Hindutva’s Politics of Denial

Unless Hindu fundamentalism is addressed, India will continue on its path toward ethno-democracy

After two RSS cadres were arrested following the Malegaon case, Hindu fundamentalism is firmly back on the agenda of public debate. Saurabh Das/AP Photo
01 September, 2010

ALMOST TWO YEARS after Hemant Karkare closed the Malegaon case, the CBI has arrested two RSS cadres, suggesting that members of the Sangh Parivar were involved in terrorist activities. There is now enough evidence to implicate Hindu nationalists in violent actions resulting in the death of innocent Indian citizens.

The reactions to these developments in the public sphere have been extremely interesting. Unsurprisingly, the BJP has come out in defence of the accused. What is surprising, is that a political party which is supposed to follow the rules of (the world’s largest) democracy is allowed to take the side of people the police suspect of being criminals.

My curiosity has been piqued further by reactions to Outlook’s cover story about ‘Hindu terrorism’ a few weeks ago. Already, hundreds of comments have been posted, indicating the mindset of certain sections of the Indian middle class. A large majority of these posts reflect a deliberate politics of denial: for their authors, none of the facts emerging from police investigations are convincing enough because Hindus, in their minds, cannot be terrorists. One commentor assumes bluntly that “hatred doesn’t form part of the Hindu way of life.” When Nathuram Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi, was he motivated by exclusively positive feelings? There was probably some hatred in this follower of VD Savarkar, whose portrait now hangs on the wall of the Lok Sabha.

The reaction of denial is understandable, just listen to an average police statement after a bomb blast. For years, investigators have pointed their fingers at Islamist groups, even when they had little evidence of culpability. Even bombs targeting Muslim sites like the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad and the Ajmer Dargah have been attributed to Pakistan-/Bangladesh-based organisations or the Indian Mujahideen. The media have echoed these allegations, paying little attention to the contradictions between police investigations.

The other pervasive reaction to the investigations into Hindu nationalists accused of terrorism is to, if not ignore, to minimise them: Islamists have been accused of many more crimes—there’s no comparison between the Muslim threat and those of Hindu nationalists when it comes to media coverage.

One internet commentator from Seattle highlights that while 500,000 Muslims were killed during Partition, “7.5 million Hindus and Sikhs on the Pakistani side were killed by Muslims,” and subsequently argues: “The first ‘Gujarat pogrom’ was carried out by an Islamic cabal assisted by a 1500 people-strong Muslim mob, when they burned alive 59 Hindu pilgrims on the Sabarmati express on 2/27/2002.”

Another contributor says, “It’s not ‘Hindu terror,’ it’s ‘Hindu Resurgence’—because a ‘Soldier’ is never tried for ‘Culpable Homicide’ for killing the ‘Enemy’”. A more elaborate response combines the three approaches of denial, downplaying and legitimisation: “When the government shows no sign of curbing Muslim communalism and its terrorism face, Hindus are forced to take retaliatory position much against their ethos. But this is minuscule in comparison to islamic terror… Hindus have reached a stage where they have to defend themselves with no help coming from the ruling secular dispensations.”

I’m prepared to admit that acts of Hindu nationalist terrorism have killed less people than those of Islamists—even though the list of Hindu nationalists attacks may be longer than the couple of cases mentioned above: Mecca Masjid and the Ajmer Dargah. But what is at stake here is the resilience of the rule of law.

It’s possible that the Indian state may be downplaying violent activities by Hindu nationalists. Already, many such perpetrators of violence in recent anti-Muslim riots, including those in Gujarat, have gotten away with it. If terrorist actions targeting the Muslim minority are not punished, India may give the impression that some citizens are above the law and can kill without fear of punishment, provided they target minorities. Such an evolution would result in an unofficial ethno-democracy (in contrast with a country like Israel which is an official one).

This politics of denial—or worse, the legitimisation of Hindu nationalist violence is bound to be counterproductive. Inequality before the law will generate additional frustrations among Muslim youth, preparing the ground for the recruitment of new militants by Islamist organisations. Justice, on the contrary, can defuse resentment and the desire to take revenge.

Certainly the government of India is fully aware of what is at stake. But how far can it go against the anti-Muslim feelings of large sections of voters? The Congress resigned itself to nominate a paltry number of Muslim candidates in the last general election, assuming they would lose. As a result, the share of Muslim MPs is as low as it was when the BJP was number one in the Lok Sabha—about five percent, whereas Muslims represent more than 13 percent of the population.

To show statesmanship and political courage, the ruling party may not have much to do except let the CBI do its job. Hopefully, the investigation will produce informative FIRs, like the one drafted by Hemant Karkare. If, eventually, trials take place, the judiciary is bound to be up to the task, owing to both its own skills, and because charges and evidence will be made public—at last! The sooner the better for Indian democracy. Besides, what is the alternative? Political interference resulting in an endless procedure like in the case of so many commissions of inquiry—the list is long: Baghalpur, Ayodhya, Mumbai, Gujarat, etc—with no conclusions, just leaks and nominal condemnations? This is the road towards negation of the rule of law in an ethno-religious framework.