National and International Issues

Saffron Terrorism Looming Threat over South Asia

When on June 30, the Indian cricket team appeared at Edgbaston to face England in the Cricket World Cup 2019 tie, it donned a new “away kit” – a bold splash of orange (saffron) on the shoulders and back of the players’ shirts. The change of colour in the kit – from traditional blue to the splattering of saffron, one of the three colours in the Indian national flag, is perhaps a sign of times, coinciding with the second consecutive victory of Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India’s April-May polls. 

In Hinduism, saffron is the most important colour. No wonder the BJP and its allied groups are all out to paint their dear old “Bharat” orange. Yes, it is for the first time in more than thousand years of history that the Hindu extremists are firmly in power and in a position to assert themselves and promote their hate-ideology as they could have never done in the past.  
So if Indian politics has turned saffron, it makes sense for cricket to follow suit – the money-minting game for which there is more passion in India than providing toilets to the teeming masses.
Therefore, for promoters of Hindutva, cricket is just another means to showcase Hindu-ness and muscle-power of their country rather than sport and a gentleman’s game. Falling in line, wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni felt the need to display a military logo on his gloves at the World Cup. Mercifully, the International Cricket Council barred him from doing this, though many feared that the big money clout of Indians may force it to bend rules. 
And prior to the gloves’ controversy, Indian cricketers shocked the world of sports by wearing army’s camouflage caps during the 3rd One-Day International match against Australia at Jharkhand. 
However, saffron coloured kit, gloves with the military logo or the camouflage caps in cricket hold only a small symbolic value in the big picture of India. The real cause of concern for the world should be Hindutva’s ominous and scary agenda being unfolded with a rapid speed on the domestic and external fronts following Modi’s re-election.
The BJP’s second innings in power has started off with a sharp spike in anti-minority mob violence and rhetoric, particularly against Muslims – raising the mega question about what does the dominance of Hindutva mean for the so-called world’s largest democracy? It is also important to analyze how the Hindutva agenda would impact the region, particularly India’s immediate neighbours? And where this unbridled rise of politics of extremism and hate could lead to?  
Targeting Minorities
In India, the frequency and ferocity of attacks by the Hindu extremist vigilante mobs targeting followers of the minority faiths continue to increase. 
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch report – released in February 2019 – radical cow protection groups have killed at least 44 people and injured around 280 in more than 100 attacks carried out between May 2015 and December 2018. Out of these 44 slain victims, 36 were Muslims.  
Following Modi’s re-election, vigilantism has shown an upward trend. And media – by design or default – reports only tip of the iceberg of all the discrimination, harassment, exploitation and violence meted out to the members belonging to the religious minorities and people belonging to the so-called lower castes. 
For example, in Jharkhand a 24-year-old Muslim, Tabrez Ansari, was tortured to death by a Hindu mob. The video clip of this horrific incident appeared on June 22, showing Ansari begging for mercy as he was being tortured and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman” by the mob.    
Two days after the Jharkhand incident, a 26-year-old Muslim cleric, Hafeez Mohammed, was pushed out of a train in West Bengal by a mob chanting “Jai Shri Ram.” Luckily, Hafeez escaped death, but sustained some minor injuries.
Countless such incidents can be quoted underlining the fact that Hindu extremists are out to further squeeze space for people belonging to the other faiths in their bid to transform India in line with the Hindutva ideology. 
India’s national identity is being defined only as Hindu identity by the BJP and its allies like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Hindu Mahasabha. 
For a country, where one-fifth of the population comprises non-Hindus, this push towards establishing a Hindu state is seen widening its fissures.
The BJP government has either taken or plans a series of highly discriminatory and controversial actions against the minorities by changing the constitution and the law. 
The most inflammatory plan is to abolish the special status of the disputed region of Kashmir – the only Muslim majority state of Hindu India – and scrap all its constitutional guarantees.
If this plan materializes it would diminish all possibilities for a peaceful solution to this protracted conflict in which Kashmiris have been forced to turn to armed and unarmed resistance in the wake of growing atrocities and human rights violations by the Indian forces. 
The BJP is also changing India’s refugee and citizenship policies to make them more discriminatory and anti-minorities. Under this plan non-Muslim refugees will get Indian citizenship more easily than Muslims.
Hindu hardliners are also pursuing their agenda to falsify and distort history by rewriting textbooks, changing names of places and pressuring Muslim institutions to amend their charters. 
This sort of discrimination is not just isolating the religious minorities, especially the Muslims, but is likely to force retaliation. 
Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s former high commissioner to India, said that Hindutva’s extremist ideology is intrinsically dangerous as it is heavily inspired by Nazism. 
“Savarkar, the founder of Hindutva, was critical of Jews for retaining their separate identity in Germany and compared them to Indian Muslims. It is, therefore, hardly surprising what is happening to Muslims in India under the BJP and Modi.”
According to Air Vice Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry (R) India's declaratory policy of Hindutva has sharpened the divide in this multi-cultural state. “It has placed communities on warpath inside India, while it has spawned similar polarity of sentiment in the neighbourhood.”
Threat to Regional Peace
Indeed, the dominance of hardline Hindu nationalism in Indian politics is not just acting as a destabilizing factor within India, but threatens peace in South Asia and beyond.
India’s tense relations with Pakistan over Kashmir is an old story. But under the BJP’s adventurous policies, they have aggravated and fears of a full-blown conflict increased as witnessed in February this year when the armed forces of the two nuclear-armed states briefly locked horns following the violation of Pakistan’s airspace by Indian fighter jets.  The retaliatory action by Pakistan Air Force had downed two Indian aircraft.    
Any miscalculation amidst this kind of Indian brinkmanship and war-hysteria fanned by its leadership could prove catastrophic for the entire region.
“The BJP is an extension of the RSS, which sees Kashmir dispute not as a political but religious one,” says Dr. Syed Rifaat Hussain, who specializes in international relations with a focus on South Asia, arms control and proliferation.
With all their temples and some holy places, they even consider Kashmir as a sacred Hindu land and therefore, are not ready to open talks on the disputed Himalayan region. He said, “Congress also had the same problem, but it was not averse for talks.” 
According to Mr. Basit, now even engaging with Pakistan by India is considered a concession.  “Indian leadership wants their country to become an economic hub by isolating Pakistan… they want to keep Pakistan under pressure. Even if they talk, they will not talk on Kashmir… in the current situation, at the most conflict between the two countries can be managed, but not resolved.”  
While Kashmir remains an old problem, India is using Afghanistan to stoke ethnic tensions, terrorism and violence in Pakistan. The arrest of Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav – a serving Indian naval officer – by Pakistan in 2016 is a living proof of how India is responsible for terrorism in Pakistan.  
Other disputes between Pakistan and India including on Sir Creek and Siachen Glacier also remain unresolved due to New Delhi’s belligerence and obstinate attitude.
Mr. Basit further said that one can see how Hindutva agenda is working to damage bilateral relations between Pakistan and India, as well as impeding regional cooperation. “India's bullying tactics vis-á-vis SAARC is [a] clear manifestation of the latter.”
A Regional Bully  
Pakistan is not the only South Asian country which has tensions with India. Almost all the other South Asian neighbours have maritime, border or water disputes with India, which is trying to establish its hegemony in the region in all spheres – from trade to military power.
For example, Bangladesh’s relations under Prime Minister Hasina Wajid’s rule have improved in recent years, but Dhaka has not been able to convince its big neighbour to ensure its water share during drier season and manage its flow during monsoon to avoid floods. 
The construction and operation of Farakka Barrage by India over Hoogly River is a key bone of contention along with the distribution and management of the waters of River Ganges. 
India and Bangladesh also have problems on their porous frontiers as the Indian Army shoots to kill Bangladeshi villagers, branding them illegal immigrants or terrorists. 
Land-locked Nepal often remains the target of Indian belligerence. In 1962, India forcibly occupied Kalapani, which is still claimed by Nepal. Similarly, disputes over Susta and Lipulekh are also unresolved. Indian interference in the affairs of its small neighbour can be gauged from the fact that in 2016, it tried to topple down the Nepalese government.  
In 2015, India created a humanitarian crisis in Nepal by blocking its supplies as New Delhi supported the Madheshis population against the Nepalese government. 
Pakistan’s former envoy to India, Mr. Basit also said that the world had seen how India under Modi tried to bully Nepal by imposing an economic blockade for months. 
“One must commend the people of Nepal for refusing to compromise their sovereignty and national dignity,” he said, adding that despite being a Hindu majority country, Nepal, too, remains apprehensive of the regressive worldview of Hindutva.
India’s controversial intervention in Sri Lanka’s civil war is also a case in point. Initially, the Indian Army supported Tamil Tigers despite being peacekeepers and then changed track. 
Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991 by Tamil Tigers was in response to this change of position. 
In recent years, Sri Lanka has moved closer to China, yet maintaining good relations with India. 
AVM Chaudhry said that even the recent communal troubles in Sri Lanka remain an extension and a manifestation of the trend in its closest neighbourhood India. “It is time for the world to take notice and pine for greater inclusiveness as a sine qua non for social and political stability in the region.”
Similarly, despite billions of dollars of trade, India’s relations with China remain distrustful and complicated. While one of the main bone of contentions is India’s dispute with China over Aksai Chin and Ladakh regions, New Delhi’s growing strategic relations with the United States are fundamentally aimed at containing Beijing. 
India wants to ensure that the Indian Ocean becomes its domain, but it is not in a position to counter China and its influence. Therefore, it has partnered with Australia, Japan and the U.S. to achieve this end. In an attempt to dominate the sea lanes, India and its allies are trying to establish their influence and control over islands stretching from Maldives to Diego Garcia and beyond by placing fighter aircraft, sea and air surveillance, naval ships and listening posts. India will gain the most if this happens.  
If this happens, not only maritime interests of China and Pakistan will be threatened but Gulf States, Indonesia and Malaysia and even Russia will be hurt. 
Pakistan and China have to develop a strategy to counter this move in which they have to ensure that Maldives maintains its autonomy and independence and doesn’t fall prey to India’s expansionist designs. New Delhi is trying to influence Maldives and its politics through diplomacy as well as using its intelligence. It is trying to change the Islamic character of Maldives and create a negative image about Pakistan.  
In a nutshell, ‘Saffron’ India with its grand dream of emerging on the world stage as a major power, maintains from uneasy to outright hostile relations with all its neighbours. 
The dominance of aggressive Hindutva agenda, which is not a temporary phase in India, is widening cracks and fissures within the Indian polity as well as complicating and aggravating relations with neighbouring countries, threatening regional peace and stability. 

The writer is an eminent journalist who regularly contributes to print and electronic media.
E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @AmirZia1

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