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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

A QUESTION OF PATRIOTISM

Post-Kargil nationalism targets the Muslims

By Sanjay Kapoor / New Delhi


WHEN NIHALUDDIN, A MUSLIM bank employee in Lucknow, recently attended the funeral of a Hindu army officer who had died in the Kargil conflict, he may have felt he was simply showing his respects for a fellow Indian. But cold stares from other mourners made it clear that his presence was not welcome. Suddenly, a youngster spouted a slogan that Nihaluddin had not heard for several years: "Mussalman ke do sthan: Pakistan aur kabristan" (There are only two places for Muslims: Pakistan or the graveyard). The grown-ups hushed the boy - for this was Lucknow, a city famous for its religious amity.

Ahmedabad, a seething caldron of communalism in Gujarat state, was not so fortunate. On July 20, at another funeral procession for a fallen soldier, the crowd started chanting slogans against Pakistan and Muslims. The situation quickly turned ugly; the ensuing riots left seven dead and compelled the authorities to give a shoot-on-sight order. "Kargil has been used to harden our collective attitude toward Pakistan, which in practical terms means a definite anti-minority bias," says Gujarat expert Harish Khare. "The riots in Ahmedabad are a clear manifestation of this mindset."

Hindus and Muslims in India have long been captives of history and flawed politics. The Partition of 1947, premised on religion, failed to settle the traditional antagonism between the two groups, and in the following 52 years, thousands of communal riots and three wars with Pakistan have deepened the divide and mistrust. In particular, Indian Muslims, who make up 12% of the total population, have faced an acute dilemma. Their allegiance split between the land of their birth and the land of their religion, they have long had their loyalty and patriotism questioned by nationalistic Hindus, including members of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

And the Kargil crisis may have exacerbated the situation. In many ways, the conflict has served as a leaven for right-wing Hindu organizations to make nationalism synonymous with Hinduism. "Yes, there has been a rise in nationalistic feelings among Hindus," declares Environment Minister Suresh Prabhu, who is also a senior leader of the rabidly right-wing Shiv Sena party. "And we in Shiv Sena believe that all those who live in Hindustan [India] are Hindus."

The Muslims resent this attitude. But they can do little as their traditional links to other social groups and castes, which have added to their political influence, are coming under communal pressure. In the new atmosphere, secular and left-leaning parties, traditionally friendly toward the Muslim vote, have been forced to adopt a more nationalist posture that means jettisoning the cause of minorities. With radical Hindu groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) using the body bags from Kargil to whip up patriotic fervor, political parties and social groups have been falling over themselves to show their solidarity with the soldiers at the border. Even Muslim groups have felt the need to express support for the national cause. "Some of the Muslim organizations behaved like the VHP in supporting the government on Kargil," says Muslim leader and former diplomat Syed Shahabuddin. "It was a nauseating spectacle to see them prove their loyalty in such a manner."

Likewise, prominent Muslim personalities have been feeling the heat. Film icon Dilip Kumar was pressured to give up a top civilian award that Islamabad had conferred on him (he didn't). Noted academic Ali Mian was accused of asking his considerable following not to offer prayers for the soldiers in Kargil. Mian hotly denied the charge, but the harm had been done. It was clear to the Muslim minority that they would have to measure up to the yardstick of loyalty set by Hindu nationalists - a situation that upsets many Muslims. "Why do we need to prove our virginity all the time?" asks an angry betel-shop owner in Lucknow.

The climate of fear generated by the stormtroopers of militant Hindu organizations is likely to drive the beleaguered Muslim community toward the Congress party, led by another "outsider," Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, in the coming elections. But it is by no means certain whether this will be enough for Congress to return to power. "The steady decline of Congress, in reality, has gradually diminished the value of the Muslim vote," says historian Mushirul Hasan of New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. Before Kargil, Congress seemed capable of seriously challenging the BJP. Given the current national mood, however, Congress is likely to stay out of power for a little longer - and the plight of India's Muslims may remain unaddressed for just as long.


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