India is an artificial State. This may surprise many in the Indian-doting west brought up to regard India as being the ‘largest democracy’ in the world, but this is gradually becoming apparent. Another assiduously peddled myth, the falsehood of which its teeming masses know all too well from bitter first-hand experience, is that of Indian secularism.
Myths, however, have a short lifespan. They are exploded by the harsh realities of life. Since 1947, life has been an endless grind for India’s vast majority, compounded by the ubiquitous and oppressive caste system from which ‘democratic,’ ‘secular’ India has not been able to break loose. In the grip of a small coterie of Brahmins, the vast majority in India has been condemned to endless misery, poverty and persecution.
Two reasons stand out to explain why this artificial entity has managed to survive for 50 years: the Nehru family - dynasty would be a more accurate description - and the democratic faade by which the people are made to feel that they are part of the system. The Nehru dynasty is dead and gone, despite attempts by the Congress Party to resurrect its ghost through Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born Catholic who has presumably been given honorary Brahmanship.
Human-worship is only a step away from idol-worship. In a society where almost everything is worshipped - from stones to monkeys, cows and snakes - many Indians’ virtual deification of the Gandhi dynasty could be considered a refinement. Besides, the dynasty could bring some tangible material benefits to its devotees.
Since Rajiv Gandhi’s violent death in May 1991, however, India’s irredentist tendencies have resurfaced. These have been a feature of Indian history. So long as the centre was strong, the disparate parts held together; when the centre weakened, the pieces fell apart. In fact, India’s present geographical boundaries do not predate the partition of 1947, and were cobbled together by the British to deny Muslims their fair share of territory. What Indian nationalists regard as their ‘indivisible’ country has never actually been united.
But it brought together a bewildering array of groups and peoples who shared neither language nor culture and religion. Their only common denominator was that they had all been part of the British colonial empire. This is hardly reason to create a modern nation-State, which is what India claims to be. That India goes through periodic elections is viewed in the west as a great exercise in democracy. This veneer is now wearing thin, as the reaction to yet another election in September/October - the third in as many years - shows. The Indian masses themselves are weary of this repeated exercise in hypocrisy, according to Pamela Constable of the Washington Post reporting from New Delhi on May 6, 1999. It is also enormously expensive; each election costs US$250 million, a waste of money given that 350 million people live below the poverty level in India whose lives will be unaffected by it.
“We’re going to get another khichri parliament again. It will be just like last time,” Ms Constable quoted Sushil Nathore, 38, a stationery store owner in Delhi. “Khichri,” Constable dutifully explains “means hodgepodge,” and “is often used to describe the scrambled coalition politics that have prevented any government from serving a full five-year term since 1991.”
The government of prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was brought down on April 17 by one of the components of this khichri coalition - the former actress Jayaram Jayalalitha, of Tamil Nadu, who withdrew her party’s support after backing Vajpayee for 13 months. The government lost a vote of confidence in parliament by a single vote, 270 to 269. Fresh elections were called on April 26, when the leading opposition force, the Congress party led by Sonia Gandhi, proved unable to muster enough support to form a new government in the existing parliament.
Despite presenting a moderate face, Vajpayee leads the fascist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The rise of the BJP from obscurity in 1984 to centre stage in Indian politics has alarmed not only Muslims but also the lower-caste Hindus. The Muslims had a taste of Hindu fascism in the destruction of the historic sixteenth century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. The Hindu mob was led by such BJP stalwarts as L K Advani, home minister in the just-ousted government.
The destruction of the mosque was bad enough; Muslims across the country were also subjected to vicious attacks by Hindu mobs for several days, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths in January 1993. Since then, Muslims have been attacked on each anniversary of the Babri Mosque destruction, not only by the Hindu mobs but also by Indian paramilitary forces and the police.
The lower-caste Hindus fare no better. In fact some, like Dalits, have openly repudiated Hinduism and have urged their followers to become Muslims, Buddhists or adopt any other religion in order to break the shackles of Hinduism. Life, however, for illiterate villagers is not so simple where any such attempts lead to social boycott or even violent death.
It is the fragmentation of Indian society and the strength of regional parties that gives clues to India’s future. Historically, India has been subjected to foreign invasions, occupation and rule. The era of invasions is over. It is the irredentist tendencies that are beginning to play an increasingly important role in India’s inexorable drift towards disintegration. The threat that India poses to its neighbours need not be faced with missiles and bombs. There are numerous bombs ticking inside India and many people trying to break out of its stifling embrace. These people need to be helped, for their sake as well as for the sake of India and the region as a whole.
Muslimedia: May 16-31, 1999