I ACCEPT the view that Hindu-Muslim tensions in India are largely a by-product of social and political fault lines within the majority community — the Hindus.
This is no different from the intra-Christian conflict of the early 20th-century Europe, if a majority of the latter’s communists, fascists and social democrats can be described by their religious lineage.
It was their mutual tussle that turned into a nightmare for the continent’s Jewish minority. Only after much laceration and bloodletting did the contradictions lead to the liberation of Jews from Europe’s racist coils. Else racism was an acceptable feature of Europe, be it as Martin Luther’s diatribes against Jews or their caricature by Shakespeare in the form of Shylock.
Since America too practised racial segregation at home until the 1960s, it must have been something other than abhorrence of anti-Semitism that brought it into the anti-Hitler frame.
Across the border from India, in Pakistan, the periodic communal targeting of Hindus and Christians is linked to the jostling, a bloody one at that, amongst the country’s Muslim majority. They are locked in a battle for secular and parochial spaces spinning rapidly into a downward spiral barely short of a freefall. Communist ideologues would call this an aspect of class struggle, but the phenomenon may be more complex.
Shrinking of liberal spaces is equally true of India. Be they the communist parties, the religio-political right-wing groups or the centre-right Congress — they have all shown to be susceptible to the malaise of ideological atavism, and not merely because they are mostly headed willy-nilly by upper-caste Hindus.
In the 1970s, one side of the communist formation was supporting Indira Gandhi’s suspension of civil liberties, the other was shoring up an opposition alliance in which the Hindu right was its comrade.
These errors of misjudged (or perhaps deliberate) alliances were played out in Europe in the 1930s. Benito Mussolini was a firebrand socialist trade unionist to begin with. Indeed, some of his journalist colleagues went on to form communist parties in Germany and Italy though most of them followed him eventually to launch the fascist movement as an unstoppable creed.
There has been considerable to and fro between the left and the right elsewhere.
It is standard fare for personnel from the formerly Fabian but now centre-right Congress to cross over to the Hindu right Bharatiya Janata Party and vice versa. It becomes that much more interesting when the crossover happens between a communist party and a Hindu revivalist group.
Sometimes the change is intellectual and not necessarily physical. How many former communists in India have become advocates of the nuclear bomb and jingoistic zeal that comes with it.
From its raison d’être of a ‘people’s democratic revolution’ the transition of India’s largest leftist group — the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — into a nervous heap of excessive nationalism offers a case in point.
The lexicon of terror used by the Indian state is seen as the way the CPI-M and some of its leftist associates respond to armed and peaceful upsurge in the country. There were occasions, observers noted, when the Marxist chief minister of West Bengal saw in Home Minister Lal Kishan Advani a saviour from Muslim terrorism.
Communists have staged walkouts in parliament over corruption in the past week, but their MPs sat silently, religiously glued to the Vajpayee government’s budget speech, of all the things, on Feb 28, 2002.
This was the precise time when anti-Muslim pogroms were in full cry in Gujarat. Similarly, the party is not known to have defended the working class in recent years with the zeal with which it offered protection to the Tatas.
Last week, senior Maoist leader Kotteswar Rao alias Kishanji was killed in West Bengal under suspicious circumstances.
Gurudas Dasgupta, a respected member of the old Communist Party of India, who doesn’t agree with the Maoists one bit, wrote a letter to Home Minister P. Chidambaram, alleging that the encounter was faked and it required to be probed.
Chidambaram was blamed earlier for another dubious killing of Maoist leader Azad when the latter was working on a peace proposal with the government. The CPI-M shocked its supporters by declaring Kishanji’s death as a step forward.
If the Hindus are ranged against each other as Marxists, pseudo-Marxists, socialists, backward castes, or they assume the form of Congress or the Hindu right, how do the Muslims and other minorities respond? Some support the Congress party, others go behind the rest while still others set up shop as free agents, which they usually are not. Ditto with the Sikhs.
It was amid this state of unending political ennui and room for perpetual surprises that I met two Maharashtrian Hindus at the launch of two potentially fascinating books written by one of them.
His religious lineage should land author, intrepid journalist and possibly a Deshashth Brahmin, Subhash Gatade straight into the arms of either the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the more militant Hindu Mahasabha. But from what I could discern from his talk he is a militant socialist, possibly a communist though with no evidence of belonging to a party.
Godse’s Children is a compilation of Gatade’s research, acclaimed by respected academics as highly credible, into a spate of recent attacks that were blamed on Muslim extremists but found to be the handiwork allegedly of Hindu fanatics. Gatade’s other book, his latest, is a collection of essays titled The Saffron Condition. It has been published by Three Essays Collective, run by Asad Zaidi and his historian wife Nalini Taneja.
The main speaker at the book release was human rights activist Suresh Khairnar, a Maratha as in the erstwhile militant caste of Mahrashtrians. In his view, the deep state in India was not very different from the ISI of Pakistan. It was run by the Intelligence Bureau, the highly secretive organisation, which is said to support upper-caste sway in institutions of governance, through religious and fanatical upsurge, if necessary.
I have to see if the books bear out this claim. But one assertion strikes me as plausible. It is the good Hindus that are keeping the bad ones at bay, at least for now.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.