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Xenophobes of the world, unite!

May 03, 2005

If the Hindutva lobby, uneasy over the RSS-VHP-BJP-Uma Bharti spats, is looking for some inspiration, it can turn to its fellow xenophobes in the West, who have been articulating some of its innermost thoughts.

The Tories in Britain, for instance, apparently unable to counter Tony Blair's continuing popularity despite the Iraq war, have fallen back on their old bugbear for solace -- immigrants. They may not be openly saying, as some of them did in the Sixties, that 'if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour,' but their nudge-nudge, wink-wink catch line -- Are you thinking what we are thinking -- carries virtually the same message.

The obsession of the British Conservatives with black and brown immigrants, dating back to Enoch Powell's celebrated 'rivers of blood' speech, is no different from the highly motivated paranoia of India's home-grown ultra-nationalists, for whom the inflow of immigrants from Bangladesh provides a wonderful opportunity to project and sustain their sectarian world-view.

To consolidate their core vote bank of communal-minded Hindus, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar routinely juxtapose the illegal flow from Bangladesh with the rise in the indigenous Muslim population to present a fearful picture of the appearance of yet another Muslim state in the subcontinent, heralding a third partition.

Campaigns on these lines setting Hindus against Muslims have long been the staple of saffron propaganda. Only the points of this paranoid portrayal change marginally from time to time, presumably for the sake of variety. Till recently, the RSS, the BJP and other fraternal outfits of the Parivar tended to equate the Indian Muslims with the Pakistani terrorists. This was a favourite line of Narendra Modi during the 2002 Gujarat election campaign. No one in the Hindutva camp talked of a third partition at the time so as not to divert attention from the threat of Islamic fundamentalism.

After the BJP's defeat in the 2004 general election, however, the saffron tack has changed. Now, its emphasis is less on terrorism than on the Muslim demographic threat. The reason probably is the slight decline in terrorist activities and the improvement in India-Pakistan relations. Given the prevailing sense of goodwill between the ordinary people of the two countries, the Hindutva brigade probably feels that the time is not opportune at present for it to continue harping on terrorism alone.

Changing the focus instead to the rise in the sheer numbers of Muslims in India because of their supposed disinclination to practise family planning and because of the illegal immigration from Bangladesh is apparently deemed a sure-fire shot to boost the saffron vote bank. The only fly in the ointment is that the BJP has no explanation as to why it did nothing during its five years in office to counter these alleged threats. There was no concerted drive to evict the Bangladeshis after taking up the matter in right earnest with Dhaka. Nor was there a serious attempt to spread the message about small families among the Muslims.

Instead, even a hardliner like L K Advani is on record in calling for the introduction of a system of work permits for the immigrants, so that they could continue to earn their livelihood but not be able to vote. This was a sensible solution which took into account the geographical and historical realities of the subcontinent, which is one economic zone. This is the reason why there is an open border between India and Nepal. It is futile in these circumstances to try to keep out the people of India's relatively impoverished neigbouring countries from trying their luck in India.

After all, this is a universal pattern, stretching from this part of the world to Europe and North America, with desperately poor people from China, Bangladesh, Mexico and elsewhere paying enormous sums of money to touts to help them sneak unobserved into the richer countries.

Advani's suggestion, therefore, made when he was the deputy prime minister and home minister, was evidently born of the administrative and geopolitical compulsions of which he became aware while in power. It is unlikely, however, that he will reiterate what he had said earlier since it serves his and his party's current political purpose to whip up anti-Muslim sentiments for the sake of votes.

But the Tories are not the only ones in whom the BJP can detect an echo of their own political prejudices. The extreme right-wing elements in the Republican Party in the US have also been taking a line which will be music to the saffron camp's ears. They are all for the reassertion of America's Christian heritage as the basis of the nation's identity as opposed to the secular stance of the Democrats. This position is a carbon copy of the BJP's and the Parivar's contention that India's Hindu identity -- to be embodied in the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya -- should be emphasised rather than its present multicultural, non-denominational national personality.

Not surprisingly, the religious right in the US has identified the judiciary as the culprit in continuing to keep the church and the state apart. In India, too, it is the view of the RSS and the VHP that the courts can have no say in matters of faith such as the construction of the Ayodhya temple on a disputed site.

To be fair, the Communists, too, say virtually the same thing when they maintain that the judges have no right to ban processions or the right to strike. Clearly, there is a common ground between the Left and the Right.

In the US, the judiciary has also come under attack on matters such as euthanasia after a court ordered that the feeding tubes be removed from a stricken woman, Terri Schiavo, who had virtually no hope of recovery. Commenting on the order, the leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, warned that 'we set up the courts. We can unset them.'

Mercifully, such virulence is not a part of the political discourse involving the Parivar and the judiciary in India although former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh did say how proud he was to be sent to jail for contempt of court over his role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. These incidents underline nevertheless the identity of views on the far right across the seven seas.

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Number of User Comments: 25

Sub: You Xenophobes

on what standards questioning illegal Bangladeshi immigration becomes xenophobia? there should be a limit for you pseudo-seculars apathy towards BJP/RSS which hurts our mother India ...

Posted by Kiran B

Sub: Ganguli-Surely a Left Front sympathiser

Journalists are writing anything to everything to buy their evening bread and this article is no different. Surely Ganguli comes from a state which has ...

Posted by Srinivas

Sub: illogical

Pinkos can go to any lengths to prove their illogical stuff. 1. People who migrate to western countries are the best of our lot, generally ...

Posted by satish

Sub: Xenophobes of the world, unite!

Hmm... I would characterize people who until the last century refused to cross the Kala Pani as xenophobes. Spot on Mr. Ganguly

Posted by Mona Mazoomdar

Sub: Pavlovian Dog's of BJP/RSS/VHP bashing

It is rank bad journalism when one classifies the illegal refugee problem from Bangladesh as xenophobia. In these days when China is trying to arm ...

Posted by IITMDUDE


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