Attacking Northerners, Breaking Babri Mosque Both Signal Fascism

In his book, "The Anatomy of Fascism", Robert O. Paxton referred to the fascistic tactic of "mobilizing passions" to garner support. The Hindutva brigade in India has been assiduously using this prescription to advance its divisive cause. Muslims have been the primary target, but Christians and even Hindus haven't been spared.

The targeting of north Indians, mainly migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, in Mumbai by a small outfit headed by Raj Thackeray is only the latest example of such sectarian violence. But whether it is the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 or the attacks on Christians in Orissa, and earlier in Gujarat, it is always the saffron brotherhood that carries out these outrages directed against the minorities.

Its cynical objective is patent enough. The destruction of the Babri Masjid was carried out in the presence of L.K. Advani and other senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in the hope of winning political support by demonizing Muslims. This hope was fulfilled, as was evident from the BJP's rapid ascent from the margins of politics to its centre stage.

Similarly, Raj Thackeray is expecting to whip up parochial sentiments in his favor among the Maharashtrians by blaming north Indians on two counts - depriving the locals of jobs and housing and not identifying themselves fully with the state.

The second accusation is routinely leveled by the saffron camp against Muslims at the national level, charging them with not being patriotic enough.

It is a familiar trick of the ultra-nationalists, dating back to Nazi Germany's Jew-baiting before World War II. But it apparently never fails to work, judging from the persistence with which parties like the BJP and the Shiv Sena use it - the BJP mainly against Muslims and the Sena against both Muslims and non-Maharashtrians even if they are Hindus.

In Maharashtra, the ball of sub-nationalism was first set rolling by Raj Thackeray's better known uncle, Bal Thackeray, when he formed the Shiv Sena in the mid-1960s to champion the cause of the sons of the soil. His targets then were south Indians with their ubiquitous idli-dosa shops famous for their fast food items, and their presence in the middle and lower rungs of commercial establishments.

Since nothing is simple in Indian politics, there is a story behind Bal Thackeray's rise, for he was initially propped up by the Congress to counter the leftist trade unions in Mumbai. Then, he cut his moorings and turned on his former benefactor. The similarity of this tale in Maharashtra with the encouragement given to the Sikh militant, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, by the Congress in Punjab in the 1980s is obvious. Bhindranwale too became a dangerous loose cannon.

One reason why the insular, chauvinistic organizations floated by Bal Thackeray and now by his nephew have flourished is the reluctance of the ostensibly broad-minded, secular parties like the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to act against them for fear of offending the locals.

Just as the Congress has bowed to the dictates of Muslim bigots by virtually placing controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen under house arrest and refusing to allow her to receive the Simone de Beauvoir prize in India from the visiting French president, similarly it has evaded taking any stern action against the Sena despite its indictment by the Srikrishna Commission, which investigated the post-Babri masjid demolition Mumbai riots.

In the present instance, the Congress may have allowed the sporadic violence to simmer in the hope that, first, it will set uncle and nephew against one another. And, second, the sectarian outbreak will embarrass the BJP by focusing renewed attention to the nature of its divisive politics. Besides, as an essentially north Indian party, the BJP will be deeply unhappy about the activities of its saffron ally in Maharashtra, thereby benefiting the Congress.

As it is, rifts between the BJP and the Shiv Sena have grown ever since the latter supported Pratibha Patil, a Maharashtrian, for the president's post against the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance's candidate, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who is from Rajasthan.

Then, Bal Thackeray said that NCP leader Sharad Pawar would make a fine prime minister when Advani is being projected by the BJP as its prime ministerial candidate. In the case of both Patil and Pawar, the fact that they are Maharashtrians have obviously influenced Bal Thackeray's choice, underlining yet again the provincial nature of his politics.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that his nephew will play the same game, especially since he was a member of his uncle's party until not long ago and only broke away when Bal Thackeray chose his son, Uddhav, as the next generation leader of the Sena in preference to Raj Thackeray.

Ever since the decline of the Congress, regionalism has been the bane of Indian politics, with the growth of state-based parties with their narrow outlook. It isn't Maharashtra alone that has seen sectarian violence. Biharis have also been targeted in Assam and Tamils in Karnataka.

One reason why people from the so-called Hindi belt are singled out is that the economic decline of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh makes many of them migrate to other states in search of jobs.

The saffron lobby's contribution to this phenomenon of targeting the "outsiders" has been the legitimization of violence as a political tactic, as the tacit endorsement of the Gujarat riots by the administration and sections of the Hindu middle class showed.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)


More by :  Amulya Ganguli

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