Wednesday, July 3, 2002

India: Hindu Nationalism Returns to Politics

Date: Wednesday 3 July, 2002
Subj: India: Hindu Nationalism Returns to Politics
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


The present ruling party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has recently made several key political appointments that indicate its intention to return to the distinctive Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) ideology that swept it to power in March 1998.

A politically motivated revival of militant Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) would not bode well for the Christians and other religious minorities of India who, under the BJP, have suffered the worst persecution in all India's years of independence.


During 2001 the BJP was forced to moderate its hard-line Hindutva stance in order to keep its coalition government together. However, in mid February 2002, when twenty percent of India's population went to Legislative Assembly elections in four key states -Punjab, Uttaranchal, Manipur, and the most populous and politically significant 'kingmaker state' of Uttar Pradesh - the BJP lost all four states. Now, with crucial elections coming up in ten states in the next eighteen months and national elections looming in 2004, the BJP desperately wants to regain its lost ground.

On 1 July 2002, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) published an article by Amrit Dhillon, a journalist in New Delhi, entitled "Extremist Agenda Pushed in the Pursuit of Votes." Dhillon states, "The decision to revert to its 'purist' ideological roots is manifest in recent decisions. The BJP has chosen Vinay Katiyar, a vociferous supporter of the demolition of the former Babri Masjid mosque at Ayodhya, built on a holy site also claimed by Hindus, to lead the party in Uttar Pradesh. His appointment is a clear indication that the party intends to use the temple issue in Uttar Pradesh to rally Hindu support."

Related Hindu organisations that come under the same umbrella as the BJP have stepped up their militant language. According to the same SCMP article, Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Hindu Council (VHP - a sister organisation to the BJP) is on record as having said that the bloody sectarian riots in Gujarat earlier this year have been "the first positive response of the Hindus to Muslim fundamentalism in 1,000 years".

"Commentator Inder Malhotra described it as 'the politics of hate', adding: 'The BJP's silence on the VHP's ranting is eloquent, showing that it is prepared to claw its way back to power through any means.'"

The promotion of Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani to the position of Deputy Prime Minister (a position that does not even exist in the Constitution) also has great political significance. Advani is a controversial Hindu hardliner.

According to another SCMP article of 1 July, entitled "Three Ministers Quit ahead of Cabinet Reshuffle", Advani "is said to nurse a deep-rooted bias against the country's Muslims and has been formally charged by the Central Bureau of Investigation over his role in the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992.

"The choice of Mr. Advani as deputy premier came three months after the country's worst religious bloodshed in a decade, in the western state of Gujarat, where nearly 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed by Hindu mobs."

The following four paragraphs are from a 3 July SCMP article, again by Amrit Dhillon in New Delhi, entitled "Cabinet reshuffle clears way for Hindu revivalism".

"Sections of the BJP and its extremist Hindu affiliates.[had] dared not promote their ideological poster boy, Mr. Advani, for fear of antagonising their secular allies. They feared that Hindu hardliner Mr. Advani was simply too hawkish to be acceptable to the allies as a possible successor to moderate Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

"All that has now changed. Throwing caution to the wind, the party has pushed Mr. Advani to the forefront as the rightful heir to Mr. Vajpayee and, far from revolting, the allies have accepted it without demur. Analysts say Mr. Advani's appointment marks the end of the Vajpayee era and the return of the BJP to its original moorings.

"Despite knowing that the party intends to reassert its original Hindu revivalist agenda - of which Mr. Advani's promotion is just one sign - the allies have given in. 'The reshuffle heralds the domination of the BJP over its allies,' said Congress party spokesman Jaipal Reddy.

"In the cabinet expansion, the BJP has got the lion's share of posts and is in charge of all the key portfolios. It now has 56 ministers in the 77-strong cabinet, hence the Congress party's charge that the coalition government is actually 'a government of the BJP, for the BJP'."

Neelesh Misra, an Associated Press writer, in a 1 July article entitled, "India's P.M. Shakes Up Cabinet", quoted Jaipal Reddy, the spokesman of the main opposition Congress party as saying, "BJP is brazenly getting back to its original agenda of Hindutva." Misra also quoted Communist Party of India leader A.B. Bardhan as saying, "Advani is a symbol of hard-line Hindutva.... His coronation as deputy prime minister is something more than meets the eye."


FOR a detailed examination of the situation for Christians in India under the Hindutva policies of the BJP, see:
INDIA POLITICS BY OTHER MEANS: Attacks Against Christians in India
Human Rights Watch report of October 1999