New Delhi: Communalism: Geopolitics also demands a closure of the citizenship question in political competition with all communities enjoying equal rights and an equal right to practice their respective faiths under the Constitution. Equal citizenship has become increasingly questionable and vulnerable since the Narendra Modi government came to power and this weakens India internally and externally. If the country is not internally strong, its geopolitics will be infirm. One of the chief factors impeding India’s rise is communalism. Unless this is rooted out, India cannot hope to become a Great Power.

Political competition takes various forms in democracies. Since political competition is a competition for votes, political parties strain constitutional propriety by carving out votebanks that they perceive will fetch them power. While Jawaharlal Nehru was by no means a communal leader and warned of the communal mindset infecting both pre-independence minority- and majority-community political groupings, his own party, however, first hesitantly, and then openly and brazenly, resorted to a mix of casteist and communal politics to consolidate its political hold over the country.

Although the Congress commenced as an umbrella group, it primarily kept the forward castes, Muslims and Dalits wedded together to stay in power. The danger of social and political engineering is that it is never constant. If it succeeds in one instance, it is open to attack and re-engineering. Since the OBCs were by and large neglected by the Congress party, they became the social and political foundations of regional and subsequently national rivals to it. While the Dalits did not completely drift away, in the so-called Hindi heartland states, they came under the sway of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati.

Following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Muslims deserted the Congress and made common cause with OBC parties to oppose the Bharatiya Janata Party. While the Muslim vote is substantial, it has rarely coalesced into a distinct votebank, although conventional wisdom would assert to that “fact”. Real or false, the Congress and the OBC parties’ communal politics in favour of the alleged Muslim votebank have produced a counter-polarization which has spearheaded the rise of the RSS-controlled BJP. Ten years of the Congress-led UPA created such a powerful narrative of “Muslim appeasement” that it was inevitable that it would produce a reactive triumph of a BJP strongman such as Narendra Modi, and it entirely serves his political aims to preserve polarization. Communalism is his insurance against governance failure, and having failed to deliver, you may be forgiven to expect the worst. Except that the majority community is not communal and will judge a government solely on its performance. The country may lurch from one extreme to the other but it will always settle at the bottommost still point of oscillation representing stability and moderation.

Nevertheless, the country’s geopolitics cannot afford the detached luxury of far-between electoral cycles that burnish its liberal democratic credentials. Geopolitics demands a full and final settlement of the citizenship question. Dissenters and especially Muslim dissenters cannot be taunted as Pakistanis and pressed to leave. This neither strengthens good neighbourliness nor assuages existential fears of Muslims. Vigilante violence visited on Muslims may be an isolated phenomenon but it further keeps inter-community relations volatile and inflamed and damages the country geopolitically. India cannot be a modern, forward-looking power if a large section of its population feels oppressed on religious grounds. Settled citizenship is the basis on which a state grows in power.

India is not geopolitically isolated. There is a Muslim state embedded in its eastern flank and on the west all the way up to the eastern Mediterranean and along its southern shores are a further dozen and more Islamic nations. Like some of them, India can descend into medievalism, violence, bloodshed and civil war with state-sponsored communalism. Or it could persevere against great odds of poverty and backwardness and live up to its promise at independence of being a light unto nations. Communalism, whatever its pathological inspirers and propagators believe to the contrary, cannot assist India’s geopolitics. This was most recently shown in the Rohingya crisis where China has stolen the geopolitical march on India. India has geopolitical promise only if it lives up to its liberal democratic substance. Equal, enlightened and compassionate citizenship should be the only identity of Indians if India is to rise.

To be continued...

Also read “India’s geopolitical crisis - 1,” “2,” “3” and “4” here, here, here and here.