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Fascism’s natural ally

by Jawed Naqvi, 28 June 2013

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Dawn, 27 June 2013

COMMUNALISM, a twisted offshoot of religion, breeds in a fertile manmade atmosphere of strife. But it also thrives in natural calamities such as earthquakes, floods and cyclones.

The current rain-induced havoc in Uttarakhand, host to several Hindu pilgrimages in India’s Himalayan foothills, spurred Narendra Modi to hog the limelight. The human tragedy was thus deftly converted into a political windfall with an eye on the bilious politician’s religio-fascist agenda. The aim is to win the 2014 Indian elections by whatever means.

Who takes a leaf from whom is difficult to divine, but the globally watched religious militias in Pakistan have similarly preyed on hapless victims of natural catastrophes.

The 2005 earthquake in Kashmir was as good an example as any of the various Islamist lashkar groups going into overdrive to gain converts. The state’s failure to rise to the challenge in a crisis creates useful spaces for the private favour-givers, the political carpetbaggers.

American journalist Steve Coll gave an insightful account to the New Yorker of his visit to Muzaffarabad when the earthquake struck Kashmir. The Jamaatud Dawa had brought in a mobile surgical unit staffed by “long-bearded doctors” from Karachi and Lahore, Coll observed.

“Very impressive young men, fluent in English, who offered a reminder that unlike, say, the Taliban, Lashkar draws some very talented people from urban professions.”

Modi leads a Hindutva variant of charged-up and capable men and women.

With their hospitals, universities, and social service wings, Pakistan’s Lashkar-linked groups and India’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) look akin to Hezbollah or Hamas.

“As part of its earthquake relief work, Lashkar ferried supplies to remote villages isolated on the far side of the churning Neelum River, one of the two snow-fed canyon rivers that traverse the area. I asked to take a ride with its volunteers, and their media officer (yes, they have media officers) agreed,” Coll exulted.

This is par for the course for other religious groups seeking advantage in human tragedies, and this quest finds traction with sub-groups within the religious sediments.

The politically influential caste of Patels in Gujarat, for example, refused to share relief camps with lower-caste Hindus after the 2001 massive earthquake in Gujarat. So it’s not always a Hindu-Muslim thing. A Pakistan Air Force plane had brought tents and blankets to Gujarat.

A close look at the evolution of the religious-communal binary reveals that both Muslim and Hindu communalists garbed as missionaries were closely aligned with the US strategy in South Asia, which they served well against godless communism. In India they joined hands often to be the flip side of the same coin.

(Former Indian premier Indira Gandhi imposed emergency in India on June 26, 1975. The day is still observed as a reminder of the threat faced from newer dictatorships. Mrs Gandhi was a pro-Soviet dictator, so her main reasons for suspending a slew of civil liberties were her mistrust of Hindu and Muslim religious revivalists. She locked them up together and they came out as allies against her in the Janata Party experiment.)

What is it about religious zeal, with or without communalism, which mingles well with social service? I have seen volunteers of the Hindu Shiv Sena working feverishly and with devotion to clean up vast swathes of Latur in Maharashtra when an earthquake killed thousands in the 1990s.

Lifting rotting corpses with bare hands is not something I can associate with today’s liberal classes though my friend Sohail Hashmi says communist volunteers were the only men and women engaged in mass burials in the wake of 1947 killing frenzy in Delhi.

His own father was a member of the communist group that lifted bodies out of wells in Old Delhi to give them a respectful burial. The right has learnt from the left, and the left has lost its ability to lead in a crisis.

My cousin Jimmy was contemptuous of the Tableeghi Jamaat when its volunteers went about inviting students at the Aligarh Muslim University to join the faith. The Tableegh’s volunteers were so disciplined that they could bathe in cold water at freezing temperatures in Ramazan.

Jimmy said that was nothing. He took a towel to the bathroom to show his expectant friends how he as a liberal could do likewise. A drop of cold water fell on his back from a malfunctioning shower. Jimmy collapsed on the ground, wiped off the dirt and walked quietly back to his room. That was the end of his challenge to the Tableegh’s zeal.

Earlier this month senior members of the RSS paid homage to Pracharak Dwarakacharyulu. The man had built his reputation by doing excellent work in the aftermath of a 1977 cyclone that devastated the coastal Andhra Pradesh.

Dwarakacharyulu, as his colleagues pointed out, belonged to that rare category of people who exhibited leadership qualities and “moulded swayamsevaks, showed direction and exercised tremendous impact on them by inculcating qualities of service and dedication”.

Dwarakacharyuluji was active among a range of tribal communities to wean them away from Christianity inculcated by colonial missionaries. The Maoists were the other challengers to the RSS, which has got the state’s support to jointly defeat the leftists.

How many active communists and liberals today would be able to keep pace with Dwarkacharyulu’s reach among the depressed sections from the Andhra Pradesh to Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland in the northeast? He was very active in the tribal state of Tripura where the only existing communist government still rules. Keep your eyes peeled.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.


The above is reproduced here from Dawn for educational and non commercial use