AKBARUDDIN Owaisi has a habit of spewing venom against Hindus to win Muslim votes in Hyderabad, like his father did or elder brother does. The media has regarded his recent speech with alarm but it has not looked at his sectarian evolution to explain the context of the young orator’s vitriol.
Owaisi is perhaps the youngest scion of the erstwhile fascist organisation of Indian Muslims known as the razakars that sought to create an independent Islamic state from the nizam’s sprawling territories in the heart of India.
Being the foot soldiers of a fascist pipe dream, they leaned on the Muslim-ruled princely state’s immense resources to harass and subjugate the majority Hindus. (The obverse was the case in Jammu and Kashmir, where a Hindu tyrant had abused and exploited the overwhelming Muslim majority.)
Nehru’s home minister Sardar Patel is credited with the successful annexation of the Hyderabad state the nizam had ruled and sought to keep it independent of Delhi’s sway. The swift army operation defeated and scuttled the razakars but it also paved the way for the less-discussed vendetta killing and raping of Muslims across the nizam’s territories.
Eminent Indian writers including A.G. Noorani and Swaminathan Aiyar have sought to put the focus on the large-scale anti-Muslim violence that occurred under Nehru’s watch in the former princely state of Hyderabad. Historians Perry Anderson and Cantwell Smith have referred to this sordid chapter in India’s secular evolution.
The Pandit Sundarlal report sought by Nehru on the massacres has not been made public. The death toll of Muslim civilians is speculated to be anywhere between 20,000 and 200,000, which could make their mass murder in Gujarat in 2002 and that of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 seem like a minor aberration.
Owaisi’s recent diatribes in riveting Urdu reflected two diverse situations that accompanied the rise and defeat of his forebears, the razakars. There was an unmistakable tone in it of his party’s fascist past and its lingering unabated communalism, but it also stemmed from a politics of victimhood rooted in the raping and killing that followed the defeat of his forebears.
The saga of revenge hasn’t abated. Hindus have planted a makeshift temple in Hyderabad’s historic Charminar monument. The inability of the media to even consider it as a factor in Hyderabad’s warped evolution is appalling and unhelpful.
It’s an important point to bear in mind for, in essential ways, facts airbrushed from history could define the difference between the menace of majority communalism and its minority, ghettoised variant. Communalism accompanied by state power is generally believed to acquire the demeanour of fascism, which the razakars certainly did and flaunted too. They carried the imminent threat of mutating Hyderabad into a full-blown religio-fascist state.
Bereft of state power, however, the erstwhile militants of Majlis-i-Ittehadul Muslimeen have become a fine example of a vanquished minority that continues to be glued to its incipient communalism.
(By comparison, the Sikh communal evolution has been palpably more strident, and in some ways a variant of the Hyderabad-style military operation could be seen in the hunt for Sant Bhindranwale, which culminated in the ill-advised military assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Bhindranwale’s Hyderabadi equal was Qasim Rizvi. They both remain heroes of their respective domains.)
What did Owaisi say that warranted his arrest on charges of spreading communal hatred? As a worried Indian journalist noted, he outrageously declaimed that if Muslims were forced to leave India for any reason, they would take along the Taj Mahal, the Qutub Minar and the Red Fort with them.
The journalist didn’t question Owaisi’s infantile wisdom or ask where the Muslims would go, and why or how anyone would drive out 150 million people. That was left to the applauding mob to imagine and internalise. Exiled Muslims would leave behind a broken temple in Ayodhya, Owaisi chortled in mock imitation of Marlon Brando playing Mark Antony.
This kind of hotheaded abuse and silly slander of the majority community was also a feature among the Jews who were always a minority in Europe.
From Shakespeare to Martin Luther to the Nazis, everyone abused them. They hit back with their own usually private and sometimes public critique of Christendom. Should we blame the response of a minority community to harassment by the majority Christians as a justification or even an explanation for the rise of Hitler?
There are so many instances of what some might label Jewish provocation of the Nazis. Emil Ludwig Cohen wrote in his book The New Holy Alliance: “Even if Hitler at the last moment would want to avoid war which would destroy him he will, in spite of his wishes, be compelled to wage war.”
Bernard Lechache wrote in The Right to Live: “It is our task to organise the moral and cultural blockade of Germany and disperse this nation. It is up to us to start a merciless war.”
Should all this be allowed to justify the Holocaust? It’s criminal to even think of it. Owaisi’s forebears posed a fascist threat, true. But today he is just another Muslim leader like so many of his ilk who are nurtured by the state, as Bhindranwale was used to polarise the Sikhs.
What does Owaisi do for the state? He helps mask the more genuine threat from the Hindu right to India’s liberal constitution. If Indian journalists are interested in checking Muslim fascism, they should look for the not-so-faint signals elsewhere, perhaps in Afghanistan or in Pakistan. In India they should worry about Hindu fascism.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.