The language of politics in the world in general and India in particular has heavily dominated by the identity aspects of religion. Globally, terrorism has been linked to a religion and in
India the identity issues revolving around Ram Temple, Lord Ram and
Holy Cow have dominated the political chessboard. This book takes a
broad look at the multifaceted ensemble called Religion and political
phenomenon constructed around religion's identity. It begins with the
elaboration of religion as value and a human institution and then goes on to
understand the life and teachings of some Prophets. How religion has
been seen and understood in the social arena has been elaborated in
different periods of Indian society.
From early twentieth century the word Hindutva has been coined
for a particular type of politics. A regular confusion does take place around
different terminologies-Hindu, Hinduism, Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra.
Lately, the 'men of God' have come to be prominently noticed in the social
field, mostly not for right reasons. There are types and types of them
specializing in accumulating wealth, being involved in sex scandals and
other criminal acts including the one's related to terrorist violence. This
book does look at few aspects of some of them. Many a debate have also
been generated around the versions of Lord Ram's story and the place of
Cow in Hindu belief system. The book also attempts to outline the possible
role of religions in contemporary times and finally points out that it is the
alliance of attainments of human society; values of religions; civilizations,
which is at the root of human progress.
Former Professor IIT Mumbai, Ram Puniyani is a well-known writer activist. His books include Communal Politics, Contours of Hindu Rashtra, Second Assassination of Gandhi, Terrorism: Facts versus Myth. He is recipient of Indira Gandhi National Integration Award (2006) and National Communal Harmony Award (2007).
This book is the compilation of essays and articles engaging with the
social phenomenon where the identity of religion is in the fore-
front of political phenomenon. The theme of the book revolves around
the issues that have mainly been prompted by the abuse of religion for
political and material goals. On regular basis issues keep cropping up
about some or the other identity related issue, some attack intimidation of minorities, some attack on oil rich gulf country accompanied
by the language of religion. These contributions are responses to those
issues and also an attempt to unravel the truth behind the phenomenon
masquerading as religion.
The book covers most of the issues raised during last three decdes.
Though the focus is on India, it does engage with some global phenomena which affect the politics here.
We are living in times when interpretation of events have taken a sharp
turn from the earlier decades. Currently, most of the political phenomena are going on in the garb of religion. The language of religion and
other identities have come to the fore of social affairs. The issues related
to the needs of the people, the issues related to the rights of people have
taken a back step in the face of severe onslaught of identity politics.
The twin phenomena of terrorism and communalism are in the
center of the political stage. The process of social transformation for
better society has also been stalled if not reversed as far as the social
values are concerned. It is in this context that we see the People's movements in current times. The major people's movement in our country
has been around the problems of workers, low caste, women, adivasis,
and minorities. Globally the issues pertained to enhancement of the
rights of working classes, the issues related to overcoming injustices to
nationalities, ethnic and linguistic groups in the main.
The decades of 1950s to 1970s were the times of dynamic changes
all through, with people raising in their flags of rebellion against the
injustices at various levels. There were also the issues were related to
nationalities and ethnicities. The political space was available to people
for expressing economic, social and gender issues.
Around the end of 1980s the things started changing for the worse.
Till then the bipolar nature of the world gave enough space to the people
to march for their demands, rights and strengthening of human rights in
general. Various crucial changes took place which had far reaching effect
on the nature of polity and the expression of people's aspiration.
The first major setback was the collapse of socialist states. These
states had overcome the colonial oppression and feudal system through
communist revolutions and brought in centralized socialist economic
system. This also meant the total control of communist parties on all the
affairs of society, economy, foreign policy, political power structure etc.
This was very much necessary as colonial powers were ruling the colonies
in alliance with the local feudal powers and yielding only minimal social
and political reforms. The result was that the rising bourgeoisie was not
strong enough to lay the foundations of industrial society on its own.
The state had to step in to introduce and sustain the material modernization, under the supervision and control of the party bureaucracy. In
the world dominated by capitalist production and regulated by market
forces, these states began well with solid foundations for infrastructure,
and the planning controlled from top. These plannings have failed over
a period of time due to the lack of feed back mechanisms.
The presence of Soviet Union was a good counter check to the
imperialist designs of the US and its other allies. It is due to this that
some countries did get their freedom from colonial yoke, under the
banner of socialism. This period of two superpowers, the era of cold
war saw a competition between the imperialists and the Soviet block. It
is during this competition that countries like India strove a path of non
alignment, which was criticized by the US block and welcomed by Soviet
block. During this period the United Nation also flourished and despite
limitations came up with valuable interventions in the world, including
its charting out of the values for the global associations, Charters for
Human Rights, Minority Rights and a whole such series. Many countries
saw the flourishing of liberal values in gay abandon. The language of
politics was revolving around the issue of rights, ethnic rights, national
rights and attempts to improve the lot of the people.
The decade of 1980s saw a rapid turn around in many a fields. The
socialist economies collapsed under the weight of inner contradictions
of lack of proper control, lack of inner democracy and external pressures
of the arms race and western assertions. The Iranian revolution, coming
to power of Ayatollah Khomeini, the defeat of US puppet, Raza Shah
Pehlavi and the imperialist lust for oil made it focus its attention on West
Asia, where already the seeds of problems were sown with the promotion
of Zionism and formation of Israel. US, seeing rise of its power with the
collapse of socialist states, changed its swan song to 'oil is too important
to be left to the natives in West Asia', took up the tactics to control and
dominate this oil zone, The language which was devised was 'Islam, the
new threat', succeeding the slogan of 'Communism, threat to freedom
and democracy'. The ideological propaganda was unleashed in full swing
to demonize Islam and Muslims. With collapse of socialist state multiple
changes took place and this was the major transition in the language of
The foremost of this was the emergence of US allies as the only
super power in the world. Its policies now had no brakes and it went
on to undermine the authority of United Nations, an attempt towards
democratic relations amongst the nations of the world. Now US felt
its might can go unchecked and it launched its economic offensive in
the form of globalization at a new level in which the adverse impacts of
its implementation were too severe, the welfare measures by states were
downgraded and privatization became the mantra which the industrial
houses were to take full advantage of by plundering the industrial sectors run by the public sector. The type of economy unleashed was the
one where GDP rises high along with social differentiation, riches for
the top few and pauperization for the bottom majority.
Unemployment started rising, underemployment was the key
and the biggest victim of this was the agricultural sector. The farmers'
suicides have become a common problem and in a way an expression
of the major part of the problem of the way globalization is rampaging
the lives the people. The economic disparity, economic deprivation is
also leading the people to desecration and some of them get drawn to
the rising breed of Babas, Acharyas and Sri Sris. The rise of religiosity
in society and a proactive promotion of events around religion are significant. Amongst the middle classes the rising fondness for Yoga, the
discourses of long robed ones with bald head or flowing manes seems
to be the core around which the tense nerves are calmed.
A section from the -deprived groups formed the ideal fodder to
recruit the foot soldiers of the violence which is unleashed by communal forces. The economic instance heightens the identity politics in a
subtle way. It is during this period that social strife assumed a religious
language, wearing the cloak of religion.
The global phenomenon of terrorism has affected all the nations in
some way or the other and the global war on terror, is the overarching
slogan for hiding the imperialist ambitions for oil. Terror as such is
not an abstract concept. Today it is a product, a retaliation against the
global imperialist policies, the ethnic aspirations gone sour and also a
response to the communal violence. Lately one is also witness to the
competitive terrorism, resorted to by majoritiarian groups. Most in-
terestingly terrorism, though not well defined, has been brought to the
fore as a religious phenomenon. The turning point in such insane acts
of violence came with the formation of AI Qaeda by CIA through ISI
of Pakistan by indoctrinating the youth in madrassas. The cancer sown
in these madrassas, used initially to fight Soviet occupation by US is
visiting us in different forms and at different places. This is the additive
point in demonizing of Muslims and Islam. The global conflicts, war
against Afghanistan, Iraq and the threat to Iran, Syria are stalking the
global consciousness while the UN has been effectively emasculated
by the superpower.
This global phenomenon around Islam has created a perception
where Islam, the religion of peace, has been presented as the religion of
violence, the bane of human society. The Huntington thesis of 'clash of
civilizations' is the doctrine guiding the policy of the major power of the
world, US, and the atrocities in Iraq, and Afghanistan are being palmed
off as the price to be paid to protect democratic values. One had seen
the fate of ' export of socialism' by the USSR and now one is a witness to
the export of democracy! Can democracy be 'imposed from outside? The
very concept of democracy flows from below upwards; it is an internal
phenomenon in society. Under critical scrutiny this aggression and the
claims of concern for democracy do not hold any water.
The global phenomenon as reflected in globalization-terrorism is getting reflected within the country in the form of rising economic distress
and communalism. The communal politics began from the declining
sections of society in the light of rising democratic value. The process
of social transformation was started by the landlords, Nawabas, Rajas
and was up held later by a section of middle class ideologues. In India
they began in the face of rising industrialization, education and the
upcoming of low caste and women in the social space. It found expression in targeting of each other by religious groups, namely the Hindus
and Muslims. It did spread venom against the other community and
communalized the social space. The same supplemented in the British
designs of divide and rule leading to the partition of the country and
massive violence. The violence was to come back soon and was to go
to maddening heights in the decades of 1980s, the worst of which was
seen in the post Babri demolition Mumbai violence, burning of Pastor
Steins and the Gujarat carnage.
It has marginalized the minorities into second class citizens,
created their ghettoes and strengthened the conservative elements in
those communities. The fear psychology of the minorities has triggered conservatism in the community to a large extent. The violence
against minorities has become a regular phenomenon. Some of these
are ghastly and others are low intensity scattered ones. In a way this
violence and the accompanying erosion of civic norms is a big blow to
the democratic values and an attack on India's Constitution. The most
immediate observation is that it is creating a mass hysteria, raising the
violent storms, which ensure suppression of the real issues of the people
related to their worldly needs.
In India, it is RSS combine which poses the major threat to the
democracy, while the minority communalism, though comparatively
anaemic is able to give provocations to the majority communalism, led
by RSS combine ... This combine is opposed to democracy and is using
the democratic space to ensure its abolition in due course, Already there
is a talk of the anti Hindu nature of our Constitution and the need to
bring in one based on Hindu holy books. The communal violence and
the inherent communal politics are surely the biggest threat to Indian
Some of the ethnic issues have led to severe violence and currently few of
them are being presented as the issues related to religion. While many
nations have not been able to address the issues of ethnicities properly, a
few of these have assumed severe proportions of violence. Northeastern
states in India, Jafna and Srilanka are major examples of this. The issues
related to Kashmir have been given the appearance of religion. While the
northeastern violence and organizations like United Liberation Front of
Assam, have their own quotas of problems, militancy in Kashmir has got
mixed up with the global issues of imperialism-terrorism complex.
Kashmir acceded to India on the promise of autonomy, but soon the
pressure of communal elements in the country resulted in suppression of
the clauses related to autonomy, which in turn caused alienation of local
population and with the help of weapons across the border, it assumed
the forms of violence. This struggle for restoring Kashmiriyat became
more complex with the AI Qaeda's intervention in the area, converting
Kashmiriyat to Islam as the battle cry. The issue was made much worse
with the global terrorism and the intermixing of the two.
The challenge to social sciences today is to change the paradigm of analysis.
The period of 60s and 70s did see a set of frameworks and scientifically
accurate methods in analyzing the prevalent phenomena. A small section
did tell us about the nature of socialist states and the nature of religion
based nationalism. In the contemporary times the things have been very
obscure as the new phenomenon of religion based nationalism is becoming more dominant, similarly the issue of terrorism also requires a much
different approach than the one dished out by the propaganda mills of
the dominant powers and dominant sections of society.
The major challenge is to remove the lid of language of religion
on this phenomenon which is at core political, which are retrograde
and are throwing the society back in time. The need was never more
necessary and urgent as the popular perceptions are much distorted and
these perceptions intensify the impact of oppressive politics. Today social
sciences need to grapple with phenomenon of communal violence and
acts of terrorism, which are major problems in contemporary scene.
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