When the British Empire quit the Indian subcontinent in 1947, the latter was divided to establish a predominantly Hindu India and a predominantly Muslim Pakistan according to a set of principles which included the religious composition of the population and geographical contiguity with India and the two wings of Pakistan (one in the West and the other in the East).
Hurriedly brought about between 1946 and 1947, partition has been an extremely divisive issue which is plaguing relations between the two countries to this day.
It immediately led to horrendous Hindu-Muslim riots in Northern and Eastern India; the transfer of populations involving millions; and a short war over the disputed Muslim-majority princely state of Kashmir in 1948.
India’s continued bid to keep Kashmir, and Pakistan’s relentless bid to seize it have led to two full scale wars; the transformation of East Pakistan into an independent Bangladesh through an India-supported armed struggle; unrest in Kashmir exploited and fanned by Pakistan; and Pakistan’s bid to weaken India by promoting cross border terrorism.
Since 1947, support for the separatist movement in Kashmir has been an article for faith for every political party in Pakistan. The issue prevents Islamabad from cooperating with India, no matter what the issue. On the Indian side, Pakistan’s relentless bid to seize Kashmir or inflict on it a “thousand cuts” through devastating terrorist acts, has been affecting the political, economic and social status of Muslims who had chosen to remain in India after partition.
Although post-partition India chose to be a secular state, and has been largely so, communalism has raised its ugly head in Northern and Western India many times to keep the Muslim population on tenterhooks. And electoral politics based on mobilization of communities and other primordial loyalties has kept the pot of communalism boiling.
After partition, the then dominant Congress party and the Left, co-opted the Muslims and the Backward Castes. But the Hindu majoritarian and rights wing parties, which were challenged by this electoral team up, vigorously promoted Hindu consolidation in opposition to the Muslims and the Backward Class movements.
Cross-border terrorism encouraged by Pakistan over the Kashmir issue helped the Hindu majoritarian and Right wing forces to divide the Hindus from the Muslims. Over time, secular, cross-religions electoral alignments weakened. This was reflected in the phenomenal rise of the fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological adjuncts called the “Sangh Parivar’.
From the late 1980s onwards the war between Hindu majoritarianism and the Muslim-Backward Classes coalition intensified. This was partly triggered by the Left leaning VP Singh government’s bid to reserve 27 percent of seats for the Backward Classes in government and education sectors as per the Mandal Commission’s report. The beleaguered Hindu majoritarian forces met this challenge by re-unifying the Hindus and this was sought to be done by turning all Hindus, irrespective of caste, against the “common enemy”, namely, the Muslims.
The consolidation was facilitated by two other factors: First, the instability in the Central government brought about by the decline of the Congress and the inability of the non-Congress Left of Centre parties to run a stable and credible government. Second, the intensification of unrest in Muslim majority Kashmir which India attributed to Pakistan’s machinations there.
The high point of cross-caste Hindu consolidation, and the anti-Muslim movement was the demolition of a medieval mosque in Ayodhya built by the first Moghul Emperor Babar in 1992. The plan was to build, on the site, a temple for Lord Rama as it was thought to be his birthplace.
The demolition of the “Babri Masjid” did bring about Hindu consolidation to an extent. The process was expedited by the Muslims’ response to it. Terrorist bombings in Mumbai and other parts of India, allegedly done by Pakistan-inspired or Pakistan based Islamic groups, resurrected and sharpened anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan and anti-partition feelings among an increasing number of Hindus ,cutting across caste , regional and linguistic divisions.
All this led to the rise of the BJP, now under the charismatic Narendra Modi. The “Modi wave” gave the BJP a road roller majority in parliament in May 2014 and resulted in the party’s capturing power in most Indian States barring those in the South.
Now, anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan rhetoric is routinely used by the Hindu-majoritarian Right wing parties every time there is an election. The Congress, Left of Centre and Left parties which are avowedly “secular” are dubbed as pro-Pakistan and therefore “anti-national.” This is done especially when the BJP is facing a tough contest and is fighting with its back to the wall as was the case in Bihar and Gujarat recently.
During the hard fought elections in Bihar, BJP President Amit Shah said that if the Centre-Left combination won the elections, there would be celebratory fireworks in Pakistan. This was repeated in the Gujarat elections by Prime Minister Modi himself. He even accused former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and some Congress leaders of plotting to defeat the BJP in cahoots with the Pakistani High Commissioner over a dinner meeting in New Delhi.
And now, with elections due in several states and the parliamentary elections coming up in May 2019, the “Muslim-Pakistan factor” is being raked up again.
A BJP leader in Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, suddenly discovered a portrait of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in the office of the Students’ Union of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) ,a Centrally funded but autonomous “minority institutions”. The portrait had been there for the last 80 years as Jinnah had given funds to the university in its early days. And he was not alone. There were portraits of other contributors and Indian national leaders too on the wall.
A new Hindu extremist group Hindu Yuva Vahini then attacked the university besieging its students and teachers. These fought back until the police restored order. However, to avoid further trouble, the university authorities removed Jinnah’s portrait.
But the incident served the Hindu Right wing’s purpose of reviving the controversy over the “vivisection of Mother India”, the creation of a Muslim majority state of Pakistan and Jinnah’s “villainous” role in it.
This is expected to help the consolidation of the Hindu vote, help overcome caste divisions among Hindus and prevent these divisions from being exploited by the secular and Left parties in the coming State and national elections. It would also take the sense out of the Congress’ policy of cultivating the Muslim minority.
Aware of this, the Congress started soft pedalling the Muslims’ case. In the Gujarat elections, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi conspicuously avoided the company of Muslims and preferred to make highly publicized visits to Hindu temples instead.
Bu regardless of the Congress’ lily livered approach, independent and secular media in India have condemned the action of the Hindu Right’s attacks on AMU and brought into the open top BJP leaders’ laudatory references to Jinnah in the not too distant past.
The Congress party itself has been silent, though. In fact, when one its pro-Muslim leaders Mani Shankar Aiyer recently referred to Jinnah by his honorific ‘Qaid-e-Azam’ the Congress spokesman dissociated the party from the remark saying that Aiyer is not a member of the party. He is under suspension for describing Modi as a tea boy in a speech during the Gujarat elections.
In his 2009 book, Jinnah-Indian Partition-Independence, former BJP leader and Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh had blamed the “centralist” policies of the Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru and not Jinnah for the partition of India. In Singh’s view, if only Nehru had accepted Jinnah’s proposal for forming autonomous Muslim provinces within India, India would have remained one country.
In 2005, another BJP leader who was India’s Deputy Prime Minister L.K.Advani had gone to Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi and had written in the visitors’ book that Jinnah was a “secular” leader and addressed him as Qaid-e-Azam.
“In his early years, Sarojini Naidu, a leading luminary of India’s freedom struggle, described Mr Jinnah as an Ambassador of Hindu- Muslim unity. His address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, is really a classic, a forceful espousal of a secular state in which, while every citizen would be free to practice his own religion, the state shall make no distinction between one citizen and another on grounds of faith. My respectful homage to this great man,” Advani wrote.
With the media recalling what its own past leaders had said about Jinnah, BJP would find it a bit difficult to pursue the anti-Jinnah line in the forthcoming election campaigns.
But the bid to consolidate the Hindu vote on the basis of differences with the minorities, especially the Muslims, will be part of the BJP’s political stock in trade especially because it appears to have paid dividends.