The Hindu hurricane

The Gujarat violence was the product of middle-class rage. Now the fundamentalists threaten Ayodhya

Randeep Ramesh


Thursday March 14, 2002,4273,4373900,00.html

Belief in the absolute is difficult to argue against. That which is considered 

fundamental to a culture cannot be easily challenged. So how did Hinduism - a 

creed with no holy book, day, leader, heresy or single omnipotent deity and 

which is recognisable only by its plurality - manage to become such a powerful 

tool for chauvinists in India? The question may be posed innocuously now but 

later this week it may receive a bloody answer. 

Tomorrow thousands of young men and women of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or 

World Hindu Council will descend on Ayodhya in northern India to perform 

religious rites in a place where two ancient civilisations meet. They do so in 

order to provoke India's 140 million Muslims and little will dissuade them, 

certainly not pleas of restraint from government ministers or the supreme court 

which yesterday ordered the puja (prayer) ceremony to be banned. Certainly not 

the appalling images of Gujurati neighbourhoods set alight, mothers and children 

burnt, trains attacked and passengers slaughtered in the intra- religious 

violence of the past few weeks. Certainly not the army or the police who are 

charged with preventing violence in Ayodhya but did too little, too late in 

Gujurat. And certainly not the notion that India's democracy is in danger from 


For these fundamentalists, Ayodhya is the birthplace of Lord Ram, a Hindu heroic 

warrior-god. Unfortunately, it was also the spot of another Indian religious 

symbol - the Babri Masjid, a mosque supposedly built by Moghul emperor Babur in 

the 16th century. In 1992 a collection of Hindu revivalists decided that the 

mosque was another example of the Hindu majority prostrating itself before the 

country's minorities in the name of secularism. The mosque was demolished, 

reviving the campaign for a temple to replace it. 

"Minority rule" is a powerful, deadly image in modern-day India, where the issue 

was first propagated and then exploited by Hindu nationalist politicians. It is 

enough to drive well-educated, well-off people in the fastest growing state in 

India, Gujurat, to kill their neighbours. A Muslim lit the first spark - by 

setting fire to a train carriage full of Hindus - and hundreds of innocent 

Muslims lost their lives in violent reprisals. Gujurat has a 70% literacy rate - 

well above the national average, it has twice the per capita GDP of India and 

with just 6% of the country's population it accounts for 16% of its total 

exports. But as police commissioner Prashant Chandra Pande, in Gujurat's capital 

Ahmedabad, admitted after the carnage: "The people responsible for all this come 

from the better sections of society. Many of them are educated. They are 

ostensibly honest and decent. But this did not stop them." 

How did this madness grip the Hindu middle class? The roots of rage stem from 

their feelings of powerlessness. They thought no one was properly representing 

the interests of the well-off. They became increasingly disillusioned with the 

Congress party of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahathma Gandhi, which saw India as 

socialist, secular and multicultural. But Congress's economic policies failed to 

deliver, and corruption stifled the country. India produced a dynasty, not a 

democracy. Indira Gandhi flirted with dictatorship in the 1970s - a time which 

people recall, without irony, as memorable because the trains ran on time. 

Real politics returned with a vengeance in the 1980s. Anyone visiting India 

would have felt the gusts of wind that eventually became a Hindu hurricane. 

India's supposedly secular politicians overturned a court decision concerning an 

elderly Muslim woman who won a divorce case, for fear of antagonising Islam. Is 

she a citizen of a theocratic state, wondered Hindus? The dreadful reply was the 

destruction of the Ayodhya mosque which thrust the nationalist Bharatiya Janata 

party into the mainstream. 

But the BJP has had an uneasy relationship with power and had to pay a high 

price for building a coalition government with secular political partners. Now 

the VHP thinks politics has marginalised religion - despite the detonation of a 

"Hindu" nuclear bomb and the agitation by BJP ministers to rewrite history books 

from a Hindu viewpoint. 

If fundamentalism gets its way in Ayodhya, the VHP might want to tear down the 

mosques in Mathura (said to be the birthplace of Hindu deity Krishna) or Kashi 

(in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi). The VHP does not seem to care if the 

BJP-led government falls in the process. The two squabbling siblings, born of an 

even darker, militaristic body that produced Gandhi's assassin, are engaged in a 

fight for the right to represent Hinduism. But India itself is proving too big a 

place for any single religion, however pervasive, to dominate. The BJP has lost 

its regional power bases and smaller parties, mostly based on ethnicity, 

language and geography, are exerting themselves. India needs a unifying 

political project. But as the recent violence shows, Hinduism alone will not 

provide salvation for India. 


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