By Imtiaz Gul
Is the west contemplating a counter-radicalization strategy in view of the extremist tendencies unfolding in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)/Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-led India? I have been asking US and European officials and academics this question on various occasions. The answer is almost always wrapped in a veiled apology and an obvious aversion to address the issue of counter-radicalization in India. Is it because of geo-political considerations coupled with economic interests tied to the 1.3 billion-strong Indian market? Absolutely. This is why the majority of western interlocutors agree that there is a serious extremism problem in India, but would rarely take a public position on it.
Let us first have a look at frustrations echoed by Amartya Sen, the Indian economist, philosopher, and public intellectual. In an interview with Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker, he said: “Today, everything is dominated by a hard-nosed, hard-Hindutva thinking. And the President, Prime Minister, the leadership are all Hindu. But if you compare that to a dozen years ago, 2007, let’s say, we had a Muslim President, a Sikh Prime Minister, a Christian leader of the ruling party. The majority of the parliamentarians were Hindu, but they were not trying to impose their way of thinking over everyone. And that’s what’s happened. And now we are suddenly in a position where you can chastise a Muslim for eating beef, which is also very nonclassical. If you go to the very old Sanskrit documents, like the Vedas, there is nothing prohibiting the eating of beef.”
This is not a recent xenophobic philosophy. In the 1939 book We, or Our Nationhood Definedby one of the leaders of the RSS, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, wherein he rejected the idea of living with differences. He saw all non-Hindus as “traitors and enemies to the national cause.”
Drawing inspiration from the Nazis, Golwalkar wrote: “Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.” According to Golwalkar, “wrong notions of democracy duped [us] into believing our foes to be our friends.”
Today, it is the ideas of Golwalkar, not Gandhi, which Modi and the BJP espouse.
It is this hard-nosed, hard-Hindutva thinking that Amartya Sen bemoaned in his interview to underscore the gravity of the situation for non-Hindu citizens of India.
Even a South Indian US-based IT professional, a fellow passenger on a flight from Abu Dhabi to Washington, sounded equally concerned about the course of events under the BJP-RSS rule. “I am not sure whether India will have the same democracy in the next five years,” he said warily.
A recent annual conference on the West’s much hyped theme Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) in Washington offered some interesting insights on counter-terrorism, counter-extremism, and counter- radicalization trends across the globe.
The discourse on these issues, easily interpreted from TED talks and presentations, highlighted how the post 9/11 counter-terrorism (CT) debate has evolved in the near two decades. It had begun with a focus on terrorism and CT-approaches including counter-insurgency (COIN). The sole objective then was to defeat proponents of terror outfits aligned with Al-Qaeda – the main challenge to the might of the US.
It eventually branched off into violent extremism, possibly with a view to create space for negotiations with amenable elements within these organizations. This in turn birthed CVE – a terminology exclusively associated with anti-West forces in the Muslim world. It was a discriminatory characterization of people and groups in Muslims societies who hold a negative view of the west, a term that often confuses religiosity with extremism. An EU-sponsored global summit at Brussels in autumn 2012 provided some soul-searching among the western scholars and officials on their insistence on CVE approaches for Muslim societies.
Then, I had personally objected to the terminology as being specific to Muslims. Many scholars and experts from Muslim countries, including those from Bangladesh, Sudan, and Turkey endorsed my protestation. Surprisingly, this and an expression of similar views with visiting European scholars, led to de-emphasis on CVE – at least publicly.
India has seen at least 44 of its citizens killed at the hands of Hindu extremists between May 2015 and Dec 2018 – some 36 Muslims in over 100 incidents of physical violence and harassment against non-Hindus or Dalits (the so-called untouchables). Communal violence has surged by 28 percent.
Is the West thinking of similar CVE interventions in India that its experts have been propagating and practicing in Muslim countries?
A clear and present response to the question above is the global reaction to the communications lockdown since August 5, 2019, when PM Modi revoked the special status of the disputed state of Kashmir and annexed it as Indian Territory.
A public appeal on September 27, 2019 by 14 US members of Congress berated the Modi government for its actions in Kashmir and reminded the world of what is happening to the non-Hindu Indian citizens.
“We also remain concerned about the surge in attacks against religious minorities throughout India, including horrifying reports of lynching, many influenced by Hindu nationalism, targeting Muslims, Christians and lower-caste Hindus. ……We urge Prime Minister Modi to make it clear that religious tolerance must be upheld,” the appeal said. The statement is much appreciated, but curiously leaves out the word “extremism”, almost as if it is exclusively the domain of the Muslim world.
Additionally, a lot of the conversation focuses on causes of radicalization, violent extremism or terrorism but mum is the word on the external political drivers of conflicts. Not to mention, nobody even alludes to India, not even after the violent annexation of Kashmir in clear violation of the UN resolutions.
How does the West explain extremism in India? A country where according to an Al-Jazeera the BJP government has systematically sought to exclude the “other”? A country where Muslim migrants have been called “termites”, and critics have been labeled “anti-nationals”. A country where national registers have been updated to exclude immigrants. A country where cow vigilantism and lynching incidents have not been discouraged? The “Shining India” the Modi government would have the world believe is but a facade to mask the quickly-spreading rot beneath, designed to purge the country of anyone but who the BJP-RSS consider the “master race”.