Hindu politics of hate, manipulation of history now the cross of India to bear

The crisis comes as India grapples with fallout from war in Ukraine and an aggressive China on the borders; it’s a crisis that India could do without but is now forced to manage

Most Muslim nations have furiously protested the comments about the Prophet made by BJP spokespersons. This photo from Twitter shows a protest in Bangladesh against the comments.

The saffron policy of hatred and manipulation of history is costing India dearly. Can we afford what Sanjaya Baru, author and columnist, recently described as the “dismantling of India”? The answer is clearly no’.

The tirade against the Prophet Muhammad by BJP spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal turned into a huge diplomatic crisis, forcing the Modi government to push the BJP to suspend the two from the party. Prosecutions against them could begin soon, as National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval has promised the visiting Iranian Foreign Minister “exemplary measures” against the culprits.

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But this crisis comes at a time when India is grappling with the fallout from Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and aggressive slicing of Chinese salami in the Himalayas. It was a crisis that India could do without, but which it is now forced to manage.

The BJP’s dumping of these two as “fringe items” is not being bought by anyone – be it Muslim countries or anyone in India. National spokespersons whose Twitter accounts are regularly followed even by the Prime Minister are anything but “fringe elements”. They form the core of the Hindutva Brigade.

Revolting the Muslim Nations

Most Muslim nations, from Malaysia and Indonesia in the east to Arab nations and Iran in the west, have protested furiously and are protesting officially to Indian envoys or issuing strong statements, or the of them.

Only Bangladesh has not formally protested, but even its education minister Dipu Moni called on India to protect its minorities some time ago during a speech in Bangalore. From Amit Shah’s “termite” taunt of Bangladeshis to the current fury at the Prophet, Sheikh Hasina has a lot to complain about because such senseless verbal toxin emanating from India only invigorates the Islamist opposition of her country, which shoots her.

For a very long list of reasons, India needs friendly relations with all these Muslim countries – from the safety of its remitting migrants to maintaining energy security to connecting to the distant northeast to contain China. or access Central Asia.

If India is to lobby Muslim nations to build cremation grounds for Hindu migrants, as Vice President Venkaiah Naidu did during his recent visit to Qatar, it cannot afford to let attacks against its own Muslims go unpunished. The Nupur-Navin episode only points to a deeply interconnected world where every action will have immediate reactions.

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There is no point in blaming Pakistan for influencing Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) resolutions pulling India over the issue of the Prophet. Pakistan, as an old enemy, is just taking advantage of an opportunity the rudders have given them on a platter. The OIC has long harassed India over Kashmir – now it blames it for Islamophobia.

The dumping of spokespersons as “fringe elements”, followed by the arrest of BJP leaders in UP for spreading hatred, coupled with Yogi Adityanath’s high-profile visit to the shrine of the Muslim saint Raskhan, can all be desperate attempts by the Modi government to extricate itself from a huge diplomatic crisis. But can we doubt that India’s historic high morality as a tolerant plural democracy has been seriously compromised?

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s counterattack on the United States when raised by Washington over declining religious freedom for minorities may be music to patriotic ears. But this cannot explain the perception of an intolerant India that is rising even in countries that are our strategic partners and where countless Indian success stories have enhanced the image of the home country in the past.

History manipulation

The hate politics used by the BJP and the Hindutva Brigade to gain and retain power is facilitated by the manipulation of history with negative implications for our body politic and internal security.

When saffron elements in Bollywood create their own story by making Prithviraj Chauhan kill Muhammad Ghori on celluloid, they only invite ridicule. The truth is the other way around – Ghori outlived Chauhan by over a decade.

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Such films based on fake wins trick a complacent nation into believing the pretense. Leaders like Sadashiv Rao were dead heroes, but the quality of military leadership they provided was not something to be proud of. As historian Jadunath Sarkar said, “Sadashiv had forgotten his duty as a general but remembered his honor as a knight”.

But in this social technology of using the imaginary as a political weapon in the arsenal of saffron, bolstered by a huge social media brigade and soft media, India has cause for concern. This layer of lies that obscures a nation’s ability to think clearly and rationally is detrimental to our emergence as a mighty power in the 21st century.

If one turns to the experience of censored totalitarian societies, one can see how nations have suffered when their people bought into the false propaganda and illusions created by the manipulation of history.

Mughals against “Hindu” heroes

Rudders make heroes of Hindu kings like Rana Pratap, Shivaji or Lachit Borphukan from Assam. Every Rajput, Martha or Assamese has justified reasons to feel proud of these heroes. But they were regional heroes fighting the Mughals trying to create an empire closer to the united India of our time.

The Modi government’s push for centralization – from one nation, one vote to one nation, one police – is closer in political design to Mughal empire building than the regional pride highlighted by the defiant Hindu heroes Islamic leaders. This is where the contradiction in the historiography of saffron lies. Praising regional heroes like Rana Pratap or Shivaji or Borphukan only reinforces India’s federal reality and strengthens the roots of regional parties.

The BJP may have managed to co-opt some like the Asom Gana Parishad, but not all. Even his failure to retain the Shiv Sena points to the limits of a project for political hegemony. The Thackerays challenging the BJP in Maharashtra could well be seen as the modern-day Sadashiv Raos in the province, standing up to the big guns of Delhi.

The only non-Muslim ruler who asserted control over the contemplated areas in the Akhand Bharat of the Hindu Rastra was Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a Sikh ruler whose military prowess was most pronounced in pre-British India. I learned from friends in Pakistan that ISI bosses were understandably shaken in the 1980s by Babbar Khalsa’s map of Khalistan which showed Lahore. This is how history can come back to bite.

One lesson of history, however, that we can all learn is the weakness caused by disunity in the face of foreign invaders. If Chauhan or Porus stood up to Ghori or Alexander, Jaichand or Ambhi joined them.

So, using history to divide Indians on the basis of religion only weakens us when we face a double threat from China and Pakistan. It is to promote strong internal cohesion, an essential condition of national strength, that we need Subhas Bose’s INA model to hover in the national imagination rather than being carried away by the divisive policy of “shivlings under mosques “that even RSS Mohan Bhagwat has had enough.

And, we must focus on modern India’s military heroes – Abdul Hamid, Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon, Vikram Batra Sandeep Unnikrishnan (the list goes on) – who hail from religious and regional communities across India. The three key military figures in our great victory of 1971 – Maneckshaw, Aurora and Jacob – belonged to three different religions. One Parsi, the second Sikh, the third Jew. So why not believe in the recent past and shape your present rather than rehash a distant, hazy past and end up being divided? This is the choice India must make.

(The writer is a former BBC correspondent and author of five books on South Asian conflicts)

(The Fed seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. Any information, ideas or opinions contained in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fed.)

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