Hindu extremism and militancy have always played a crucial role in Indian politics since the days of the British Raj but in recent years, religious bigotry, intolerance and hate have become decisive factors in shaping the direction of the second most populated country in the world.
The rise of Hindu extremism has scraped off the thin veneer of secularism, which successive Indian governments marketed and advertised early on, after the Partition of British India in August 1947.
This signals tough days ahead for all religious minorities living in “Bharat” – as Hindu extremists term their country – especially for Muslims, who remain the main target of discrimination, hate and violence by zealots of the Hindu majority. This also means that the fragile peace in South Asia is now under even greater threat.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the face of the narrow-mindedness, animosity and aggression of Hindu extremists, who want to impose the fascist ideology of Hindutva – first propagated in an organised manner by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in the 1920s.
The hegemonic Hindutva – adopted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the official ideology in 1989 – demands the Hindu way of life, culture and religion be accepted and followed by all the people living in India. Radical and extremist Hindu groups, including the notorious Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliate organisations such as Vishva Hindu Parishad, adhere to this ideology of hate that has swept and shaken Indian politics to its core.
Last month’s Indian state elections reinforced the submerging of secularism as the wave of Hindutva continued to surge. The BJP trounced its rivals in four out of five key states, including staging a landslide victory in the key battleground of Uttar Pradesh. The other three states where it formed governments are Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand. The only setback Hindutva followers received was in Punjab where Congress managed to win.
The rise of Hindu extremism has scraped off the thin veneer of secularism, which successive Indian governments marketed and advertised early on, after the Partition of British India in August 1947
What happened after the BJP’s electoral triumph proved the worst fears of the religious minorities of India correct.
Uttar Pradesh – India’s biggest state with a population of more than 205 million people – defines the designs of the BJP leadership where hate-monger Yogi Adityanath was made the chief minister.
The BJP did not give a single ticket to a Muslim candidate from its 403 candidates in UP where Muslims comprise more than 19 percent of the population. No wonder then, that despite their strength in numbers, Muslim representation in the house fell to just 24 down from 69. They have been politically marginalised and made irrelevant by Hindutva politics, which managed to manipulate the elections with ease – if one is to believe the Indian opposition parties.
For the first time in history, not a single Muslim representative is sitting on the treasury benches in the Parliament since the BJP got a massive mandate in the 2014 general election. The same marginalisation of Muslim representation is now being repeated in key states, including UP.
As the Muslim voice in the elected houses is stifled, the new UP chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, has given centre stage to ‘bovine politics’ in the initial days of his rule, indicating what is in store for Muslims and other minorities living there.
The UP state government launched a crackdown on slaughterhouses and abattoirs, bringing the state’s meat industry to a halt.
And, of course, the only victims of this crackdown are Muslims, who mainly run the meat business in India and who have been deprived of their livelihood and jobs.
The goons of the BJP and other extremist Hindu groups are hounding, victimising and targeting Muslims in the name of protecting cows – seen as sacred by Hindus.
In the past, there have been scores of murders and lynching of Muslims by these extremists on the charges of slaughtering cows or consuming its meat.
Taking the lead from Adityanath, Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh also vowed to “hang those who kill cows.”
The state government of Gujarat – where more than 3,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands rendered homeless in anti-Muslim riots in 2002, when Modi was chief minister – has amended the state’s Animal Preservation Bill to entail a maximum punishment of life imprisonment and a minimum of 10 years for cow slaughter.
Several other states are following in the footsteps of UP and targeting the slaughterhouses, butchers and meat sellers. They include Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
The UP state government launched a crackdown on slaughterhouses and abattoirs, bringing the state’s meat industry to a halt. And, of course, the only victims of this crackdown are Muslims, who mainly run the meat business
Even zoos in many cities – such as Lucknow, Kanpur and Etawah Lion Safari – faced a shortage in meat supply following the BJP government’s crackdown on slaughterhouses in Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP and Modi have risen to power and strengthened their grip over the country on the anti-Muslim ticket, a theme on which they continue to cash in. Targeting, vilifying and stigmatising Muslims are the heart and soul of BJP politics.
Going by the tide, Muslims in India, who already lag behind in all social and economic indicators – from education to health and government jobs to businesses, as compared to followers of any other religion – must brace themselves for further victimisation and punishment.
These tactics may strengthen Modi’s grip on power, but will further polarise and divide India, strengthening and boosting secessionist movements.
India’s future – despite all its claims of being a modern state with a surging economy and support from international allies – appears bleak as people belonging to other religious and ethnic identities will try to assert themselves, win back their right to live freely and seek independence from the yoke of Hindu extremism and fundamentalism.