Communalism is not about faith and conversions but about political clout

It is not any more a mere anti-colonial jab but a fairly good generalisation that it is the first Europeans - starting with the Portuguese — who brought with them syphilis and communalism in the sixteenth century. Secularism came in much, much later, again from the same direction and with a similar amount of poison. Modern medicine has conquered syphilis. The other two continue to rage.

Until then, there have been religions - far too many — in the country. There was even a sort of competition of sorts for new converts, starting with Jainism and Buddhism in the early periods, and then between different denominations of Shaivites, Vaishnavites, Shaktas, and numerous subdivisions among them all. The rulers and the political notables too were induced and allured to adopt one or the other of the faiths, but that did not create faith-based power struggles. There were disputations, denunciations among them. But it was never a matter of political hegemony. The Turks (including the so-called Mughals) and Afghan rulers of late medieval and pre-modern India too continued to follow the same policy of letting religions and sects jostle with each other.

The story was quite different in Europe. The rulers there burnt those who did not belong to their side of the religious divide. The Westphalia Congress which ended the 30 years of wars of religion in the seventeenth century only complicated the issue when it was declared that the religion of the ruler will be that of the subjects as well.

The British used what they knew to understand India. They saw Muslims and Hindus, and thought, naturally enough, that it is a handy way of distinguishing them and, if necessary of pitting one against the other. Hindus and Muslims perhaps did not have much choice but to be herded and branded on religious lines. This played itself out in the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947. Faith-based politics in the subcontinent unravelled with the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

But the legacy of religious politics remained. Before Independence, the Muslim League considered the Congress a Hindu organisation. Congress could not get rid of the Hindu tag. So, after independence, Congress tried to be sympathetic to Muslims without abandoning its support base among the Hindus.
That is, Congress followed the pattern of religious politics set in place by the British. Nehru and others naively thought that this was secularism. Nehru had an opportunity to banish religion from politics. But he did not feel the need to do so because he felt that majority Hindus need not fear the minorities, and that there was no harm in letting the minorities persist with their religious identity in the political arena. And that as a result, the ghost of communalism will go away.

This is something akin to the thinking on castes. It was felt that affirmative action for the oppressed castes would result in the withering away of the caste system. It was a grave miscalculation. Both casteism and communalism have become entrenched in the political arena.

The BJP, an upstart national party, has not mastered the politics of communalism, in the manner of Congress. That is why its lumpen storm troopers in the Bajrang Dal indulge in violence against Christians and Muslims. Congress caters to the communal sensitivities of all groups. BJP wants to do likewise but has not acquired the skills to do so. It ends up facing the embarrassing situation of communal riots.

The one place where communalism has found a kinetic equilibrium is in the politically over-determined and socially underdeveloped Kerala. There, Hindus, Christians and Muslims have carved out their share of political power. Of course, the social conditions are such that each community has developed its own stable economic base.

Communalism is not about faith and conversions. It is about political clout. That is why secularist rant against communalism is so much of hypocrisy because they do not accept that every religious group wants a share in political power which is not what secularism is all about.

From Dna India

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