Revival and Growth of Communalism

Communalism continues to trouble the secular forces of the country. The communal ideology is still being propagated threatening the secular fabric of the society and polity. It also is a threat to the hard won unity of the people and can unleash the forces of barbarism. This has been used to mobilize people for electoral gains but has led to communal riots in the country. Secularism in India has a different meaning from western secularism. It is basically meant that the state should treat all religions equally and not differentiate between them. The western aspect of secularism has a negative meaning as it connotes a Non-interference of religion in politics. Thus Indian secularism has a positive meaning. On the other hand communalism means interests of different sections of the society are based on religion and are diverging and even hostile to each other. Communal ideology is viewing the polity, economy and society through narrow view of ones religion. An effort is made to organize politics around this ideology. The long term result of this ideology is riots and genocide. Communal violence is an effect of communal ideology but ideology can exist without violence too. Therefore communalists in India preach communal ideology to polarize the masses and not necessarily to start genocide. The main weakness of our system is that we remain passive towards communal ideology till violence breaks out. But that is like treating the symptom not the disease.

Active and Passive phases of Communalism 

Despite the violence seen during the Partition and subsequent separation of India on the basis of religion, Indian society accepted a secular fabric to the society. The communalists continued to remain a marginal force. This was due to rejection of the One Nation – One Religion theory by congress and the subsequent fight against communalism by Nehru with the active support of leaders like Sardar Patel, Rajagopalchari etc. The defeat of communal forces in consecutive elections till 1977 led people to believe that communalism had been vanquished from India. But this wasn’t so ,communalism also has active and passive phases and the struggle against it should be continuous. Like said earlier the communal ideology wasn’t fought only communal violence and so the threat remained. Communal parties of all religions existed and continued to be active even outside politics.

Mid-1960’s saw a revival of communalism as riots also increased and the people killed in them rose too. However this number continued to remain small. The Crisis in 1962 and the Wars between India-Pakistan dealt a major blow to communalism and they were sidelined. Communal forces got a major victory when Indira Gandhi was defeated and RSS influence on the government increased. The communal violence had become wide-spread even existing in areas like Andhra Pradesh, Kerela where it was believed that communalism was non existent. Riots also started to take place in villages and now became more organized and lasted longer with a higher damage. Interestingly when the emergency existed the communal incidents became negligible as major communal leaders were arrested and detained.

Characteristics of Communalism

Communalism got a breeding ground due to the social – economic and political discontent of the people. The post independence phase saw a major economic expansion,rapid industrialization, indigenisation of services of government. This along with education opportunities created a system where aspirations of the people increased. They now had a chance to move to higher levels of the society. This also meant that communal ideology was marginalized in the society. But later period  saw the clash of interests as competition increased and opportunities stagnated. The socio-economic development was uneven and led to marginalization of classes. The growth on basis of capitalism also affected the society and created income inequalities. The lag between aspirations and fulfillment increased and it was this period that saw revival of communalism. 

Although communalism wasn’t the solution but a problem, people turned towards it as a response to the growing distress, disparity and insecurity. People turned towards communal or casteist ideologies due to missplaced anxieties. However along with economic motives communalism also had other reasons.

The old fabric of the society like village communities,joint family system etc were collapsing and being replaced by newer organizations working on capitalist lines. The old values that cement societies are disappearing and this had created a cultural vacuum that fueled the move towards communalism. The philosophy of winner takes all and let devil take care of the rest led to many taking the short cut towards political power by backing up communal forces and capitalizing on the siege mentality of the people. Another aspect that fueled communalism was the disappearance of the ideals of the freedom movement that had inspired the youth to take up secular ideals. The period after 1970’s saw no new radical social ideal that transformed the society and inspired it to have egalitarian values.

Long Term and Short Term causes

In a society where communal ideology has been already spread even minor clashes like a religious tiff or teasing of a girl or fight between individuals of different communities create a communal violence on a large scale. The main actors in such clashes are the urban poor and the marginalized. These have increased in numbers due to uneven social – economic development and large scale migration to cities. These class of people have been easily lured to communal ideology and have found communal violence as a outlet for their frustrations created from living in misery. These people are the major participants and victims of such violence. Recently even political parties and gangs of criminals resort to communal violence to settle scores with their opponents.

The growth of communalism was also aided by apathy of the law and order machinery of the state. The laxity in handling inflammatory communal propaganda and dealing with minor incidents effectively also encouraged communalism. The other major flaw is perpetration of communal ideology within the state apparatus as officers at some levels have overtly or covertly supported communal elements.Their partisan handling of the situation also has encouraged communalism.

Political parties in India are either secular or communal with latter being a minority. But during the electoral season it was seen that even the secular parties made alliances with communal forces to get victory. Even communists didn’t remain far behind this trend. This was seen in Congress – Muslim League alliance in Kerela and the appeasement towards Sikh communalists in Punjab. The secular parties have however never waged an ideological war against communalism and have remained neutral in the initial phases when communalism grew. This led to disastrous consequences later. Even Leaders would be interested in giving political concessions based on religion to people to appease them and gain political mileage. However as was seen these smaller gains increased the appetite of the communalists and they made bigger demands. There is no difference between majority or minority communalism as both were equally dangerous and reinforced each other.

India was saved from falling into hands of barbaric forces as most of the society wasn’t communal. Even the political parties cutting across ideologies remained committed to democracy and secularism. The communal forces in them were sidelined and remained marginal value. Even when the Political parties like Jan Sangh and BJP came to power they didn’t use the State apparatus to reinforce communalism as it was did in Italy. It is seen that without the support of State or even neutrality of State communalism cant become dominant and so India didn’t go on the same line as Pakistan.

Communalism and its Aftermath

The Communal forces in Hindusim were less dominant than their other counterparts. This was because the Hindusim was the largest religion in India and the communalists weren’t able to convince the masses that their religion was in danger. The Hindus were not motivated by religious issues due to a history of religious tolerance. They had no strong set of beliefs towards one god or one set of texts and so attempts to polarize it was less as it wasn’t a organized religion.However it was the RSS and its sister political parties managed to evoke a communal response on the question of Babri Masjid demolition. The secular forces had allowed this issue to fester without any firm action and so they couldn’t control it as it became a major issue. In a country with centuries of History there were bound to be problems related to such issues like domination, suppression of one religion over other. But current actions cant be used to sort past religious issues.

The political thought didn’t accept this and decided to set right this historical mistake. The Demolition of Babri Masjid and the riots that followed shook the country. The government at the center lost support and was defeated and a new party rose to power. Indian secularism was shaken and now minority communalists also rose. Terrorism was a result of this and the neighbouring state now could successfully supply arms and ammunition to the minority communalists to foment violence. The Godhra massacre, similarly acts of violence were a result of the Babri Masjid incident.

Although these incidents have led critics to question the secular fabric of the country, India has continued to remain united and secular. This was because the ideals of National movement that secular fabric was woven. Leaders of Congress and the vast majority of people and political parties continued to believe in democracy. Even when communalists formed the government capitalizing on people’s fears they couldn’t succeed in making a lasting impression or changing the societies fabric from secular to communal. Popular consciousness to has played an important role in acting as a barrier to spread of communalism.

Communalism and State Power

It was the Babri Masjid Massacre that removed the mask of secularism from the face of Jan Sangh and exposed its communal ideology. Although it continued to increase its influence at the National level it reached pinnacle in 1998 when the BJP was sworn to power. The party leadership had blamed the Ayodhya Mosque incident on extremist elements within the party claiming that the party leadership wasn’t responsible for the incident. The secular elements claimed that the communal elements shouldn’t get power as this would create the foundation for a fascist state. On the other hand it was argued that political power mellow the extremist elements, strengthen the moderates and mainstream the party. The section of the party leaders continued to promote the ideology of the RSS by communalizing education. The VHP, Bajrang Dal and the RSS continued to foment communal sentiments by pursuing the policy of creating a Hindu Rashtra. The Godhra train massacre and the riots in Gujarat were due to this policy.

Education was communalized by the HRD Ministerwho wanted to appease his RSS mentors. State text books on History were modified on the lines of RSS sponsored text books and now portrayed the minorities as foreigners and glorified Hindu Kingdoms. The attack on scientific and secular history and its communal portrayal attracted strong criticisms from the intelligentsia as well as the autonomous state institutions like NCERT.

The government had replaced the heads of these autonomous institutions with its own supporters. Thus the opposition of these institutions was brought under control. The textbooks were given a communal color and the protests of scientific and secular historians were deleted. The protests against such actions were made by Secular forces and the media. Even the Indian History Congress, a respected forum of historians was ignored. Writers with ideology close to Sangh were nominated for writing textbooks. The National Curriculum Framework was drafted without creating a consensus on the issue and opinions were ignored.The long term consequence of this was that Gujarat saw a massacre of minorities. The textbooks of the state were based on glorifying the Fascist and the Nazi philosophy. They encouraged the students to view minorities as foreigners.

A non communal incident of a train bogey containing volunteers returning from Ayodhya who had answered the VHP call for laying the foundations of Ram temple due to accidental reasons was portrayed as a attack on Hindus by Muslims. The result was a three month long genocide in Gujarat where thousands were killed and many were displaced. The reverberations of that incident continue to exist even today. Even the then PM Vajpayee called the Gujarat riots as a “Dark day for India that had lowered India’s prestige before the World”.