The Hindutva State has introduced discriminatory and exclusionary laws and policies on citizenship, food, divorce, segregation and clothing
Ideologies usually have an end-state or a desired place they want to arrive at. Marxists think that the State will vanish and the community will replace it. In South Asia, an attempt was made to make mankind spiritually aligned to modernity through the State. This is what Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, said was the purpose behind the introduction of religion in the Constitution and making God the sovereign instead of Parliament.
This experiment did not succeed because there was no obvious path to arriving at the final destination, which was a Pakistani who had been made spiritually superior but also scientifically modern through a variety of laws. In Europe, the focus of government is on welfare states where the population is given access to quality healthcare, education and pensions and the poor and the unemployed are taken care of. This in itself is the end-state that these nations seek to achieve. Many of them have given up the idea of military greatness and they do not chase after the dominance of their religion. Often, large numbers of their voters are inclined towards diversity and we can see that in the Europe of our time.
Today, the elected leaders of the United Kingdom (a Hindu of Indian origin), Scotland (a Muslim of Pakistani origin), the Republic of Ireland (a Christian of Indian origin) and Portugal (a Christian of Indian origin) show us that. We take pride in this, but if we looked at it from the perspective of the European voters, we would be baffled. It is completely unthinkable to us in the India of 2023 that the majority of us would elect an ethnic Indian minority as our popular leader. But much of the rest of the world is far more modern, in the real sense, and does not vote on confessional lines alone. To repeat, these desi leaders in Europe are in their positions because they are popular with voters despite, and to some extent perhaps even because of, the fact that they are from another community and another race. Perhaps it is this very religious and ethnic difference that is key because for many voters, their diversity is not only important but attractive and aspired to.
Let us turn to the mother of democracy. To the outsider, India’s politics is vibrant but tribal in nature. There is strong group loyalty and a suspicion and often outright hatred of the other communities. This instinct is visceral and primitive and exists in all cultures and nations, but the modern ones are able to mature out of it. In primitive societies, it remains. In some of the more backward ones, this instinct is often quickened.
Tribalism has always defined Indian democracy through caste, or jati, which is the way in which ticket distribution was done and continues to be done at election time. The creation of linguistic states, which was a wise move, meant that linguistic group loyalty became neutralised as a political tool, except when conflict was deliberately created, through imposition.
The rise and dominance of Hindutva has reintroduced to Indian democracy this kind of religious tribalism. Reintroduced because it existed before Partition and was the at the root of division. Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s complaint against Mahatma Gandhi was that he only had one vote for every three of Gandhi’s, and the assumption, which was correct, was that all votes would be cast for religion and not policy.
After Partition, politics in India remained communal and the marginalisation and exclusion of the minorities was as real as it is today, but the language of the State, meaning the Congress governments under Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, was inclusive. Because of this, social divisions were not exacerbated though they still existed.
Hindutva has changed that and Indians have once again been divided along religious lines by the State and its policies, its language and its behaviour. We have to consider what that means for India. Our end-state is different from that of Nepal, which was the only Hindu kingdom of modern times. Nepal was ruled by a Kshatriya King as prescribed by the Manusmriti, but in other ways it was not especially different. Hindu Nepal did not have a focus on the minorities and on persecution as New India has. The end-state of Hindutva is not concerned with either nation or Hindus as such, it is occupied by what can be done to the minorities.
The Hindutva State has introduced discriminatory and exclusionary laws and policies on citizenship, food, divorce, marriage, segregation, prayer and clothing. The existing laws already targeting minorities have been tightened. Indians are doing in India the opposite of what voters in those European nations have done with Indian-origin leaders. This persecution of other Indians has some utility because otherwise it would not be popular and these benefits are likely satisfaction and contentment at putting others through misery.
However, it is hard to understand how this benefits the nation, and particularly how it improves India’s future. It is a question that his supporters must ask of the Prime Minister. It may be enjoyable for them to pass through this phase of going after other Indians. But once this has been achieved to satisfaction, then what?
The answer is known to those who oppose persecution, because it is clear to them that after this will be more of the same. But it would be apposite to hear it from the mouths of those who are driving New India further into the “Amrit Kaal”.
The writer is the chair of Amnesty International India. Twitter: @aakar__patel