THE two-nation theory, originally propagated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Mahasabha and later adopted by the Muslim League created Pakistan in 1947 based on the religion of Islam. The Congress that had led India’s independence movement wanted the country to remain united as a secular state with equality for followers of all religion. Notwithstanding the creation of Pakistan, a large number of Muslims remained in India. They now number 200 million or 14 per cent of the country’s population. They have been constitutionally guaranteed security and equality with the Hindus and the followers of all other religions under India’s secular constitution.
Seven decades thereafter, a great deal in India is changing, in particular the fate of the Muslims, and changing dramatically. India is now embracing the Muslim League’s idea of a state based on religion with greater enthusiasm than the League ever had contemplated about Islam. Narendra Modi’s BJP government is working hand in glove with the Hindu fundamentalists led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to transform India from a net secular state to a net religious and fundamentalist state by dismantling the secular India and creating on its ruins, the Hindu rashtra based on Hindutva that believes ‘that the entire Indian subcontinent (which includes countries other than India) is the homeland of the Hindus.’
The Hindu rashtra is still taking its final shape and form. The BJP/RSS has, nevertheless, already made it crystal clear that it would be the anti-thesis to Mahatma Gandhi’s secular India and anti-Muslim to the core. The Hindu fundamentalists backed by political power declared open season on the Muslims soon after Narendra Modi had led the BJP to power in 2014. They used the anti-cow slaughter movement witnessed across India to send the message to the Muslims that they could remain in the Hindu rashtra only if they re-converted to the Hindu religion from which their ancestors, as the Hindu fundamentalists believe, had converted to Islam. They called the re-conversion, ghar wapsi or a return home.
The BJP and Hindutva fundamentalist meanwhile also spelt out that the Hindu rashtra would be based on the Hindu religion, as it is in practice as well as in Hindu mythology. Thus, its basis in Hinduism would be much more comprehensive than Pakistan’s basis in Islam. Mohammed Ali Jinnah assured Pakistan’s non-Muslim citizens that included the Hindus that they ‘may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.’ The Hindu fundamentalists have made it abundantly clear that the Muslims would have no such freedom in the Hindu rashtra.
The Indian constitution was a major obstacle for the BJP and its Hindu fundamentalist allies for establishing the Hindu rashtra because it assured citizens of all religion, including the Muslims, equality under the law. They, however, did not have to plan anything new to deal with the obstacle. The national register of citizens came to its rescue. The country’s highest court ruled in 2013 that the NRC that had remained dormant since 1951 would be updated in Assam to identify illegal immigrants into the state, allegedly from Bangladesh, and deport them. The conflict over the issue killed many thousands in the 1980s.
The BJP, however, realised upon coming to power in May 2014 that the highest court’s ruling for updating the NRC in Assam was likely to include a large number of Hindu illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The BJP government, therefore, decided to deal with the problem by amending the Indian Citizenship Act 1955 to ensure, first, that the Hindus likely to be in the NRC list would be protected with amnesty and, eventually, given citizenship and, second, the Muslims would be pushed back to Bangladesh. The BJP government introduced the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha in 2016 to ensure these objectives not just in Assam but also in all the states.
That bill stated that illegal immigrants to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, all Muslim-majority countries, who are Hindus and Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains whose religions the Hindu fundamentalists consider offshoots of Hinduism and Christians who have not entered India from these countries in any good number would be given amnesty and eventually Indian citizenship even if they have no valid papers. The bill assumed without due process that they fled from religious persecution in these countries. The bill excluded the Muslims.
The bill became the citizenship law after the Lok Sabha had passed it early this month. The new law underlined both implicitly and explicitly that the Hindus are different from the Muslims just like the two-nation theory but for totally different reasons. The Muslims wanted Pakistan because they were afraid that in a Hindu-dominated and -ruled India, they would have to pay for the 800 years of Muslim rule of India. They were further fearful that because of the British policy of ‘divide and rule’, they would be utterly disadvantaged to fend for themselves in a Hindu-dominated India.
The Hindu fundamentalists who are now the majority of India’s population — Narendra Modi has successfully brought to the BJP’s folds the lower caste Hindus — believe that they are not only different from Muslims but it is their destiny to dominate over the 200 million Muslims that now live in India. The citizenship law that many critics have described as legal apartheid will subordinate the Muslims to the Hindus. The Hindu fundamentalists have also not given up on the possibility that the Muslims who became the citizens of Pakistan and later Bangladesh would someday become again part of the Hindu rashtra because their vision of the Hindu rashtra is expansionist and includes the whole of South Asia.
Rising Hindu fundamentalism poses many dangers for Bangladesh. It appears set to fundamentally alter Bangladesh-India bilateral relations. Indian home minister Amit Shah has called the million and more Muslims in the updated NRC in Assam ‘termites’ and ‘infiltrators’ from Bangladesh. He has also promised that the NRC would be applied to other Indian states where the BJP government believes millions more alleged Bangladeshi Muslims are living to energise the party’s Hindu fundamentalist base. Therefore, Bangladesh faces the dire prospect of millions of alleged Bangladeshi Muslims being pushed back from Assam and other parts of India.
Pakistan nuclear capability, the absence of any large number of illegal Pakistani Muslims in India and the irrelevance of Afghanistan in Indian domestic politics have left only Bangladesh of the three countries being named in the law as the soft target, the bait, for energising the BJP’s massive Hindu fundamentalist base. Narendra Modi has, thus, not yet responded to Sheikh Hasina’s attempt at discussing the NRC issue and avoided it during her official visit to Delhi in October. Amit Shah put wind in the fears in Bangladesh by stating that India’s new citizenship law has been introduced primarily because Hindus are still being persecuted in Bangladesh.
Hasina was treated ordinarily on her bilateral visit to New Delhi in October this year and was ignored when she visited Kolkata to watch the Test match in November. The foreign minister and the home minister cancelled their respective visit to India at the eleventh hour for flimsy reasons. The foreign minister’s recent statements on Bangladesh-India relations underlined a confused mind. He described Bangladesh-India relations as those between a husband and a wife, a weird comment, then on India’s behalf described Bangladesh as its number 1 friend with India, clearly distancing itself and finally accusing Indians of illegally entering Bangladesh for employment because of better economic conditions. New Delhi postponed the Joint Rivers Commission meeting that was extremely important for Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s ministers have suddenly become critical of India.
These developments flagged that Bangladesh-India relations are in disarray. New Delhi appears to be finding better value for energising its Hindu fundamentalist base by using Bangladesh’s 150 million Muslims as bait rather than playing favourite with the country’s ruling party. And New Delhi has not taken in good stead the fact that Bangladesh’s ruling party has edged significantly towards China during the country’s last general election and the subsequent developments that has placed at jeopardy the main reason why India supported Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971.
Postscript: History is finally catching up with India. Recent developments have exposed that majority of the Hindus in India perhaps did not ever want the Muslims to become their fellow citizens with equal rights and freedom but as second-class citizens to be dominated by them as payback for 800 years’ rule of Muslim rule over their ancestors. Meanwhile, a secular India composed of hundreds of millions but still the minority is fighting for secularism against Hindu fundamentalists in the streets of India. Bangladesh is caught in between. It is in real danger from the rising and dangerous wave of Hindu fundamentalism in India. It can deal with it effectively only by uniting as a nation as it did in 1971.
M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador.