The United Minorities Challenge before the Modi Government

The United Minorities Challenge before the Modi Government

The United Minorities are waging a no-holds-barred campaign against Narendra Modi or against whomever is or can be pictured as a pro-Hindu power-wielder. One of their lines of attack is the blackening of the ruling party, the BJP, in the eyes of public opinion and of the world. An impression is being created that the Hindu activists are out to oppress the minorities ruthlessly, and are already doing so to some extent.

Thus, though the frequent rapes of Hindu women in Pakistan and Bangladesh are never worth a single line, I learned of the recent rape of a Catholic nun in the news programme of state television in distant Belgium. While a newspaper may contain hundreds of news items, the TV news has only a few, so they select what is truly important. Journalists normally use the “dead man per mile” rule: they treat an item as more newsworthy if it is closer to home or if the victimization is more dramatic. That means a “mere” rape in distant India only makes headlines if some circumstance makes the event extremely important. So, it seems that the anti-Hindu forces in India are strong enough to position their poster girl for “resistance against oppressive majoritarianism” as exceedingly important.

The missionaries and secularists exploited the rape all they could to accuse the Hindus of terrorizing the minorities and demonize the Modi government across the world. Yet, from the beginning, the rape was known to be an extension of a burglary, suspicions of a “hate crime” were doubtful and nothing indicated the involvement of Hindu activism. When the investigation progressed and led to the arrest of some Bangladeshi illegal immigrants “belonging to a particular community”, most commentators fell silent. When pressed, they suddenly insisted that this was a common human crime with no connection to religion.

It was but one example in a long line of false accusations levelled against Hindu nationalism, and this poisonous disinformation in turn is only one battlefield in a multi-pronged war. In the circumstances, it is imperative that the ruling BJP comes clean on where it stands vis-à-vis the minorities.

First of all, it is necessary that it knows its own mind about this. The Hindu Nationalist policy towards the minorities should be crystal-clear, first of all among the Hindu Nationalists themselves. Once they know what to think, they can decide what to say towards Indian opinion at large, and what to do.

The secularist alliance

The iron fist of the attack (the Zarb-e-Mo’min, “strike of the faithful”, as the Pakistani Army once named one of its exercises) is furnished by Christianity and Islam, who mean to expand worldwide and in the process destroy all heathen religions. They have a positive goal, viz. perpetuating and propagating themselves, and their negative goal of digesting or annihilating Hinduism only follows therefrom. This way, they have a very good conscience in doing their work of destruction: it is only meant to clear the way for the true religion.

So, they have inner strength, but they also have outer strength: they are huge and very wealthy, being only the Indian arms of two worldwide movements. It is ridiculous that they are called “minorities” at all, yet they carefully cultivate that status, for in the present-day mentality, any majority is deemed overbearing and oppressive. Their foreign roots not only make them very resourceful, they also give them a head-start in developing a coherent strategy with sustainable long-term goals.

But this iron fist is clothed in a velvet glove: secularism. Knaves claim and fools believe that this is the Indian instance of the worldwide phenomenon of secularism (separation of religion and politics) originating in the West, but it is not. Thus, Islamic militants who in Arabia would abhor secularism (meaning separation of religion and politics, e.g. democratic law-making separate from what Islam prescribes), emphatically call themselves “secularists” in India. The reason is that in India, the word has a very different meaning: anything that is anti-Hindu. Islamic militants are anti-Hindu, so they indeed qualify as “secularists”. But what animates them is not this profile of secularism but their heartfelt commitment to Islam; and similarly with Christian missionaries, who can rightly call themselves secularists under the Indian definition, though their real commitment is to Christianity. So when we say “secularists”, we don’t usually mean them, we mean the Hindu-born secularists, who genuinely intend to define their uppermost commitment when they call themselves secularists.

marxist lies

At one time the Marxists formed the backbone of Indian secularism, and even now that Marxism is waning, a Marxist afterglow continues to condition the secularist conceptual framework. However, at present the forces of commercialization and consumerism are in the ascendant. The easiness of this transmogrification from Marxist to consumerist follows from the real definition of secularism: both Marxism and consumerism are anti-Hindu and can wean Hindus away from their Dharma, and that is what counts.

Finally, the anti-Hindu coalition can avail of the services of several useful idiots, Hindu-born but turned against Hinduism. These include the Ambedkarite section of the Scheduled Castes; a minor section of the Scheduled Tribes that has come to parrot the missionary claim that “tribals are not Hindus”; the Dravidianist movement, at one time genuinely anti-religion but now only anti-Hindu; and some “progressive” and “enlightened” sections of religious Hinduism that prefer to distance themselves from Hinduism, either out of self-interest (to escape the legal discriminations against Hinduism) or out of snobbery.

Caving in to aggressive minorityism

The reaction of the BJP and the Hindutva forces behind it is just that: a reaction. Even what little ideology they once had, viz. a general commitment to Hinduism, has made way for a mere craving of approval from the hegemonic opinion-makers, the secularists. You would think that finally the BJP is securely in power, but this is only formally the case. Ideologically, the BJP still looks up to the secularists as the real power-wielders. It does not analyse the discourse of the secularists from a vantage-point of its own, from an alternative pro-Hindu worldview; it merely reacts to what it perceives as an unassailable and omnipresent secularist opinion.

Thus, when the secularists clamoured against Ghar Wapasi, BJP Ministers hurried to assure everyone that they too were very much against its “divisive” effects. Ghar Wapasi is the best chance Hindus (when thinking farther than the next election, especially about their survival) have to prevent the hostile takeover of their country. For a supposedly “Hindu nationalist” party, that is not a bargaining chip but a fundamental concern. There is also no reason at all to get caught on the back foot over it, certainly not in a country where conversion is legal and has always been defended by the secularists.

When the missionaries started disinforming world opinion that churches were systematically targeted by Hindu militants for vandalism and robberies, the Government assured that it would crack down on these “church attacks”, instead of questioning the whole notion of communally-motivated church attacks. These were only ordinary, non-ideological crimes, far surpassed in number by the vandalism against and robberies in Hindu temples. The BJP always swallows and then reproduces the presuppositions spoon-fed to it by its enemies.

Yet a silver lining can be discerned. The BJP’s palpable concern of “keeping the pot boiling”, of keeping its Hindu vote-bank happy with empty gestures of Hindu feeling, may translate into a real concern for Hindu interests. At present, it is mostly a cynical electoral policy of the BJP secularists, a generation of politicians who have “emancipated” themselves from the pro-Hindu inspiration that spawned their party. They remember how the party was defeated in 2004, when in spite of huge economic successes under Atal Behari Vajpayee, it had completely alienated its Hindu-minded voters by not showing any concern at all for the Hindu agenda. They realize they are totally dependent on Hindu-minded party workers and campaign volunteers for the power positions they enjoy.

So, this time around they intend to keep these Hindus actively involved with some much-publicized gestures, such as televised temple visits in India and abroad, or award ceremonies for Vajpayee, LK Advani, Vamadeva Shastri and Swapan Dasgupta. A masterstroke is their support to State laws against cow-slaughter: many ordinary Hindus not attuned to the precise legal discrimination against Hinduism, but full of feeling for Mother Cow, will certainly appreciate this. That it is not an empty measure is demonstrated by the rise in beef prices in Bangladesh.

Even the nasty anti-minority statements by some loose cannon in the BJP, though deplored out of either tactical calculation or genuine pro-secularist sentiment, are nonetheless chalked up as pleasing a hot-blooded section of the Hindu electorate. A section of Hindu society without too much discernment is already happy with any utterance that sounds pro-Hindu. The only way to rally that section around a more positive pro-Hindu programme is to offer such a programme in the first place.

This is all not very deep nor very meaningful, but it might remind ruling party politicians of their Hindu roots. Maybe they suffer from Hanuman’s curse: when the gods became afraid of him witnessing his strength, they cursed him to forget his strength until someone reminded him. Indeed, they need a reminder of the immense strength resulting from a commitment to Dharma. Instead of whining about the hurdles the secularists may put in their way and using these as an excuse to remain on the safe ground of “development”, they ought to remember the slogan they themselves used to intone: Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah, “Righteousness, when protected, protects”. It is time to stand up for Dharma, and all will be well. If a party served by Hindu workers doesn’t serve Hinduism, it serves no purpose at all.

Dealing with aggressive minorityism

When we read the laws privileging the minorities, one thing that strikes us is the complete Hindu passivity in using these laws to their advantage. To be sure, those laws are unsecular as well as indefensible, but while they exist, Hindus could make the best of it. Thus, in several states and in many districts, Hindus as such are a minority. Moreover, the law also recognizes linguistic minorities, so Gujaratis in Tamil Nadu (etc.) could also demand minority privileges. As in other aspects of this problem, Hindus take it lying down.

There is also the dishonourable option of leaving the Hindu fold to fend for itself, and declaring oneself a non-Hindu minority. This is the usual Hindu disease of safeguarding one’s own little community at the expense of the whole. Rather than going around and telling these “ex”-Hindus just how contemptible their behaviour is, it is better and more effective to remove the temptation by restoring equality for the Hindus.

Even before amending the offending Articles, Hindu thinkers could question the very concept of “minority”. India consists only of minorities. Hinduism is a commonwealth of many communities, each a minority. One has to be very gullible (or so absorbed by “development”, as the present BJP team claims to be) to swallow this notion of “minority” with all the privileges that go with it.

Once they have fully understood the implicit definition and ramifications of “minority”, serious Hindu (and just secular) thinkers behind and ministers inside the government should proceed to scrap it from the laws and the Constitution. Or at least, unless those whiz kids discover anything unexpected, that would seem to be the logical conclusion. Down with the whole concept of minorities, starting with the Minorities Commission, an intrinsically anti-majority lobby-group with a legal status.

At the same time, though, one should be careful here: pampered and privileged communities might see the instauration of equality as a great injustice. For the time being, they are far better than the Hindus at selling their own view to the Indian public and to the world. So, they will shout that the minorities are being oppressed, that an overbearing Hindu majority is taking “rights” away from them, and all the other well-known whining and wailing. It is important to present the issue in terms of secularism and democracy, which constitute sufficient ground for equality, not in selfish terms of Hindu interests. Even then the other side can be expected to misrepresent the issue, so Hindus will need to be innocent as children and wise as snakes.

Satya about minority teachings

Towards the minorities, a policy is needed that could properly be called Gandhian. It does not mean being naïve and inconsistent, as students of the Partition might think. No, it means seriously applying the principles that Mahatma Gandhi talked about and remains associated with, though he himself failed to apply them. These are: satya/truth and ahimsa/non-violence.

Satya requires facing the truth concerning Christianity and Islam. This may require a mental leap for Hindus, who are not used to asking about the truth of a religion. When a Christian community was given asylum in Kerala, their Hindu hosts did not ask for the contents of their doctrine, let alone its degree of truth. Few people know the truth, and not many are even interested in it. Hindus were already satisfied if these newcomers lived in peace and respected certain basic norms such as not killing cows or Brahmins. It is not natural for Hindus to scrutinize religious doctrines.

In general, this is as it should be. However, this wilful ignorance should not arrogate to itself the pretence to somehow know these religions nonetheless. Gandhi, who was not a student of religious doctrines, claimed that all religions automatically deserve equal respect. While leaving undecided for now what he himself meant by it, the secularist sermonizers who venture to interpret his teachings for us, claim that it means the “equal truth of all religions”, and that “all religions lead to the same goal”. This, however, is blatantly untrue. One may refrain from judging the truth of a religion, but one should not speak untruth about religion, much less think it.

Anyone who is grown up and has the power of discrimination will have experienced that truth claims may be true or may be false, and that “1 + 1 = 2” is not equally true with “1 + 1 = 4”, nor do the two truth claims deserve equal respect. Someone who makes a false claim may deserve equal respect with someone who affirms a true statement (both equally deserve better than to be stoned or crucified), but it doesn’t follow that their statements deserve equal respect. Case in point: the core doctrines of Christianity are not true and deserve to be treated as mistakes. Extremely globalized mistakes by now, but still mistakes.

Oh, maybe some wily secularist or sentimental Hindu will now object that to say so or even to think critically of a belief held so dear by millions is a hate crime. Such a thing could only be opined by knaves and swallowed by fools. I have never heard a Hindu whine and wail because he himself was being considered as an errant soul, living a mistake, condemned to eternal hellfire, utterly doomed – yet that is what Christianity and Islam say and what billions of believers hold against him. Moreover, it is also what Christians think of Muslims and Muslims of Christians. It is no big deal if Hindus remain aloof from the superstitions at the core of Christian or Islamic doctrine.

Another objection, likely to be raised by politicians, is that it would be undiplomatic to say less than flattering things about Christianity or Islam. Many people never face the question of truth; when it distantly threatens to arise, they immediately disperse it or distract from it with the question in what company it might put them. That, for them, is far more important than an ivory-tower concern like the truth. Alright, thinking something is one thing, saying it is another. Holding an informed opinion is separate from voicing that opinion and facing the social consequences. I am well aware that politicians have to keep in mind power equations among the people and therefore have to adapt their utterances to what is socially feasible. Indeed, it is the genius of Hindu Dharma that it recognizes the differentiated duties of different groups. Intellectuals who settle for less than the truth are not living up to their duty, but politicians might have other interests to take into account.

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In that case, let politicians say the desirable thing rather than the unpalatable truth, but let them at least realize the truth for and among themselves. There are two types of liars: the cynical or calculating ones who remain fully aware that they are shamelessly telling lies; and the more ordinary ones, who feel a pang of conscience when they hear themselves lying and who wish it would be otherwise – a discrepancy they resolve by bringing their false utterances and their intimate beliefs closer together by increasingly believing their own lies.

Among Hindutva stalwarts and BJP bigwigs, I have often seen this second tendency: interiorizing the beliefs that they think they have to voice in order to win that eagerly-desired yet ever-elusive pat on the back by the secularists.

Thus, they join the choir of secularist liars who confirm the Indian Christians in their belief that the Apostle Thomas had brought Christianity to India in 52 AD (a belief rejected by serious Christian historians and even by former Pope Benedict XVI), vainly thinking that this will win them the Christian electorate, but then they also start believing this sob-story and repeating it among themselves. Christians, by contrast, like Muslims and secularists, have never had any reservations about disparaging the belief in Rama’s birthplace and its temple, though these too were “dear to the hearts of millions”.

And consider again: why should Hindu politicians not say the unpalatable truth about things dear to the hearts of minority people? They are living in a fool’s paradise if they expect to get those minority votes (which some of them really do). But they have a more serious calculation: Hindus themselves, swayed by Gandhian upbringing or by secularist propaganda, are put off by a candidate whom the media label as “communal”. That attitude takes a long-term and cumulative remedy: making the Hindu masses used again to frankness and to independent judgment free from media bias. These are not half as brutal as the hostile thoughts which Christians and Muslims think, and also voice at least among themselves, about the Heathens.

But is there a strategic centre that oversees where Hindu interests lie and how they are best served? A centre that plans deeper and more distant evolutions instead of just winning the next election? The RSS flatters itself to be such a centre, but judging by the results – with a party that used to be Hindu-minded when in the opposition long ago but abhors being reminded of its “old-fashioned” Hindu roots when in government today, it is not very successful.

Ahimsa towards the minorities

While Christianity and Islam may be untrue in their basic beliefs, they themselves may believe these beliefs to be the truth and judge other religions as untrue. From this belief, they deduce a self-righteous privilege to persecute rivalling religions, though fortunately they oftentimes are less zealous about implementing this principle.

In modern India, they have largely been domesticated and their pursuit of their self-interests is channelled through institutional channels, so that it takes the form of cornering and then defending privileges in the Constitution, in legislation and day-to-day politics.


Mahatma Gandhi in his younger days

There are certainly elements in their conduct that come in for Hindu criticism, but that is not our concern in the present context. Here, we deal with the Hindu response to their challenge, particularly in situations where Hindus feel provoked to take the law into their own hands. Confrontation is sometimes inevitable, but a first solid precondition is that it should not be entered into lightly, viz. at one’s own initiative. If the other side opens hostilities, as frequently happens, the conflict can frequently be resolved through diplomatic means. Only when everything else has been tried, confrontation should be accepted as the only way forward. That is what Krishna did before accepting the Mahabharata war. That is the Hindu way.

While not advocating “turning the other cheek” and similar Gandhian extremism in non-violence (as when the Mahatma counselled Hindu refugees from Pakistan to go back and get killed), we should show reluctance in entering into hostilities. The beliefs of the minorities may not be ours, may be distasteful to us, but a certain magnanimity would be fitting. Hindus should indeed ensure that the minorities are safe in India, even if the distasteful secularists say just that. It doesn’t require secular moralizing, it is the normal way in Hinduism.

However, Hindus should not do that as a special favour to the minorities. This tolerance, this pluralism, should benefit a possible majority (which in India does not exist) as much as the minorities. Safety should be ensured for all communities. The minorities, if perforce we have to use that word, are just as much responsible for it.

So, of course a Hindu government means no harm to the minorities, and should not. As an old VHP slogan said: “Hindu India, secular India”. It is only secularist propaganda that claims an equivalence between Hindu activism and trouble for the minorities: the more Hinduism, the more oppression for the minorities. This is a false projection of the Pakistani situation: the more of the dominant religion, the more the Hindu minority suffers.

And that is why the word “minority” is so misleading: it might apply for the Protestants in Catholic France or the Catholics in Anglican England, who were second-class citizens, or to the Blacks in the US, who have a history of slavery, and for all those communities whose status of “minority” connotes misery and humiliation. Such is not the treatment the Hindus have ever given to the non-Hindu “minorities”. Ask the Parsis, the Jews, the Syrian Christians, the Armenians, the Tibetan Buddhists, even the Moplah Muslims: they all owe gratitude to Hindu society for its hospitality.

The Rajinder Sachar Committee (under PM Manmohan Singh) ruled that Muslims are entitled to huge privileges given their “minority” status, as if the Hindus have to compensate them for anything. These privileges would then solve the “exclusion” of the Muslim, as if this (to the extent that it exists) were the doing of the Hindus rather than of their own exclusionary theology. I am not in favour of historical entitlement, encashing compensations for what your grandfather suffered (didn’t the secularists in the Ayodhya controversy insist that Muslims should not pay for the guilt of their long-gone forefathers?); but if at all any compensation is to be paid, it is not the Hindu community that has a debt to service.

The only reason why the Muslim minority could feel done injustice to, is precisely that it is a “minority”: it wanted Pakistan because it wanted a state in which it could be a majority, and it still doesn’t like being a minority in India. The solution for being a “Muslim” in India is to become an “Indian” in India, not part of the 14% but part of the 100%. That would be real secularism, and it would take the (largely imaginary) threat of “violence against the minorities” completely away. True and profound non-violence would be: dropping the notion of “minorities” altogether, treating a Muslim simply as an Indian, giving him exactly the same rights and duties as Hindus.

From the secularists, the omnipresent “minorities” propaganda is to be expected, they will use any and every discourse that can put Hindus on the defensive. Not so expected is that many in and around the BJP have swallowed the notion of “minorities” hook, line and sinker, including even their entitlement to privileges. That is why they treat Hindu demands as “quaint” and denounce fellow party members who remember the Hindu roots of the party as “wackos”. That is why they argue that the abolition of the anti-Hindu discrimination is nothing but a hurdle in the way of “development”.

In reality, the abolition of discriminations is of one piece with the effort to combat corruption and red tape. It amounts to freeing up the public sphere and cleaning out artificial complications. It makes life a lot easier and lets the economy and the other dimensions of society flourish. A level playing field removes a constant source of friction. This way, simple equality contributes to social peace.

Time for action

The challenges before a Hindu government in the late-Nehruvian India are serious. Straightening out the Constitution by amending the anti-Hindu articles takes skill. First of all, it takes the will, which is not really in evidence. And once the proper motivation is found, the work only begins.

The time for waiting is over. The steps taken towards development, facilitation of investment and enterprise, and in the struggle against corruption, are already impressive. This proves that the Hindu activists can do it, even when they graduate to Cabinet posts. Slacking is of course possible, as the BJP ministers are proving regarding the Hindu agenda, but it is sure to exact a heavy price. As the oracle might have said: staying at home brings regret, crossing the great river brings good fortune. It is time to come clean on the challenge of the “minorities”.

Regarding such issues of principle, the Modi Government should get on Modi Time.

Koenraad Elst

Dr. Koenraad Elst earned his Ph.D., from the Catholic University of Leuven based on his research on the ideological development of Hindu revivalism. Author of more than a dozen books on Indian society and politics, he has worked in political journalism and as a foreign policy assistant in the Belgian Senate. He has also published about multiculturalism, ancient Chinese history and philosophy, comparative religion, and language policy issues. In the ongoing Aryan homeland debate he has played a key role.