On Communalism

[From the Political-Organisational Report adopted at the Fifth Party Congress.]

In the last few years India’s communal temperature has been rising unabated, and with the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the subsequent nationwide trauma that left over a thousand dead and many more injured, communalism has come to the top of the political agenda. A multitude of factors, viz., the collapse of the Nehruvian economic model, growing public disgust with the political systems, real and imaginary threats to national unity and the international environment of rightist and fundamentalist resurgence, have contributed to an atmosphere conducive to the upswing of communal ideology and politics. And the political opportunism practiced by the mainstream political parties — Congress(I), Janata Dal, CPI and CPI(M) all included — at one or other junctures in relation to the BJP has further fueled the latter’s growth.

It must be clearly understood that the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute is not a simple Mandir-Masjid dispute between Hindus and Muslims. The shrewd leadership of RSS and BJP has persistently projected the Babri Masjid as a monument of Muslim invasion of Hindu India, which deserves to be demolished to restore the Hindu glory. Ram Janambhoomi thus became a very specific symbol for the long-term RSS philosophy of a Hindu Rashtra, attracted a large audience from gullible Hindu masses and assumed the character of a veritable mass movement skillfully organised by the Sangh Parivar. Behind the facade of religion what really mattered was politics and ideology. The name of Ram carried the BJP to every nook and corner of the country and helped it become the main opposition party within a short span of time. And with the BJP in power in four states, the RSS immediately began to tamper with school syllabi to convert schools into centers for disseminating the ideology of Hindu Rashtra.

The BJP has thus boldly moved to fill the ideological-political vacuum created by the retreat of Marxist and various other socialist ideals, as well as the disgrace suffered by the Congress(l), to emerge as a communal fascist alternative.

Fascism, the representative ideology of the most Conservative section of the bourgeoisie and landlords, is by its very nature, aggressive. BJP is not a party which can rest content with power in one or two states. It is desperate to take the next leap to power at the Centre. It has therefore kept up the pressure on the issue of Ayodhya, organised demolition of the Babri Masjid and is now issuing fresh threats to overrun Muslim shrines at Kashi and Mathura.

The official response to this communal offensive has remained confined to invoking the liberal Hindu plank and having recourse to legal channels. The mainstream Left response too has never been able to cross this borderline and it finally culminated in the slogan Mandir bane, Masjid rahe — sab kanun ka palan kare. Had Marx been alive he would have commented that India is a country where all battles, whether among classes or concepts, end up in compromises. So also with secularism.

A lot of people are taken in by the other variant of BJP propaganda which that India is secular because Hindus form the majority. Implicit here is the suggestion that Hindu religion is tolerant and liberal in contrast to the fundamentalism supposedly inherent in Islam.

First of all, the turn of events at Ayodhya has convincingly exploded this myth. Once Hinduism assumed an organised character a la Vishwa Hindu Parishad with Ayodhya as the so-called Hindu Vatican, the mahants of Hindu religion came out as perfect zealots and fanatics like fundamentalists of any other religion.

Secondly, secularism has nothing to do with the so-called positive assimilation of all religions or sarva dharma sambhav — a connotation attributed to it by modern social thinkers of India under the pretext of Indianising secularism. Secularism essentially means the rejection of religion in organising the affairs of the state.

Thirdly, a secular state everywhere has been the product of a successful democratic revolution and the very compulsion of diluting the concept of secularism in India is nothing but another confession of the unfinished character of the Indian democratic revolution. The orthodox or liberal face of any religion assuming predominance is related to the stage of evolution of a civil society. Christianity passing from the stage of orthodoxy to liberalism or the supposedly inherently liberal Sikhism turning orthodox with the rise of Khalistan etc. are all examples of this social law.

Liberal Hindu intellectuals are shocked by the demolition of the Babri Masjid as it supposedly goes against Hindu tenets. At the same time, they wonder why the Muslim leaders do not give up their claim to this dilapidated structure, which anyway, was not a functional mosque. They conveniently forget that for the Muslims, too, the Babri Masjid had become a monument symbolising their identity and existence in the complex socio-historical conditions of India.

The alienation of the Indian secular intellectual from the man on the street and his consequent panic in the face of communal offensive has often led him to bank on the negativist strategy of pitting Mandal against Mandir. The strategy met with abject failure in the last elections.

There can be no denying the fact that to mobilise broad public opinion against today’s communal offensive, liberal values of both Hinduism and Islam as well as archaeological findings and legal verdicts should all be put to good use. However, wide propaganda of modern secular ideals from an independent left platform alone can provide the essential core of a counter-offensive. Moreover, the question of secularism should not be posed in contrast to the tasks of democratic revolution or to justify all sorts of opportunist political alliances in the name of a secular front. Rather it should be made part and parcel of the democratic revolution. Instead of having a secular front which may also take up democratic questions we must have a democratic front which has the formation of a secular state on top of its agenda, not just as an ethical question or as an affirmation of historical traditions, but as a question of practical politics, as an absolute pre-condition for building a modern India.