8. Religion in Politics: Secularism and Communalism – Indian Politics in Comparative Perspective


Religion in Politics: Secularism and Communalism

Religion, secularism and communalism are inextricably linked to each other. They have acquired prominence on the Indian scene since colonial times. As many novel political and social forces have unleashed themselves in the past few decades, it has achieved new significance in recent times. There are many views regarding what should constitute the nature and relationship between religion and politics. Of these, we would like to deal with two opposing views of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Mahatma Gandhi's Views on Religion and Politics

Gandhiji said, ‘Those who talk about the separation of religion and politics do not know what religion is’. He stated categorically, ‘For me, politics bereft of religion is absolute dirt, ever to be shunned’. ‘Politics without religion’, he argued, ‘will be devoid of ethics and moral values’. According to him, ‘There is an intimate relationship between religion and politics’. He said, ‘… for me there is no politics without religion-not the religion of the superstitious and the blind, religion that hates and fights, but the universal religion of toleration’.

For Gandhiji, the close connection between religion and politics was because, politics had to be moral, and had to be based on morality. And religion was the source of morality. It was indeed, itself morality in the Indian sense of dharma. He often used the word in two different senses. One in its denominational or sectarian sense, that is, in terms of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism etc. and the other in the traditional sense of dharma, that is, the moral code which guides a person's life and the social order. In asserting that the politics should be based on religion, he clearly meant that it should have a moral foundation in dharma or a code of conduct or in Truth and non-violence and not in religion in the denominational and sectarian form or in terms of sectarian or sectional beliefs.1

Politics is intimately related to the entire activities of human life. Not a single activity in the world, according to him, should be independent of religion. So he wrote, ‘the whole gamut of man's activities today constitutes an indivisible whole’. You cannot divide social, political, economic and purely religious work into watertight compartments.

While regarding politics as a method through which men can rule themselves without violence and religion as the embodiment of ethical and moral rules, he argued that their close relationship has to be recognized. For him politics means where people participate in the public affairs for purposes of serving others. Since political activity is closely related to the cause of the people, it should be permeated by religion. So when politics is permeated by religion, according to him, it is dedicated to the cause of humanity which eventually leads to a better understanding of the truth.

He firmly believed that he could lead a truly religious life only when he took part in politics. Gandhiji believed in the equality of all religions. They are different ways of reaching the same goal. Gandhiji was in favour of secularism. He was against communalism in all its variants like Hindu communalism, Muslim communalism or Sikh communalism etc. He was against both majority and minority communalisms.

Nehru's Views on the Relationship Between Religion and Politics

As a liberal western educated person, Nehru said that religion has no place in politics. ‘When religious forces get active in politics’, he said, ‘they become communal’. He had no attraction towards any religion, for he saw nothing more than superstition and dogmatism in any religion. Science, to Nehru, was much preferable than religion. As he had scientific temper, it was natural for him to be a secularist.

Secularism, for Nehru, was equal protection by the state to all the religions. His concept of secularism meant separation of religion from politics. ‘Politics’, according to Nehru, ‘is associated with public activities and religion is the private affair where everyone has the right to practise one's own religion’. Referring to the concept of secularism, Nehru says, ‘some people think that it means something opposed to religion. That is not correct. What it means is that it is the state which honours all faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities; that as a state, it does not allow itself to be attached to one faith or religion, which then become the state religion.’ As a part of a religious community anyone can share any belief but at the same time, if anybody wants to come out of the belief system, he has the right to do so. If somebody is an atheist, he is free not to have any faith. State is not going to interfere in somebody's belief system.

Nehru, like Gandhi, was opposed to both Hindu communalism as well as Muslim communalism. The fact that Muslims were being able to live a life of security and freedom, despite the pangs of partition and ensuing communal riots and sense of insecurity, is because of Nehru's continuous espousal of secularism.

In ‘secular society’ the principle that religion and politics have separate realms is accepted, but religion still continues to influence politics in many ways. After Nehru's demise, the Congress government under the Prime Ministership of Indira Gandhi, made use of the religious symbols to garner votes. The principle of secularism was floundered for the first time in independent India, but it reached its zenith during the late 1980's with the emergence of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). BJP enormously exploited the religiosity of Hindu community and projected itself as the protector of the rights and interests of the majority community. It finally culminated into Ayodhya dispute and the demolition of the Babri Masjid in India in 1992. This led to the rise of communal politics, which completely altered the synergy between religion and politics. Thereafter, India also witnessed the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, perhaps, as a response to the majority communalism. Henceforth, religion was increasingly used by politicians to serve their interests and there has been no reversal of manoeuvres adroitly employed by the political parties of India. Since then, India has witnessed many communal riots as communalism has spread its tentacles even to areas which were allegedly impregnable and to all the sections of the society, thereby threatening the unity and integrity of the country. The rise in the phenomenon has led many scholars and academics to question the viability of the doctrine of secularism as enshrined in the constitution. With communalism acquiring menacing proportions in India, academics have raised doubts about its pertinence and applicability in India.


Secularism, in its theory and practice, is a very debatable concept, and is subject to many interpretations by various scholars. Secularism in India has not emerged in a vacuum and owes its existence to the interplay of social and political forces of the past. It cannot be understood in abstraction from the historical context and has gained importance in India especially as the events are unfolding itself on the political front. It is not imitated from the west, and has come to acquire certain special features owing to specific historical events. Secularism as a practice was embraced in India in response to the ideology of communalism and to inhibit its growth. It was necessary for the framers of the constitution to declare India a ‘Secular state’ because of the multi-religious character of the society and to further prevent communalism from spreading its tentacles since communalism has taken a heavy toll which resulted in the partition of India. To ignore this actuality, it would have been an instance of half-baked historical knowledge and irrational politics.

According to the definition of Oxford Dictionary of Politics, secularization means detachment of a state or other body from religious foundations. According to Bipan Chandra, secularism means separation of the state, politics and other non-religious areas of life from religion and religion being treated as a purely personal matter. State must also be dissociated from any kind of religion, and it should be neutral towards all religions.2 According to Andre Beteille, two distinct forces contribute to secularization. The first is the compulsion of fairness or equality between religious communities in a country where diverse religious faiths coexist. The second is a process of specialization and differentiation whereby institutions and practices earlier regulated by religious authority and religious doctrine cease to be so regulated and these institutions will then act relatively autonomously in their respective specialized domains, such as those of education, science, finance, administration, communication etc. The issue of religious pluralism is directly relevant to the first and not to the second. Specialization and differentiation may lead to secularization even in a society, where there is only one single religion.3

According to Donald Smith, the secular state involves three distinct, but interrelated relations concerning the state, religion and the individual. The first relation concerns individuals and their religion, from which the state is excluded. Individuals, ‘are thereby free to decide the merits of the respective claims of different religions without any coercive interference by the state’,-the libertarian ingredient in secularism. The second concerns the relation between individuals and the state, from which religion is excluded. Thus, all individuals are entitled to the same citizenship rights irrespective of the religious beliefs held by them-the egalitarian component in secularism. Finally, for Smith, the integrity of both these relations is dependent on the third relation between the state and different religions. Here, he argues that secularism entails the mutual exclusion of state and religion. Just as political power is outside the scope of religion's legitimate objectives, just so it is not the function of the state to promote, regulate, direct or interfere in religion.4

Rajeev Bhargava has delineated few features of secularism which, according to him, are incorporated and embodied in the Indian constitution:

  1. Disestablishment of religion.
  2. Religious liberty to any religious group.
  3. Religious liberty granted non-preferentially to all members of every religious group.
  4. The liberty to embrace a religion other than the one into which a person is born and to reject all religions.
  5. No discrimination by the state on grounds of religion to entitlements provided by the state.
  6. No discrimination in admission to educational institutions on grounds of religion.
  7. Equality of active citizenship with no discrimination on grounds of religion.5

The term ‘Secular’ was added in the preamble of the constitution by the virtue of 42nd amendment in 1976. But even before this formal declaration, constitution of India contained several latent provisions that assured the practice of secularism in India. As one scholar has rightly remarked that, we do not even have to use the term secular to practise secular politics, all that we need to do is to faithfully follow the provisions of the constitution. For, if the principle of equality is rigorously followed, the state cannot possibly align with one religion to the detriment of the others.6 There have been various judicial pronouncements, which had upheld secularism as a cardinal feature of the constitution; for instance, in Keshvananda Bharti case vs. State of Kerala (1973), Supreme Court pronounced that secularism constitutes an essential feature of the basic structure of the constitution. Justice Khanna, in Indira Nehru Gandhi vs. Raj Narain case (1976), reinforced this proclamation. Later in S.R. Bomai vs. The Union of India case (1994), religious tolerance, equal treatment of all religious groups, protection of their life and property and places of their worship have been held to be an essential part of the Indian secularism. It was declared that religion, faith and belief of a person are immaterial for the state. Constitutional provisions which are secular in spirit are as follows:

  1. Article 14 confers ‘Right to Equality’ which prohibits the state from denying to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
  2. Article 15 directs the state not to discriminate on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth etc. The word ‘only’ indicates that if other qualifications are equal then discrimination cannot be made merely on the grounds that one belongs to a particular caste, religion, race etc. Discrimination cannot be made with regard to:
    1. Access to shops, public restaurants, places of public entertainment, hotels or.
    2. The use of wells, bathing ghats, roads, tanks and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of state funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.
  3. Article 16 (1) and (2) provides for equality of opportunity in the matters of public employment or appointment to any office under the state. It further affirms that no citizen, on the grounds of religion, race, caste etc, shall be eligible for or discriminated against in respect of any employment or office under the state.
  4. Article 17 declares the abolition of untouchability, and its practice in any form is forbidden.
  5. Article 25 (1) declares that subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of con-science and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion. Article 25 (2) states that ‘nothing in article 25 (1) prevents the state from making a law providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindu’.
  6. Article 26 says that subject to public order, morality and health every religious sec-tion shall have the right (a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; (b) to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion; (c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and (d) to administer such property in accordance with law.
  7. Article 27 says that no person shall be compelled to pay tax for religious purposes or for the promotion of any particular religion.
  8. Article 28 prohibits giving any religious instructions whatsoever in any educational institutions wholly maintained by the funds of the state.
  9. Article 29 (1) provides the citizens of India, residing in the territory of India, the right to conserve their distinct language, script or culture. Article 29 (2) declares that no citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the state on grounds only of religion, race etc.
  10. Article 30 (1) grants all minorities, whether based on religion or language, the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. It says that in case of acquisition of such property the state shall give due compensation. Article 30 (2) declares that state shall not discriminate against any educational institutions in granting aid on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language. It further permits religious instruction in educational institutions partly funded by the state.
  11. Article 325 declares a general electoral for constituencies and states that no one shall be ineligible for inclusion in this roll or claims to be included in it on grounds only of religion etc., embodies the value of equal active citizenship.

Articles 15, 16, 25, 29 (2), 325, 27, 28 is in tandem with doctrine of “wall of separation” of the secular state whereas articles 17, 25 (2) departs from the aforesaid principle and violates and contradicts the essence of the articles 26 and 25 (1), and is a departure from strict neutrality or equidistance. Ironically, Indian constitution contains many provisions which at one point of time concur with the secular credentials while other provisions violate its spirit. For instance, the sati (widow-burning) cannot be practised in the name of religious rituals sanctioned by centuries old custom, the practice of untouchability is prohibited in the name of religion, forced conversions are strictly forbidden, cow slaughter on Id-ul-Juha (bakrid) was not held to be an essential part of Islam and could therefore be prohibited by law in the interest of public order, morality and health. While on the other hand, the grant of minority rights vide article 29 (1) and 30 were accompanied by a special concession by the virtue of which they could retain their own personal laws as we can see in Shah Bano case (1986), the practice of polygamy which is not legal in some Muslim countries even etc. The problem is that immediately after independence, the state in the name of social reform, carried out reforms in the Hindu personal laws through series of legislation collectively known as the Hindu Code Bill and also reformed Hindu caste system. This was further compounded by non-materializing of the Uniform Civil Code articulated in the article 44 of the constitution. Personal laws of the Hindu community were socially reformed while personal laws of minority community were left untouched. Indian state, in this sense, has given priority to and upheld group rights over individual rights. We can argue that Indian state was not concerned with the social reform and progress of Muslim community in general and justice and rights of Muslim women in particular. As Neera Chandoke has rightly suggested, that secularism cannot be abstracted from wider conceptual context of which it forms one part. It can only be understood as an intrinsic part of the historical, constitutional and political practices of democracy, freedom, equality, justice and rights and from which it derives its meaning.7 This invited fresh debates by scholars like Donald Eugene Smith who suggested that the liberal democratic theory of secularism carries three connotations: (a) liberty and freedom of religion; (b) citizenship and right to equality, non-discrimination and neutrality and (c) the separation of state and religion. In India, argued Smith, that the first two principles have been incorporated into the constitution as the basis for secularism. However, the right of the state to intervene in the affairs of the religion has deeply compromised these two principles. ‘The core of the problem of Indian secularism’, argued Smith, ‘lies in the non-separation of the state and religion’. Therefore, he concluded that India has some, but not all, the features of a secular state.8

Indian Notion of Secularism

Secularism acquires some of the colour of the social environment in which it operates. If the idea of secularism varies between India and west, it also varies between Britain, France and Germany. There is no exact equivalent of the English word ‘secular’ in any Indian language.9 So, secularism in India also has acquired a different connotation due to specific historical experience and conditions. Apart from the widespread and established western definition of secularism, which rests on the ‘wall of separation’ between religion and politics, Indian version of secularism also denotes ‘sarva dharma sambhava’, which means the equal treatment of all faiths. That the state should treat all religious groups, sections and denominations equally. As Thomas Pantham pointed out, in the west secularism usually refers to the state's separation from or indifference toward religion. Hence, the western antonym of ‘secular’ is ‘religious’. In India, by contrast, the antonym of ‘secular’ is ‘communal’. This is so because given the pervasive religiosity of the people and the pluralism of religions, an ethically-politically appropriate pattern of relationship between religion and state had to be one that stressed the equal respect for all religions, rather than the erection of any insurmountable ‘wall of separation’ between the state and religion.10

Western Notion of Secularism

Secularism, which is often translated as dharma-nirapeksata has its origins in Europe. When it was first used at the end of the Thirty Years’ war in Europe in 1648, ‘secularization’ referred to the transfer of properties of the church to the princes. Later, in England, George Holyoake used the term ‘secularism’ to refer to the rationalist movement of protest which he led in 1851. In its pursuit of the project of Enlightenment and Progress through the replacement of the mythical and religious view of the world with the scien-tific and technological-industrial approach, Europe brought about a differentiation or separation of the political sphere from the religious sphere. This process by which ‘sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols’ came to be variously referred to as the ‘secularization’ or de-sacralization of the world. In addition to this idea of (1) the separation of religion and politics, secularism also means (2) the diminution of the role of religion; (3) this-worldly orientation rather than orientation towards the supernatural; (4) the replacement of the ‘sacred’ or ‘mysterious’ conception of the world with the view that the world or society is something that can be rationally manipulated or socially engineered; and (5) a view of religious beliefs and institutions as human constructions and responsibilities rather than as divinely ordained mysteries.11

Contemporary Debates on Secularism

The entire discussion on secularism has taken place to counterbalance the communalist and fundamentalist forces which has led to the communalization of society. The debate on secularism has harped around two basic questions. One, taking into cognizance the pervasiveness of the religiosity and religious sensitiveness in India, is Secularism apt for the country? Second, has secularism, as practised in India, proved successful in deflecting the dangers posed by communalism?

Owing to the sui generis nature of the doctrine of secularism in India, it is beset by various interpretations and analysis in the contemporary Indian political discourse and every scholar has perceived and apprehended it according to their own understanding of the term like Ashis Nandy, Partha Chatterjee, T. N. Madan, Rajeev Bhargava etc.

To begin with, Ashis Nandy, T. N. Madan and Partha Chatterjee are critics of the theory and practice of secularism in India and the so called ‘positive secularism’ advocated by political right. According to Nandy, Nehruvian secularism, which separates the state and religion, and which has been imposed on the Indian people, is the part of the larger, modern, western package of scientific growth, nation-building, national security and development. These constitute a ‘modern demonology, a tantra with a built-in code of violence’. Whereas secularism demands the members of religious communities to dilute their faith so that they can be truly integrated into the nation-state, it ‘guarantees no protection to them against the sufferings inflicted by the state itself’ in the name of its ‘secular, scientific, amoral’ ideology of nation-building, security, development etc. As a handy adjunct to these ‘legitimating core concepts’, secularism helps the state elites. This modern Western rational-scientific secularism, according to him, which sought to impose on the Indian society, has failed either to eliminate religion from politics or to promote greater religious tolerance. Hence it can ‘no longer pretend to guide moral or political action’.12 Since religious identities, he further says, hold an important place in the lives of the people of India, they should make their appearance in the public sphere. This is made possible through the democratization of the polity. But the problem is that the religious identities, which are regarded as unnecessary and superfluous by the formal politics, make their appearance either in the form of religious instrumentalism or religious fundamentalism. For the ills of religion have found political expression, the strengths of religion are not available for checking corruption and violence in public life. Ultimately, we are left with a deprived version of religion that serves narrow and partisan ends.13 So in his view, the ethically-politi-cally appropriate alternative to them lies in the non-modern, pre-secular conception of religions as accommodative, tolerant faiths or ways of life as practised by Asoka, Akbar and Gandhi. They, he points out, derived their religious tolerance not from secular politics but from Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism respectively.14

Like Nandy, T. N. Madan also maintains that because it denies the immense impor-tance of religion in the lives of the people of South Asia, secularism in this region is an impossible credo, an impracticable basis for state action and an impotent remedy against fundamentalism or fanaticism. He gives three reasons for this belief: firstly, that the majority of the people living in the region are active adherents of some religious faith; secondly, Buddhism and Islam have been declared state religions; lastly, secularism is incapable of countering religious fundamentalism.15 He says that the denial of the legitimacy of the religion in social and political life serves to provoke fanaticism and fundamentalism on the part of religious zealots. These beliefs, he further contends, must be taken seriously and the religious should be given a same place in society as the non-religious. Traditions of religious pluralism can help us carry forward inter-religious harmony. For this, he suggest, we should see how Gandhi employed the resources of religious tolerance to promote inter-religious understanding. In summation, the only way that secularism may succeed is if we take both religion and secularism seriously, and not reject the former as superstition and reduce the latter to a mask for communalism or mere expediency.16

Partha Chatterjee too finds that the ideology of secularism is not adequate or appropriate political perspective for meeting the challenge of Hindu majoritarianism. In his view, the official model of Indian secularism and the present campaign of the Hindu right for setting up a ‘positively’ secular state have brought India to a ‘potentially disastrous impasse’.17 According to him, since its birth, the project of the nation-state in India has been implicated ‘in a contradictory movement with regard to the modernist mission of secularization’. One part of the nationalist-modernist project was the secularization of the public-political sphere by separating it from religion, while another part was the reformist intervention of the state in the socio-religious sphere mostly of the Hindus.18 The dilemma is that, he says, if the state adopts secularism as separation, then minorities cannot be protected but if it interprets secularism as equidistance, its own practises violate the norm. A better way to protect the minorities, he suggested, is through the establishment of the norm of the tolerance.19

Endorsing the theory of Indian Secularism, Rajeev Bhargava says, that the crisis of secularism is largely due to the external factors not due to conceptual flawless of the doctrine. The idea of Indian secularism, he argues, does not entail mutual exclusion of religion and state, non-interference or equidistance, but it is consistent with the idea of ‘principled distance’. The core idea of secularism is separation of religion and state for the sake of religious liberty and equality of free citizenship. To say that a state keeps principled distance from religion is to claim that it intervenes or refrains from interfering in religion depending entirely upon whether or not values like liberty and equality are protected or advanced. So, a secular state neither mindlessly excludes all religions nor is blindly neutral towards them. The Indian state walked a tightrope between the requirement of religious liberty that frequently entails non-interference in the affairs of religious communities, and the demand for equality and justice which necessitates intervention in religiously sanctioned social customs. Secularism in India simply had to be different from the classical liberal model that does not recognize groups and dictates strict separation between religious and political institutions. So, the liberal and egalitarian motives compelled the state to undertake the reforms within Hinduism like abolition of child marriage, devadasi system and untouchability, introducing the right to divorce, making polygamy illegal, legally recognizing inter-caste marriages etc. In sum, for Bhargava secularism is, (a) modern secularism is fully compatible with the defense of differentiated citizenship rights (differential treatment); and (b) the secularity of the state does not necessitate non-interference, strict intervention or equidistance but rather any or all of these, as the case may be.20

Communalism: An Onslaught on the Principle of Secularism

‘Communalism is an ideology based on the belief that Indian society is divided into religious communities, whose economic, political, social and cultural interests diverge, and are even hostile to each other because of their religious differences. Communalism is, above all, a belief system through which a society, economy and polity are viewed and explained and around which effort is made to organize politics’.21 Owing to the presence of extensive social diversities in India in terms of religion, tensions have prevailed between the reli-gious communities due to historical legacy, suspicion, economic deprivation and competition etc. Exploiting these differences and pitting one religious community against the other explains the ‘politics of communalism’. So widely diffused is the feeling of animosity and distrust that it gives birth to a prejudiced terminology of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ to distinguish oneself from another community. It thrives on fascist tendencies of intolerance, extermination, considering one's own religion superior to other religions etc. Communalism and communal riots have not only violated the fundamental right of the citizens to life, to dignity but they have also periled the most essential right of citizens to live with dignity and to freely profess and propagate their religion. A communalist does not consider religion as moral order and spiritual force, but uses religion as a cloak to pursue his/her political desires and objectives. It not only makes a democratic system ineffective and insignificant, but also poses very grave challenges to social harmony, economic development and good governance. Therefore, Bipan Chandra describes communalism as ‘false consciousness’. Communalism, according to him, does not reflect any social truth; what it declares to be a social reality is not the social reality; what it declares to be the causes of social discontent are not the causes; and what it declares to be the solutions of the social malady are not the solutions. In fact, it is itself a social malady. Communalism provides no answer to any of the problems leading to its growth.22

Communalism, according to Bipan Chandra, starts with the belief that in India people can be organized and grouped together for secular, that is, economic, political, social and cultural purposes, only around their religious identities. So, it is a belief that people who follow the same religion have common secular interests, which can be described as, common political, economic, social and cultural interests. In other words, secular interests of one community are divergent and dissimilar to the interests of the followers of another community. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians form distinct communities or homogeneous groups not only for religious but also for secular purposes, because they follow the same religion. They form not only religious but also political communities. This belief, according to him, is the starting point of communalism. This is the communalism that prevailed in India from the end of the 19th century till 1936. It may be described as liberal communalism. While liberal communalists argue that Hindu, Muslim, Christians and Sikhs have some different and divergent secular interests, which must be adjusted through pressure and negotiations, they also hold that these religious communities also had many more common secular interests and objectives which made them part of a common nation. Till this period, liberal communalists were represented by the Hindu Mahasabha, the Muslim League, and a wing of Akali Dal which negotiated with each other and often asked the National Congress to mediate between them, and also urged the colonial regime to adjudicate on their demands. Today, the Akali Dal, the Muslim League in Kerala and some of the Christian political groups in Kerala form the liberal communalists. But after 1937, communalist entered a phase that may be described as extreme or Fascist or Radical communalism based on lies, hatred and violence. The extreme communalist argued that not only were the interests of Hindus and Muslims divergent, they were mutually antag-onistic, and therefore, irreconcilable. Jinnah and the Muslim League argued that India consisted of two nations, that is, Hindus and Muslims, which could not co-exist in the same state and talked about the partition of the country formally into two states. V. D. Savarkar of the Hindu Mahasabha and M. S. Golwalkar of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, at the same time, argued that India consisted of one nation, that is, the Hindu nation, with Muslims forming a foreign element in the land, and talked about creating a state in which the religious minorities would lead a subordinate, subservient, second-class existence. After independence, the extreme communalism has been represented by the RSS and its front organizations, the extreme Sikh communalists such as Bhindrawale and his followers and the Jamaat-i-Islami.23

Communalism is the growing menace which our Indian society and polity faces. Its roots can be traced back since colonial times when British Empire followed the policy of ‘divide and rule’, as they played one community against the other to maintain their dominance and ensure their survival. It took a major toll especially on Hindu and Muslim relations as they both considered each other as their enemies and their mutual relations were filled with the feeling of animosity and hatred. Consequently, it led to the birth of two-nation theory, under the pretext, that Hindus and Muslims form two separate nations and therefore cannot live together. This led to the partition of India followed by gruesome communal riots which claimed thousands of innocent lives.

According to Sujata Patel, it was not only the divisive tactics of the colonial rulers, but the very communal nature of nationalist struggle that led to the strengthening of communalism in India. Colonialism, according to her, inaugurated a process that made possible the growth of a range of ‘primordial’ identities, but that it was nationalism that codified these ideologies in such a way so as to incorporate communalism into its discourse. Since, class and caste identities could not assume prominence and remained marginal to the task of constructing the nationalist discourse, so the various sections of the population of India could be integrated against colonialism only through appealing the social and religious identity with which a majority of Indians could identify themselves. So it was Hinduism from where nationalism derived its key meaning by incorporating the Hindu theory of social hierarchy which performed the role of defining where different groups should be placed in society. According to the varna theory of internal social hierarchy, certain groups defined as upper castes were qualified to take political power. It was done to maintain the upper castes control of social, cultural and economic power. This theory of limited domination could not work. Recognizing the futility of adopting varna as an orienting principle for integrating all sections of the society, Gandhiji reconstructed the theory of varna in the image of newly emerging society rather than attempting to fit the latter into the traditional conception of caste and colour and outlined the concept of ‘Harijan’ to reintegrate them into the Hindu system without any prejudice to the principle of varnashramadharma. But lower castes wanted a share in the political system through the policy of reservation. Gandhiji recognized the need for political compromise and accepted the principle of reservation. Thus varna status, Hinduism and reservation policy constituted the three organizing principle of Indian politics. At the first level, differences of a religious nature were seen as justifying inequality between a Hindu majority and Muslim minority. At the second level, a great deal of emphasis was laid on their integration of all Hindus in theory, while allowing the upper castes to monopolize the social and political power. This led to the renewed legitimization given to the hierarchies and inequalities among the Hindus. At the third level, the principle of reservation was introduced which permitted the few members of the lower castes to raise their secular status. A tiny proportion of the social and political space was thus made available to some of the individuals of the lower castes who were thus enabled to take part, to however marginal an extent, in the political discourse involving major theoretical and ideological issues underlying state policy. Thus, conditions were sought to be created under which the mass of the population could be kept under the control by an elite, which wielded social, economic and political power. The growth of this discourse went through two stages, one in which manifests communal tendencies were enunciated, these then becoming integrated with the varna theory and reservation policy into the form of latent communalism. After independence, this discourse was further used by Nehru to reorganize the nation's economy and to assert the political power. The translation from latent communalism to manifest communalism was rooted in the crisis faced by the dominant discourse, which was basically premised on the ground of legitimizing the upper caste rule by institutionalization of the varna theory, with the emergence of ‘Backward caste’ and assertion of Muslims for equality. Indira Gandhi in order to maintain and remain in power forged alliances with Muslims, Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (SC), backward castes and promised reservation to these backward castes. This was not accepted by upper caste ruling strata. As a direct consequence of this, communal and religious divisions in society became institutionalized and riots and violence spread rapidly.24

Since then, so widespread this phenomenon has become that it has spread to those states even which were earlier considered peaceful with regard to communal riots. Communalism has undermined the secular fabric of the Indian state, and has posed an existential threat to it.

Political Economy of Communalism and Communal Violence

We cannot really understand the expanding base of communalism without understanding the connection between communalism and ruling class politics.25 So, it is essential to understand and explore the relation between religion and politics. When religion is used to mobilize people along communal lines by political parties to achieve their narrow and parochial interests it takes the form of communal politics. Communal politics thrives on the belief that since every religious community's cultural practices, lifestyles and value systems is different from that of the other religious community; their socio-economic interests will also automatically vary. Consequently, the vacuum created, in the absence of such shared feelings and interests, is filled with suspicion and hatred. Communal politics generates, fosters and exploits such differences between communities. The resultant feeling leads to communal riots and communal violence, which in turn serves the purpose of communal politics as it further deepens the mutual suspicion and hatred. All this helps in the expansion and strengthening of communal politics. There are two types of parties that indulge in communal politics. First is the party that avowedly accepts and resorts to communal mobilization for political ends like BJP, Shiv Sena, the Muslim League, Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, and non political organizations like RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) etc. They openly use religion to improve their stature in politics. Second is the party, which opportunistically and occasionally use religion, and which have not taken any avowed and categorical stand against communal issues; because it may have led to the weakening and even loss of power. This category includes party like Congress-I, Trinamool Congress, Telegu Desam party, Samata party etc.

Communalization of politics has emerged in tandem with communalization of society. Bipan Chandra has rightly remarked that, if society is communalized, then the police, bureaucracy and other instruments of the state are likely to follow the suit.26 After independence till the end of sixties, congress relied on the charisma of Jawaharlal Nehru and his policies of industrialization, modernization and secularism which were pertinent to and made sense in a highly underdeveloped country. It also took advantage of the legacy of the national movement and cash in on the image of the party that brought freedom to the country to garner votes. The period from 1950 to 1960 was relatively free from communal riots owing to existence of political stability and unhindered economic growth. But after the death of Nehru, in the absence of such a personality, in face of severe economic crisis, and to appeal the young generation of voters who have not participated in the national movement, Indira Gandhi resorted to populist slogans like garibi hatao, nationalization of banks etc. But the appeal of these slogans was short-lived, and it could not capture the imagination of the people for a long time. The Nehruvian period, which was marked by secularism and democracy was replaced by personalized politics and coercion.

Even the democratic system has failed to weaken the communal and caste loyalties. In fact, it has reinforced it. Electoral process in a democratic system requires a political party to gain maximum number of votes in order to form a government. Under these compulsions of democratic process, every political party has played this communal card in order to come to power. Since it is easy for the political parties to mobilize and organize people on the basis of communal, caste and regional identities. In the pursuit and lust for power, parties have also forged alliances with communal parties and organizations and provided leeway to their communal sentiments. Faced with the end of single party dominance and decline of congress era, Indira Gandhi, unlike the secular image of the congress party, resorted to communal tactics and centralization of authority in the pursuit of power. She forged an alliance with Muslim League in Kerala in 1960's; and in order to achieve power in Punjab, congress party promoted Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale to stem Akali Dal, which ultimately led to the growth of terrorism in Punjab and the infamous Operation Blue Star in 1984. Rajiv Gandhi also responded in a similar fashion to appease the Hindus. In 1986, the congress government who was in power at the centre and in Uttar Pradesh allowed to open the doors of the Babri-Masjid mosque for worship at the Ram shrine and in 1989 Rajiv Gandhi permitted the VHP to perform shilanyas (laying of foundation stone) at the disputed site. In 1989 election speech, he also made ‘Rama Rajya’ speech at Ayodhya and exploited the Hindu sentiments about the Ramajanmabhoomi issue. In few instances, Congress party has also resorted to the appeasement of minority community like the famous Shah Bano Case in 1986 at the expense of rights and justice of the citizens of India. In 1986, Shah Bano, an elderly woman who had been divorced by her husband, appealed to the high court of Madhya Pradesh that her former husband should pay her maintenance under the section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). According to this section, the former husband of a divorced woman has to pay her maintenance if she is destitute, and if she possesses no means for her survival for as long as she lives or until she remarries. The high court ruled in her favour. However, her husband, Ahmed Khan, moved the supreme court as an appellant on the ground that he was not obliged to pay his former wife maintenance beyond the traditional three-month period of iddat under section 127 (3) of the CrPC. On 23 April, 1985, a Supreme Court bench under Chief Justice Chandrachud confirmed the judgement of the MP High Court and stated that article 125 of the CrPC overrides all personal laws and it is uniformly applicable to all women. In this sense, the court subordinated all personal laws to the civil code. As a result of this judgement, the Muslim community and ulama opposed it on the ground that it constitutes a violation and disregard for their personal laws which is based on sbariat, and as it is divinely sanctioned it could not be tampered with. Thousands of Muslims took to the streets to protest against the judgement. Ultimately, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's government acceded to the demand of the Muslim fundamentalists and introduced a Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill in parliament that sought to exempt the Muslim women from the protection provided by the article 125 of the CrPC. The bill was unanimously passed in Lok Sabha on 6 May and Rajya Sabha on 8 May 1986. This act in fact yielded orthodox and fundamentalist support to the congress without having to address the economic backwardness and political marginalization of Muslims. It also led some people to say that secularism to congress meant endless appeasement by the Hindus of never-yielding Muslim fanaticism.

The next blow to secularism was the banning of The Satanic Verses written by the Indian born Muslim, Salman Rushdie in 1988. In the reply to this ban, in June 1992, a Professor Mushirul Hasan of the Muslim Jamia Millia University said in an interview that he was opposed to the ban. For those who disagree with the book, he said, should engage in a debate with the author and attempt to change his views. The interview produced a violent agitation from Muslim fundamentalist students who demanded Mushirul's resignation. Dissenting teachers were beaten up by the agitators and threatened with rapes of their daughters. This furore, indeed, reinforced the perceptions of Islamic dogmatism and intolerance. V. P. Singh, then, suggested that Prof. Hasan should resign if that will help in solving the crisis. This instance in turn, gives credence to BJP's claims that some parties are involved in Muslim appeasement to swell their vote-banks.

Even though the ideology of communalism and communal politics has no place in Indian constitution and is widely abhorred, nothing could stop the rise of the political parties like BJP as a mainstream political party in the center stage politics. The reason can be found in nonchalant behaviour of our political system and political parties towards the spread of the ideology of communalism. Since it was difficult to mobilize Hindu community as compared to Muslim minority under the pretext that their religion is under an existential threat as they form a majority in India, so the communal political parties had to search for markers, specific issues, events and religious symbols with which people could personally relate and identify their religion, language, birth or caste etc with those issues. This they found in socio-economic causes like employment, education and basic infrastructure and emotional causes like Ayodhya dispute. Hindu communalists sustain their communal propaganda through the Hindu interpretation of the past. They talk about the revival of the ancient period which they consider as ‘Golden Age’ of India. They mobilize people, and try to arouse the Hindu sentiments by calling for the construction of temples which were destroyed by Muslim rulers during the medieval period. Muslim communalists also take a similar stand on the communal interpretation of the past. For them medieval period is the ‘Golden Age’. The congress attitude towards minority in evidence, the BJP exploited and rallied around this point by arguing that when a Muslim insisted on his rights, he is praised for standing for the cause of the minorities, but when a Hindu spoke for his rights in a Hindu-majority state, he was termed as a communalist and a bigot.

According to K. N. Panikkar, the term, ‘Hindu Dharma’ is of relatively recent origin. The word Hindu, he says, itself came into vogue only after the advent of Islam. Hinduism as understood today as a single religion with a golden past did not exist as a reality in the past. There is and was nothing like a homogeneous Hindu religion with one set of ritual practices or one religious code for all people to follow. Despite the absence of homogeneity in the past, the present homogeneity is now being imparted to Hinduism. This homogenization, according to him, is a part of an attempt to create one single Hindu community on the basis of an argument that such a community existed from an ancient past. In fact, the attempt to establish the roots of Hinduism, and its uninterrupted history is not an innocent appeal to the past. It is an appeal with a political purpose, the purpose being the creation of a Hindu religious community, on the basis of the legitimacy derived from the past. The appeal to the past is also directed to the construction of a new sense of Indian nationalism based on Hindu religion and culture, that is, Hindu nationalism. Hence, he contends that, it is not merely a distortion of history but also denial of history.27 This is basically premised on the notion of Hindu nationalism espoused by V. D. Savarkar. In 1924, he wrote a book called ‘Hindutva’ to explain the basic principles of Hindu Nationalism and propounded the concept of “punnya bhumi”. He said that Hindus as a community formed nation who considered India as their “pithrubhumi” meaning “father land” or “punnya bhumi” that is “holy land” and excluded Muslims and Christians because they did not consider India as their holy land because their sacred religious places were sit-uated outside and their fathers and forefathers are of alien origin.

There are certain economic factors imbued with cultural differences, religious animosity and distrust and memories of partition which is further stimulated and provoked by vested political interests. Elaborating on this point, Zoya Hasan says, those towns which have a large Muslim population as well as substantial numbers of refugees from Pakistan are prone to communal tension. Muslim presence in these towns is resented not due to religious reasons but because of competition for scarce jobs and positions. Further, economic stagnation and rising unemployment acts as an impetus, which heightens the competition among the segments of petty bourgeoisie, who in turn, becomes more susceptible and vulnerable to communal arguments articulated by politicians nurturing communal whims and fancies. Hindus and Muslims have been interlocked in a competition for survival and advancement magnified against the backdrop of underdevelopment. Instances where competition has increased communal divisions are numerous like in certain areas of western U. P. Here, communal phenomenon has acquired inflammatory proportions because Muslims, here, have come to occupy a relatively influential position in the economic and political life of the region which has apparently threatened the hegemony of existing Hindu commercial groups.28

The growth of capitalist development has created sharp economic inequalities and generated unhealthy competition among various communities for the inadequate social and economic opportunities. Indian government has not been able to provide just distribution of resources and minimum access to education and health. Since a country like India which is marred by increasing levels of poverty, unemployment, tardy and uneven growth the fruits of which are appropriated by wealthy classes, low literacy levels, low health standards is more prone and vulnerable to mobilizations based on religion, caste, class etc. Political parties take advantage of this situation and the ‘targeted’ community is held responsible for the poor condition of the ‘favoured’ community. The communal rhetoric like ‘prospering condition of that community is at the cost of our community’ is widely used for mobilizing religious communities to achieve their vested and selfish political ends. Thus, we see many poor people connive in communal mobilization and communal violence in order to put an end to their suffering. These ruses are also employed by politicians to hoodwink people and to deflect their anger away from the political leadership, who are in fact responsible for their social and economic underdevelopment, towards other communities. This phenomenon has been substantiated in many instances where communal riots have occurred like Firozabad (1972), Aligarh (1978), Moradabad (1980), Sambhal (1980).

In Ferozabad (1972), the class contradiction was sought to be concealed by a communal division of Hindu owners of bangle factories and Muslim craftsmen. Many Muslim craftsmen own independent units before partition which were burnt down. As a result they resented their dependence on Hindu factory owners. This generated tremendous solidarity with their co-religionists and in the process they jealously safeguarded their communal identity craft which gave them their livelihood. Their insecurity was aggravated by industrial competition. They blamed the other community rather than the structure of ownership for their difficulties. Being fragmented and divided they fell easy prey to the machinations of factory owners, who under communal cover extracted administrative support to unleash their oppression. The class and communal factors intertwined to the advantage of the ruling interests who used it to disrupt and divide the working class movement. In Moradabad (1980), the relative success and prosperity of Muslim businessmen was the cause of the riots. In the brassware trade Muslims received extensive orders from West Asia which provided an impetus to their trade and industry, attracting workers from the neighbouring districts. They now had sufficient capital to purchase tools, to own property, to spend on education and to initiate new ventures. All this generated hostility among Hindu traders who faced the prospect of losing out to their counterparts among Muslims. The spectre of Muslim dominance, facilitated by Arab money, was raised. Fears were expressed regarding the creation of a ‘Pakistan in the heartland of Rohilkhand’. These were skilfully exploited by Jana Sangh elements who, having lost their seats in 1979 elections, were striving to regain their dominance in the area. Aided by various communal factions in the local Congress Committee and generally financed by Hindu traders, the Jana Sangh now organized under the banner of the Janata Party, created a climate of hatred and suspicion which culminated in serious communal rioting.29

Therefore, as we study the nature of communal riots in India we may come to a con-clusion that communal riots are not the result of the sudden religious conflicts and differences. Since 1960's till present day, we may notice that most of the communal riots are premeditated and systematically engineered. This may involve the interplay of long-term causes which can be political in nature and short-term economic gains which creates the grounds and conditions for violent outbursts. If we probe into the reasons owing to which communal riots have taken place, it can be deciphered that riots are carefully planned and involve some ulterior motives.

Probable reasons varies from religious festivals like Ramlila procession, Ramnavmi procession, Bakri Id to a clash between two persons of opposite community, scuffle between two boys of opposite community on a cow of either community, between two neighbours of opposite community, effort to molest a girl of one community by a boy belonging to other community etc. Another discernable feature of communal riots in India is the increasing number of dying Muslims and biased role of police in communal violence.

Majority Communalism in India

While all the religions preach peace, non-violence and universal brotherhood, religion has been the major source of contention and friction in India. If secularism is understood as replacement of ascriptive identities like religion, caste and ethnicity by achievement-based calculations and treating religion as a private sphere; then, the reverse has happened in India. While pondering over majority communalism, the most obvious juncture that visits our mind is Ayodhya dispute and Godhra crisis.

Ayodhya Dispute:   6 December1992 was the most fateful and deplorable day in the history of Indian secularism and democracy. It was a pliant example of callous attitude of so-called guardians of the constitution towards such a sensitive and igniting issue that claimed hundreds of innocent lives. It also posed grave challenges to the doctrine of secularism on which the edifice of Indian polity is constructed since independence.

The Ayodhya campaign yielded massive electoral gains for BJP as its votes share swelled from mere 2 seats in 1984 to 85 in the 1989 election with 11.4% of the vote to 119 in 1991 with 19.9% of the vote. In addition to this, BJP also formed governments in four north Indian states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. This electoral triumph can be explained by two factors. First, an unapologetic identity based on nationalism and patriotism and second, is an exploitation of Hindu sentiments.30 This was the first ever campaign since independence that attracted such a mass support after Indian National Movement. This campaign was led by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), with the active support and participation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS). Even though the campaign was religiously informed, but all the facts give credence to the actuality that it was out and out politically motivated. The main dispute over the Masjid built in 1528 by Mir Baqui, a noble of Babur's court, was that it was constructed on the ruins of temple.

Two chief protagonists involved in the controversy were VHP and the All-India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC). The VHP, relying on the historical evidence and records of legal proceedings, contends that Masjid was formed on the remains of the temple marking the birthplace of Ram. Whereas, the AIBMAC contention is just the opposite that the mosque was not built on the remains of a temple. The movement was very rewarding for VHP, since it got famous even in the places where worship of Rama was not popular. The campaign was based on faith and religion and not on reason and rationality. In this way, sanctity was attributed to Ayodhya and the whole episode was projected as an assault on and humiliation of religious feelings and identities of Hindus by Muslim rulers. By referring Muslims as Babur Ke Santan (children of Babur), the Muslim community as a whole were held responsible for the mistake done in the past. Thus, by creating a psychological impact it was easy to construct Hindu solidarity against Muslim atrocities of the past. So, a dual symbolic meaning was imparted to Ayodhya by sangh parivar-a symbol of Hindu identity and Muslim atrocity-to touch the sympathetic chord of the Hindus.31

Many Hindu religious rituals were publically performed which was considered a ‘channel through which the slumbering pride of being a Hindu could be invoked’ (ibid). The most significant change occurred when Ram shila puja was preformed from 30 September to 6 November 1988 which was considered as a turning point for the Hindutva movement. The message of the puja, planned in every village, 5,00,028 in number, was intended to reach every Hindu whose active involvement with the movement was to be sought through a ‘token minimum offering of Rs 1.25’.32 According to Ashok Singhal, 82.9 million people have made their offering.33 The bricks for the construction of the temple were consecrated by engraving the name of Rama on it. Once the consecration was over, the bricks were wrapped in saffron clothes and displayed in temple or public place thereby making it the ‘idols’ of worship. Women also participated in the puja danced and sang bhajans and adopted a slogan which said ‘saugandh Ram ki khate hai, hum mandir wahin banayenge’ (we swear by Ram, we will build the temple there).

Another intense mobilization was undertaken by the BJP president, Lal Krishna Advani, through a Rathyatra from Somnath to Ayodhya. But before the Rathyatra began, the groundwork was done by Bajrang Dal and the VHP to disseminate the message of Ayodhya. The yatra route was enriched with posters of the proposed mandir and the handbills of perfidy of the Muslims. VHP volunteers, lamenting and deprecating the passivity of the Hindus in the past, urged them to be aggressive at least now. Thus, each locality the yatra entered in a highly volatile atmosphere and loathe towards the Muslims. The Rathyatra began at Somnath on 25 September 1991 and was scheduled to reach Ayodhya on 30 October. He engaged in a 36 day-long yatra popularly termed by sangh parivar as ‘dharma yuddha’, traversing through eight states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

The choice of Somnath as the starting point of the yatra had a powerful symbolic value. The intention was to contextualize Ayodhya in the historical lineage of Muslim aggression, and then to seek legitimacy for mandir movement by drawing a parallel. The parallel the sangh parivar drew was with the reconstruction of the Somnath temple sanctioned by the Union Cabinet, presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru. Thus, by linking Somnath with Ayodhya, the rathyatra became a symbol of not just one ‘historical wrong’ but a series of the atrocities committed by the Muslims. It also became a symbol of the Hindu resolve to reclaim the temple at Ayodhya as they did at Somnath.34 After the success of Ram shila puja and Rath yatra, the sangh parivar tried to keep alive the connection with Ayodhya through a series of other symbols associated with Rama like Rama jyoti, Rama Paduka, Rama Prasad, Rama Pataka, Rama Gulal, etc. For almost three years sangh parivar made use of one symbol or the other to keep the movement alive, and thus, keep the Hindus mobilized.

The euphemistic language that was used to vindicate the rathyatra was that it was done to foster national unity and national integration. But in actuality the reverse happened. The after-effects of the yatra were perilous. Since it was successful in creating tension and distrust between Hindus and Muslims, communal riots took place in almost every part of the country even in the localities which were far placed from the route of yatra.

Advani's yatra could not reach Ayodhya, as it was stopped by Bihar state government. So deep was the impact of the yatra that communal riots ensued and communal feeling permeated even in the most secular domains of the state apparatuses. This was substantiated when an Army Captain said that, ‘my men are all Hindus. I may have to order them to fire on fellow Hindus in a religious procession. I do not like it’.35 The last major riots took place before the demolition of Babri Masjid was in Sitamarhi in Bihar in October 1992. Ayodhya is the mythical birthplace of Ram, Sitamarhi is the mythical birthplace of Ram's consort, Sita.36 The Babri Masjid controversy reached its peak when a mob of 300,000 destroyed Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992. Even though the BJP was largely responsible for the demolition of the Masjid, but the ultimate cause was the inaction on the part of the then Congress government ruling at the centre. However, in the aftermath of the demolition, central government dismissed the BJP government in four states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. The Prime Minister Narasimha Rao also promised to rebuild the mosque at that site. But rebuilding the mosque would have meant to first destroy the makeshift temple built by Hindu mob and the images of Ram installed by them. But looking at the uproar created among the Hindus as a result of this declaration, the central government had to backtrack on its promise. So it was a win-win situation for BJP. Congress government, even though championing the cause of secularism, lost the faith and trust of the Muslim minorities as it could not protect them from the wrath of majority while BJP won support among the Hindus.

To investigate the destruction of the disputed structure of Babri Masjid, Liberhan commission was set up by the Indian Government. Led by retired High Court judge M.S. Liberhan, it was formed on 16 December1992, and was originally mandated to submit its report within three months. But the report was submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 30 June 2009 after the hiatus of 17 years. It was alleged that the contents of the reports were leaked before being tabled in the India parliament. It indicted the top leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party for being involved in the planning of the destruction of the mosque.

Recently, on 30 September 2010, Allahabad High Court took the first step towards the resolution of the 60 year old Babri Masjid Ram Janmabhoomi ownership dispute by including all the warring parties in the process. The court ruled by a majority verdict that the disputed 120 feet by 90 feet plot land be divided into three equal parts among the three petitioners: one-third for the Sunni Waqf Board, one-third for the Nirmohi Akhara, and one-third to the party for Ram Lalla.37 However, the appellants were unsatisfied with the High Court ruling and moved the Supreme Court. On 9 May 2011 has called the partitioning of the 2.77 acres Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site in three equal parts by the Allahabad High Court ‘strange’ and put a stay on it and ordered for the status-quo. It wondered how the High Court passed a ‘decree of partition when none of the parties has prayed for it’. Although, the appeals referred only to the 2.77 acres of the disputed land, the Supreme Court restrained any religious activity on the 67 acres adjacent to it that's been acquired by the centre. However, the prayers at Ram Lalla's makeshift temple will continue.38 Various parties to the dispute expressed satisfaction over the Supreme Court interim order staying the Allahabad High Court direction for the tripartite division of the disputed land.39

Some disputes like Ayodhya dispute are beyond the scope of the courts and requires mutual understanding between the parties to the dispute. The warring parties should not consider the dispute as zero sum game where one party's gain is other's loss. The resolution of the dispute requires all the antagonistic parties to come at the negotiating table and find a solution through dialogue, reconciliation and consensus.

Godhra Riots in Gujarat in 2002:   Gujarat riots occurred in February 2002, in the aftermath of the Godhra incident, in which S-6 coach of the Sabarmati express train carrying 58 VHP Kar Sevakr was burned in a conspiracy and all the passengers were charred to death. It was believed that some Muslim fanatics put the train on fire as a result of which riots broke out in Gujarat. This was not a spontaneous upsurge of mass anger. It was carefully planned pogrom. Most of the people including journalists, social workers agreed that what Gujarat witnessed was not a riot but a planned terrorist attack followed by a systemic, planned massacre, a pogrom.40 Enchanting the slogans like jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ they especially targeted Muslims minority. The pernicious act done by few Muslims was requited to the whole community. Every Muslim was seen as a fanatic or a terrorist to be avenged back. Rioters had the detailed knowledge and the information about the businesses and houses of the minority community. Their homes, shops, businesses were all burnt down. It seems that the decision was to destroy all the economic means of the minority community.41 Even the former Congress Member of Parliament, Ehsan Jafri, was not spared. Despite making so many calls to Police Commissioner, the local police, top party leadership, that is, Sonia Gandhi nobody came to his rescue. He was burnt alive along with his family members and 38 other residents of the colony. The then Union Home Minister, L.K. Advani visited the city only after three days of mass killings of more than 550 people. The BJP at one of its official functions decided to give a clean chit to the VHP and commended Narendra Modi for his ‘exemplary behaviour’.42

No riot can continue beyond few hours without the active connivance of the state apparatuses and the police. The role of the police is very questionable here. Police has not acted as a neutral authority responsible for the maintenance of law and order. Either it was not present at the place where killings took place unhindered or it was a mute spectator or even connived with the mob to target and kill Muslims. Police are even known to have misguided the helpless victims straight into the hands of the rioters especially women and children. The sexual subjugation of the women was used as an instrument of violence to take revenge from the opposite community as never before. There are reports that police has even fired on Muslims and have even arrested them, indeed who have been victimized in the pre-meditated holocaust. It is said that approximate total of 2000 people were killed, Muslims constituting a high proportion of it.

The political motive behind the mass massacre was fulfilled, as Narendra Modi won the December 2002, State Assembly elections winning 127 seats out of total of 182 seats. Again in 2007, he was elected for the third time winning 117 seats. He is the longest serving Chief Minister in the history of Gujarat.

The State government appointed a commission of inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, on 6 March 2002, Nanavati-Mehta commission, to inquire into the facts, circumstances and course of events that led to the setting on fire of coaches of the Sabarmati Express; of the incidents of violence in the state in the aftermath of the train fire; and the adequacy of the administrative measures taken to prevent and deal with the disturbances in Godhra. It was also required to inquire into the role and conduct of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, his Council of Ministers and government officials on 27 February 2002, and during the post-Godhra violence. However, this commission gave a clean-chit to C. M. Narendra Modi.43 Later, Supreme Court directed the state government to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by R. K. Raghavan, former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, to investigate the nine cases. It was constituted on 1 April 2008.44 SIT interrogated Modi for his alleged complicity in the 2002 riots. He has been indicted in a petition filed by Zakia Jafri, whose husband Ehsan Jafri, a former Congress Member of Parliament, was killed in the attack on Gulberg Society. She has accused Modi and 62 others of instructing officials not to heed cries for help by Muslims during the riots.45 Investigation is still going on and is not yet judicially decided. Doubts have also been raised regarding the impartiality of the public prosecutors appointed by the state government in prosecuting the cases, which has led the court to transfer the cases outside the state. There are allegations that eye witnesses have been intimidated, to prevent fair trial, who as a result have turned hostile.

Saffronisation of Education:   In 2000, under the BJP government at the central level, National Council for Education, Research and Training (NCERT) director introduced a new National Curriculum Framework (NCF) with the full backing of Union Minister of Human Resource Development, Murli Manohar Joshi. It was seen by the academics, intellectuals and secular-minded people as a major step in implementing the BJP-led government's agenda of communalization of school education. Even a cursory reading of the two books shows that the authorities of the NCERT with the full support of the Government of India are determined to destroy the secular character of school curriculum and the educational materials, particularly textbooks.46 However, despite nation-wide protest, particularly from the academia and the media, this process, of what editor of The Hindustan Times, Vir Sanghvi, called the ‘Talibanisation’ of education, was continued. The process culminated in the existing NCERT history books written by eminent scholars from which earlier deletions were made being withdrawn altogether and being replaced by the books written by people whose main qualifications was their closeness to the Sangh ideology and not recognized expertise in their field of study. The book on Contemporary India published by NCERT, Gandhiji's assassination was not even mentioned.47 because the murder of Gandhiji cannot be mentioned without giving any reference to Hindu communalism and the Hindu fanatic who killed him, which was against their ideology. Furthermore, the children reading Gujarat State Social Studies text for class IX would have learnt that minorities are foreigners and in class X textbooks, Fascism and Nazism were virtually glorified.48

Religious conversions in India:   Religious conversions are not new in India. It started with the invasion of India by Muslim rulers. During the colonial period, the British Empire embarked upon the mass conversions vindicating it on the pretext that Hindu religion is deeply embedded in idolatry, inequality of caste system that concerns itself with pure and impure ways of life. By denigrating Hinduism, they argued for the superiority of the Christian religion over indigenous religions. In this way they called upon the people including outcastes to free themselves from the undignified way of life by embracing Christianity. They spoke very high of Christian religion that emphasized on individualist and utilitarian values of life. The aggressive proselytizing by the Christian missionaries under the British rule was a cause of resentment among Hindus who felt the need to protect their culture and religion from outside threat. This led to the various forms of reform movements in the 19th century like Brahmo Samaj organized by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Arya Samaj started by Swami Dayananda Saraswati in Bombay in 1875. Arya Samaj initiated Shuddhi movement, a purification ritual. It also led to the passage of many laws like the Regulation Act of 1832, the Raigarh State Conversion Act of 1936, the Patna State Freedom of Religious Act of 1942, and the Udaipur State Anti-conversion Act of 1946. Even after independence, the process of conversion has been a contentious issue giving rise to violence and hatred between Hindu and Christian community. Christian missionaries are indulging in conversions of low caste Hindus and tribals. The low caste Hindus who have been subjected to the indignities and exploitation as they are not allowed to dine together with upper caste people, denied access to drinking water from the public wells, denied entry in the temples and their women are raped. Owing to the ill-treatment meted out to them because of the accident of their birth along with poverty, Dalits fall in a weft of conversion to put an end to the miseries of their life. In the same way, tribals owing to their severe economic situation are enticed to convert themselves and embrace Christianity. This has led to the passage of many laws by various state governments like Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act of 1968, the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act of 1968, the Arunachal Freedom of Religion Act of 1978, the Tamil Nadu Anti-Conversion Act of 2002 (later repealed by Jayalalitha government), and the Gujarat Freedom of Region Act of 2003.

The article 25 of the constitution is interpreted differently by various communities. It says that, ‘Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion’. Christians interpret the word ‘propagate’ as the freedom to convert and freedom to forsake one's own religion in which she/he is born to adopt and practise another religion. However, in 1977, the Supreme Court ruled in its judgement that, conversion cannot be considered as the fundamental right and the word ‘propagate’ cannot be interpreted as the right to convert.

By the virtue of this ruling many Hindu fundamentalist try to vindicate their violent acts against conversion. This has prompted violent reactions from Hindu fundamentalist against conversions practised by Christians. In 1998, the coming of the BJP in power at the centre coincided with the rise of attacks on Christians. This prompted the then Prime Minister of India and the leader of the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee to call for a national debate on conversion whereas at that moment the issue was of law and order and the security of the citizens. In order to counter the missionary activities of Christians, the Sangh Parivar launched a reconversion programme known as Ghar Vapsi, in which the Hindu fundamentalist reconverted the tribals form Christianity to Hinduism.

In recent years, there has been an increase in anti-Christian violence in India especially Orissa and Gujarat. The attacks have taken the form of desecration of churches, distribution of threatening literature, raping of nuns, vandalizing their schools, cemeteries, murder of Christian priests etc. These violent attacks have also culminated in horrendous acts like the one on 22 January 1992, an Australian missionary, Graham Staines, a doctor by profession, was burnt alive along with his two sons while sleeping in a jeep in Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district in Orissa. Dara Singh and others were convicted for the crime and it was alleged that they belonged to a Hindutva group. The justification they gave was that he was indulged in converting Hindus to Christianity. Recently in 2008, Orissa, when VHP leader, Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati was murdered, his supporters held that Christians were responsible and began to attack Christians and their institutions in Kandhamal district in Orissa. The state government just restricted itself to the vocal criticism of the attacks. Anti-Christian violence also erupted in Karnataka in 2008. The attacks were carried out by Bajrang Dal, and were in response to the alleged forced conversions and distribution of the derogatory literature of the Hindu gods by a protestant church while the Bishop of the Mangalore Diocese said that catholic churches have never been involved in forced conversions. The violent mob destroyed the Christian churches and attacked Christians while the police connived with the mob in their attacks on Christians.

Minority Communalism in India

Appeasement of one form of communalism leads to the emergence of other form of communalism. Minority communalism is as dangerous as majority communalism. Minority fundamentalism should not be tolerated on the pretext of protection of their interests and identities. Majority communalism cannot be fought back unless a fight is waged against minority communalism and vice-versa. One of the earlier instances of Islamic fundamentalism in India was the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri pundits from Kashmir from late 1989 to early 1990. They were terrorized, killed, looted, even forcibly converted to Islam and forced to leave Kashmir which resulted in a mass exodus of tens of thousands of pundits amounting to 95% of the population. The main goal of the Muslim fundamentalist was to make Kashmir minority-free and establish an Islamic state.

There are many other instances of fundamentalist behaviour on the part of Muslim community like Shah Bano case in 1986, furore against Salman Rushdie's book ‘The Satanic Verses’ in 1988, uproar against Taslima Nasreen's book ‘Lajja’. She was exiled from Bangladesh due to her controversial book and sought refuge in India. While she was staying in West Bengal in India, fundamentalist Muslims demanded that she should leave India and should not be given refuge in India. West Bengal Chief Minister Bhudhadeb Bhattacharjee refused to take responsibility of her protection against the Muslim fundamentalists. On 9 August 2007, she was also attacked by the legislators of the Muslim political party, Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) in Hyderabad. The then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Rajasekhara Reddy, turned a blind eye towards the incident. Congress and MIM were in an alliance at the state level and MIM is also the part of the UPA. So, Congress could not afford to pay such a heavy price and loose a coalition partner. She was then kept under virtual house arrest in some obscure place in Delhi.

Another such incident of Islamic fundamentalism is very recent in the state of Kerala. The incident took place in the Kottayam district of Kerala in India on 4 July 2010. Joseph, a professor of Malayalam at Newman College, Thodupuzha, a Christian minority institution affiliated to Mahatma Gandhi University, was accused of preparing an internal question paper for second year B. Com students of the college, which outraged the Muslim community, who found it defamatory to Prophet Mohammed. On the grounds of blasphemy, he was punished by chopping off his right palm by Muslim radicals belonging to the Popular Front of India, a confederation of radicals, fanatic, fundamentalist organizations in South India. After some investigation it was revealed that this punishment was ordered by Taliban-style court ‘Dar-ul-Khada’ operating in the state.

There are many Muslim organizations in India, but few of them have taken recourse to extremist methods, for instance, Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), Indian Mujahideen (IM), Islamic Sevak Sangh (ISS). SIMI was formed in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh in April 1977. Its mission is liberation of India from western materialistic cultural influence and the Muslim society should live according to Muslim Code of conduct. After the demolition of Babri Masjid, its activists clashed against the police and Sangh Parivar. It considers the Hindu organizations such as Sangh Parivar as the enemies of Islam. It is believed that it is involved in terrorist activities. It has been labelled as terrorist organization by India and U. S. SIMI was first banned on 27 September 2001 after the bombing of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre (WTC) in New York, USA. After its ban, it is said to have operated under different labels. Indian Mujahideen is said to be an offshoot of SIMI. It is also declared as terrorist organizations and investigations show that it is involved in number of attacks. Its cadres had joined Pakistan based Lashker-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed. It has claimed responsibility for several blasts in India through each time sending an e-mail like 2008 Ahmadabad blasts, 13 May 2008 Jaipur bombings, 2010 Pune bombing, 13 September 2008 Delhi serial blasts, 25 July Banglore serial blasts, 26 July 2008 Ahmadabad serial bombings, 13 May 2008 Jaipur bombings, 23 November 2007 Uttar Pradesh serial blasts. It also claimed responsibility for Varanasi bombing in 2010. It is significant, because it occurred a day after anniversary of 1992 Babri Masjid demolition. Jama Masjid attack in 2010 is significant, because it took place on the second anniversary of the Batla House encounter on 19 September 2008 in which the chief bomber of the IM, Atif Amim was killed.

Islamic Sevak Sangh (ISS) was formed by Abdul Nasser Madani in 1988 in response to the Ayodhya dispute. It is a militant organization, and it seeks to organize and consolidate the Muslim community in Kerala to intensify its commitment to Islam and protect the Muslim minority from the excesses of Hindu communalism. It rapidly acquired mass support among the Muslims of Kerala cutting the support base of Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala. It has entered into many clashes with RSS. But, in 1993, this organization was banned. It later evolved itself into a political party, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), led by Abdul Nasser Madani. The Coimbatore blasts resulted in the arrest of Madani, who is still languishing in Coimbatore Central Jail. The CPI (M) had even gone to the extent of having electoral arrangements with the PDP in the Assembly polls.

The National Development Front (NDF) is a militant and extremist Muslim organization in Kerala. It was established in India in 1993. The NDF was accused of being a communal outfit and members of the organization were implicated in violent incidents such as the Marad Massacre in 2002. The Marad massacre was the killing of eight Hindu Arayan fishermen by a Muslim mob in the Marad beach of the Kozhikode district, Kerala, India on 2 May 2003. One of the attackers, Mohammed Ashker also lost his life. The judicial commission that probed the incident concluded that Indian Union Muslim League was directly involved in both the conspiracy and execution of the massacre. In 2009, 62 Muslims were sentenced to life imprisonment for committing the massacre by the courts. It is also believed to have involved in the murder of an influential RSS leader who was stabbed to death by masked assailants at Payanchery near Iritty in Kannur district. The victim, Meethale Punnad Aswini Kumar, was Kannur district secretary of the Hindu Aikya Vedi and RSS Jilla Boudhik Pramukh. Both Hindu Aikya Vedi and RSS alleged the murder had been committed by activists of National Development Front (NDF), an Islamic fundamentalist organization.

Its alleged involvement in the Marad carnage and several clashes with Sangh Parivar groups earned a reputation as the most effective Islamic fundamental organization. Moreover, it has a very good network throughout Kerala with financial backing from the West Asia.

So, we can see that both majority and minority communalism are fatal. Majority communalism engenders minority communalism and vice-versa. This, in turn, results in enhancing the sense of insecurity among the minorities and Hindus suspecting the extraterritorial loyalties of the minority community. This feeling of distrust and suspicion is further exploited by depraved politicians to gain electoral benefits. In order to contain this malady, we should try to carve out certain panaceas to the problem of communalism.

Solutions to Address the Problem of Communalism in India

Mitigating the effects of communalism is a monumental task. Even though it cannot be completely extinguished, but its effects can be blunted with the collective endeavour. An initiative has been made in this direction by constituting M. M. Punchi commission, in 2007, on centre-state relations where, among other provisions, it will also examine what could be the role, responsibility and jurisdiction of the Centre during major and prolonged outbreaks of communal violence. Congress government has also come up with Communal Violence Bill (2005) to prevent a communal carnage, like what happened in Gujarat in 2002, in future. In order to help the minority community, especially Muslims, to overcome their sense of insecurity and to improve their economic and social status, the central congress government has also come up with Ranganath Mishra Committe report (report was submitted to the Prime Minister on 22 May 2007) and Sachar Committee report (tabled in parliament 30 November 2006) which especially aims at improving the socio-economic and educational backwardness of Muslim community. The solutions are as follows:

  • There is an old saying that ‘violence breed violence’ and ‘love begets love’. So we should foster the spirit of fraternity and brotherhood, promote tolerance, mutual respect and highlight the syncretistic and composite culture of India. We should borrow from the rich tradition of our ancient past which preaches ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ meaning the whole world is one family.
  • Economically, we should strive for balanced development catering to the needs of all and its fruits shared by all the classes instead of making it lopsided and growth oriented.
  • By neutralizing the role of police and other organs of state apparatuses in case of outbreak of communal violence and steps should be taken to insulate it from political influence. Political parties and politicians should not be allowed to meddle in the fair and just judicial pronouncements.
  • Imparting speedy justice to victims of communal hatred and punishing the offenders, including the top-level leadership of the country if found guilty, instead of letting them go scot-free. Judiciary should be active and swift in its actions to contain the meanest motives of politicians, who use religion to promote their vested interests.
  • Instead of making religion a totally private affair, we should celebrate all the reli-gious festivals of different religions together, so that by being familiar with each other's culture, we can learn to respect each other's religion and culture. We should also attach significance to the fundamental ethics, which are common to all religions like peace and non-violence since no religion preaches violence.
  • In case of some misunderstanding, importance should be given to dialogue and reconciliation between the opposing communities, instead of taking recourse to some unnecessary propaganda.
  • We should not hold responsible the people of some specific religion for the wrongs done in the past, incidentally by the rulers belonging to that very religion, for which the posterity is neither directly or indirectly responsible nor it has anything to do with it. Since communalism is obverse of progress, development, social progress and harmony, we should follow the policy of forgive and forget so that we can make our future worth living.
  • All communal organizations and parties should be banned without any prejudice. Though it is important to combat communal organizations and communal politics, according to Zoya Hasan, it is equally vital to counter communal ideology. It is quite true, she says, that communal ideology does not lead to violence without the intervention of political interests, but communal politics cannot be thwarted without an attack on communal ideology and the socio-economic structure of the society. It is important to probe, she further says, the communal content of certain images, symbols and stereotypes which are popularly accepted. It is important to do so because myths and images are often the basis of reaction and action. For instance, the popular image of a Muslim has not changed over the years. S/he remains a bully and a fanatic in his adherence to Islam and s/he is thought to live in a conservative social and cultural ethos, reinforced by a separatist psychological and religious orientation. A favourite theory is that Muslims are pan-Islamists who would readily lay down their lives in defence of Kaaba. These images are made up of stereotypes and distortions. Such images must be counteracted, because the communal problem in our view has as much to do with ingrained prejudice as with political rivalry and economic competition.49
  • Civil society should play an efficacious role in promoting inter-community and intra-community engagements. Ashutosh Varshney has aptly analysed the integral link between the structure of civil society and communal violence. He has broken down the inter-communal networks of civic life into two parts: associational and quotidian. He calls the former as associational forms of civic engagement, which includes business associations, professional organizations, reading clubs, film clubs, sports club, festival organizations, trade unions, cadre-based political parties. The latter is called as everyday forms of engagement which consist of simple, routine interactions of life as Hindu and Muslims families visiting each other, eating together often enough, jointly participating in festivals and allowing their children to play together in the neighbourhood. Both forms of engagement, if robust, promote peace: contrariwise, their absence or weakness opens up space for communal violence. Of the two, according to him, the associational forms turn out to be sturdier than everyday engagement, especially when people are confronted with the attempts by politicians to polarise ethnic communities. Vigorous associational life, if inter-communal, acts as a serious constraint on the polarizing strategies of political elites.50