India burning

Published February 29, 2020
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

“Illuminated by the bright, shining red of blood is an India with a blind right eye: gazing terrified at the carnage all around — but unable to see that its own hands are wielding the cleaver.”

THUS writes Praveen Swami, a national security analyst for Indian media news channel CNN-IBN. For us in Pakistan, there is much cause for concern.

This week witnessed Hindutva mobs killing and torturing Muslims, burning homes, mosques and ransacking entire Muslim neighbourhoods while the Delhi police stood by or aided and abetted them. With blood in their eyes — and on their hands — Hindutva marauders owned the streets of the Indian capital as the body count piled up by the hour. Loathing lurked in open sight.

Some people say Prime Minister Narendra Modi has weaponised India’s majority by stoking the latent fires of communalism for political gains; others say he has merely given voice to brute majoritarianism that has always been an organic part of India; while still others argue that the pogrom in Delhi represents a freak streak of Hindu anger boiling over into violence. The reality may be a combination of all three, but one thing most India-watchers agree on:

India is sick. Very sick.

For sickness to be cured, it first needs to be acknowledged. Communalism manifesting itself in Muslim (and other minorities) bloodletting is almost an Indian tradition. Except for a few years since Partition, communal riots have broken out on a regular basis across diverse geographical parts of India. Invariably, Muslims have been the victims. All through these decades, India has pretended that its officially sanctioned secularism has spawned an ‘Indian-ness’ that has enveloped in itself Hindu and Muslim identities. This delusion has ingrained in most Indians an air of misplaced arrogance dripping with condescension for Pakistan and its post-independence struggles.

Modi’s majoritarian project is rolling across the country with a ferociousness that gains intensity with every anti-Muslim pogrom.

In the early 1990s Manmohan Singh, as India’s finance minister, unfurled sweeping economic liberalisation reforms that unshackled India from the constraints of a regimented public-sector driven system. As the years rolled by, India’s economic strength kept on growing under successive governments. This economic muscle spawned confidence, which spawned insolence, which spawned hubris. The slogan of ‘India Shining’ showcased this newfound imperiousness as more and more Indians began to digest the narrative that they were the next big global thing.

And yet something bubbled under this thin glitzy surface of India’s newfound self-image. The toxic currents of communal hate, other-isation and socio-religious divisiveness raged with an intensity that could, perhaps, be felt more than seen. These currents gurgled across into the new millennium unbeknownst to a world besotted by the exotic charms of a billion-strong nation flinging open its markets for all those with strong capitalist urges. India, it seemed, could do no wrong. Pakistan could do no right.

Then Hindutva bared its fangs.

Today, the picture that Modi’s India paints is a frightening one. It is a society where Hindutva maniacs will lynch Muslims, tear them from limb to limb and the government will do nothing; where Hindutva maniacs will threaten genocide and ‘ethnic cleansing’ against Muslims and the government will do nothing; where Hindutva maniacs will savage Muslims on the streets, torch entire neighbourhoods and the government will do nothing. India will get worse. Modi’s majoritarian project is rolling across the country with a ferociousness that gains intensity with every anti-Muslim pogrom. Through a combination of state power and street power, Hindutva is on the march and Muslims face an uncertain and bloody fate.

An unstable, unhinged and unbalanced India is a danger for the region and for the world. Like most uber-nationalist and fanatical regimes, Modi’s India excretes aggression and militarism. Bloodlust fuels its fervour. The sickness grows stronger by the day.

A diagnosis requires some answers.

What do you call a country that officially sanctions the persecution and killing of its minorities? What do you call a country that dehumanises an entire Muslim population? What do you call a country that converts an area into an open prison and sanctions torture on men, women and children? What do you call a country that converts its media into a groveling lapdog and a tool of state propaganda against minorities? What do you call a country that aims to disenfranchise an entire minority and threatens to lock them in camps? What do you call a country that forces the judges to do its bidding and punishes them for refusal? What do you call a country in which the judges agree to fall in line with the executive? What do you call a country whose normal rhetoric is laced with threats of war?

Today you call it India.

It is a remarkable reversal. As India slips into the abyss of fascistic mayhem, Pakistan must rise as a country determined to become more progressive, tolerant and democratic. As India satisfies its bloodlust against minorities through greater repression and persecution, Pakistan must hug its minorities tighter and provide them with all the rights, protections and privileges that a state can offer. As India gnarls and snarls and waves its weaponised fist, Pakistan must be willing to unclench its fist into a handshake. And as India’s democratic structure begins to crack under the weight of its Hindutva ideology — with a controlled media, pliant judiciary and collapsing rule of law — Pakistan must strengthen the credibility of its media, reinforce the independence of its judiciary and make a concerted effort to enhance and improve its rule of law.

That time is upon us. While India is busy chopping off its own limbs, we may want to grow our own wings.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

Twitter: @fahdhusain

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2020



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