Communal politics has been a major bone of contention among political scientists. A renowned Indian sociologist and social anthropologist, M.N. Srinivas says that caste forms the basic structure of Indian politics. Similarly, a French political scientist, Christopher Jaffrelot claims that Caste forms the mosaic of Indian politics. But the other political scientists like S.D. Muni argues that the failure of ideology and social and economic development forces elites to go for the ruthless and cynical use of ethnic polities. India is not a unique country. Politics based on ethnicity is prevalent around the world in some or other forms.
Communal Jugalbandi before independence
Community-based politics is also called communal politics. This is not new in Indian politics. It was prevalent during both foreign power i.e., the Mughal Raj as well as the British Raj. During the Aurangzeb era, the role of clerics was at the peak. Fatawa-e-Alamgiri (a creative application of Islamic law within the Hanafi fiqh) was compiled during his reign. Discriminatory, the jizya tax has been imposed on non-Muslims. Those taxes were used in the interest of clerics.
Similarly, Britishers have used caste and religion to ensure cracks in Indian nationalism. British government started the policies of appeasement after the 1857 revolt. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan expressed loyalty of the Muslim community towards the British through his article “Loyal Muhammedans of India.” British preferred communal politics to check nationalism e.g., Partition of Bengal 1905, supported the formation of Muslim league in 1906, and Government of India Act 1909 to appease Muslims through the separate electorate.
The formation of the Muslim league in 1906 was poorly responded to with another ethnic group i.e. establishment of Hindu Mahasabha in 1915. During the same period, the hero of the 1857 war, V.D. Savarkar gave the theory of Hindutva to describe the ‘quality of being a Hindu’ in ethnic, cultural, and political terms. Md. Iqbal emphasized the concept of Muslim Ummah or Muslim brotherhood. Iqbal, the man who once gave “Tarana-e-Hindi” (i.e. Sare Jaha see achha…) ended up with the “Tarana-e-Milli” (i.e. Anthem of the Community or Chin o Arab hamaraa hindostaan hamaara, Muslim hain hum; watan hai saara jahaan hamaara).
Followed by this, the RSS was formed in 1925 by K.B. Hedgewar. All these events were amusing the then British government. British government opens another front i.e. caste to divide Indian nationalism. The British government came up with the Ramsay Macdonald Award 1932 to divide the Indian National Congress on a caste basis. To some extend, Britishers were successful in their narrative since the Indian political force got divided. There was one man named, Mahatma Gandhi, who was working tirelessly to stitch these divides. Mahatma Gandhi ended the caste divide with affirmative action in the Poona pact 1932.
Communal politics got the first blow during the 1946 Indian provincial elections. Vinay Sitapati in his book “Jugalbandi: The BJP before Modi“ gives statistics of the 1946 election – The Hindu Mahasabha based on religious politics and Dr. Ambdekar based on cased politics did not win a single seat for the central assembly or the provincial assemblies. It indicates that people had rejected ethnic politics.
But the Muslim League won substantially of the roughly 500 Muslim seats in the provincial assemblies, the League had gained 425. Of the thirty seats reserved for them in the central assembly, the League had won every single one. The remaining footprints of communal politics were washed away with the second blow against communalism with the formation of Pakistan. After the partition, Hindu Mahasabha started gaining legitimacy in the eyes of the majority community due to bloodbaths of partition. The last drop of communalism was washed with the blood of Mahatma Gandhi i.e. his assassination in the hand of Godse.
Seeds of communalism in post-independent India
Universal adult franchise and elitism in Indian politics again sowed the seeds of communal politics in independent India. Indian leaders were fearful since India got independence after centuries of humiliation at the hands of many foreign rulers. We can see this fear even in the last speech “The Grammar of anarchy” of Dr. Ambedkar in constituent assembly when he asked a question “Will India maintain her independence or will she lose it again?“. Thus, American political scientist, prof. Paul Brass is not wrong when he claims that the Indian constitution is a product of fear.
It was the late John Kenneth Galbraith who called India – functional anarchy. The intellectual system in India constructed a ‘functional anarchy‘ in the Indian political system. Intellectual class started justifying communal politics selectively. A kind of consensus was built in the Indian political system where caste politics was seen as empowerment and religion politics was seen as communalism. It was minimum during the “Congress system” (Reign of pundit Nehru). Pundit Nehru established the National integration council to counter communalism, regionalism, and casteism.
Communalism started with the end of the Congress System. The Indian National Congress post the Congress system almost lost the legitimacy of the freedom struggle. New leaders started polarising people on the communal line. Such things were not required during pundit Nehru because of his stature and label of freedom fighter. Intellectual intellection played important role in paddling such narrative. Political scientists, Rajni Kothari who coined the tenure of pundit Nehru as a “Congress system” started connecting caste politics with the protection of democracy.
According to Kothari, democracy collapsed in other third-world countries but in India, caste became the basis of mobilization, integration, and thus nation-building. I don’t agree with his thesis in which he connects caste with secularization. In fact, caste or religion and secularization are anti-thetical to each other. Following his footprints, later scholars like Yogendra Yadav saw “Caste politics as democratic upsurge” and Christophe Jaffrelot claimed, “Caste forms the mosaic of Indian politics.”
It was professor C.P. Bhambri who diagnosed communal politics from a neutral perspective – “Caste and religion are two sides of the same coin. When one party plays ‘Caste card’ another party has to play the ‘Religious card’. I agree with his conception because if one sees caste politics as ‘Empowerment’ or ‘Democratic upsurge’ then how can paradoxically see politics based on religion as ‘Communalism’? Either condemned both or accept both but the selective study of caste or religion will definitely lead to an anarchical political system.
Appeasement added fuel to the fire
Since the end of the Congress system, new leaders like Indira Gandhi started searching for mass mobilization. Either ideology or ethnic politics helps in mobilizing people. During that time ideologies in Indian politics were not much prevalent. Prof. S.D. Muni rightly says that the failure of ideology and social and economic development forces elites to go for the use of ethnic polities. Since then politics of appeasement started taking.
People often confused with the word “appeasement.” Appeasement and Development of a certain community are different. Appeasement is asymmetric benefits that are extended to the ‘elites of that particular community.’ In fact, the policy of appeasement leads to the underdevelopment of the concerned community. Findings of the Sachar Committee are just manifestations of appeasement policy. Appeasement policy puts a curtain on the developmental agenda and in return, the elites of the particular community extend electoral support. It travels across the political spectrum.
During the Indira Gandhi era, On November 7, 1966, bullets were fired on protestors led by ascetics who were demanding a law to ban cow slaughter. Later, she got entangled with the appeasement of the Sikh community in Punjab. A former Special Secretary of India’s external intelligence agency, G.B.S. Sidhu in his book, “The Khalistan Conspiracy” hinted that Smt. Gandhi brought Bhinderwala in order to counter the communal clout of Akali Dal in Punjab. It ended not only with the assassination of our former PM of India but also the Sikh riot 1984 and Secessionism.
Later, during the Rajiv Gandhi government same trend was seen. He overturned the historic supreme court judgment in Shahbano Case through legislation. It amused the Muslim elites and not the Muslim masses. But it created a sense of appeasement in the majority community. It was compensated by the opening of the gate of Babri mosque on a live television broadcast. The then cabinet minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s government, Arif Mohammed, claims in an interview that the Muslim Personal law board was informed before opening the lock of Babri structure.
Parallel to religious politics, caste politics also took shape. The green revolution gave birth to new political elites. American political scientist, Lloyd Rudolph called this new community – ‘Bullock capitalist‘. Implementation of Mandal commission by the National Front government led by V.P. Singh validated the appeasement of politics based on caste. During these days, the developmental agenda took a back seat. This was also one of the factors why India delayed 15 years in economic reforms compared to China as a concern raised by Dr. S Jaishankar in his recent book “The India way“.
An era of communal outbidding of the majoritarianism
A valid question could be raised why elitism played role in sowing seeds of communalism and not a universal adult franchise before the 90s? – One of the reasons could be the stand of communist scholars who claim that after independence power was largely concentrated in the hands of elites. This is what explained by the Italian social scientist Vilfredo Pareto in his “circulation of elite theory”. Another valid reason was that due to appeasement politics, elites were enjoying asymmetric benefits in the minority communities.
There was very little representation of the minority community. Largely political candidates were from a majoritarian community where votes of their communities got divided. Thus, minority votes become special vote or vote bank. In candidature options, names of minority communities were not there. They had to choose one non-Muslim out of many non-Muslims. They started bargaining with the help of elites. Unfortunately, it helped elites but not the common people in the minority communities in particular.
But after the surge of digital technologies and social media, such things are being put into the electoral machines by the newly emerged BJP during the 90s. It has helped them in the 2014 general election in polarizing the majoritarian votes. The rest of the political parties got stuck in the conventional vote bank. The BJP created a new vote bank consists of a majoritarian community. Previously, ethnic outbidding of minority communities was done to secure the electoral score. Now, ethnic outbidding of majoritarian communities has been seen everywhere.
Almost all political parties are trying to appease the majoritarian community. First, In 2018, Rahul Gandhi in Pushkar had to reveal his majoritarian identity by saying – ‘My gotra is Dattatreya, I am a Kashmiri Brahmin‘. Second, During the budding days, Arvind Kejriwal used to mock the BJP government on Ram temple. The same Arvind Kejriwal recently in the Delhi assembly justified himself as “Ram Bhakt” with the help of Lord Hanuman. He promised to take the elderly people from Delhi to Ayodhya for darshan after the construction of the Ram temple. He also unveiled the conception of good governance on the face of “Ram Rajya”.
Third, Even during the Tamil Nadu assembly 2021, in order to counter the footprints of the BJP, the DMK manifesto promised financial assistance of Rs 25,000 to Rs 1 lakh for pilgrimage to Hindu temples. This is not different from the Haj subsidy given to the Muslim community. If one objects to such initiatives then he could be countered with two reasons – (1) Such initiatives were given to other communities as well in the past. (2) Intellectuals like Rajeev Bhargav appeased the conception of “Secularism” by stating principled distance. Thus, if the state can intervene financially in one community then why can’t it with the other community?
Fourth, Before the speech of Mamta Benerjee in Nandigram, very few people would have concerned with her identity. In the process of outbidding of majoritarian community, she was forced to unveil her identity as a Hindu girl and recites Chandipath at Nandigram the day before filing papers. At the end of her campaign, she also unveiled her Shandilya Gotra to fix the new political dynamics. There are various examples that show that process of ethnic outbidding of majoritarian community has been started in the Indian politics
How does communal outbidding necessarily end with violence?
It is true that ethnic outbidding starts with minority appeasement and but it ends at the huge cost of the minority community. In other words, it ends with the violence against the community which was appeased in the past. First, Hannah Arendt in her book “Origins of Totalitarianism” explained how Anti-Semitism was created with the help of ideology in Germany. The myth of race and propaganda justified the violence against the Jews. The consequence of this in the form of the holocaust is in the pages of our history books.
Second, The same Jews when they found a place in Israel. There were ethnic outbidding of majoritarian Jews. It was against the Palestinian Muslims. Due to which we see the increasing intensity of violence between Israel and Palestine. It gave birth to the armed struggle of PLO against Israel. Third, During the 50s in Sri Lanka, the United National Party made concessions to minority Tamils for political benefits. Sri Lanka Freedom Party put this notion into the electoral machine and generated pro-Sinhalese and anti-Tamil narratives. It ended with a civil war based on ethnicity and full of violence.
Fourth, Similar ethnic outbidding of the majority community was seen in Kashmir in the 90s. It started with the appeasement of Kashmiri pundits during Dogra Kingship and ended with the bloody exodus of the minority community i.e. Kashmiri pundits. Political leadership started outbidding the majoritarian Muslim community at the cost of minority pundits. Even though Kashmiri pundits and Kashmiri Muslims were the same by race but fought against each other based on religion.
Fifth, In Myanmar, the Rohingya and Bamar Buddhist binary started with the appeasement of Rohingyas during the second world war. Britishers promised Rohingyas the independent areas during the 2nd world war in return for helping Britishers against Japan. Britain was on the winning side but didn’t help them. It made Rohingyas look at the option to merge with Pakistan (The then East Pakistan). It increased the clash between majoritarian Buddhist and minority Muslims. It eventually led to a violent exodus of Rohingyas in 2017.
Prashant Kishore in his leaked chat claimed that since independence, various parties including INC appeased the Muslim community. Now the same thing is being put by the BJP into an electoral machine to improve score electorally. Indian democracy is the largest democracy in the world. The people of India are much more mature than the western people believe. I know it won’t end with violence on the land of Mahatma Gandhi who sacrificed his life in the process of wiping out communalism.
- Amazon | Why I Am a Hindu by Shashi Tharoor
- Decoding Dream India | Aligarh Muslim University: A central university or Minority institution?
- Amazon | Jugalbandi: The BJP before Modi by Vinay Sitapati
- Scroll.in | Why BR Ambedkar’s three warnings in his last speech to the Constituent Assembly resonate even today
- Decoding Dream India | Decoding ‘The Grammar of Anarchy’ in post-independent India
- OpIndia|1966 Hindu massacre in Delhi
- Amazon | The Khalistan Conspiracy by G.B.S. Sidhu
- The India Express | An insider’s view, an outsider’s eye
- International Monetary Fund | Why Is China Growing So Fast?
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