India — Since the advent of the rule of the Mughals a millenium ago, central policy in India has discriminated against the Hindu majority within the country. The Mughals favored those of Turko-Iranian origin, followed by those who converted to Islam. The British, during two centuries of rule, implemented policies that deprived all except those of European origin of basic human rights.
Much has been made in Indian history texts of the cruelty of the 1857 mutineers against colonial rule, who killed around 300 individuals of European descent during a brief spasm of violence. But little mention is made of the retribution that followed, in which an estimated 65,000 natives were killed, some from the mouths of cannon. Several "rebel" villages were torched, usually together with their inhabitants.
Neither has there been much reflection on the manner in which British rule reduced India to poverty. From around one-fourth of global output at the start of the 19th century, the share of the subcontinent fell to one-tenth of that by the time the British flag was lowered in New Delhi in 1947.
Independent India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had been educated from boyhood in Britain. He was so insecure after the British left that he requested the last viceroy of India, Louis Mounbatten, to remain as "free" India's first governor-general and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. British control over the Indian army helped to prevent the full takeover of Kashmir by India in 1948, creating in the process a sore that has festered ever since.
Nehru also relied on British economist Nicholas Kaldor to fashion tax policies that punished the very merchant class that had funded the Congress Party's decades-long struggle against the British. Ironically, the new government was as hostile to Indian entrepreneurship as the colonial power had been, and the country's economy was soon straitjacketed by a "socialist pattern of society."
While laws were passed that overrode Hindu customs ( including, it must be said, retrogressive ones such as caste), Nehru took care to exclude the Muslims and other minority groups from such legislation, thus retaining the separatist mindset which had resulted in the creation of the "Muslim" state of Pakistan out of "Hindu" India.
As a consequence of carrying forward policies that saw the Hindus as a threat and therefore sought to place them on a level below those of the minorities in India, while Hindu temples are subject to state control, churches, mosques and other minority houses of worship remain free. Several ancient temples are now administered by atheists or other non-Hindus in states across the country, and the donations that pour into them from Hindu devotees are sequestered by the state. In education, while Hindu managements face severe restrictions and controls, managements that are Christian or Muslim escape almost all such state-mandated limitations on their freedom.
Since Sonia Gandhi took over the governance of India in 2004 and appointed a prime minister from a minority faith, there has been an explicit bias in policy favoring minority groups at the expense of the Hindu majority, and a conscious effort to sideline officials seen as "practicing Hindus" -- those who regularly visit temples -- on the grounds that they are "Hindu fanatics."
By contrast, almost none of the numerous bomb explosions that have taken place in Congress-ruled cities across India -- such as Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad -- have been traced to the perpetrators, because of an informal prohibition against "stereotyping" that prevents the police from intensive investigations in the mainly Muslim localities where the perpetrators are believed to be sheltering.
Such "partial" secularism, in which only Hindus are expected to be secular while Muslims and other minorities remain free to practice exclusionary practices, has led to a Hindu backlash across India. This found its first major expression in the Dec. 23 verdict of the electorate of Gujarat state, who re-elected the state's chief minister, Narendra Modi, despite a well-funded rebellion within the ranks of his own party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, as well as the enmity of almost the entire television and print media.
The media correctly see him as posing a possibly fatal challenge to the Nehruvian policies that were embraced by the first BJP prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was as deferential toward Sonia Gandhi's interests as members of her own Congress Party had been in the past. Modi thus challenges not only Sonia Gandhi but the Vajpayee cohort in his own party, who have for decades enjoyed a cozy and lucrative relationship with the Nehrus.
Despite occasional public posturing, in practice, the present crop of BJP leaders has been content to share in the spoils of the present Nehruvian state system. All, that is, except Narendra Modi, who defied his party leadership in making Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh -- both of whom, being Christian and Sikh respectively, belong to minority groups -- the target of his verbal barbs, despite strictures from the Sonia-friendly Election Commission.
Wresting Gujarat from this potent challenger was crucial to the continued salience of Nehruism, but the strength of the Hindu backlash against policies that penalize the majority community ensured a handsome win. The results have led to apprehension throughout the Nehruvian establishment, including almost the whole of the English-language media, that "Moditva" may spread to other states.
It may even within the next five years lead to a takeover of the central government by the Gujarat chief minister, who comes from near the bottom of the Hindu caste ladder, but who has emerged as the favorite of tens of millions of Hindus irrespective of caste, who seek parity with the minorities in running their houses of worship or educational and other institutions.
As Malaysia has shown, the advent of globalization and the demonstrated ability of Hindus to compete with the rest of the world have led to a renewal of confidence in a community of 840 million that has been kept at the margins for more than a millennium. The message of Gujarat is that the cry for parity by the Hindu community in India has become a political wave that could upset the Nehruvian system of partial secularism that has prevailed in India since 1947. Dec. 23, 2007 is a genuine turning point in the politics of the world's largest democracy.
(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)