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NYTimes.com Article: Hinduism's Political Resurgence
by alvi_saima
26 February 2002 07:24 UTC
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This article from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by alvi_saima@yahoo.com.

an eye-opener. saima


Hinduism's Political Resurgence

February 25, 2002 


NEW DELHI -- A few weeks ago I was in Ayodhya, a North
Indian pilgrimage town. In 1992 a crowd of Hindu men
demolished a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya. They claimed
it had been built by the Mogul emperor Babur over the
birthplace of Lord Rama. India changed fast after that
moment of Hindu nationalist rage. The politicians who had
led the crowd to the mosque that morning and later watched
their followers erect Hindu idols over the rubble - and who
for most of the 50 years since independence had been on the
political sidelines - now hold top positions in the Indian

Since the 1992 destruction, an enthusiasm for the free
market has also overtaken India, but the new middle- class
affluence hasn't reached Ayodhya. Down its monkey-infested
alleyways, the richest people are still Hindu abbots. One
whom I met in Ayodhya was Ramchandra Paramhans, who helped
initiate, in 1950, the legal battle for the temple and who
in the early 1980's entered into an opportunistic alliance
with Hindu nationalist organizations then attempting to
attract Hindu voters through an explicitly anti- Muslim

Mr. Paramhans described to me, as he fed cows in his vast
straw-littered compound, how he had upbraided India's home
minister, L. K. Advani, on the phone that morning for
having neglected the temple issue. In his white dreadlocks
and long beard, he seemed like a Hindu version of the
self-important mullahs I had met in Pakistan. But senior
bureaucrats really had traveled, a few weeks before, to his
compound to mollify him after he threatened to bring down
the government. And a few days after my visit to Ayodhya,
Mr. Paramhans showed up in New Delhi at the head of a
heavily publicized procession of abbots to deliver
personally a blunt ultimatum to Prime Minister Behari

I couldn't help but recall my meeting early last year with
some prominent Islamic clerics and politicians at an old
madrasa near Peshawar, Pakistan. The madrasa had become
notorious after some of its alumni became the leaders of
the Taliban. Its teachers were keen to impress upon me the
apolitical nature of their work. I suspected they were
dissembling, but I was more struck by their defensiveness.
It was as though they could sense what has been confirmed
since by the fundamentalists' failure to stir up trouble
for Pervez Musharraf: that public opinion overwhelmingly
opposes the fanatical ideologies that have undermined
Pakistan in every way. It is this strong anti-extremist
sentiment that General Musharraf now relies on - much more
than American support - in his crackdown on militant groups
and his more discreet confrontations with the ideologues
given high places by the previous military ruler, Mohammad
Zia ul- Haq. 

While General Musharraf strives toward a secular polity,
the ruling politicians of India head in the opposite
direction. Hindu nationalists have long exalted Hindutva,
or Hindu-ness, over the secular identities proposed for
India by Gandhi and Nehru. So now the federal minister for
education, Murli Manohar Joshi, promotes a new Indian
history that highlights the depredations of Muslim invaders
(as they are called) and celebrates Hindu bravery. Mr.
Joshi has also allocated funds for such "Hindu sciences" as
astrology. This sectarian-minded education is objected to
by many of India's distinguished historians - especially
those who had stressed India's pluralist traditions in
their now discarded textbooks. Mr. Joshi recently denounced
these historians as "academic terrorists" who were more
difficult to fight than the usual kind of terrorist. 

This may be bluster; and perhaps India's
largest-circulation news magazine, India Today, describes
an isolated mood in a recent cover story on the "return of
the militant Hindu." But that mood does exist. Fed by a
patriotic media and film industry and reflected in
bellicose posturing against Pakistan, it nearly dominates
public life now; its urban middle-class constituency hopes
that nationalism may provide a measure of security against
the economic and political crises that, in the early 90's,
had looked so threatening. And nationalist leaders continue
to strengthen their hold over the heavily centralized
Indian state as their constituents continue to gain from a
globalized economy. 

An antiterrorist ordinance - introduced by the government
before the recent attacks on the parliaments in Kashmir and
Delhi - would have required up to three years' imprisonment
for a journalist who failed to assist government
authorities. It has been challenged by human rights groups
and political parties concerned about the possibility of
its misuse against minorities. In any case, the ordinance
is unlikely to curtail the activities of Hindu extremist
outfits affiliated with the government like Shiv Sena,
which claimed some credit for demolishing the Babri mosque
in Ayodhya in December 1992 and was indicted by a judicial
commission for inciting the pogrom against Muslims in
Bombay in 1993. 

What was once quickly identified as unreasonable and
aberrant - Hindu majoritarianism - enjoys a growing
influence and legitimacy as the ruling ideology of the
Indian government. Oddly, the illiberal tendencies a
military dictator seeks to expel, with popular support,
from Pakistan seem to be finding a hospitable home in
democratic India. 

Pankaj Mishra is author of ``The Romantics,'' a


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