into theocratic states. Mahatma Gandhi had once called himself a Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist, all at the same time.  Had Gandhi lived today, he would definitely be sitting in a dingy prison cell somewhere in India.

Alarmed by the turn of events, Mr Tharoor had cautioned, if Modi won, he would rewrite the constitution, “which will enshrine principles of Hindu Rashtra, that'll remove equality for minorities, that'll create a Hindu Pakistan and that isn't what Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and the great heroes of the freedom struggle fought for.”

The latest step in this project is seizing control of Kashmir and turning it saffron. If this becomes a reality, Modi’s Hindu India will notch another victory.

19 August 2019

New York

  • Secular India or ‘Hindu Pakistan’!
  • Issue 7
  • Vol 36
  • Hasan Ferdous
  • DhakaCourier

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