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Home > India > News > Columnists > M R Venkatesh

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Why we must lose sleep over Hindu terror

November 19, 2008

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Symbols are very crucial in nation-building. As a national symbol of a secular country, the adoption of Emperor Ashoka as a role model and adopting some of the symbols established by him, is inexplicable to say the least.

Readers may recall that Ashoka converted to Buddhism after the Kalinga war. Contrary to the popular belief, this conversion was not merely a private affair but had far-reaching implications.

In the process, he established the first (and unarguably till date, the last) theocratic government in India by which a religion was officially linked, practiced and propagated by a government throughout the country. Further, Ashoka carried out this unparalleled propaganda not only in India but exported Buddhism beyond the country's border.

Yet, Ashoka is a national symbol of modern, secular India! This is an extraordinary piece of history in a country that prided in separating religion from governance throughout its history.

This Indian approach to separating religion in governance at a mundane level is in direct contrast to world history where governments often faced a predicament in separating temporal and spiritual powers.

Samuel Huntington, one of world's foremost political thinkers, captures this paradigm rather eloquently and brings out this conflict between the temporal power and the spiritual authorities when he states in his celebrated book The Clash of Civilizations: 'God and Caesar, church and state, spiritual authority and temporal authority, have been a prevailing dualism in Western culture.'

He further adds: 'Only in Hindu civilisation were religion and politics also so distinctly separated. In Islam, god is Caesar, in China and Japan [Images], Caesar is god; in orthodoxy, god is Caesar's junior partner. The separation and recurring clashes between church and state that typify western civilisation have existed in no other civilisation.'

It is this separation programme in western civilisation between the church and the government, between the spiritual and the temporal power, that came to be popularly (at least in India) known as secularism.

Traditionally, India had a simple approach to this vexed issue -- temporal power achieved this separation by respecting all religions by adopting the broader philosophy of Raj Dharma. In return, religious leaders never interfered in the matter of mundane governance as was the case of the church in the west.

It is indeed surprising that despite the civilisational advantage of having settled this issue of separation of temporal and spiritual power long back, it is the lack of understanding of world experiences as well as the history of our nation that continues to haunt modern India.

But what is missed in the melee of adopting this brand of secularism is that secularism as practiced in the West is by and large an intra-religious affair. To amplify further, how could a model that handled one and only one religion and that too the predominant religion in its relationship with the State become a model for setting the relationship of government in a multi-religious, plural and complex country like India? 

Put pithily, Indians could have several other problems in their understanding of polity -- but not one of separating the spiritual and temporal powers. Naturally, when we adopt secularism modelled on the west to deal with religious issues, we run the risk of shooting ourselves in our temple.

The secular agenda -- cause of communal terror

It is this diffused understanding of secularism that remains at the root of the present conundrum. Further, our political leaders, used as they are to divide and rule, play the role of a monkey in the fable of monkey, two cats and a loaf of bread to perfection.

Illustratively, one of the fundamental rationalisation for Islamic terror in India is that it is caused by economic deprivation. How on earth can one imagine the Muslim community to be economically backward when it is they who were our rulers predominantly in the 18th century, held the levers of power substantially till the 19th century and in some pockets along with the British even till 1947?

All that, when Islamic terror is well and truly a global phenomenon and exists even in rich countries!

While this standard diagnosis about Muslims is deeply flawed, the prescription -- direct state intervention -- is hilarious. Further, it may be noted that the prime minister has declared that the scarce resources of the Government of India will be first made available to the Muslim community. Can one ever believe that all these are being stated, prescribed and devised by the head of government not in Saudi Arabia but in a secular country?  

The backwardness of the entire community cannot be cured by allocating even the entire resources of the successive central governments for the next few decades unless we improve the delivery system of our governments, make it far more responsive and of course concentrate on fundamental issues, viz, education, health and infrastructure.

Readers can well appreciate the fact that no secular or communal government ever cares for its people, minority or majority, in India. Yet, the standard prescription is State intervention to deliver to the Muslim community.

Welcome to the Indian brand of secularism where style matters over substance, posturing over performance. Obviously, this tokenism is done with a calculated aim of pitting the majority community against the others, mostly the Muslims, for narrow political gains.

The grievances of our Muslim community, which is not an economic problem in the first place, can be solved only by dialogues than by such State intervention, especially through grants and subsidies. Yet this is the standard prescription of our secular polity.

Similarly, what else would explain the inaction of successive secular government in allowing an organisation like the Students Islamic Movement of India to flourish over three decades? In one of my previous columns I had related the success of SIMI [Images] in India to the secular politicians who not only tacitly support their existence and abet their existence.

This duplicitous approach to the serious issue of national security can be gauged when a demand for the ban on SIMI has invariably co-existed with a call seeking to ban the Bajrang Dal.

Further, one fails to understand how banning the Bajrang Dal can be linked to banning SIMI. Ban the Bajrang Dal by all means if it has violated the law of the land, but let us not link it to banning SIMI or make it a precondition to ban SIMI.

It is this duplicitous approach to governance, whether in allocating resources or tackling terror -- in effect the failure of our secular politicians -- that propels people to take to such extreme positions. The rise of communal terror, first Islamic terror and now Hindu terror, owes its success to the secular cabal rather than anyone else.

Hindu terror -- do we realise what is means?

Nevertheless, what makes the rise of Hindu terror extremely worrying is the fact that nowhere in the world in recorded history has the majority revolted against its own government and failed. Whenever that has happened, it has invariably brought about changes beyond comprehension. Do we realise at least now its implications?

Nevertheless, the rise of Hindu terror suits our secular polity more than anyone else. The rise of Hindu terror completely rationalises their existence and legitimises their presence in India. In the process, if the unity of the country is threatened, who cares? Crucially, no one is bothered. 

All of us know for sure that the polity is beyond redemption. So are virtually large sections of our bureaucracy. Similarly, large sections of our judiciary are either corrupt or incompetent to deal with the situation. The less said about the media, the better.

The Indian Army [Images], one of our finest and non-partisan organisations, now seems to be plagued by this malaise. Increasingly, if our army (and by extension our police too has become increasingly polarised on communal lines) falls into the trap laid by our secular politicians, one is surely worried about the future of our country. 

In the process our politicians have failed to understand that India is secular, not because of the Constitution of India which proclaims India to be a secular state, but because the vast majority of people from all faiths believe in the right of others to follow any other religion. At every village, town or city, barring minor exceptions, it is this approach of ordinary people that makes India governable to whatever extent that she is.

One realises it is the ordinary Hindu who invariably believes that it is his responsibility to coexist with the minority community. By and large the minority community too realises this fact. Nothing else can explain maintenance of law and order across the country consisting of over six lakh villages with a mere hundred thousand police stations.

But the crucial question is, whether our politicians realise the continuous damage they have inflicted on the unity and integrity of the nation by their recklessness. Do they realise the consequences of the rise of Hindu terror and what caused it in the first place?

Of course there are obvious answers. Naturally, whether the prime minister is worried or not, every right-thinking Indian must be worried about the rise of Hindu terror. A communal, irresponsible and reckless polity cannot hope to have a tolerant, liberal and peaceful citizenry. Will the nation introspect at least now?

The author is a Chennai-based chartered accountant. Comments can be sent to

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