India’s latest round of political trouble stemming from the remarks made by two BJP leaders continues to grow. Its initial effects were more external but now disruptions and violence are more visible within India. It’s polarising the population along several lines and not just religious but others as well. Every group which has a conflict with the other are up in arms.
These conflicts and disruptions point to the fragility of One India as an idea that dominates India. Indian politics, both under the colonials and later is driven by this theme of One. But now it’s taking a hit. The result is a signal that India’s political model needs to adjust to contemporary aspirations of the state as a whole in its modern incarnation.
India’s historical baggage
“India” was essentially the Magadha centre based in North India which ruled over the regions claiming various rights including divine ones. This process of conquest is narrated in the two great epics, Mahabharat and Ramayana as holy tasks. This is common in every history of any region. The Holy Roman Empire, the Islamic Ummah to European colonialism, all basically reflect this aspiration.
With India, the difference was that the Magadhan conqueror was conquered and this break was psychologically fundamental to the Indians.
Imperial India led by elephant armies was defeated by the horse riding swifter armies of central Asia –Mohammed Ghori- that tore a continuous North India dominated history asunder. Understandably, they became the permanent enemy and since it represented a break, repairing the historical break has become a task that most Indians believe in.
British colonials replaced another colonial power –Mughals- in most Indian eyes. Thus it was much easier for many locals to collaborate and cooperate as their loyalty to the Turko-Afghan state was naturally missing. The British also took advantage of the situation and marginalised the pre-British elite, the Turko-Afghan elite.
The problem was that many Indians, mostly peasants had converted to Islam the elite were only a few thousand but the followers of the faith of the central Asian invaders were millions and as one single marginalized group became impossible to ignore. They had become almost a quarter of India’s population and it’s this demography that influenced colonial history.
Thus the Pakistan movement became the movement of the conquerors and still does. Bangladesh, which India helped birth, is a better deal than Pakistan but still not really India, a hope Hindu Mahasabha had in 1971. Thus, India appears truncated to many Indians and the trauma of the Central Asian conquest, strengthened by the birth of Pakistan lives on.
The invader population is Muslim and the invaded are Hindus in Indian eyes. Hence the historic issue has profound sociological implications. If the British used, “divide and rule” policy as some claim –they were already divided- the Indians ruling class currently is using a “divide to rule” policy that is creating problems that goes beyond electoral politics. It may be producing a dysfunctional state or sorts.
Minorities in every south Asian country are excluded to a certain degree including in Bangladesh. However, whether they are seen as hostile or not is important. In India they are and BJP has ridden to power using that historical trauma packaged in modern semiotics, particularly packaging it in Pakistan marked boxes. By denying a full sense of citizenship to Muslims, India may feel close to having achieved some collective revenge of the conquest. The problem is this is the present and not the past that India battles now.
Price of history?
It’s not a Hindu-Muslim issue but past vs the present issue and the impact is higher. India is the only Hindu state in the world but there are many Muslim states making India isolated and seen as discriminatory against Muslims. India doesn’t look good which would be fine if it didn’t matter. But India wants to be a big power which is tough to achieve with such a toxic brand that India has now produced. The world isn’t interested in India’s past but its present.
India today looks oddly old fashioned in its anti- Muslim policy. The levels of support for the 2 BJP leaders have ballooned naturally, as has inter-faith community clashes. The inevitable fall out is an assured victory of the BJP in the next elections but India’s status as an inclusive power appealing to mid-level states , many of whom are Muslim majority is vastly reduced. And that in a few years may have an impact beyond the pleasures of winning 2023.