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Why we must call it saffron terror and nothing elsePOSTED BY ZIA HAQ ON SUNDAY, JULY 18, 2010

A brand of terror is rapidly unfolding, giving rise to a highly dangerous label: “Hindu terrorism”. It is being attributed to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, a powerful right-wing organization that espouses fierce cultural nationalism built around Hindu values.

For those led to believe that only Muslims could be terrorists, evidence to the contrary is mounting. Top RSS men are under arrest for facilitating terror strikes at Muslim shrines. As the evidence mounts, sewed lips are slowly opening. The nation wonders how entrenched “Hindu terrorism” is. Yet, we must not call this “Hindu terror”. That’s too sweeping a phrase.

I am privileged enough to understand that a significant number of this nation’s Hindus is tolerant. To sully their faith with a wide brush of terror this way is to commit the same mistake as calling terror “Islamic”.

I do not hold such a bias against Hinduism. My love for Hindu temple towns, such as Varanasi and Pushkar, is enduring. These are the usual places where I go on occasional vacations. These labyrinths of a city rising upwards of the ghats (river-bank steps) are amazing. I have spent enough time strolling around these ghats, talking to Hindu priests and astrologers who crowd these places. I have never found any streak of hatred, radicalism or fascism in them. I have always found these places, just like the frolicking foreign tourist, to be abodes of peace.

However, the truth is upon us. Years of promoting intolerance and hatred have caused the saffron brigade (taking its name from the Hindu sacred colour) to tether on the edge of terrorism.

There we are: we must call this saffron terror and not anything else. Hindutva terror could be another apt term, but unfortunately it runs, semantically, very closely past the word “Hindu”, cutting things too fine for us.

Yet, “Hindutva terror” is an effective term to distinguish it from Hinduism, which has none of the former’s fanaticism and militant ideas that form a foil to Islamist terror. Note that I have not used the term Islamic, but Islamist. These distinctions are not just theoretically important – but they also form the basis of street opinion.

Singling terrorists out should be our singular goal, as I have said earlier. Therefore, organizations like the RSS, its political front, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and all like-minded organizations should come out of their denial mode. Their Frankenstein’s monster is threatening India itself.

Muslims already agree that many among them have interpreted an extreme meaning out of Islam to justify violence, so that it suits their political needs. The RSS, the BJP and indeed the whole saffron brigade should be wise enough to do the same. That would be the first step in taking corrective measures. It’s never too late to admit and learn from our mistakes.

The RSS’s ultimate goal, in theory to be achieved through the BJP, is to turn Indian politics on its head, and replace its cultural and religious diversity with a monolithic Hindu nationalist ideology. There was a time when their predecessors drew direct inspiration from Adolf Hitler’s and Benito Mussolini’s intolerance, which led to killing of 4 million Jews, a dark chapter in history that goes by the name of the Holocaust.

This adoration of Hitler leads to the suspicion that it is theoretically possible that they might repeat the Holocaust on Indian Muslims. They are already doing it, if not on a similar size and scale as Hitler’s. Muslims are the prime targets of Hindutva extremists, followed by Christians. Only recently a BJP legislator has been convicted for widespread anti-Christian violence in the eastern state of Orissa and sentenced. It is this brand of nationalism that sidesteps India’s diversity and broad-based political institutions, which is dangerous.

If the RSS is indeed a cultural organization, then why does it give military-style training to its cadre, I wonder? Who are they arming themselves against? Do they not trust the Indian Army and other defence forces with their job?

How are they being allowed to thrive, when they openly question many of the Indian Constitution’s immutable tenets? If they believe in religious freedom, why do they insist that all Indians are of Hindu descent and should convert back? (They have such an illegitimate gumption that many of their adherents often point out that Islam doesn’t allow or tolerate conversion to another faith.)

The RSS, along with its acolyte outfits, remains the foremost offender of good Hindu-Muslims relations. They have no suitable place in modern Indian society, just like their counterparts among extremist Muslim outfits. By legitimizing their ideas, the BJP has only hurt Hindu-Muslim ties beyond repair, as some would say.

The BJP’s campaign to destroy a 16th-century mosque in northern India sparked nationwide communal riots between Hindus and Muslims, claiming hundreds of lives.

The 2002 riots in Gujarat were India’s first full-fledged political pogrom because governments of the day at the state and federal level, both led by the BJP, let it go unchecked. The clashes, which killed more than a thousand people, drove a painful wedge between Hindus and Muslims.

The weaker Hindutva extremists become, the stronger Hindu-Muslim relations will be. The closer Hindus and Muslims come, the better a place India will be.

The BJP is seen moving towards a more secular platform now. This swing is more notional than real. One reason behind this slight shift is because the party seems to realize that Hindutva has proved to be, after all, a short-term asset but a long-term liability. But that’s just a small, wobbly, baby step. Not a sure-footed stride.

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July 21, 2010 - Posted by | culture, global, India, social |

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