Muhammad Ali Jinnah is respected in Bangladesh

The struggle for a secular India

The term “communalism” has taken on a special meaning in South Asia, but especially in India, which differs from the words “commune” or “collectivism”, both of which refer to harmony and peaceful coexistence. In India, communalism is understood as the extremely strong sense of belonging to a certain religious community, which inevitably leads to a polarization of society, as was the case in 1947 when the society of the Indian subcontinent was based on mutual hatred in Hindus and Muslims split and India and Pakistan were founded.

In the 2014 parliamentary elections, for which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, the Hindu nationalist party) nominated Narendra Modi as their top candidate, a renewed flare-up of communalism is to be expected. The so-called Hindutva agenda, the aim of which is the creation of a theocratic state, receives new impetus from the BJP, which hopes to be able to split the electorate along religious lines in order to win the majority of the Hindu votes for itself. For example, the recent clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar, in the western part of India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh, have once again opened up the gap between Jat Hindus and the Muslim population, so that the former are now very likely to vote for the BJP .

Historical background

The origin of this hatred between Hindus and Muslims can be traced back to the 200 years of British colonial rule, when the colonial rulers pursued an effective "divide-and-rule" policy to control the Indian people. This led to the emergence of an aggressive Hindu-Muslim communalism in India in the 20th century, which not only split the subcontinent into two countries (which was joined by a third when East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971), but also the seeds of discord and of hatred that this region still suffers from today. The Hindu Mahasabha (the great assembly of Hindus) was founded by V.D. Savarkar was founded while B. Hegdewar founded the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS, National Volunteer Organization) in the 1930s. The worldview of Savarkar and Hegdewar, who historians say had close ties to the fascists, was very similar to the doctrine of the Nazis in Germany. According to a key witness, Savarkar was also one of the co-conspirators who was partly responsible for the murder of Gandhi by the Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse. The RSS and Hindu Mahasabha instructed their members to stay away from the struggle for independence because for these right-wing radical groups the real enemy was not the British but the Muslims.

The All India Muslim League was founded in 1906 in response to the independence movement led by the then Indian National Congress. The Muslim League was a community-oriented organization that saw itself as the political savior of Muslims. Its stated aim was to persuade Muslims to remain loyal to the British government, to respect the rights of Muslims and to prevent the emergence of "detrimental feelings towards other Indian religious groups". As for the last point, strangely enough, the exact opposite happened when this organization began deliberately trying to instill a sense of exclusion among Muslims from the "India of the Hindus". It formed the opposite pole to the secular, national independence movement under the leadership of Gandhi, Jawahahrlal Nehru, who later became the first prime minister of independent India, Maulana Azad, Sardar Patel, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and others. The Muslim League's stance hardened over the years until, under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, it called for the creation of a separate state for Muslims. This policy of division was supported by the British, so that finally in 1947 the religion-based division of the Indian subcontinent in India and Pakistan occurred.

The RSS, Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League rejected Congress and the independence movement, which had developed into a secular platform and pursued the goal of making India a democratic republic in which religion should not have a place in the state. Right-wing extremist groups, both Hindu and Muslim, were encouraged by the British, who were tempted to give in to the Muslim League's demands for a split in India, which resulted in the most brutal religious-based excesses the region had ever seen. Thousands of people of both religions were killed while Hindus and Muslims fled their homeland to find safety on the other side of the border. The atrocities committed at the time tore deep wounds on both sides, which have not yet completely healed.

From the rubble of violence, Pakistan emerged as a Muslim nation in a strange search for equality and justice. India became one after Nehru and his colleagues resisted all attempts despite strong internal pressure Hindu Rashtra (Nation of Hindus) to declare a democratic republic. Later, when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, the constitution was amended, the preamble of which was expanded to include the terms “secular” and “socialist”, so that in 1976 the 42nd constitutional amendment changed the originally “sovereign democratic republic of India” “Sovereign, Socialist, Secular and Democratic Republic of India” became. This should clearly indicate that every citizen has the freedom and the right to practice his or her beliefs, but that there is no state religion and that the state governments must respect and recognize all creeds and religious practices without distinction.

The formation of India and Pakistan as two independent nations was accompanied by a wave of unimaginable violence that cast dark shadows over the celebrations at the time. The assassination of Gandhi by communal forces was another major blow to the young nation, whose jubilation at finally being a free nation helped to get over that pain as well. However, this freedom could not defeat communalism, which had begun to spread in the first half of the 20th century, so that inter-religious riots soon erupted in India's democratic landscape. Hindus and Muslims fought bitterly against each other, driven by rumors and lies spread by unscrupulous interest groups with the aim of weakening secular forces and dividing society according to religious affiliations. However, immediate action and preventive measures were able to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control in the early years that young India enjoyed its freedom.

Communalism in India today

However, it shouldn't stay that way for long. At the beginning of the 1970s there were again serious communal clashes in various parts of India. Worst hit were the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where bloody clashes between religious communities caused unspeakable suffering and made the 1980s the bloodiest decade since independence. Assam was practically embroiled in a civil war in which thousands of people across the state were brutally murdered when local Assamese attacked Bangladeshi migrants (mostly Muslims) with deadly intentions. Villagers attacked villagers with swords, bows and arrows and spears. They were scenes that were reminiscent of wars from the Middle Ages. Delhi, India's capital, went up in flames in 1984 when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was murdered by her Sikh bodyguards and mobs attacked members of the Sikh community. No fewer than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in three days. In Kashmir, too, there were acts of violence against Sikhs and Hindus, who were driven from their homeland in the Kashmir Valley, which was subsequently taken over by militant groups. At the same time, hundreds of people in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were killed in serious clashes between Hindus and Muslims and clashes with the police when they opened fire on innocent people.

In 1992, an old mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh state, which was systematically destroyed by local forces, was turned into a battlefield while secular India watched in disbelief. Riots broke out across India, the main burden of which this time was Mumbai.

Over the years it had become clear that inter-religious conflicts do not occur purely by chance, but are staged. Those interested in securing the support of Hindus or Muslims start spreading rumors days if not weeks in advance in localities under their influence. Lies and distortions of the truth aim to arouse suspicion and hatred, and thus create an explosive atmosphere. In Delhi, a Hindu mob gathered on the railway line outside the city gates, fueled by rumors that trains full of murdered Hindus were arriving from Pakistan. The retaliatory mob stopped the trains, dragged the Sikh passengers out, murdered them and threw their bodies back onto the trains. This rumor killed more than 200 Sikhs. It was an act of retaliation for an incident that had never happened and, significantly, not a single Hindu was killed.

In Assam, a rumor of a planned attack on a village led its villagers to attack residents of other villages. In this state in northeast India, people who believed they had to fear and defend themselves for their lives became murderers. The riots spread across the state at lightning speed, and even paramilitary forces failed to put an end to the madness for weeks. In Aligarh, one of the numerous cities in Uttar Pradesh, there were bloody clashes between two religious communities because a young girl from one denomination was allegedly raped by a young man of the other, and this young man was subsequently raped by a young man from the other community was killed. Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh recently saw the end of a long peaceful coexistence of the Jat community and Muslim population after weeks of rumor that Muslims were planning a “love jihad” against the daughters of Hindu families. “Your daughters and daughters-in-law are no longer safe” was the rumor that led to numerous murders and expelled thousands of others from their villages. A politician from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is determined to win the 2014 parliamentary elections, posted a video on the Internet about a young man who is brutally beaten by Muslims. Needless to say, this caused the unrest to flare up again. It was later revealed to be the video of an incident in Sialkot, Pakistan, which was used by this politician to turn the masses against each other again.

Hundreds of such examples can be cited, all of which confirm that inter-religious conflicts are preceded by rumors and lies that provoke an atmosphere of agitation among the religious communities. In each of these religiously motivated clashes in India there are those who incite the outbreak of violence and those in power who fail to prevent the clashes and their spread and to punish the guilty. The pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat was staged by the far-right Hindutva Brigade under the eyes of the BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In 1984 in Delhi, Sikhs were murdered by mobs led by the Congress Party in front of the ruling Congress Party. And in 2013 in Muzaffarnagar, it was the BJP that created an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion by spreading rumors among religious communities, but it was the supposedly secular state government led by the Samajwadi Party that failed to do so Preventing conflict and bringing it under control. This inevitably suggests that such an attitude was beneficial to both parties in the face of the upcoming elections.

Communalism and elections

The outbreaks of religiously motivated violence in India are directly related to the political election campaign. After the pogrom against the Sikh in 1984, there was a consolidation of Hindu votes for the first time in the history of independent India, which helped the Rajiv Gandhi government to win with 400 parliamentary seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house). In this election, caste and origin played no role for the first time and the Hindus voted with one vote, which has given political parties such as the BJP and the Congress Party hope to repeat this election success one day. When Narendra Modi, a then little-known politician, faced a possible defeat in the Gujarat state elections in 2002, he managed to improve his tarnished image through bloody riots that killed thousands. He used the pogrom against the Muslims to project himself as a macho Hindu nationalist, as a competent administrator and factual politician.

While in the case of Muzaffarnagar it remains to be seen how these incidents will affect the outcome of the elections, they were a clear attempt to divide the electorate in order to secure their votes for the 2014 general election. Jats and Muslims are two of the most important groups of voters in western Uttar Pradesh and, as mentioned earlier, they set a benchmark for social peace before the riots. In this part of the country, Jats are both Hindu and Muslim landowners, whose fields are farmed by the poorer part of the rural Muslim population. The outbreak of violence in different parts of this largest and most populous Indian state was preceded by a series of incidents that suggested a secret understanding between the allegedly secular Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, both of which are keen to consolidate their respective constituencies ; In the case of the Samajwadi party, which is currently ruling in Uttar Pradesh and led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, it is explicitly about the votes of the Muslim electorate, and for the BJP with the prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi about the votes of a large part of the Hindu population.

However, the riots in Muzaffarnagar did not go as planned by the Samajwadi party and within a few hours spread from the cities to the villages, where they got out of control. Even today, several weeks after the first bloody clashes, the situation has not completely normalized and sporadic incidents continue to widen the gap between these two religious groups. Nearly 60 people were killed and 50,000 Muslims were driven from their homes as villagers robbed, murdered and raped people with whom they had lived peacefully side by side for decades. It was also the first time that perpetrators and victims came from the same villages, which to this day makes it difficult for the displaced to return to their homes and does not allow them, to feel reasonably safe there again. The state government failed to prevent the outbreak of violence because it allegedly had no information and was surprised by it; it also failed to prevent the riots from spreading to the villages, which have not yet calmed down. What's worse, she did next to nothing to rehabilitate the victims. In this case, the loser was clearly the government, which has lost the trust of the minorities who have been loyal to them. The sole beneficiary is the BJP, which has reportedly secured the votes of the Hindu Jats.

Communalism is sadly an integral part of India's political landscape today, so the 2014 elections are likely to polarize society further. According to political experience, further clashes are to be expected in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which together provide 120 of the total of 545 seats in the Lok Sabha. In these states there are influential regional parties that further aggravate the already razor-sharp power struggle in the center. Experiences, not only from the past, but also from recent political events convince politicians again and again that a policy of "divide-and-rule" secures them power, because it is easier to convince mutually played-off sections of the population to give their voice to those who that they believe will best represent their interests.


Secular political parties and organizations do not just stand by, but appear weaker than their opponents in the face of this apparently unstoppable communal offensive. In the states, regional political parties counter the Hindu nationalist forces with electoral campaigns that continue to ride around on hackneyed terms such as pluralism and peaceful coexistence. However, since Muslim voters make up a considerable proportion of the total Indian electorate and most political parties cannot do without this electorate, resistance will continue to be offered to these forces.

It is therefore imperative for all secular forces to band together and see that old stereotypes are dispelled, lies are replaced with facts, and every effort is made to maintain peace between faith communities. A major anti-communal conference recently convened by 14 political parties in Delhi was a first step in this direction. At this gathering, figures from the left as well as regional political leaders called on those present to resist the forces that wanted to divide society. Significantly, the Congress Party was lumped together with the BJP by most of the speakers because it was accused of creating profitable conditions for right-wing extremist groups. At this meeting it was made clear that secularism must be one of the most important Indian campaign issues if the campaign offensive of the Prime Minister of the State of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, is to be countered.

However, the secular parties have so far not been able to effectively repel the sharp attacks by the BJP and its affiliated organizations. It is now important for them to close their ranks and carry out a sustainable campaign, if they can do so in the upcoming elections in a few months' time