Tag Archives: BJP

The BJP in India: how religion and politics create a toxic mix.

The last two posts can be interpreted as an examination of the disadvantages of monotheism and the advantages of polytheism. However, in recent years Hinduism, a religion often thought to be polytheistic, has assumed some unpleasant characteristics on the back of the BJP’s rise to political power in India. What follows are quotes from an excellent “London Review of Books” article by Amit Chaudhuri (the article appeared in the 17.12.15 edition of the “Review”). On the basis of the quotes below, I am inclined to conclude that religion must be completely divorced from politics. Why? Because, when political parties shaped by religion secure political power, almost everyone suffers, even those who subscribe to the religion wielding the political power.

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Hindu Mandir, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

India always had, and still has, a huge amount going for it… For me, in many ways, India is the most exciting and stimulating country to be in. But the BJP… seems to be bad for whatever it is that makes this country so attractive… For the first time since independence, India feels unlivable in, not just for minorities under assault but for large swathes of the population.

The BJP is a deeply polarising party… The BJP thrives (as does any right-wing group) on division. The BJP polarises not only Hindus and Muslims (and Christians, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists); it also polarises Hindus.

Many of us have forgotten… what Hinduism meant even forty years ago. But even those of us who aren’t religious are often products of that amorphous older definition. Despite the disgraceful legacies and realities of Hindu society, such as the caste system, there was once an open-ended confusion about the matter of what constitutes it as a religion. Hinduism had no central book, it was reiterated; you could be a Hindu even if you were an atheist or had never stepped into a temple; you could absorb the stories of Hindu mythology without believing in them literally. This definition of Hinduism arose from an awareness in modern Hindus of the aspects privileged by other world religions, in response to which they seemed to have decided to make a case for Hinduism’s anomalousness, to turn the fact that it wasn’t a “proper” religion into a kind of legitimacy… But it made for an oddly Indian interpretation of religion, in which it served as a sort of figurative language, a non-assertive truth, and there was a strange, occasional overlap, for the Indian, between everyday living and religious experience.

Anyone who was once exposed to even a residue of that ethos will feel alienated by the BJP’s project of salvaging Hinduism from its provisionality and making it a “proper” religion. It’s doing this through minatory edicts and actions, and by eliminating grey areas. “Intolerance” is the Indian press’s term for the regime of threats and violence toward beef-eaters, writers, “foreigners”, “foreign” organisations (like Greenpeace) and minorities; though, as Arundhati Roy pointed out recently, “intolerance” is “the wrong word to use for the lynching, shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings”. The BJP insists on a form of Hinduism that is wholly new: it accords a deep respect to science and the verifiable and is tone deaf to figurative language…

(The BJP has been shaped by) the Renaissance and Enlightenment… (but) in a weirdly distorted form… (and) its secretive cultural-militant wing, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

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Hindu Mandir, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

The BJP’s violence toward Islam emanates from ignorance, but so does its violence toward Hinduism. It has ignored or glossed over Hinduism’s, and India’s, many anti-Brahminical, anti-absolutist spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism and the bhakti movement…

A central part of the (Bhagavad) Gita is its wariness of mere scriptural observance, as it lays out its scepticism of its precursor text, the Vedas… Perhaps the Gita should be made compulsory reading – not for the nation but for the BJP and its fringe groups…

(During his 2015 visit to the UK, Prime Minister and BJP leader Narendra Modi) made one direct reference to Islam: “Had Islam embraced Sufism, it would not have had to resort to the gun.” (In one of the chilling coincidences that now seem to make up our world, Muslim gunmen in Paris were shooting down people out for the night at around the same time Modi said these words.) It was a stunning statement: the BJP has been busily suppressing Hindu pluralism – the legacy of the bhakti movement – just as Wahhabi Islam has suppressed heterodox forms such as Sufism. You could call the BJP’s project a kind of Wahhabi Hinduism: it is intent on defining a single power centre, where before there was none, and one interpretation, where before there were many. It took a few decades of funding and support from Saudi Arabia for Wahhabi Islam to become the minatory force it is today, and something similar could plausibly be achieved with Hinduism. At the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, women were recently denied entry unless they were wearing that “ancient” Hindu apparel, the sari – a sign that the BJP’s influence might turn a secular form of dress into a religious one, like the hijab. The party has already appropriated the colour of renunciation, saffron, as a ubiquitous political signifier.

On 30th August (2015), the literary scholar M. M. Kalburgi was shot by two young men pretending to be students, after he had allegedly made offensive remarks about idol worship. Men like his killers are now in abundant supply in India. They manufacture abuse on social media against anyone faintly critical of Modi; they instruct those who disagree with them to migrate to Pakistan; they issue death threats; they kill.

Modi is a man who makes careful use of silence… Though he is identified with speechmaking, he’s silent on key issues. His silence is interpreted as a green light by those who commit violence in his name. When the soft-spoken, mumbling Prime Minister Manomohan Singh kept resolutely quite about his Congress government’s rampant corruption, Modi’s deputy, Amit Shah, mocked him for being a mauni baba – a holy man who’s taken a vow of silence. Yet Modi has been practising being a mauni baba in a much more invidious way.

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Shrine, Hindu-run business, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

(In the 19th century, intellectuals in India were working toward a position in which) Hindu iconography and mythology… would be the creative property of all – Hindus, Muslims, non-believers, atheists… and not just of (Hindu) devotees. It is the BJP’s intent that all this be removed from the secular domain…

I believe that the intimidation Indians face almost daily now, to do with free speech, can only be addressed in the long run by clarity about our constitutional guarantees. Perhaps the Indian constitution, unlike the American one, puts certain limits on free speech, but I can’t believe those limits necessitated the pulping last year of all the copies in India of Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: an alternative history” and yet protect the hate speech of various BJP ministers or far right parties like the Shiv Sena and the Mahanirman Sena…

The erosion of free speech in India began long ago, under the Congress, with the banning of “The Satanic Verses” in 1988, an action, extraordinarily, still unchallenged in court. That the BJP won’t lift this ban, despite the fact that it never loses a chance to undermine Muslims, is a sign of its own investment in the culture and ethos of prohibition. The erosion I’m talking about isn’t only to do with religion and literature: its primary aim is the suppression of political dissent…

You see this in West Bengal… which boasts… an exemplary tolerance of minorities, though it’s fiercely punitive toward any form of free speech that is considers oppositional… In 2007, the… government expelled the Bangladeshi writer, exile and critic of Islam Taslima Nasreen from Calcutta, where she lived, after she came under attack from orthodox Muslims.

Are state and central authorities in India actually constitutionally empowered to do what they are doing? If we don’t know the answer now, when will we?

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Religious people behaving badly (and far, far worse), two.

I must begin with an apology. I have not uploaded a post to this blog for quite a long time because of a fortnight’s trip to parts of Spain rarely visited by foreign tourists; because of starting a new blog entitled “Hey: you started it!”, which reflects sometimes very angrily on the propaganda that passes as debate leading up to the forthcoming May general election in the United Kingdom; and because the last few weeks have been dominated by lots of religious people behaving very badly (and such very bad behaviour can be extremely depressing, so much so that one’s will to write is compromised). But time marches on and, to ensure we do not forget forever some of that very bad behaviour, the briefest and most select update of where we have got in recent weeks.

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One.

Men claiming allegiance to Islamic State behead twenty-one Coptic Christian Egyptian nationals in Libya. The Coptic Christians had gone to Libya seeking work.

Two.

Sunni Muslim “suicide bombers” murder over a hundred Shia Muslims in mosques in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, during Friday midday prayers.

Three.

Gunmen said later by others to support Islamic State murder over twenty people, most of whom are foreign tourists, when they visit one of Tunis city’s most renowned museums.

Four.

Benjamin Netanyahu resorts to “racist” scaremongering, according to his Zionist Union rival, Isaac Herzog, to encourage voters in Israel to support his right-wing Likud party. Likud emerges as the largest single party in the Knesset but is dependent on extremist religious parties to form a government.

Five. 

Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq threaten to destroy world heritage sites and museum artefacts of civilisations that are not Islamic. Evidence suggests that artefacts in Mosul Museum have been broken up and parts of the ancient cities of Nimrud, Hatra and Khorsabad bulldozed. Islamic State allies in Libya say that they will destroy “unIslamic” heritage sites in the parts of North Africa where they seize control. Libya possesses some remarkable ruined Roman cities which, for obvious reasons, have not been accessible to foreign tourists for many years and are therefore not as widely known as other less impressive Roman cities in other nation states.

Six.

Christians in India report that, since the BJP, the Hindu Nationalist Party, came to power in Delhi, the number of attacks on Christians and Christian property has risen alarmingly. A nun aged seventy was raped in Bengal only a week or two ago.

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Seven.

In recent years, Burma has witnessed the emergence of Buddhist nationalists, many of whom take their inspiration from Ashin Wirathu, a monk in Mandalay. The nationalists target the minority Muslim community because they are regarded as a corrupting foreign influence. The nationalists warn that the Muslims will take over the country if given the chance and that they are already raping women. They conveniently ignore that many Muslim Rohingyas in the west of the country have never been granted citizenship and have been the victims of persecution for decades. Many Rohingyas have been living in camps since communal violence in 2012 destroyed their towns and villages. The camps themselves have been attacked by Buddhist nationalists and hundreds of Muslims killed. There has also been violence against Muslims in Mandalay and other large population centres.

Eight.

The following began life as an article in the excellent National Secular Society Newsletter. I have amended and edited it ever so slightly.

As the full scale of the British establishment’s cover-up of child sexual abuse becomes increasingly apparent, is it not time that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) made public its reasons for dropping the investigation into Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor twelve years ago?
It is hard to know where to begin when discussing the issue of child sexual abuse in Britain. As Home Secretary Teresa May said recently, the abuse is “woven, covertly, into the fabric of British society”. She warned that “what the country doesn’t yet appreciate is the true scale of that abuse”.
The almost daily revelations suggest collusion between the different arms of the establishment to protect the great and the good from investigation, either for abuse or for covering it up – police, priests, politicians and performers are all implicated one way or another. Beyond the police, the CPS is another branch of law enforcement that has some questions to answer. Firstly, in the light of all that has been revealed in the intervening twelve years, why did it instruct Sussex police to drop a 2003 investigation into the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the UK? Secondly, why did the CPS decide that its reasons remain “confidential”?
This case related to decisions made by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor when he was the bishop in the Roman Catholic diocese of Arundel and Brighton between 1977 and 2000, and centred on how he handled allegations of child rape by priests, including child rape by the notorious Father Michael Hill. At the time, the chairperson of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, which was dealing with a number of claims against various orders of the Roman Catholic Church, called Murphy-O’Connor’s role in the case “indefensible” and demanded his resignation. According to a Catholic Herald report at the time, a CPS spokesman advised that the details of the advice given to Sussex police to abandon the case against the cardinal were “confidential”. The article also claims that the cardinal was never formally contacted by the police during their investigation, although the police had contacted the CPS at least twice for formal advice on how to proceed.
Here, therefore, was a situation in which a high profile figure implicated in a child abuse scandal was never contacted by detectives over several months, during which the police asked the CPS for guidance on how to proceed. Eventually the CPS instructed the police to drop the case and declared their reasons for this decision not open to public scrutiny.
By any measure this cannot now be a tenable position, given all the subsequent revelations of child rape on a sometimes industrial scale in religious institutions both Anglican and Roman Catholic, and what is now being exposed by way of an establishment cover-up. There is also the related matter of a number of Sussex police officers being investigated for gross misconduct over investigations into a complaint about an assault by Jimmy Savile in the early 1970s. It may or may not be relevant that Savile was a devout Roman Catholic, but it would be no surprise to discover that such a public media figure had easy access to Roman Catholic institutions in Sussex as elsewhere. Publicity pictures of Savile with leading cardinals and clerics are widely available to lend support to this view.

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But…

St. John’s Church of England Primary School in Darlington is taking part in Stonewall’s Primary School Champions programme, which educates children about gay rights and the harmful effects of homophobia, and the Church of England has a female bishop (although the latter is old news now, I guess. But old news is often better than new news, sadly).

Yes: there is much to be grateful for, don’t you think?