4 OCTOBER 2014
Prime Minister for the next five years. We respect the verdict of the people. As law-abiding citizens, we are honour-bound to contribute all tht we can to the growth of India, and the values of secularism and socialism, the interests of the common man, specially the marginalised.
But just a few days ago, 27th September 2014, the Christian Community with Civil Society and Muslim groups, organised a Public Meeting at Jantar Mantar, near Parliament House, to protest the sharp spike in the hate campaign and violence against Christians and Muslims in several states, a hateful description of religious minorities that was heard even in the Lok Sabha in the speech of BJP member and Hindu religious head Adityanath, MP. This was for the first time a speech full of such venom had been heard in the history of the Lok Sabha.
At the Public meeting, they released the Report on Minorities, which documents much of what has happened in the last three months, and the response of those in Civil Society who cherish the values of the Freedom Struggle, led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. This is called The Idea of India.
I will not narrate ever incident of violence, or every hate speech, every burning of a church and the beating up of a pastor. They are a matter of record, now.
India’s worst violence against Christians was in 2008, mostly against Dalits and Tribals, in the Kandhamal district of Orissa and in several other districts including the state capital of Bhubaneswar from 23rd August 2008 following the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, reportedly by Maoist groups who have been operating in the state for some time. The violence later spread to some other states, specially Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka as also some other states.
More than 56,000 men, women and children were displaced in the violence that continued for several weeks. They first survived in the forests, and then in government refugee camps for almost one year. More than 5,600 houses and over 300 churches and Christian institutions were totally destroyed in Kandhamal alone. We have a list of more than 100 persons who were killed, though the government admits to fewer dead. There were several rapes, including the gang-rape of a Catholic Nun. Several Catholic priests and protestant pastors were injured and one Catholic Priest, Fr Bernard, then treasurer of the diocese, died later of injuries he suffered.
We have been extremely unhappy and dissatisfied with both the relief and the rehabilitation process of the government and the pace and quality of the criminal justice dispensation system, including the police investigations. The Christian Community has filed Public Interest Litigations in the Supreme Court demanding better relief and rehabilitation, and retrial of murder cases.
Structural violence is another cause of deep worry.
Dalit Christians, who have their origin in the former untouchable castes, have been denied the rights given to Hindu and Sikh and Buddhist converts. All governments have been deaf, ad the Supreme court has been listening to the case for ten years.
The second one is the issue of the so called Freedom of Religion laws, or anti-conversion laws, that exist in the States of Arunachal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. They have been internationally condemned as violating the human rights and freedom of faith of these people. It is feared these may become a national law.
Islamic violence in Syria and the near-elimination of Christians in Mosul by the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant, ISIS, has been in focus internationally.
But away from the view of the International media, South Asia’s increasing bigotry and religious intolerance has reached an unacceptable stage. Official impunity, extreme legislations and the complicity of state and non-state actors compound the issue.
Christians as minority religionists are the subject of persecution in each one of the seven South Asian countries — India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka [Maldives, the seventh, has almost no minorities in an entirely Islamic state] – but followers of every other major world religion are persecuted in one or the other of the sub-continent’s seven country.
Muslims and Christians are victims in India, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists in Bangladesh and Pakistan, which are Muslim-majority nations, and Christians and Muslims in the Buddhist countries of Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal.
It complicates issues as the countries differ in their political structures and overlays of ethnic identities. Ironically, India’s anti conversion laws designed against the Christian church, and Pakistan’s anti Blasphemy laws, are sought to be replicated in the other countries to contain evangelisation, and assert the supremacy of the majority religion.
This complicates sharing of good practices – such as the proposed Communal and targetted violence prevention Bill which the National Advisory Council headed by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi evolved in 2011 in the face if sharpening religious divides in India in the wake of the 2002 anti Muslim violence of Gujarat and the 2008 pogrom against Christians in the Kandhamal district of Orissa state. I know this because I played s small part in the making of that Bill which was junked, and which the BJP government will never enact.
Recent dialogues between representatives of all religious groups from the south Asian countries have cautioned against a rise in extremism that could threaten peace in the region where India and Pakistan have huge nuclear arsenals.
While majoritarianism is a common factor, and the recent rise in Wahabi Islam in Pakistan and Bangladesh a major trigger, smaller nations such as Bhutan and Nepal are falling prey to extreme protectionism to keep “alien” faiths, and immigrants, from polluting “traditional culture”.
In politically chaotic Nepal this is done without legal provisions, as the country is no longer officially a Hindu nation. A draft bill banning conversions remains on the anvil. A cause of concern is the tentacles the extreme Hinduism ideology of India’s Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh is spreading in the Himalayan nation. The Catholic Church is perhaps sometimes tolerated because of its educational institutions, but a Damocles sword always hangs over about 25,000 Christian believers in house churches and Pentecostal Para churches. For all practical purposes, it remains almost an underground church.
It is even more underground in Bhutan with its archaic nationalism and culture policy designed to preserve the purity of its Buddhist tradition and ethnicity. Even Buddhist Nepalese feel the sting of being aliens. There are a mere 14,000 Christians in a Bhutanese population of 700,000. But the country’s first-ever democratic government is yet to clear a proposal to grant Christians the right to build churches and form organizations, although it has not been tardy in enacting a law against conversions. This means that officially the state does not acknowledge the presence of Christians in the country, although it has punished a few Christians in recent times.
In Sri Lanka after the end of the civil war with The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the victorious Sinhala-Buddhist government has started putting pressure on the Muslims, and the Christians. About 70 per cent of the population of Sri Lanka is Buddhist Sinhalese, 15 per cent Hindu Tamils, 8 per cent Christian, and 7 per cent Tamil speaking Muslim. Almost 80 per cent of the Christians are Roman Catholics, many of them Sinhala. The regime is particularly suspicious of Protestant groups, 40 per cent of who suffer from the double disability of being Tamils. Churches and individual Christians, who comprise approximately 7 per cent of the population, have been physically assaulted War crimes apart, the current triumphal Buddhist onslaught against Muslims, and the sustained pressure on Christians has caused deep concern in the international human rights community.
The plight of Christians in Pakistan – women raped, houses burnt and men arrested and threatened with execution on charges under the notorious anti blasphemy laws – is well known and has attracted international opprobrium and clemency campaigns.
But it is the wave of violence against Hindus and Christians in Bangladesh that is the immediate cause of deep concern, especially in India, which is the recipient of people fleeing for their lives from the febrile nation. India itself has a nuanced policy on people from coming from Bangladesh; the Hindus are absorbed and often given nationality as refugees, but the Muslims are deemed to be illegal infiltrators and are forever under the shadow of expulsion. The situation of Christians remains on a limbo. This year, Islamic fundamentalists protesting a trial of the war criminals of the 1971 struggle for Independence from Pakistan vent their anger specially on Hindus in an orgy of violence that has left thousand homeless. The Dhaka government is taking some timid steps to control the Islamists, but the minorities remain terrorized.
India, the big brother in the sub continent named after it, is in no moral position to point a finger at its neighbours. Official records show that in 2012, there reportedly were 560 communal riots, big and small, leading 89 dead and 1,846 injured. A majority of the victims were Muslims. There are no official records for the persecution of Christian pastors and believers.
In just three months after May this year, over 600 incidents of targetted violence violence against religious minorities have taken place from May to September 2014 in several parts of the country, specially which have seen, or will soon see, by-elections or elections to the Legislative Assemblies. In the first few weeks of the new government, by its own admission 113 communal incidents took place in various parts of the country during May-June in which 15 people were killed and 318 others were injured, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr. Kiren Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha.
We have recorded 36 recorded incidents against the tiny Christian community in various parts of the country. The Christian community, its pastors, congregations and churches, were targets of mob violence and State impunity in dozens of cases in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, particularly, as the Sangh Parivar declared a campaign of “Ghar Wapsi” and Shuddhikaran or conversions to Hinduism, and a war on all evangelical activity. Target dates, one of them coinciding with Christmas 2014, have been set to “cleanse” various areas of Muslim and Christian presence.
The state apparatus and specially the police often became a party arresting not the aggressors but the victims to satisfy the demands of the mob. There have attempts at religious profiling of Christian academic institutions and their students in the national capital, New Delhi.
The hate campaign, the violence, the open threats have stunned not just the religious minorities, but civil society, jurists and academics. Many of them articulated their concern not just at the violence but at the silence of the Government, State organisations charged with addressing issues of communal harmony and national integration, and the leadership of the BJP and Mr. Modi.
The well known Dalit-OBC political scientist recently wrote :“The highest in the government and the Sangh Parivar are in unison in sending across the message that Islam is un-Indian and Muslims by and large anti-national. We must take these signs seriously because the implications of linking up religion and nationalism are bound to be disastrous.”
The internationally respected Economic and Political Weekly recently noted “If communal polarisation of the electorate to build a Hindutva vote bank was a constant presence in the general election campaign, it has only seen a sharpening in the, supposedly important, “first 100 days” of the BJP-led government in office. An important way in which this has been done is the strategy of the Sangh Parivar to calibrate communal violence and hate campaigns in a way so as to keep it “under the radar”. One of the ways of accomplishing this is to shift the locus of violence and mobilisations from the urban centres to small towns and rural areas; another course is to keep the “dead-count” low and use variants of everyday, “routine” violence to spread tensions and create panic.
Eminent jurist Mr. Fali Nariman, a former Member of the Rajya Sabha and a Member of the National Integration Council traditionally chaired by the Prime Minister of India, expressed concern at the government’s “silence” on the hate speeches witnessed in parts of India and rued that Hinduism was “changing its benign face”. Recurrent instances of religious tension fanned by fanaticism and hate-speech has shown that the Hindu tradition of tolerance is showing signs of strain. And let me say this frankly – my apprehension is that Hinduism is somehow changing its benign face because, and only because it is believed and proudly proclaimed by a few (and not contradicted by those at the top): that it is because of their faith and belief that HINDUS have been now put in the driving seat of governance. Nariman praised Jawaharlal Nehru, saying he “never looked upon the diverse and varied peoples of India from the standpoint of Hinduism”. While dealing with minority rights, Indian courts had once conceptualised their role as that of an Opposition political party — until the BJP in the early 1990s characterized Congress policy as “appeasement of the minorities”. The label stuck; “minority” became an unpopular word, he said. “We have been hearing on television and reading in newspapers almost daily a tirade by one or more individuals or groups against one or another section of citizens (from) a religious minority. The criticism has been that the majority government at the Centre has done nothing to stop this tirade. I agree,” he said delivering the annual lecture organised by the National Commission for Minorities at the Constitution Club. It was titled “Minorities at crossroads: comments on judicial pronouncements”.
Human rights activist and former Administrator, Mr. Harsh Mander notes that the patterns are familiar. A multitude of ever-growing Hindu nationalist organisations – some mainstream, some fringe – deploy and refashion small local disputes to spur rage and suspicion against the Muslim people, each time reviving and fuelling old stereotypes. The manufactured flashpoints are also familiar: disputes over land for shrines and graveyards, an offending loudspeaker in a place of worship, charges of young Muslim men sexually harassing hapless Hindu women in a sinister campaign of ‘love jihad’, sometimes with the added twist of forced conversions, or cow slaughter, and conversion by Christians and Muslims.
According to me as an observer of the Sangh Parivar for close to 45 years, the BJP is unabashed about its links with the Sangh Parivar. Mr. Modi is himself a former RSS leader, as are several of his Cabinet colleagues. Some ranking RSS officials have in recent weeks been inducted as general secretaries of the BJP, leaving absolutely no one in any doubt of the seamless fusion of the political party and the Sangh which styles itself as a social and cultural organisations.
Mr. Seshadri Chari, former editor of RSS mouthpiece Organiser and member of the BJP national executive, who enjoys a deserved reputation as a sober and reflective commentator, is quoted in the Outlook Magazine saying says that Hindus have always been a majority in India but the manifestation of majoritarianism has been reflected in the cultural and social field. “Now it is reflected in the politics of the country. A large number of foot-soldiers in the RSS-BJP do believe that the political Hindu has arrived.”
THE HATE CAMPAIGN: RSS chief Mr. Mohan Bhagwat has asserted that everyone in India is Hindu, including Muslims and Christians, because this is the land of the Hindu people and civilisation. This refrain was picked up by the Deputy Chief Minister of Goa, and by big and small leaders across the country, going viral on social media and the national TV News channels in their English and Hindi debates. The Sangh ideologue MG Vaidya said on 19th May, three days after the election results, that they can now tackle issues such as the building of the Ram temple on the site of the Babri mosque they demolished in 1992 Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Mr. Ashok Singhal, said “if [Muslims] keep opposing Hindus, how long can they survive?”. Another leader said “Modi will restore Hindutva rule, like Prithviraj Chauhan (25th May 2014). The focus is now on Love Jihad.
RECENT ATTACKS ON THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY: Christians constitute 2.3 per cent of the national population, according to the 2011 census. They have been a focal target of the Sangh Parivar for a long time. Recent weeks have again seen a rash of well-planned and organized attacks on Churches, Christian schools and institutes. of religious symbols, burning of Bibles and Crosses to dishonour the religion have been intentionally carried out through the country. In August 2014, 72 Valmikis (a section of the Dalit or former Untouchable community) who had in the past converted to Christianity underwent a so-called “re-conversion” to Hinduism in Aligarh in the state of Uttar Pradesh, under the auspices of the ‘Dharam Jagran Vivad” (Religious Awakening Forum). This was a “Ghar Wapsi” (literally, a “return home”) ceremony through which the Sangh Parivar intervenes to claim non-Hindu members of the Dalit and Adivasi communities as Hindus.
The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of religion, allowing for the free exercise of individual choice over matters of faith. However, “Freedom of Religion” laws enacted in several states presume that individuals are incapable of making their own informed decisions regarding matters of faith, and can only be manipulated or coerced into conversion.
The language of the Gujarat anti-conversion law enacted in 2003 is telling in this respect. Conversion is viewed as an attempt “to make one person to renounce one religion and adopt another religion.” These laws empower district administrations to oversee and regulate religious conversions, in order to prevent what are referred to as conversions by “fraud” or “force.” Effectively, these laws target Christian and Muslim communities and provide opportunities for both local officials and Hindu supremacist organizations to harass and intimidate them.
The anti-conversion laws, passed by a number of states, do not apply to such ‘Ghar Vapsi’ ceremonies. The Sangh Parivar has a singular focus on curbing any conversions out of Hinduism, particularly by Dalits and Adivasis. In April 2013 BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu, now a Cabinet minister, had publicly announced his party’s intention to “bring an anti- conversion law to ban religious conversions in the country if it is voted to power in 2014 General Elections.” Highlighting the primary motivation underlying his party’s anxiety over conversions, he went on to add: “…The country will be safe and sound only when Hindus are in a majority.”
Inspired by the party’s rise to power, several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have launched so-called “re-conversion” drives targeting Christian communities. RSS Hindu activist, Rajeshwar Singh recently declared while converting a Christian family to Hinduism in Hasayan (140 km south of Delhi in the state of Uttar Pradesh), “We will cleanse our Hindu society. We will not let the conspiracy of church or mosque succeed in Bharat (India).” Rumors continue to circulate suggesting Christians were forcibly converted and the church has also been refashioned into a Shiva temple. These conversion efforts are directed primarily at Adivasis and Dalits, informed by a caste politics that drives Hindutva anxieties over conversion.
The basic claim that all Christians, like Muslims, are converts, empowers Hindutva groups to deny the religious legitimacy of Adivasi and Dalit Christians. Moreover the claim that conversion to Hinduism is merely “re-conversion” rests on the fallacious notion that all Adivasis are “Hindu” by default, denying the legitimacy of their own distinct and autonomous religious traditions. In BJP-ruled states like Chhattisgarh, draconian laws specifically target Christians, as in the recent case of the Bilaspur High Court banning “all non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers and speeches in the villages” in Bastar district. The message is clearly that the only religious identity permissible is Hinduism.
The administration has remained silent on the growing atmosphere of repression threatening Christians in India. Just as an example of the wanton violence, on May 18, 2014 in Kundapur, Karnataka, the properties of two churches were damaged by unidentified miscreants. An ornamental pot at the entrance of the Holy Rosary church was broken and a signpost leading to St. Antony Church in Koteshwar also was uprooted. On June 24, 2014 in Bhilai, Durg, suspected Hindu extremists demolished an independent church. According to local sources, the church was completely destroyed. Another incident is that of courage at one of the Free Methodist Churches at Belar, 30 kms east of Jagadalpur, Chhattisgarh which was under attack. A frenzied mob of the Bajrang Dal stormed towards the church premises on June 3, 2014 with the intention of demolishing the building. But the villagers took their ground and frustrated the evil plan.
A church was burnt in Jobal, in Madhya Pradesh. Such attacks are pre planned and pre-meditated to cause maximum damage to property, resources, vehicles, and cause damages that are very hard to rebuild. Social Exclusion: 52 families were denied ration for two months in the Sirisguda Village which was an order enforced by the panchayat head. They approached the food inspector of the district and asked for an enquiry to be conducted. On Monday, June 16, 2014, when the two representatives were sent to appease the village leaders and the complainants, both of them were chased away from the village. Then some assailants filed a false complaint at the Badanji Police Station, Lakandi Taluk – District Bastar about the Christians beating the Hindus in the village. This was simultaneously followed up by a mob of 200 perpetrators who attacked 52 Christian families. Most families were stoned and chased away with sticks, while 8 men and 2 women were seriously injured and hospitalized.
This incident preceded the banning of non-Hindu missionaries in Bastar, Social exclusions are one of the primary tactics to victimize minorities denying basic human rights that are common to every citizen. These exclusion orders, often make Christians vulnerable to excessive violence and denial of social privileges like access to water, electricity and work. On July 28, 2014 a mob of over 300 persons from the Yadav community led by Swami Krishnadavananda threatened the Pastor and 30 families who were believers in the Church at Gallaragati, Holalkara in the Chitradurga District to convert to Hinduism. They along with the local Panchayat issued a one week deadline to decide on the same, which otherwise, would lead to the families being ostracized from the local village. Such exclusions force families into submission or are attacked for making a choice of being Christian.
Assaults on Church Leaders and Believers: Assaults on Church leaders and believers have augmented bizarrely. Profiling of Christians in villages and attacking them has been the most effective way of spreading terror among the minorities. A Christian along with his wife, mother-in-law and mother were beaten by Hindu fanatics at Parapur Village in Bastar, Chhattisgarh on July 26, 2014. The incident occurred when five Hindu fanatics took Shri Raguram (name changed) outside his house and started verbally abusing him. They alleged he had left their Gods and became a Christian to which he replied saying that he had become a Christian because he wanted to and no one had forced him to do so. On hearing this, they started slapping and kicking him. When they began to strangle him with the intention of killing, his mother and mother-in-law interfered and stopped the men from trying to kill him. They slapped and beat the elderly women and his wife. He was bleeding profusely and was later admitted to the Jagdalpur hospital. Raguram’s wife went to the Lohandiguda Police Station to file a complaint, but the police refused to do so.
Most of these incidents are not reported to the police due to fear and intimidation fromthe local thugs that operate for the RSS, VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Such attacks are unconstitutional and against the fundamental right to freedom on religion.
Police Inaction: However, the violence in itself fails to reveal the full picture. The impunity enjoyed by the violent mobs is a bigger cause for concern. Many victims of violence complain about the lack of police action, including hostility towards Christians. Police resist filing criminal complaints and have on several instances allegedly threatened to falsely incriminate the victims in some cases. On September 6, 2014, for instance, twelve pastors were beaten at a Police station in Greater Noida on the pretext of a mob of about 150 Hindu fundamentalists that had gathered outside and demanded such action. The police obliged and thrashed the pastors. No reports were filed. It was baffling to know that the police had thrashed the pastors. Such police atrocities have led to increase of impunity among perpetrators.
THE RISE OF THE RASHTRIYA SWAYAMSEWAK SANGH: The 89 year old Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is witnessing steady growth. Experts have noted that with more shakhas, online recruits, and mainstreaming of their agenda, the Sangh – ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – is on the upswing. In July 2012, the Sangh had 34,761 shakhas; this number swelled to 37,125 shakhas the following year; and this year – by July 2014 – RSS was holding 39,396 daily shakhas.
There has also been a spurt in the number of volunteers registering on the Join RSS link on its website. If there were around 1000 such people every month in 2012, 2500 possible volunteers in 2013, this number has swelled to an average of around 7000 online recruits this year.
There was a time in the last decade when the number of shakhas were over 43,000. Sangh officials have said there had been a spike in numbers when they celebrated Guru Golwalkar’s Birth centenary in 2006-07.
The 2014 campaign during the extended 2014 General Elections saw the Sangh in full flow. Sangh was out there in full force backing the BJP. They visited homes, and this increased their interface with society. It has received greater, and appreciative media visibility.
On Dussehara day this year, Mr. Bhagwat’s speech at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, Maharashtra, was televised live by the Doordarshan Television network, owned by the government of India, and reaching out to every nook and corner of the country. Private television channels in the past few months have done dedicated shows on the RSS head, Mr. Mohan Bhagwat’s birthday, on the life of founder Dr. Keshav Hedgewar, and discussions on Sangh’s work. There has also been more discussion on Hindutva related issues – be it the desirability of a Hindu Rashtra, the place of Muslims in India, whether there is anything called ‘Hindu terror’, or ‘love jehad’.
The Sangh has also reached out directly to students in colleges and universities and in fact there is currently a three day camp of Sangh affiliated students in Delhi underway in Sonepat, attended by Bhagwat himself. They also organise social functions for busy professionals in cities like Bangalore who cannot attend morning shakhas daily.
THE RSS AND THE NORTH-EAST: The North-Eastern States have been on the agenda of the RSS for a very long time, from the 1960s certainly in the hysteria following the war with China. It has been the argument of the Sangh that the presence of Christianity in Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur poses a threat to the unity and integrity of the political nation-state of India. Slogans such as “Nagaland for Christ” are picked up as illustrations of what the Sangh calls the traitorous and anti-national sentiments that Christianity has introduced in the people of the North-Eastern states.
Both the BJP and the RSS have been devising strategies to make an entry into this area, with their older presence in the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, and among the large Hindu Meitei population in the state of Manipur. “Our presence in the north-east is not new. The Sangh has been active in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur for a long time. We have had MLAs in Manipur who came from the Parivar. The BJP’s first State presence was in Meghalaya in the north-east. The presence of the Sangh is limited in Tripura and Mizoram is the only State, where the Sangh has no foothold. Expanding our work in these areas is part of the Sangh’s overall strengthening plan. It is not linked to the BJP’s victory,” a Sangh functionary has said.
Instilling a “nationalist pride” in the Northeast is now on top agenda for the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), according to its chief, Mr. Bhagwat, who says the Education wing of the RSS, which runs two schools in Nagaland, will carry forward the work in Northeast. He recently inaugurated a school and disclosed, “Five years ago, we started a Vidyabharti school in Nagaland. Today, the children are speaking in Hindi and we are glad that we have been able to spread the spirit of nationalism there. Tomorrow, they will be fearless and defend every inch of this country. Our vision is not restricted to just these areas. This is our country and we have to be concerned about what is happening here. The Vidyabharti claims “The tribal society is an integral part of the Hindu civilisation. The tribals are devotees of Hindu Gods and they are equal to any other Hindu. They are very straightforward and simple and many people are taking advantage of their lack of knowledge. Vidyabharti is educating tribals to make sure they are aware of what is happening around them. It is unfortunate that people see Vidyabharti as a violent organization. It is untrue. The aim is to educate through the tenets of Hindu way of life.”
In the recent general elections, RSS prepared the ground for the BJP’s spectacular performance. The BJP clinched half of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam and opened its account in Arunachal winning one constituency. As much as 36.6% of voters chose the party in Assam, transforming it from being an outfit of Hindi speaking people to a mass-based party. RSS cadres have worked silently leading to a huge undercurrent among the voters. Around 1,000 RSS volunteers have been working to turn the tide in favour of the BJP. They took to community contact programmes in Assam and Arunachal. They also mobilised students in colleges and universities. While the work by the ideological parent helped the BJP build an organisational base, Narendra Modi’s outburst against illegal immigration from Bangladesh boosted its popularity among the locals. The BJP also brought community leaders to its fold, making the party acceptable among tea tribes and others. BJP’s national security cell convener P Chandrasekhar Rao said Modi’s statement that after May 16 illegal immigrants will have to leave India has created a sense of security among the Assamese people.
A LOOK INTO THE FUTURE: Not since Mrs. Indira Gandhi lost office and Mr. Morarji Desai assumed power at the head of the Janata Party has there been such a drastic change, even a reversal, of ideologies, policies, and a vision for the future. The factors that led to the defeat of Mrs. Gandhi in 1977 are now well known. She halted democracy in its tracks and gifted the country’s governance to her son Mr. Sanjay Gandhi, who emerged as the undisputed extra-constitutional center of power and authority. For all practical purposes, the Constitution was suspended, and an unofficial dictatorship came into being. I mention the Emergency [1975-1977] for two reasons. The first reason for the total recall is that the Emergency shattered the belief that the foundations of Indian democracy are so strong and rooted in the Freedom Struggle that they cannot be shaken even momentarily. The second is that a “popular” and “strong” leader with a mass following and little opposition — and perhaps assisted by extra-constitutional power centers — can if she or he wants to, do ` Mr. Morarji Desai, who became prime minister after Mrs. Gandhi’s defeat, had to make a clean break from the past. He was unequal to the task, but the Jan Sangh was a part of the government and made full use of the opportunity, penetrating the media and various wings of the government. This was of great help to the Bharatiya Janata Party, the new version of the Jan Sangh, when it came to power in 1998. Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, does not face the issues that confronted Mr. Desai. Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance prime minister, did not alter the democratic fabric. Mr. Modi’s speeches in Parliament and his intervention in the administrative structures give ample evidence that he sees himself as the sole repository of political and governance power, so endowed by the massive mandate he earned for himself in the 2014 general elections.
Many analysts have said that Mr. Modi rides two horses. One is the development and good governance agenda, which he has repeatedly articulated as his mantra in Gujarat and in New Delhi since he became prime minister. The other remains Hindutva, the right-wing, hyper-nationalist argument of supremacy that posits Hindus as the sole inheritors of the Indian civilization and culture.
If the development agenda fails, Mr. Modi will have to ride full gallop on the Hindutva horse, if he wants to win the next elections in 2019. That is the risk It will not be easy for a development agenda to succeed miraculously in the circumstances that the Indian economy finds itself in this globalized world?” is then the big question.
Economic and emotional depression brought on by crop failures due to the lack of rain in the forecast, along with attempts to generate mass employment through highway and bullet train construction that are bound to fail, do not bode well for the development agenda. Moreover, there will be 100 million young men and women looking for jobs, apart from those in the un-cleared backlog.
Cashing in the demographic dividend will not, therefore, be an easy task with the main markets in Europe and North America still not out of the doldrums, and little spare capital from abroad for the much wanted foreign direct investment (FDI) that is such a pet of Union finance minister. And this is not even hinting at the fact that much of this FDI is really Indian black money generated by the Indian corporate world.
The economy’s refusal to resurrect itself in a rapid manner and the failure to create jobs on a massive scale are dangerous portends. They may collectively pose a threat to the self-confidence of the government and frustrate Mr. Modi in his self-appointed role as the man who would deliver India from all its Ills and past failures.
Mr. Modi just cannot afford a failure. For if he does, he will have to adopt a Hindutva agenda full force, appealing to the Hindu masses and mobilizing the RSS and its cadres to polarize the people. That can mean big trouble for Christians and Muslims in India.
I would like to pray that this never happens. But We must be prepared for the worst case scenario even as we work for economic development of the people of India.