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India’s toxic mix of religion and politics

As the world’s largest democracy plunges into the abyss of communal violence, radical groups take the lead. This is so because the ruling BJP has made state support available to it. It’s a free-for-all contest as India sinks into remorse and mourns the death of secularism. Religious rhetoric and exclusion have now become permanent responses from the ruling party, and a sense of otherness is the order of the day. BJP cronies have been unleashed to wreak havoc on minority groups across the country, and Muslims in particular are the beneficiaries.

While the country is deeply divided along community and ethnic lines, the recent outbreak of violence across the country is a stark reminder of acute social polarization. From Gujarat to Delhi, and from Karnataka to Assam, confrontations are in fashion. The state is only a spectator. The modus operandi is to systematically target minority groups; and besides Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are also attacked. Religion is obviously used as a tool for political gain in India, and that’s quite unfortunate in a nation of over a billion people. Just recently, a prominent BJP leader, Haribhushan Thakur Backhaul, called for setting fire to Muslims, just like the famous Hindu religious ritual of burning an effigy of the legendary demon, Ravana. This appeals to mythology and could prove deadly for the entire region.

The political use of religion is even more visible when looking at the timeline of recent clashes. On the occasion of Ram Navami, the birthday of the Hindu god Ram, violence has erupted in many states across India including Gujarat, MP, Goa, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. Multiple casualties and injuries were caused by these riots as well as damage to several homes, places of worship, cars and properties. It is vandalism and the reason behind it is the criminal silence of those at the helm.

Activists from the right-wing Hindu nationalist organization VHP and their mentor RSS were the main organizers in most areas where riots took place. VHP has a history of inciting violence and played a pivotal role in the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992. Similarly, riots broke out in Delhi on another religious festival, Hanuman Jayanti. The Indian government’s passive response to these events has been more alarming.

Unfortunately, the response of local governments has been one way or another to provoke the minorities by appeasing the radicals. Delhi police have been seen throwing rocks at unfortunate minorities. Likewise, the so-called anti-encroachment campaign of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation was ruthless and biased, to say the least. This campaign continues even after a stay order from the Supreme Court.

The four pillars of the Indian state are unfortunately now politicized and isolation reigns. It’s suicidal for a heterogeneous society. State institutions are now a ghost of themselves, with little or no power to enforce the rule of law. The will of the right-wing Hindu nationalist is imposed on a country with the second largest population in the world. With the prospects of people like Yogi Adytanath becoming the next prime minister, a bleaker future awaits the already disenfranchised minorities in India.

The hate-motivated Hindu ideology relies heavily on the use of religion; and with no alternative appealing to the masses on the horizon, it is likely to be embraced by nearly every political faction in one form or another. The Dalits have already given in. The absence of a strong political opposition, the politicization of state institutions, growing socio-economic disparities and the complacency of world powers will all be responsible for the myriad miseries befalling Indian minorities.

What is feared is its regional overflow. India has porous borders with Bangladesh, Nepal and even Myanmar. Pakistan is not immune if you take into account the largest human concentration camp in Kashmir. Radicalism in the name of faith and a sense of otherness will continue to dig deep and explode in catastrophe. Only a healthy political mindset backed by serious community cohesion can pull India out of the mess it finds itself in. It’s time for healthier elements to take a call.