14. The Sangh's Muslims

 

         In criticizing the Sangh's simplistic anti-Americanism, I am not holding a brief for American foreign policy.  The Organiser is entirely right in arguing that American officials are being extremely silly when they base their policies on the assumption that Pakistan is a bulwark against (rather than of) Islamic fundamentalism.  But this mistake is hardly typically American: in Organiser itself, columnists play the same game of labelling Muslim entities, without asking their consent, as bulwarks against Islamic fanaticism. 

 

         Ever since he counseled Muslims to abandon their claim to the Ayodhya site, one Maulana Wahidud­din Khan is regularly presented in Organiser as an en­lightened alternative to Is­lamic fanaticism.[1]  He is also credited with admitting that most riots are started by Muslims.  Yet, Wahiduddin Khan is an ideologue and leader of the Tabligh movement, the object of which is to "purify" Muslim culture of Hindu influence.[2]  It is motivated by the same hostility to Hinduism as the Muslim League's Pakistan movement was.  His endorsement of the Hindu claim on Ayodhya springs from the realization that the Muslim campaign for the islamization of the disputed site in Ayodhya (in use as a Hindu temple since 1949) has proven harmful to Muslim interests.  Similarly, his chastising the Muslims for starting riots can perfectly be explained by the bad image which this gives them among Hindus, who are not fooled by the secularist lies about "pogroms", and are kept on the alert against Muslims.  But the RSS, in its eagerness to find some kind of approval in the enemy camp, wilfully ignores the fundamental hostility of a Wahiduddin Khan (and of many others whom they welcome on Hindutva platforms), just like the US Government ignores the intense anti-Americanism and Islamic militantism in Pakistan.

 

         Similarly, the enthusiasm in Sangh circles for Ansar Hussain Khan, a second Muslim who actually talks with Sangh people and thereby breaks through the cordon sanitaire which the secularists have laid around the Hindutva movement (assuring him of intense gratitude in Sangh circles), shows a painful lack of viveka/discrimination.  I have nothing against the man personally, and from his acclaimed book The Rediscovery of India I get the impression that he is sincerely seeking an exit from the Islamic worldview; only, he has not yet freed himself from certain basic attachments to things Islamic.[3]  I know from experience that outgrowing a closed creed like Christianity or Islam is usually done in stages (e.g. there are millions of people in Europe who have rejected their Church but not yet Christ), so I will not hold it against him that he hasn't reached the stage of full emancipation yet.  I also appreciate the courage it must take for a Muslim secularist to write in positive terms about the Sangh.  But if we limit our evaluation to the actual ideas formulated by Ansar Hussein Khan, we find certain things which are just unacceptable.

 

         First of all, he builds up the well-known argument that the crimes which Islam has committed in India are violations of the true spirit and the true law of Islam.  This is the great illusion which most modern Hindus cherish: the true Islam as conceived by the founder is impeccable, the only problem is that some followers misunderstood him, or that purely nominal Muslims with little interest in the true Quranic message falsely used the label "Islam" as justification for their un-Islamic selfish acts.  Even among known Hindu critics of Islam, if you scratch the surface, something of that illusion has withstood their best scholarly insights.[4]  I suggest Hindutva ideologues start to live up to the image which the secularists have propagated about them, viz. that they are anti-Islamic.  Unfortunately, though a good many of them are anti-Muslim at heart, most of them are not anti-Islamic at all.

 

         The second and most dangerous message in A.H. Khan's book is his plea for undoing the Partition, reminding us of similar pleas by K.R. Malkani and other Sangh stalwarts.  True, India should not have been partitioned, the Hindu masses were right to vote for a party which promised to prevent Partition (unfortunately, that party, the Congress, was deliberately fooling the voters), the Hindu organizations were right to campaign against it.  But history moves in strange ways, and yesterday's disaster may be today's blessing.  For Hinduism as such, Partition has by now proved to be a blessing in disguise, a last chance to survive.  When you consider that before Independence, the Hindu Congress stalwarts were taken for a ride by the determined Muslim leadership though the Muslims represented less than one-fourth of the population and there were practically no Islamic states to support them, how would the Hindus fare in a united India in which the Muslims now constitute one-third of the population and receive support from rich and well-armed Islamic states? 

 

         The last offers made to Jinnah to make him abandon his Partition plans included 50% reservations for Muslims at all levels and an effective predominance of the Muslims in the government.  What Jinnah gave up by refusing the offer was a Muslim-dominated Akhand Bharat, an unassailable country with the highest population in the world, with "Vedanta brain and Muslim body" (freely after Vivekananda): Hindu brains to serve the progressively islamicizing regime by building satellites and nuclear bombs, and Muslim muscle to push back the Hindu element until it would vanish the way it is actually vanishing from Pakistan and Bangladesh.  Possibly this would have led to a civil war, but it is by no means certain that Hindus would have won.  Hindus were just not ready for Akhand Bharat, because they were not ready with Islam. 

 

         The present Indian state is already difficult for Hindus to manage; apart from the Demolition (responsibility not acknowledged) and a few Supreme Court verdicts (no merit of politicians), the Hindutva forces have suffered defeat upon defeat in their struggle with the secularists and Islam, essentially because they have never resolved to wage war against the Islamic-cum-secularist forces which are already waging an all-out war against Hinduism.  They failed to enact an effective ban on cow-slaughter, to enact effective curbs on missionary subversion, to integrate Kashmir, to stop the 1991 Places of Worship Act, to withhold statutory status from the Minorities Commission, to stop (let alone reverse) Bangladeshi infiltration.

 

         In this light, all the Hindutva daydreaming of a pan-Subcontinental federation (whence the cordial welcome to A.H. Khan) is profoundly mistaken.  It amounts to saying: "Now that we have proven ourselves unable to handle small problems, give us big problems to let us handle those."  It is no coincidence that all Muslim intellectuals now openly deplore Partition: they now realize that Indian Islam lost on Partition, and that it is quite capable of taking control of the whole Subcontinent.  They have given up believing their own lies about the RSS being a formidable fighting force threatening the Muslims, they know very well that Hindu society under its present "leadership" is no match for determined Islamic gangsterism.  They even think that the RSS can serve their ends: bringing down the one defence which stands between Islam and the annihilation of Hinduism, viz. the Indian state.  For all its Muslim appeasement and anti-Hindu discriminations (cfr. infra), the Indian state is not aggressively anti-Hindu: the Hindu-born ruling class may sell itself for petro-dollars, but it does not organize the kind of oppression which exists in Pakistan.  It does not support Hinduism, but at least it passively allows Hindu culture to flourish on its own strength.  Most importantly, the Indian police and armed forces (unlike those in the Akhand Bharat which Jinnah spurned) are predominantly Hindu, and they are not passive bystanders when Muslims terrorize Hindus, as they are in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

 

         Partition has been a mistake, from the Islamic viewpoint.  The Muslim community has been split into three roughly equal parts; Pakistan and Bangladesh are uninspiring backwaters; the Muslims in the more promising state of India cannot entirely free themselves of the Partition stigma, and will be unable to take power there for at least another half century.  It is now clear that from the viewpoint of Islamic interests, the pro-Partition Aligarh school was wrong and the anti-Partition Deoband school was right: Islam in India should not have settled for a part of the country, but should have aimed for control of the whole country.  The plan is that Pakistan and Bangladesh remain Islamic states, but India should become a joint account.  In Bangladesh the idea is very popular because it would formalize the de facto permeability of the Indian border for Bangladeshi migrants. 

 

         Short, Akhand Bharat is now high on the Islamic agenda, and calculating Muslims are welcoming and encouraging RSS romantic daydreaming about reunification.  But so far, I have not seen any Sangh spokesman pause and wonder why Islamic strategists have suddenly joined them in wanting to undo the Partition.  They see no reason for suspicion.

 

         A similar case of unjustified lack of suspicion seems to be moving up on the BJP's and India's political agenda: proposals to change the electoral system, including the replacement of the first-past-the-post system with a proportional system.  This system, which functions well in the Netherlands and Israel (and in diluted form in most European countries), would be an unwise choice for India, because it would allow Islamicist parties to enter the parliaments, not just from Muslim-majority districts but from wherever the Muslim vote is worth a seat.  This would then force secular parties to compete with the Muslim League for the Muslim vote, which they will do by promising ever-greater concessions to Islam.  The effect will be similar to the creation of separate electorates in the pre-independence period.  At the time of writing, I am not aware of a definitive consensus about this in the BJP, but not of a realization of the danger either.[5]  The BJP used to support the proportional system which favours smaller parties when it was a small party itself, but now that it is a large party, it may avert the danger out of sheer self-interest.  

 

         As for undoing the Partition, it is true that India should ultimately be reunited, but which India?  What do the Sangh people expect to achieve by undoing Partition without undoing the doctrinal conditioning which led to Partition in the first place?  Do they prefer an Islamic Akhand Bharat to a partitioned India which allows Hinduism to survive in its major part?  Have they given any thought to the probable outcome of their policies?  In their case, that is always the question.

 

         Unfortunately, Sangh Parivar ideologues labour under the illusion that they can leave Islam intact while removing the "anti-national" element from it.  Most of them, even including the fairly radical former BJS president Balraj Madhok, have suggested that the Islam problem can be solved by "indianization": Islam has to "indianize" itself.  Or as the Organiser once put it: "Let Muslims look upon Ram as their hero and the communal problems will be all over."[6]  Islam, however, is a seamless garment, and it cannot be freed from its anti-Hindu doctrine while retaining its Allah and Mohammed.  Muslims cannot look upon Rama as "their" hero without ceasing to be Muslims.

 

         The term "indianization" implies that the problem with Islam is its un-Indianness.  And this, in turn, would imply a nationalistically distorted view of religion: that a nation should only follow native traditions and shun foreign contributions in religion.  By such standards, the adoption of Hinduism or Buddhism by the peoples of East and Southeast Asia would not be a matter of pride (as it seems to be for the Sangh) but a violation of the proper world order.  The Khmers should have rejected Shiva and built their Angkor temple to some native deity; the Balinese should not enact the Ramayana but create an epic around a native hero instead.  The "holyland" of many East-Asian Buddhists is not their own country, but India: the Mahabodhi temple was renovated in the 19th century by the king of Burma, and is now surrounded by guest-houses catering to many thousands of pilgrims from each Buddhist country every year.  Should we deduce that these Thai or Japanese pilgrims are being "anti-national" by having such "extra-territorial" religious loyalty?  And that the Mongolian and Chinese Communists were right to crack down on Buddhism?  That would be the implication if we start reducing religions to their geographical provenance instead of studying their contents.  In this case, patriotism is not the refuge of scoundrels, but of duffers.

 

         This futile attempt to identify the Islam problem in terms of "Indian" vs. "foreign" implies a second similarity with certain undesirable xenophobic trends in the West.  Semi-literate xenophobic ideologues in Europe identify Islam as "a foreign religion, fit for Asiatics but not for Europe".  In their opinion, there is nothing wrong with Islam, as long as it remains in its country of origin.  This is not too different from the applause given in Hindutva publications to Anwar Shaykh's thesis that "Islam is the Arab national movement".  In his book Islam, the Arab National Movement, the Pakistan-born apostate author from Cardiff (with a death-warrant fatwa on his head since 1994) accurately documents how islamization has meant external arabization (names, clothes, script) for most converted populations, but wrongly infers that Islam is a form of Arab nationalism or Arab imperialism.

 

         For the Sangh, this thesis was doubly welcome: it recast the Islam problem in the familiar, safely secular-sounding terms of nationalism, and it legitimized Islam ("See we're not against Islam?") all while limiting its legitimate geographical domain so as to exclude India from it.  The implication is that Hinduism is Indian nationalism, and Islam is Arab nationalism.  This is grossly unjust to the Arabs and the native Arab culture which Islam destroyed.  There is nothing Arab about Islam, a doctrine confabulated by Mohammed from half-digested bits and pieces of Jewish and Christian lore, combined with his own extraordinary self-image and the hallucinations registered on his sensory nerves (the Quranic voice he "heard").  Except for a small minority of people attracted to Mohammed out of gullibility or lust for booty and power, the Arabs were only forced under the yoke of Islam after valiantly resisting it.  For the sake of comparison, Communism was not the "Chinese national movement" just because Chairman Mao's Communists militarily wrested the country from the legitimate Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-shek.  The genuine Arab national movement was the so-called Ridda ("return" to god-pluralism) uprising against the Islamic state after Mohammed's death, in which the Arabs tried to restore their pluralistic culture.[7]

 

         The review of Anwar Shaykh's work in Organiser was titled "Muslim proud of his Aryan heritage".  This was, first of all, an untruthful statement.  It is true that Anwar Shaykh has rediscovered the "Aryan" (i.e. Vedic) heritage which his great-grandfather had abandoned by converting to Islam.[8]  But the consequence of this rediscovery was precisely the opposite of what the Organiser title suggests: he quit Islam, becoming a "non-Muslim proud of his Aryan heritage".  Secondly, this title sent the wrong message to Indian Muslims.  The message which Organiser sought to convey was that Indian Muslims should follow Anwar Shaykh's example: remain Muslim all while rediscovering their Aryan heritage (or with an older term, "indianizing" themselves).  This was a replay of the Gandhian myth of the "nationalist Muslim" for whom Islam and Indianness are not incompatible.[9]  But the case of Anwar Shaykh proved just the opposite: by rediscovering his Hindu heritage, a Muslim loses his Muslim identity.  Islamic fanatics are wholly aware of this phenomenon, which is why they try to nip it in the bud, e.g. by forbidding Hindu religious music on Pakistani radio.  The message of the Organiser should have been: "Indian Muslims, follow Anwar Shaykh's example, rediscover your Vedic heritage, and abandon Islam."

 

         A similar case is that of BJP office-bearer Sikander Bakht.  Mr. Bakht is a thorough gentleman, but his main value for the BJP is that he is a born Muslim.  He is often shown off as the party's token Muslim, but just as often, angry Muslims write letters to the editor to explain that Mr. Bakht is not a Muslim at all.  They say that he actually converted to Hinduism on the occasion of his marriage to a Hindu lady, and that his children were raised as Hindus.  Now, when I am to choose between the BJP version and the Muslim version, I tend to attribute more credibility to the latter.  If it is true that Mr. Bakht is a convert, I certainly applaud the BJP policy of giving due prominence to him.  Only, they should have the sincerity and the wisdom to add the correct message, which is not: "We have Muslims as well", but: "We welcome Indian Muslims seeking the way out of Islam back into their ancestral culture." 

 


 

           [1]  Cfr. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan: Indian Muslims. The Need for a Positive Outlook (Al-Risala Books, Delhi 1994), p.109-130.  Within the limitations of the Muslim outlook, this is nonetheless a lucid and well-intended book.

           [2]  Cfr. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan: Tabligh Movement, Islamic Centre, Delhi 1986.

           [3]  Ansar Hussein Khan: The Rediscovery of India. A New Subcontinent, Orient Longman, Delhi 1995.  The book is well-written; particularly pleasant to read is the candid deconstruction of the entire Congress version of the Freedom Struggle and the Partition machinations, which cuts secular icon Jawaharlal Nehru to size.  The book also contains in appendix the correspondence between Khan and the BJP leadership.

           [4]  E.g., in 1993 a leading historian signed a petition against Syed Shahabuddin's attempt to get Ram Swarup's book Hindu View of Christianity and Islam banned, but not after suggesting a change in the text: instead of the phrase which refuses to Shahabuddin the role of "conscience-keeper of the nation", he wanted to put "conscience-keeper of Islam".  The implication was that Islam is alright, but that Shahabuddin distorts Islam.

           [5]  In its 1996 Election Manifesto (p.11), the BJP promises to "examine the feasibility of introducing the list system", which would imply multi-seat constituencies giving a more proportional representation to smaller parties.  Incidentally, political experience in Belgium and other countries using a list system shows that it strengthen the control of the parties over the candidates, which may (as Euroskeptic defenders of the British first-past-the-post system rightly argue) be questionable from the viewpoint of democracy. 

           [6]   Organiser, 20/6/1971, quoted in Tapan Basu et al.: Khaki Shorts, Saffron Flags, p.12.

           [7]  Even A.A. Engineer (The Origin and Development of Islam, Orient Longman, Delhi 1987, 2nd ed., p.131) admits that "the war of ridda (apostasy) was a general insurrection throughout Arabia".

           [8]  The story is told in Anwar Shaykh: Eternity (Principality Publishers, Cardiff 1990) and in various issues of his quarterly Liberty.

           [9]  Of course, it can and does happen that an Indian Muslim has genuine patriotic feelings, but this is necessarily in spite and at the detriment of his commitment to Islam.  Many Indian Muslims are not "Pakistani patriots", firstly because Pakistan is mistreating their own Mohajir cousins, and secondly because Pakistan is a failure in every secular respect except terrorism.  Their dream of an Indian-Muslim state is no match for the reality that unlike Pakistan, India is a country to be proud of.  In that sense, I am willing to accept the self-description of people like M.J. Akbar as "nationalist Muslims".  But they remain stuck with a problem of divided loyalties, and part of the reason why they have accepted their Indianness is that the present Republic is in many ways an incarnation of their second (Islamic) loyalty as well: a pro-Muslim regime dedicated to weakening Hinduism.

 

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             [1]  If earlier BJP manifestoes still mentioned Sino-Indian cooperation "with due safeguards for Tibet", meaningless enough, the 1996 manifesto does not even mention Tibet.  Nor does it unambiguously reclaim the China-occupied Indian territories; it vaguely settles for "resolv[ing] the border question in  a fair and equitable manner".(p.32)

             [2]  In October 1996, a handful of BJP men bravely demonstrated before the American Embassy against the American retaliation to the Iraqi troops' entry in the Kurdish zone from which it was barred by the UNO.  There was every reason to demonstrate: while punishing Iraq, the Americans allow Turkish aggression against Iraqi Kurdistan, the so-called "protected" zone, and fail to support Kurdish independence in deference to Turkey's objections.  But that was not the target of the BJP protest, which merely opposed any and every threat against the "unity and integrity" of Iraq, a totally artificial state with artificial and unjustifiable borders (as Saddam Hussain himself argued during the Gulf War, pointing to the artificial British-imposed border between the Mesopotamian population centre and the Kuwaiti oil fields). 

             [3]  This is not to suggest that demanding freedom for Tibet should only be done to have bargaining chip, merely to illustrate the principle that concessions, even if unavoidable under the circumstances, should still be made known as such, i.e. in exchange for concessions from the other party, and not made beforehand in exchange for nothing.  But Beijing politics may develop in such a way that Tibetan sovereignty becomes a realistic proposition again.

 

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