by Eric Margolis
When the world's largest democracy votes, the earth shakes. And so it did last week as India's nearly 600 million eligible voters completed the final round of national elections.
The vote was a civic triumph. India, a huge nation of 980 million, with over 200 languages or major dialects, is a delicate mosaic of races, diverse ethnic groups, and castes. A light-skinned, Aryan Brahmin from Kashmir is as different racially and linguistically from a south Indian dark-skinned Dravidian, as a Norwegian from a Sudanese.
That India works at all as a nation, and democracy, is a near miracle. India is a `planetary nation.' It's so huge and self-absorbed, the rest of the world could vanish, and few Indians would even notice.
A civic triumph, yes, but the election's results could produce political tragedy. The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to win an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, or parliament, and was forced, after much wrangling, to form a coalition. BJP has now been invited to form a new government; its leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, will be India's next prime minister. This presents twin threats: another weak, unstable government; and domination if India's political life by the extremist BJP.
India has suffered feeble, short-lived coalition governments since Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991, including a 13-day rule by BJP in 1996. Without the Gandhi dynastic magic, the once-mighty Congress Party, rotted by corruption, arrogance, and gangsterism, lost power. Last-minute intervention by Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv's widow, failed to lure voters back to Congress. She was just named head of the Congress Party.
However flawed, Congress was the glue that held India's complex mosaic together. Congress still represented founder Mohandas Gandhi's noble principals of a secular India that protected the rights of all religions, races, languages and other minorities. Congress became defender of India's two largest, and most persecuted minorities: 120 million Muslims; and Untouchables. Low-castes (Harijans/Dalits), are pariahs in the racist Hindu caste system that keeps over 30% of Indians in hereditary serfdom.
By contrast to tolerant Congress, BJP champions Hindu nationalist chauvinism, intolerance, and, often, outright Aryan racism. Indian critics denounce BJP as a Hindu neo-nazi party that will destroy India's democracy and ignite religious war.
The BJP is deeply influenced, if not guided, by a sinister, secretive Hindu extremist movement, the RSS, founded in the 1930's as an Indian version of Hitler's Brownshirts. The RSS advocated a `reborn,' pure Hindu state in which minorities would be `disciplined' or purged. RSS set up training camps across India, similar to Hitler-youth camps, complete with brown-uniformed cadets. Gandhi was assassinated by an RSS fanatic.
Today, BJP's senior ranks are heavy with activists from RSS, and VHP, another Hindu chauvinist group. BJP President L.K. Advani is close to the RSS. The BJP advocates a `great Hindu awakening' in which `Hindutva' (Hindu cultural rule) will be imposed on Indian society. BJP advocates cultural cleansing to sweep way remnants of India's Muslim Mogul conquerors. As a foretoken, BJP's destruction of a centuries-old mosque at Ayodhya in 1992, sparked bloody communal riots across India.
BJP vows to revoke the right of Muslims and other groups to separate laws governing domestic matters. `Stop pampering Muslims,' is BJP code for eradicating Muslim identity, and imposing Hinduism by forced assimilation on India' s 200 million non-Hindus. Much of this intolerance is driven by a traditional sense of inferiority Hindus feel towards Muslims in the conduct of war and sex.
An important BJP ally, Bombay-based Shiv Sena, another Hindu fascist party, goes even further. Its demagogic leader, Bal Thackery, an avowed admirer of Hitler, demands all `foreign' religious, cultural and linguistic influence be purged from India.
Many Indians reject extremism. Muslims and lower castes are terrified of the BJP. But Indians want a stable government, and a BJP-lead coalition is an obvious answer. Coalition, and realities of office, may temper BJP's ideological fire. As of now, however, it's unclear how much influence RSS neo-nazis in the BJP's closets will have on party policy. BJP leaders toned down their rhetoric for elections and began issuing moderate statements.
Still, a BJP government will make India's neighbors and the west very nervous. BJP vows to ruthlessly crush Sikh nationalists, and the independence movement in war-torn Kashmir, where 600,000 Indian security forces repress rebellious Muslims by terror and torture.
BJP preaches the 1947 division of India must be reversed. The nation must be reunited into `Bahrat ' (greater) India by `crushing' and reabsorbing of Pakistan , then Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. BJP irredentism could easily spark a war between India and Pakistan, both of whom have nuclear weapons.
BJP also advocates rapid development of India's large, but still covert nuclear weapons program, including long-ranged ICBM.s, capable of striking North America. BJP refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proloferation Treaty until the US, Russia, and China do so.
If the BJP-led government manages to survive and prosper, India would assume a muscular, aggressive foreign policy. BJP sees India as a superpower. Central Asia, and the entire Indian Ocean, from East Africa to Australia, including the approaches to the oil-rich Persian Gulf, are India's rightful and sole spheres of influence, asserts the BJP.
In short, recreation of Imperial Britain's 19th century rule of a united Indian subcontinent , but this time under a great, reborn Hindu Raj. That is, provided the new BJP government does not collapse after a few weeks, like its predecessors.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
[Reports that Hindu militants may be involved in bomb attacks first blamed
on Islamists may open a Pandora's Box for India's beleaguered security
services and become a key voter issue before general elections next year.
At least 10 people, including a serving army officer and a Hindu monk and
nun, have been arrested over alleged involvement in blasts in the
Muslim-dominated town of Malegaon in western Maharashtra state that killed
The same Indian army officer is being investigated over a bomb attack in
February 2007 that killed 68 people on the Samjhauta Express, a train
between Delhi and Lahore, police said. The attack killed mostly Pakistani
The reports have proved an embarrassment for the main opposition Hindu
nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it prepares to take on the
Congress-led government in both state elections this year and general
elections in early 2009.
The BJP has been quick to criticise the Congress-led government for being
soft on terrorism when it involves Muslims or Pakistan, but critics say it
has been less willing to call for a clampdown on Hindu groups in the face of
the latest allegations.Bappa Majumdar, "India wonders how deep
'Hindu terrorism' goes," Reuters, November 17, 2008]
Copyright © 1998 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved