The biggest danger for India today are movements seeking to demean minorities. The project of marginalising Muslims is unworkable. You cannot sweep millions of people away, or compel them to do "ghar wapsi".In the spring of 1998, through some osmotic process, more than any-thing else, India Today divined that India was about to test nuclear weapons. As Defence Editor, I authored two major articles in March and April on India's nuclear weapons capacity, but even so was surprised by the tests of May 11-13. This was one of the most momentous events for the country, as well as a person like me, who had worked in the area of national security for a decade and a half.
The India Today coverage was spectacular. I wrote the lead story, but Executive Editor Prabhu Chawla scooped the country through an interview with Prime Minister Vajpayee disclosing that one of the tests was that of a thermonuclear bomb. Later, in October, Deputy Editor Raj Chengappa, already working on a book on India's strategic programmes, had occasion to do a reverse scoop and raise the possibility that the H-bomb test was possibly a fizzle For India, the denouement was quite different. Nukes were supposed to deter the adversary-principally Pakistan. Instead, after their own tests, Pakistan became more belligerent. The bombardment on the Line of Control intensified, as did the terrorist offensive against India directed from Islamabad. All this culminated in the Kargil war of 1999, something theorists said should not have happened between two nuclear-armed states. Today, but for occasional pinpricks, our frontiers are quiet. With a million-plus army, a powerful navy and air force and nuclear weapons, the chances of any combination of external enemies over-whelming us is next to zero. But when it comes to securing ourselves from within, the story is quite different.
Nuclear weapons or no nuclear weapons, the country is buffeted by contrary storms- separatist movements, ethno-linguistic quarrels, caste clashes, communal and revolutionary violence. In the past year, as its heartland is racked by an uptick of communal violence, India's internal unity seems more fragile. Minor incidents, some clearly staged for the purpose, have triggered riot and murder, reopening old wounds.
At any given moment, some part of India or the other faces a siege within.
Not for nothing did Prime Minister Modi's friend, US President Barack Obama issue an unprecedented warning during his January visit that "India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith". Whoever has managed to establish his sway over this vast and ethnically and religiously diverse country-think the Mughals-has had his hands full in just keeping control of it.
Divided we stand
The British were the exception proving the rule, they politically united this continental sized country and, after 1857, effectively dis-armed it. Their bonus was that they could use Indian troops to further imperial policy abroad and defend the empire in the two world wars. With the British gone and the country divided, the old ethnic, linguistic and religious fissures re-emerged. The external challenges have been minor, leading to some short wars, that have been more akin to border skirmishes. In contrast, since the 1950s, India's military and police forces have been repeatedly called on to fight long campaigns against separatist insurgents in the North-east, Punjab, Kashmir and central India. The North-eastern insurgencies have never been more than an irritant for New Delhi. What really shook India was the Punjab uprising in the 1980s, followed by Jammu and Kashmir in 1990. Not surprisingly, our external adversaries, Pakistan and China, sought to widen the fissures wherever they could.
Using the Kautilyan instrumentalities of saam, daam, dand, bhed (persuade, buy, punish, and divide) India has largely prevailed. Often, it has not hesitated to use the policy of blood and iron, ignoring due judicial process. But its real success has been in its commitment, by and large, to the agreement it made with the diverse people of this country in a document called the Constitution of India. In this it not only promised all Indians equal rights but also, importantly, committed itself to provide cultural space to the minorities to live and worship as they please, maintain their own marital and dietary traditions.
India has been racked by religious violence for millennia because it has been the land of many religions and sects. Following independence, with large Muslim-majority areas hived away, things settled down. But beginning with the Jabalpur riot of 1961, communal violence has recurred time and again in the country.
The causes are many-the friction of communities living cheek by jowl, giving rise to incidents during overlapping religious festivals, love affairs and petty quarrels, more insidiously, the political mobilisation. Unfortunately, there are, more often than not, deliberate efforts to provoke and incite: the flesh of a cow or pig being thrown at a religious place, copies of the Quran/Granth Sahib burnt, rumours of sexual violence- which almost never fail to provoke despite their obvious intent.
Events like the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the Godhra train burning of kar sevaks and the consequent massacre of Muslims in Gujarat have played into those who have sought to use the instrumentality of terror- the deliberate targeting of non-combatants for political effect. Many of these are the handiwork of Pakistani jihadi groups working in tandem with its intelligence agency, the ISI.
In India Today in 1999, we reported on the depredations of Abdul Karim 'Tunda' and his low-intensity bombs terrorising Delhi's environs. Bomb blasts are nihilist acts that do not differentiate between Muslim and Hindu, or Indians and foreigners. Their aim is to weak-en the country, while paradoxically, they have probably strengthened it, and Tunda, arrest-ed just two years ago, is awaiting trial.
Indian Muslims have been involved in other acts of terrorism such as the Bombay blasts of 1993, the train bombings of 2006 and the 2008 Delhi and Ahmedabad bombings. In most instances, the ISI played a role as a director or facilitator. Even so, the participation of Indian Muslims in terror attacks in India is microscopic. A back of the envelope count will show that the total of Indian Muslims involved in terrorist acts and conspiracies would not exceed 200 in the last three decades. India has ensured that its 170 million Muslims have resisted the blandishments of violent religious extremism which has gripped and overcome many Muslim communities elsewhere across the globe.
The Kashmir insurgency has been sullied by the killings of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 and massacres of the Hindu community, mainly by Pakistani terrorists. But since 2006, terror strikes on minorities have receded and the current pattern of attacks seek out military or police targets. In Punjab, however, the tactics of Sikh terrorists sought to identify and kill Hindus in buses, trains and the like. Separatist movements in the North-east have by and large sought to fight the state or its instrumentalities.
The new radicalsIn 2015 it is clear that no separatist force, no matter how determined, can break the Indian Union. However, this does not mean that the Union is proof against all threats.
Although there have been no major terror attacks since 2008, the danger of strikes, aided and assisted by Islamabad, has not gone away. The infrastructure-in the form of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Indian Mujahideen leaders, Amir Reza Khan and Riyaz Bhatkal, Dawood Ibrahim, and some Sikh terrorist leaders-remains intact in Pakistan.
Violent Islamist radicalism remains a threat notwithstanding its negligible presence today. Movements like the Daesh pose threats whose course cannot be predicted. Countering them requires a continued deft handling of Indian Muslims, who have long turned their backs on radicals.
However, this is easier said than done, given the rise of Hindutva militancy through radicals such as the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Shiv Sena and smaller groups such as the Hindu Sena and the Abhinav Bharat. Their heightened activities have come in the wake of the political success of the Bharatiya Janata Party and is, more often than not, focus on demonising the Muslim community.
The rising tempo of mob violence targeting Muslims in the name of Hindu religious sentiment is truly the road to perdition. If the Hindutva agenda is successful, it would mean the further isolation and backwardness of Muslims, which will make them vulnerable to Islamist propaganda. So far what has kept the Indian Muslims from being swayed by Islamist propaganda is that they are united in their secular aspirations with other Indians and support of the Indian constitutional compact.
Hindutva advocates want to end this and want to push Muslims and other minorities to a second-class status by imposing disabilities on their dietary preferences, social practices and their right to live where they choose. No community will accept a second class status and, if pushed to the wall, will fight back. Given the numerical and geographical spread of the minorities, this time around there will be no partition, but a rending of the social and political fabric of the country.
Anarchy or order?With India becoming the most populous nation in the world, there will be opportunities, as well as great hazards. A large proportion of working-age people up to 2050 is our historic opportunity, provided we can make our young better educated and productive. A failure to reform our rotten education system resulting in unemployed-and unemployable-young persons, or leaving entire communities and groups behind, could give a fillip to the Maoists and radicals of all kinds, both Hindus and Muslims.
As it is, the transformation process of an overwhelmingly agrarian nation to an urban, industrial power is loaded with stress. Historically, such a process leads to dislocation and disorientation of communities everywhere in the world. Yesterday's winners could become tomorrow's losers, and women, Dalits, Muslims and tribals could find it hard to keep up with the others, because they are already much further behind. Anger and frustration could lead the losers to violence. Given the many existing fissures of India, it is all too easy for politicians-and external adversaries-to stir up troubled waters.
Importantly, by 2050, India will also be the country populated by the largest numbers of Muslims in the world. According to Riaz Hassan of the University of South Australia, the population of Hindus will rise 36 per cent-from 1.03 billion in 2010 to 1.38 billion in 2050-but that of Muslims will rise 76 per cent from 176 million to 310 million. So while Hindus will remain a majority at 77 per cent of the population, the proportion of Muslims will go up from 14 per cent to 18 per cent in 2050.
Clearly, the biggest danger that India confronts today are movements seeking to demean minorities and making them feel as though they are not quite "Indian". In practical terms, the project of marginalising Muslims is unworkable-after all, you cannot sweep hundreds of millions of people away, or compel them to do "ghar wapsi".
There is a certain vanity that India was always a nation-state and will endure as such. That's simply not true, and it discounts the enormous efforts made by a succession of leaders who fought for our independence and helped shape and preserve the country that came to being in 1947. As in Europe, there has been a certain civilisational area-call it Indian or Indo-Islamic-but that did not necessarily have to yield a single nation, and it did not, because today there are already three states in what was British India.
An alternate vision of what we may have been comes from the plan that the British government approved in May 1947 envisaging the transfer of power to individual British provinces and partitioning Bengal and Punjab. The 560-odd Princely States could join any of these units and eventually, they could work out a way of reconstituting themselves as a single, or five or ten Indias.
As is well known Nehru blew his top when he was shown this plan on the eve of its announcement and compelled Lord Mountbatten to revert to the older Partition proposal that led to the creation of an India and Pakistan on August 14/15 1947.
India is a young nation, just 67 years old. It has taken hard work to maintain its physical and conceptual integrity. The battle has not quite been won. Challenges remain in the North-east, J&K, and the jungles of Chhattisgarh, and newer ones are emerging.
It is fashionable today to diss the Congress party's leadership in the post independence period. But were it not for Sardar Patel's leadership of the Union Home Ministry we would not have had the physical India of today. And were it not for Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's intellectual catholicity, we would not have managed to shape the sense of nationhood that has transcended ethnicity, caste and religion. His gift of secularism was not just an intellectual conceit, but the key ingredient in fabricating and preserving the modern Indian nation.
India Today Anniversary Issue December 10, 2015