On the Consequences of Yet Another Anti-Islamic Public “Gaffe” in India


Alas, this author was given another topic to discuss in the context of the interconfessional situation in India. A country that is one of the world’s major powers, whose huge population inevitably gives an extremely important foreign policy component to its seemingly purely domestic events. All the more so when it comes to relations between supporters of the country’s predominant Hinduism and members of the nearly 200 million-strong Muslim community, in one way or another connected with the world of global Islam.

In early June, a number of Muslim leaders issued various harsh words to New Delhi on the occasion of some careless remarks against the founder of Islam as well as his wife. They were uttered in a TV studio in the capital by a lady functionary of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in India. Incidentally, the notorious Al-Qaeda ( (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation) has just turned up, not missing a chance to make its presence known.

It would seem that serious men could have refrained from publicly ranting about the “gaffe” of an inexperienced woman politician who, in the heat of a televised argument, could not control her own language. This might have been the case if the BJP central leadership and the perpetrator herself had been quick enough to assess the potential consequences of what had happened and had taken urgent action to dampen down the emerging scandal.

They probably had no more than twenty-four hours at their disposal, but that time was lost. A few days later, the misguided lady apologized and was expelled from the BJP, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and members of his government uttered the necessary “explanatory” words. But they had already refused to be listened to by the agitated “street.”

And after some forty people (half of which were police officers) were injured in clashes between rioters and police in Kanpur, one of the largest cities in the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the leaders of the Persian Gulf countries, Iran and some other Muslim states, all quite positive towards India, could not “close their eyes and ears” either. New Delhi has been flooded with bewilderment, enquiries and protests from their side.

Again, if this were an isolated “accident” in a generally peaceful interconfessional environment, the leaders of the countries mentioned would probably have afforded to remain silent. Unfortunately, no such environment exists in India. Moreover, it has a tendency to degrade, to which the aforementioned “gaffe” was only further evidence.

And it must be stated that the initiator of the (most probably unwitting) trend of recent years towards deteriorating relations (always problematic, though) between Hindus and Muslims was the BJP leaders themselves, led by the aforementioned Narendra Modi. The reason being that this party is a kind of “secular offshoot” of rather radical Hindu movements. After coming to power in 2014, the BJP began gradually introducing a “moderate” variation of Hinduism into public life.

However, in any ideological movement, there are always supporters of “particularly radical” offshoots, often out of the control of the “founding fathers.” At the same time, the activities of the former often discredit the latter and the latter are faced with the difficult question of what to do with such (in general, ideologically similar) “companions.”

One such erstwhile “companion,” who in the end turned out to be a mere hardliner against the BJP and Prime Minister Modi personally, delivered another “hate speech” in December last year which was addressed not so much to Muslims as to recent allies. Last thing the leadership needed was an aggravation of the interconfessional component of the multifaceted (it should be stressed) domestic political turbulence. So the author of the “hate speech” was finally subjected to stern measures.

The general slogan under which the process of “Hinduisation” of the country’s population takes place can be presented as a variation of the famous Russian meme “The Russia we have lost.” It should be added that it is utterly ridiculous, since the question immediately arises as to when “Russia was lost.” There is certainly no definite answer, as it depends on individual preferences. For some it is the middle of the 13th century, when most of the Russian principalities became part of the Chingizid Empire; for others – the middle of the 18th century, when a German dynasty with the strange surname Romanovs was installed on the Russian throne; for yet others it was 1917, when some other “German spies” took over. Or maybe “Russia was lost” in the late 1930s, when the latter were almost totally destroyed?

No one is well served by transposing historical archaisms based on myths into current reality. The “search for India,” which the radicals from Hinduism have also apparently “lost,” is unlikely to be successful either. Moreover, unlike the Russian Federation, the timeframe in India’s case seems quite definite, as it is associated with the completion of a hundred-year process of conquest of a part of present-day India by the Timurid Muslims at the beginning of the 16th century. It should be noted that this “loss” is hardly associated with the period of “British India,” to which almost all political currents today (for various reasons, however) appear to be more or less complimentary.

The construction of mosques by the Timurids, allegedly on the sites of former Hindu temples, is an almost central element of the myth-making that accompanies the search for the “lost India.” Even the Taj Mahal, a masterpiece of Muslim architecture, comes under suspicion.

Still, the author continues to believe that the fact of the act of de facto repeal of Article 370 of the national Constitution by the Parliament (at the initiative of the Central Government) in the summer of 2019 is clearly a milestone in the overall issue of interconfessional relations in India. The motives of the Indian leadership are more or less understandable, stemming from a desire to finally complete the legal unification of the country’s administrative divisions and to increase control over the Indian part of the former Principality of Kashmir in the face of ongoing confrontation with Pakistan.

However, the costs of this move proved to be a de facto violation of the terms on which the then Kashmiri leadership had agreed in the latter half of the 1950s to become incorporated into India, the downgrading of the former State (now Union Territory) of Jammu and Kashmir and the flow of Hindus from other States into its territory. It is these newcomers who are the targets of terrorist attacks by radical Islamist groups here. This provokes an understandable response from law enforcement agencies.

All this sharply worsens the already difficult situation in the Kashmir valley and also effectively nullifies the attempts of the new Pakistani government headed by Shehbaz Sharif (who incidentally also had to react to the discussed “gaffe”) to fundamentally improve relations with India. Is it not the latter factor that motivates yet another street activism of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, whom “someone” may be using “in an unwitting fashion”? However, the highly complex current situation in Pakistan deserves another special consideration.

Here it should be noted again that the interconfessional issue in a country like India cannot but include crucial foreign policy aspects. This is best understood by the country’s leadership, which is trying to de-escalate the Kashmir issue and generally form the basis for normalization of relations between Hindus and Muslims.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi often speaks of the so-called “Mughal period” as an integral part of Indian history and culture.  The contribution of Muslims to all aspects of independent India is also indisputable to him. They included statesmen of the highest ranks and prominent scientists and men of culture.

But the words mentioned by Modi apparently do not have much effect on the sentiments of radical Hindus. Any national radicals need only be provoked and then they are almost always out of control.

Again, the aforementioned “gaffe” was just an accidental product of not quite responsible behavior on the part of a politician who should in general watch their language in public. Unfortunately, it has been superimposed on an overall tense situation of interconfessional relations in today’s India.

First published in New Eastern Outlook

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