National and International Issues

Hindutva Politics and the Muslims of South Asia

The rise to power of Hindutva in India has created serious sociopolitical and security threats for both the Muslim minority within the Indian Union and its Muslim majority neighboring states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. It has taken numerous discriminatory steps to subordinate the Muslim minority to the Hindu majority within the country, creating an anarchic atmosphere through its aggressive and violent policies to undermine the autonomy, peace, and security of the Muslim majority states in South Asia.  This paper intends to analyze the Indian actions taken to promote the Hindutva agenda, to create a Hindu nation-state in India, and establish its hegemony over the South Asian state system. 
The Hindutva ideology envisages only Hindus as true sons of the soil because, according to it, they are of Aryan origin and follow the original religion of the Indian people. That is why, the proponents of Hindutva ideology; the Sangh Parivar, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), argue that only Hindus should have sociopolitical rights of a citizen in their propagated Hindu state and the followers of other religions of foreign origin like Islam and Christianity should be placed in a subordinate status. Islam and Muslims are especially singled out as threatening others because of their history of governing India for one thousand years and enriching the local civilization with new ideas and concepts. The Hindu agenda wishes to eradicate all symbols of Muslim rule in India and make Indian Muslims second-class citizens, both socially and politically. In this regard, they wanted to construct a Hindu temple over the historical Babri Masjid in the Northern city of Ayodhya, create a uniform civil code by amending the Muslim Personal Laws and ending the special status of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
The electoral victory of BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 and 2019, provided the Hindu nationalists with an opportunity to fulfill their Hindu agenda and turn India into a Hindu state. It was the first time that two hundred million Indian Muslims had no representation in the ruling party or in the Indian Parliament; there were only 27 Muslim candidates of other parties that were elected to 545 members LokSabha. The repeated electoral victories and absence of Muslim representation provided the Sangh Parivar an opportunity to suppress the Indian Muslims in all spheres of life; religious, political, trade, education, and military. The entire Indian Muslim community was harassed in the name of Gau Raksha (protection of the Cow), the vigilantes of the Bhartiya Gau Raksha Dal committed violent acts against Muslims with impunity. The new normal for Indian Muslims was that the police and judicial system avoided intervening to stop crimes against Muslims; contrarily, the courts and government bodies have sometimes overturned convictions or withdrawn cases against the accused Hindus of involvement in violence against Muslims. The Indian Muslims were further victimized in the name of slogans such as ‘Ghar Wapsi’ and ‘Love Jihad’. ‘Ghar Wapsi’ (returning home) was a new version of the Shuddhi Movement in which Muslims of Indian origin were coerced to re-convert to Hinduism; around 33,975 Muslims were bullied into converting to Hinduism in the short period of 2014 to 2015. In the slogan of ‘Love Jihad’, a baseless conspiracy theory was evolved to accuse Muslim men of luring Hindu women into marriage to forcefully convert them to Islam. Under the cover of ‘Love Jihad’ several Indian states – in violation of Article 25 of the Indian constitution that provides equal freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion – had introduced the anti-conversion laws. 
In the environment of fear and persecution, the Modi government moved against the Indian Muslims' markers of identity, it passed the triple talaq law through the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019. The law breaks the post-independence consensus of the Hindu majority with the Indian Muslim minority that no amendment in the Muslim Personal Law would be made without the consensual permission of the community. Furthermore, the law criminalized the religious act of triple talaq (talaq-e-biddat); now an individual can be punished with a fine and three-year jail term. In the same year, emerging contours of a Hindu state under Modi were reflected through the Indian Supreme Court in its verdict on the Babri Masjid case. The Court decided to give the entire disputed land of 2.77 acres to a trust to build a Hindu temple and ordered the government to provide an alternative five-acre land to the Sunni Central Waqf Board for the mosque. The Indian government allocated these five acres of land in Dhannipur village which was 30 km away from the mosque. In December 2019, the Modi government further silenced and alienated the Muslims in India; it passed an amendment in the Citizenship Act that allowed the fast-tracking of citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The Amendment, for the first time, introduced an explicit religious criteria to Indian citizenship laws to keep out Muslims. It further excluded religious refugees from just three countries in the neighborhood that are Muslim-majority states; Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
On August 5, 2019, the Modi government fulfilled its most important part of the Hindu ideological agenda; it abrogated Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, bifurcating and downgrading the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two union territories; Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. It also divided the six Lok Sabha seats allocated to the state of Jammu and Kashmir; one was apportioned to Ladakh and the other five were given to the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory. At the same time, to prevent local reaction, Modi’s government imposed an unprecedented lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir that barred all communication networks, restricted the movement of civilians, and even arrested pro-India political figures, including serving members of the Parliament and former Chief Ministers of the state. Although Article 370 was significantly diluted since 1954, it remained an important symbol of the Kashmiris’ distinct religio-cultural identity; it gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir a special autonomous status within the Indian Union. The state, under this article, had the right to make its laws; the government of India was restricted to matters related to defense, foreign affairs, and communications or any other matter with the concurrence of the government of the State. In 1954, through a presidential order, Article 35A was added to Article 370; the article prohibited any individual, who was not a permanent resident of Kashmir, to permanently settle, hold local government jobs, purchase property, and gain educational scholarships inside the state. The abrogation of the article increased the fears of the local Kashmiri Muslims that the Hindu nationalist government would attempt to alter the demographic balance in favor of the Hindu minority in Kashmir. These fears of the Kashmiri people were realized after eight-months of the abrogation; on April 1, 2020, the Modi government issued new domicile rules for the region that opened the domicile certificates of Jammu and Kashmir for all Indians. Now, any Indian living for fifteen years in Kashmir was eligible to apply for the domicile, and for civil servants working in the region, the period was further reduced to seven years along with their children. 
The international reaction to the abrogation of Article 370 was subdued, it neither showed enthusiasm to embrace or reject it. But the opinions did become critical once the Indian government initiated the crackdown on the Kashmiri people. The unprecedented suppression of the Kashmiri people damaged the soft image of India as the largest and only established functioning democracy in the developing world. Additionally, India wanted the world to accept its interpretation of the issue that now Kashmir was an integral part of their Indian Union and that the merger was its internal affair. Pakistan rejected all Indian actions against the state of Jammu and Kashmir and reiterated its principled stance; Kashmir was an internationally recognized disputed area and the Kashmiri people will determine its final status through a United Nations (UN) sponsored plebiscite. Later, it also rejected the new political map of India that provided details about their newly created union territories. Pakistan, along with Turkey and Malaysia, raised this issue in the UN. After 1965, it was the first time that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held a meeting exclusively on Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, which nullified India’s claim that this was its internal matter. The UNSC members were concerned about the worsening human rights situation in the region and were alarmed that any unilateral situation could aggravate tensions in the South Asian region. On January 16, 2020, the UNSC once again held a closed-door meeting to review the situation. On September 5, 2019, Amnesty International recognized the worst humanitarian situation in Kashmir and launched a campaign under #LetKashmirSpeak, to end the lockdown. The U.S. Congress also passed a bipartisan resolution that urged India to end the repression in Kashmir, end restrictions on communication, mass detentions, and preserve religious freedom. Similarly, the European Union raised its voice against the Indian repression and rejected its invitation for a guided tour in the region. Four UN special rapporteurs, in a report shared on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHCR) website, asked the Indian government to investigate the alleged torture and custodial killings of several Muslim men. These activities did contribute to some relaxation in India's violent behavior towards the Kashmiri people but failed to impress the Modi government to change its course against Kashmir. To gain some credibility, Modi’s government decided to hold local council elections in around 300 villages of Kashmir; most of the political parties – even pro-Indian elements – boycotted the elections, around sixty percent of the 21,208 village council seats in the Kashmir valley remained vacant because no one contested on them, rest of the thirty percent won the elections unopposed. 
India has always viewed Pakistan’s desire to vigorously protect its sovereign autonomy and, simultaneously, demand a fair solution to the Kashmir issue as a hurdle in the process of establishing its hegemony over the South Asian state system. It perceives the status of an unchallenged hegemonic regional power as essential for its emergence as a major power at the international level and takes part in the strategic decision-making about global politics. To achieve its regional objective it has exploited every opportunity to weaken Pakistan through overt or covert actions. In 1971, India had exploited such an opportunity in East Pakistan; it militarized a political protest against an incumbent government through the formation and funding of a terrorist organization – Mukti Bahini – to develop it into a civil war. Later, it invaded East Pakistan in the name of the liberation of Bengali people and helped the Awami League to partition Pakistan in half. The Hindu nationalists had always wanted to take a hard position against Pakistan; essentially, through anti-Pakistan policies, they wanted to demoralize their internal Muslim population and to coerce them into accepting a secondary status in their projected Hindu Rashtra (nation). It was the first BJP government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that exploded the nuclear device and initiated a dangerous nuclear arms race in South Asia. Similarly, the Modi government came to power with a very strong anti-Muslim and Pakistan bias, surrounding itself with individuals like Ajit Doval, who advocates an aggressive policy of supporting terrorist groups against Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi's idea of undermining Pakistan was similar to his National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval’s, who advocated a policy of extensive use of hard power, military, intelligence, and technology, without restraining morality. He wanted to ally with the religious and ethnic organizations working against Pakistan and provide them money, training, and weapons. He termed his policy as ‘defensive offense’; accordingly, in an environment of nuclear balance of power, India should exploit the vulnerabilities of Pakistan which can be economic, political, internal as well as international. He argued that a terrorist is a mercenary who can be purchased with a higher offer of funds and resources and used against anyone to commit terrorist acts. In this regard, he viewed terrorism as a tactic to achieve ideological and political advantages.  
In power, Modi’s strategy was to have a final solution to the dispute with Pakistan through a firm display of India’s strength. In this regard, his model was of 1971, when India helped create an insurgency and later invaded Pakistan to achieve its objectives. In June 2015, he visited Bangladesh and admitted openly the Indian involvement in the breakup of Pakistan. He declared that his country had no regrets in assisting the Mukti Bahini Movement in creating Bangladesh. He even went further and claimed that, in 1971, as a young volunteer he came to Delhi to participate in the Satyagraha Movement (non-violent resistance) launched by Jana Sangh to support Mukti Bahini. Along the same lines, on the 73rd independence day of India, he expressed solidarity with the people of Balochistan and promised support to free their land from the domination of Pakistan, irrespective of the fact that it is a province of Pakistan and part of its sovereign territory. It was not an empty threat, his intelligence agencies have been working to destabilize Balochistan for the last fifteen years; they became extra active after the announcement of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). India provides funds, protection, and passport facilities to the Baloch insurgents at home and abroad; notorious terrorists like Hamal Nawaz, Dr. Allah Nazar, Aslam Achoo, and Abdul Hameed Khan travel to India and use its medical and other travel facilities. The network of Indian missions in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan were used to help these insurgent operations in Balochistan. India provided millions of dollars to set up training camps for these insurgents at Hajigak and Sarhad Leva, Kandahar in Afghanistan. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was closely involved in the organizational and operational activities of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF). The May 11, 2019, attack on the Pearl Continental (PC) Hotel in Gwadar was a joint operation of the BLA and BLF; RAW was closely involved in financing and planning the terrorist attack. The Balochistan Liberation Organization (BLO) worked from Delhi and propagated the message of their leader Nawabzada Hyrbyair Marri.
Pakistan played a significant role in the international war against terrorism and faced serious blowback at home in the shape of suicide bomb blasts. The terrorists, in retaliation, targeted the civil-military installations and population of Pakistan. According to the estimates of the government of Pakistan, the country faced more than 19,000 terrorist attacks, suffered 83,000 casualties, and faced a direct loss of more than USD 126 billion. India, instead of contributing to the efforts of Pakistan, exploited the terrorist blowback to further weaken Pakistan. It also worked with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to commit terrorist activities in Pakistan. RAW provided lavish funds, training, weapons, ammunition, and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to the TTP.  Pakistani sources claimed that the Indian intelligence agencies were running eighty-seven terrorist camps targeting Pakistan; sixty-six out of them were located in Afghanistan, whereas the other twenty-one were functioning in India. The TTP recruits from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) were regularly sent to these camps for training. Additionally, the banned terrorist organizations in Pakistan were provided sanctuary in the Indian sponsored camps in Afghanistan; the deep Indian influence on these organizations was reflected in its facilitation of the merger of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and Hizbul Ahrar (both factions have a strong presence in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces of Afghanistan). Through these linkages, India targets terrorist attacks in Pakistan, especially the vulnerable education institutions such as the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar, The University of Agriculture, Peshawar, and Bacha Khan University, Charsadda. In their enthusiasm to hurt Pakistan, the Indians ignored the fact the TTP was much closer to Al Qaeda. In this regard, India violated the international law, especially the UNSC Resolution 1372 (2001). All these terrorist sponsorships of India in Pakistan were exposed with the arrest of its serving Naval officer, Kalbhushan Yadav, who was a linchpin in India’s terrorist activities. 
The grand Indian plan of destabilizing Pakistan did include Karachi; it actively participated in the process of enhancing the phenomenon of violent urban crime, ethnic, linguistic, religious, sectarian, and political rivalries in the city. Since 1994, it has been providing funds to a dominant ethnicity based political party. According to the police testimony of Tariq Mir – one of the main handlers of the party’s finances in London – RAW, in the initial years of their stay in the UK, provided funds in cash through couriers and later the mode was changed and businessmen were used to receive cash and deliver it to the party. The party also sent its members to India for so-called self-defense training. RAW officers used to hold regular meetings with the party’s top leadership in Vienna, Rome, Prague, and Zurich. In these meetings, politics of Pakistan, its regional politics including Afghanistan, and the deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi were discussed.  
India is the largest state of the South Asian state system, its positive behavior is essential to resolve regional disputes. The smaller states of the regional state system wish to see India in a leading role to promote peace, harmony, and prosperity in the region. Instead, India is involved in the subversion of domestic and interstate harmony of the region and is chasing an elusive goal of regional hegemony and domination. The rise of Hindutva has further aggravated the situation especially for the South Asian Muslims within India and its neighborhood.


The writer is on the faculty of Quaid-i-Azam University (School of Politics and International Relations).
E-mail: [email protected]

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