Volume 23 Issue 01, January 2019


Allahabad is now Prayagraj. Mughalsarai Junction Railway Station has been officially renamed as Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Junction. Three years earlier, the signs for Aurangzeb Road in Delhi were painted over to bear a new name – APJ Abdul Kalam Road (after India’s missile hero). More changes lie ahead. About two dozen or so Indian cities allegedly owe their names to Babur ki auladain (sons of Babur) of which a few are Ahmadabad, Karimnagar, Jamalpur, Faridpur, Hajipur, Moradabad and Secunderabad. They too might disappear from the map of India and emerge reincarnated with Hindu names.

Renaming cities and roads is just one part of Hindutva’s larger agenda to glorify the Vedic era and vilify Muslim rulers. Bit by bit, India’s cultural landscape and education system is being altered to exalt an imaginary past of a pure Bharat Mata defiled by invaders. In 2014, Prime Minister Narenda Modi said India is troubled by “1200 years of slave mentality”. Dinesh Sharma, Yogi Adiyanath’s deputy, says it still more bluntly: “Mughals were not our ancestors, they were actually plunderers. They looted the country. This is not our history.”

These utterances suggest loss of balance. Whether good or bad, Muslims and Mughals are solidly part and parcel of India’s history. As a link of the historical chain leading to the emergence of modern India, for the very first time Mughal rulers had created a consolidated political entity, made institutions of governance that were essentially secular and gave India its most magnificent architecture.

Although first generation Mughals were invaders from Uzbekistan, subsequent emperors were born in India. Over time they absorbed local traditions, producing today’s delicate cultural mosaic. Muslims of the subcontinent were Indianized centuries ago and developed habits and ways of thinking that were plainly distinct from the Arabs, Persians, and Central Asians. Moreover, whatever the Mughals “looted” was not taken elsewhere (as with the British); everything remained within India. Questioning their “Indianness” is absurd since every human’s ancestors came from elsewhere, most probably Africa.

But the BJP’s war is not just against Muslims, it is squarely directed against the concept of Jawaharlal Nehru’s India as a secular, pluralist entity. With Gandhi’s help, Nehru had managed to keep at bay fanatical RSS ideologues like S.V. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar. RSS always feared and hated Nehru for this, and has never forgiven him for banning it after Gandhi’s murder and for fiercely opposing a Hindu rashtra. One RSS activist wistfully writes that had Nehru handed over charge of India after independence to the deserving sanghis, India would have “attained ram rajya by now, with a hundred crore people chanting hanuman chalisa a dozen times a day”.

How things have changed! These days Nehru is accused of having a “Pakistani mentality” – a surprise to most Pakistanis who have known him only as a Hindu adversary of Jinnah, implacably opposed to making Pakistan. None cared that Nehru was an atheist by belief, not Hindu. His insistence that India was to be liberal and syncretic, and its strength would derive from religious diversity, was openly disbelieved and mocked. All this was written off as mere sloganeering, justifying Hindu majoritarianism under the cloak of democracy. The Congress-RSS enmity was dismissed as cosmetic, a petty domestic issue.

But now that ram rajya appears closer than ever before, and Nehru has long been in the dog house, a few opinions within Pakistan are changing. India’s retreat from secularism – albeit flawed secularism – is strongly impacting its religious minorities. India’s Muslims, Christians, and Parsis had once fully bought into the Indian inclusive identity but find that their patriotism is now being frequently questioned. Whether secular or religiously observant, more and more Muslims have become victims of hate crimes such as cow-vigilantism and so-called love jihad. Their perpetrators are not just encouraged but also rewarded by those in power.

One might have expected that within Pakistan the targeting of fellow Muslims across the border would have generated angry protests. In fact there have been none. Even commentary has been sparse. By and large one sees a kind of smug satisfaction because the heinous acts of Hindutva groups are seen as validating Savarkar’s and Jinnah’s two-nation theory. Some right-wing Urdu columnists trumpet that at long last Hindus are showing their true colours. For them, the BJP’s aspiration to create a Hindu rashtra reinforces the moral justification for Pakistan to be an Islamic state. Further, it rationalizes the appalling mistreatment of Pakistan’s non-Muslims and the near obliteration of Hindu religious and cultural symbols.

Significantly, Pakistan has not attempted to take up India’s crimes against its religious minorities at any international forum. Surely the pot cannot call the kettle black. Further, preceding Hindutva’s recent emergence, rejection of pluralism is written into Pakistan’s 1973 constitution. Xenophobic distortions injected in the 1980s by General Zia-ul-Haq have helped create an alternate reality depicting all history as battles between virtuous Muslims and cunning Hindus. School textbooks contain the absurd notion that Pakistan dates to 712 AD when Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh.

Deemed as corrupting Hindu influences, the celebration of cultural events such as Baisakhi and Basant, as well as kite flying, have been gradually forbidden or abandoned in recent decades. Even “Hindu trees” like banyan, neem, and pipal have been punished – far fewer can be seen today in comparison to earlier times. In the posh E-7 area of Islamabad, one can see the charred remains of a 200 year old graceful banyan, the victim of a jihad by students from a nearby madrassa.
The bottom line: Hindu majoritarianism and Muslim majoritarianism are equally ugly and repulsive. Instead, a rational outlook would be to recognize that all countries and their people are products of peculiar historical circumstances beyond anybody’s control. Should one simply surrender to the blind forces that have created our present identities? Or can we dare to move ahead and work towards creating genuinely pluralistic societies that value and encourage religious diversity? Willingness to work out the answers shall determine whether India and Pakistan will eventually become civilized countries some day.

The author is an academic who teaches in Lahore and Islamabad. He can be reached at hoodbhoy@mit.edu

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