Many will have seen that video from a Karnataka village where a couple of brave women ask vigilantes barging into their simple home to clear out. The vigilantes were “accusing” the women of singing Christmas songs. I refrain from giving here the link to the video because I don’t wish to provoke a fresh attack on vulnerable women who first committed the crime of singing songs they like inside their home, and then had the temerity to ask aggressive intruders to leave.
That Karnataka image summed up the state of affairs even better than the Haridwar video where saffron-clad individuals gave their call for killing Muslims. The former image showed, frighteningly, that action follows incitement. It also showed, inspiringly, that the Indian woman is a fighter.
It is likely that in 2022 and beyond, “coercion versus choice” will remain the issue for India. As we try to figure out which will win, we must, among other things, ask whether Prime Minister Modi is seen as a friend or a foe by people like those who gathered in Haridwar to call for a bloodbath. It is very hard, perhaps even impossible, to know. On his part, Mr. Modi has said not a word to condemn the Haridwar call. It is noteworthy, however, that in the Haridwar harangues, there was not a single word of praise for the Prime Minister.
My own hunch, and it’s merely that, is that despite the Prime Minister’s shocking refusal to say one word to denounce the menacing words uttered in Haridwar, this ultra-radical fringe sees him as an enemy if not a traitor. If there is any logic to the hunch, it lies in the awareness that every one of history’s coercive movements has seen merciless enmities. This was so in China’s Cultural Revolution, in Cambodia, in Peru’s Shining Path movement, in the violent campaigns mounted in the name of Sri Lanka’s Tamils, in campaigns waged under the banner of Islamic or Arab nationalism, and in lots of drives elsewhere.
There is no reason for this law of hate to fail to operate merely because it’s Hindus who are urged to do the hating and Muslims who are the targets of hate. If there is truth in my hunch, and in what I have called the law of hate, then our Prime Minister has reason to be worried.
Recent attacks on churches in different parts of the country offer proof that it is impossible to confine hate to one channel. Mr. Modi called on Pope Francis in Rome; the BJP has for years tried to win votes from Christians in Kerala, Goa, and the Northeast; Hindu nationalists have sometimes argued in favour of a Hindu-Christian front against Islam. But in practice, it has proved impossible to generate hostility towards Muslim names, prayers, and places of worship, without letting that hostility spread to Christian songs and churches as well.
The remarks I am about to quote, made by Tejaswi Surya, a BJP MP from Karnataka, were “withdrawn” two days after they were uttered, but are worth looking at. On December 26, Mr. Surya said that “Muslims or Christians, who have undergone religious conversion, should be brought back into the fold of Hinduism.” He added that all mutts and temples should have “annual targets” for the completion of such religious re-conversions. “There are people,” he said, “who belonged to Hinduism but were converted to Islam or Christianity. It is our duty to bring these people back into the fold of Hinduism. Also, Hindus in Pakistan who were converted to Islam should be brought back into the fold.”
The swift and “unconditional” withdrawal of these words caused some to conclude that peremptory instructions had been sent to the 31-year-old MP. We are entitled to infer that Mr. Modi backed such an instruction if he did not initiate it, and to suspect a connection between the instruction and the Haridwar call, which had preceded Mr. Surya’s remarks. The larger lesson is that hate is hard to contain or confine.
Mr. Modi may want the world to think that in the India he is leading, people are free, as per our Constitution, to believe in the religion of their choice, and that the government will protect everyone. But the world looks at the evidence and draw its own conclusions. Part of the evidence is Mr. Modi’s keenness to keep reminding India’s Hindu majority during an election season (which means all the time) that Aurangzeb the Muslim was an intolerant ruler 350 years ago.
Two other points may be worth looking at. Not just during the Haridwar incitement, but at many Hindu nationalist events, the emphasis of speakers has been on the threat supposedly represented by India’s Muslim numbers. Targeted by vigilantes, bullied out of livelihoods, pushed into ghettos, chased by the police, their names rubbed out from maps and railway stations, and pegged to the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, India’s Muslims are supposed to be the greatest threat to India’s security, a threat against which all Hindus must unite.
Not since 90 or 100 years ago, when Hitler and his Nazis claimed that Jews were a threat to Germany, has a huge majority been pressured like this to see itself as a beleaguered minority. When future historians write of majority victimhood, India will be example number one.
The second point is that along with the reputation of India, the reputation of something intimately connected with it, namely Hinduism, is also at stake. Think for a second of how that Haridwar platform, daring to call itself a religious chamber, presented Hinduism. Did its speakers offer any philosophical idea? Any ethical or moral principle? Any bridge to the rest of humankind?
If that was Hinduism, if that is India… The sentence is hard to complete. Mercifully, both India and Hinduism are much greater, and better represented by the silent millions who only occasionally speak up. By people, for example, like the women in that Karnataka village.
(Rajmohan Gandhi is currently teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.)
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