On Sunday, 6 December, 200,000 Hindu fanatics had gathered in Ayodhya, the temple town in the state of Uttar Pradesh, at a disputed site where a disused Muslim mosque (the Babri Masjid) stood upon the alleged birthplace of the Hindu god Lord Ram. Organised by the Hindutva (Hinduness) fundamentalist combine led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and their communal and clerical fascistic allies, they were there to celebrate kar seva, the ceremonial beginning of temple construction.
Skinheads, some of them with “Lord Ram” etched out in the stubble of their shaven heads, began throwing stones at the police guarding the mosque. Then a well-organised and prepared grouping brushed past the token police lines and stormed the mosque. The police and paramilitaries, who had already been instructed by the BJP state government not to use force against the kar sevaks, melted away, many of them openly and enthusiastically displaying their sympathy with the communalist mob. Thousands of other frenzied devotees soon joined the first group and proceeded to demolish the mosque with picks, tridents (the three-pronged weapons brandished by Hindu fascists) and their bare hands, egged on by the marshals beating their drums and the speeches from the platform. Later the mob attacked Muslims and their properties in the area.
When the kar sevaks assembled to storm the site, 13,000 paramilitaries controlled by the central government sat by in nearby camps. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao wasn’t going to take the rap for stopping the Hindu extremists, because he wants to harness the same social base and Hindu chauvinism as the BJP. The kar sevaks’ actions, clearly taken with the complicity not only of the local government but the central government itself, signaled successful defiance of India’s nominally secular constitution and sent a frightening signal of communalist terror to India’s 110-million-strong Muslim minority.
Over the next ten days, the official death toll in communalist violence climbed to over 1,200, spreading beyond the northern Hindi-speaking belt to many parts of India, including areas that had seen no significant communal violence since the India-Pakistan Partition in 1947. The actual death total is undoubtedly two or three times the official figure. In scenes reminiscent of the Partition, mobs pulled people off trains, beating them to death. Indeed, the growth of anti-Muslim communalism, organised and led by the BJP/RSS, raises the spectre of the destruction of India and a slaughter to equal and even surpass the horrors of Partition, when more than 600,000 died.
Indian prime minister Narasimha Rao, throughout his negotiations over Ayodhya in the last years, sought to conciliate the fanatics. His strategy was to wrest the mantle of being pro-temple and pro-Hindu from the BJP. “I can fight the BJP, but I cannot, and no one else for that matter, can fight Lord Ram” (India Today, 15 December 1992). Assailed with charges of ineptness and weakness by domestic critics, including within his own Congress (I) party, and imperialist concern about stability, Rao announced a series of measures to uphold “law and order,” including curfews in major cities like Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta. The BJP government in Uttar Pradesh was dismissed and central rule imposed, and later the central Congress (I) government dismissed the three other BJP state governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.
Rao promised to rebuild the mosque (along with a temple), but when central paramilitary troops took over the site a few days later, they were very careful not to interfere with the new temporary Hindu temple. Hindus have been allowed to worship at the site, while Muslims have been prevented. Moreover, though leaders and thousands of activists of the BJP and associated organisations have been arrested, the measures taken reveal the government’s own deep Hindu-chauvinist, anti-Muslim prejudice. The demonstrative parades of troops were mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods. And the overwhelming majority of the dead are Muslims killed in indiscriminate police shootings against Muslim protests.
Indian “secular democrats” and the imperialist bourgeois press have noted the deadly threat posed to India’s “secular” character. An editorial in India Today (31 December 1992) noted: “India has almost every ill in the world
There is no possibility of secular democracy under this capitalist regime which necessarily preserves the most horrific backwardness. For to get rid of the caste system, to get rid of the fundamentalist strongmen and communally organised religious fanaticism, will require a social revolution that brings the whole edifice of Indian capitalism tumbling down, even if it starts out as a purely democratic struggle. “Progressive” nationalists like Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk outlawed the veil, for example, but this only suppressed symbols of backwardness without eradicating the underlying conditions, so in time these practices have come back.
What is required is the Trotskyist programme of permanent revolution, the seizure of power by the working class rallying behind it the peasant masses, the oppressed castes and national minorities, the subjugated and enslaved women. Only the working class leading the agrarian masses and all the downtrodden in workers revolution can save India from further communalist bloodbaths.
Ayodhya: Flash Point for Communal/Fascist Bloodbaths
The reverberations of the destruction of the Babri Masjid are not confined to India itself. India has the second-largest Muslim population in the world (after Indonesia), and more than the entire Arab world put together. Its neighbours Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan are Muslim, and India has already fought two wars with the latter since independence. Like the struggle for national self-determination of Muslim Kashmir, a communal bloodbath in India could be the trigger for renewed war between India and Pakistan, both of which already have nuclear capacity.
In Pakistan (where there are still one and a half million Hindus), mobs chanting “Crush India!” and “Death to Hinduism!” attacked Hindu temples, Air India offices and the Indian embassy. Twelve Hindus, including six children, were burnt to death in a village near Quetta, and in Baluchistan six Hindu women were burnt alive. In Bangladesh and Afghanistan there were similar mob attacks on Hindus and properties. And in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, where Muslims have become an increasingly distinct community, presently allied with the chauvinist Sinhala Buddhist government against the national struggle of the predominantly Hindu Tamil minority, Muslim communal organisations called demonstrations.
Further afield, there was a wave of arson attacks on Hindu temples, cultural centres and businesses across England in major cities like Bradford, Coventry and London where there are significant South Asian communities. In some cases, the attacks may have been the work of white racists and fascists seeking to find a cover for their own genocidal programme and to sow division among the communities from the subcontinent, who have in the past tried to prevent the intercommunal violence from spreading to Britain.
The Ayodhya dispute has long been a communal flash point. The Hindu chauvinists allege that the mosque, built in 1528 by a lieutenant of the Moghul emperor Babur, was erected after a temple was destroyed at this exact place (among other places with identical claims) where Lord Ram is supposed to have been born 5,000 years ago. Since the mid-‘80s the demand that a temple replace the mosque has been the cutting edge of the BJP’s mobilisations, which have seen it grow from two seats in the Delhi (national) parliament in 1984 to 119 in 1991, becoming the largest single opposition party. Born out of the paramilitary fascist RSS, an organisation which goes back to the days of independence and one of whose cadre assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, the BJP is riddled with RSS members and supporters from other fascistic organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP
The BJP wants a Hindu state, the “Ram Rajya” (Kingdom of Ram), and alleges that Indian governments have betrayed Hindus by favouring the Muslims (referred to as “ungrateful guests”) and other minorities. One journalist noted that “A freeze-frame of India today would show a nation wracked by the same changes that gave birth to fascism in Europe of the 1930s” (Independent, 9 December 1992). The government’s economic “liberalisation” policies in the ‘80s, and the more recent IMF/World Bank-dictated “reforms,” have created a large urban capitalistic-minded middle class, grasping to make ends meet, resentful of the entrenched and filthy-rich Congress tops and their big business cronies, and fearful of the impoverished toiling masses below them.
The BJP is an upper-caste Hindu-led party, oriented to maintaining the traditional caste hierarchy in the context of capitalist urbanisation which undermines the old rural-centred system. It appeals to layer of urban educated petty bourgeois who can find no jobs, and traders and petty entrepreneurs who often see the Muslims in the same way as the European fascists viewed the Jews before World War II. In India anti-Muslim communalism is the reactionary rallying cry for the fascist mobilisation of the new middle classes in the context of general urban plebian rage and economic desperation
“Secular Democratic” India: A Lie
The mouthpieces for the imperialist bourgeoisies have been talking a lot about the fate of “secularism” in India. An editorial in the New York Times (8 December 1992) says the task is to maintain a secular state. The Economist (12 December 1992) asks, “can India survive as a secular democracy or will it degenerate into a theocratic Hindu state?” In Sri Lanka, the popular-frontist editor of the Lanka Guardian, Mervyn De Silva, advises: “Mr. Rao has to assert himself, restore law and order, but without compromising an inch on the Nehruvian ideal of a modern, democratic India. And that, there’s little doubt, is what is now at stake” (Sunday Times [Colombo], 13 December 1992).
In the struggle against colonial rule, the idea of a united Indian people struggling for freedom mobilised millions, in particular against British attempts at “divide and rule” along religious, national and caste lines. From Nehru on, bourgeois nationalists have touted secularism, but Indian nationalism always contained a strong element of Hindu and Hindi-language chauvinism. This reflected the late, uneven and arrested development of the Indian bourgeoisie in the context of multiple national, language and religious divisions. It is a lie that India was ever a secular democratic state. India and Pakistan were born out the defeat of secular-democratic aspirations in the anti-colonial struggle which were consumed in the flames of sectarian strife fueled by the British colonialists.
The Congress (I) is still the only genuinely all-India party and still the main party of the fragmented bourgeoisie, maintaining a posture of representing all India’s peoples. But despite its “secular,” “democratic” and even formerly “socialist” pretensions, it has always been chauvinist. Mahatma Gandhi was the first advocate of the “Ram Rajya,” and couched his appeals in reactionary, mythical terms. The Congress party presided over the bloody Partition in 1947 and two wars with Pakistan. It has mercilessly sought to crush national struggles like those of the Sikhs in Punjab and the Kashmiris.
Sikh militants avenged themselves for the Indian government’s slaughter at the Golden Temple in Amritsar by assassinating its architect, Mrs. Gandhi, in 1984. In response, Rajiv Gandhi condoned the butchering of thousands of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere by Hindu communalist mobs, mobs often led by Congress politicians. Two years later that playboy of the Eastern world got his from the Lankan Tamil Tigers, who had faced the murderous brutality of the expeditionary force he sent to Sri Lanka. Like the other “secular” parties, Congress seeks to play to communal and caste blocs for electoral advantage. During the last elections Congress (I) thugs opened fire on “Untouchables” in Bihar trying to vote for a Communist Party candidate.
The imperialists’ concern about “secularism” is just a mask for their real concern. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and consequently of India’s “non-aligned” stance (underpinned by Soviet aid), the IMF and World Bank have a clear field. They demand economic “liberalisation”
Nor do the reformist Communist parties present any fundamental challenge to the plans of the bloodsucking IMF imperialists. Along with the BJP, the CPs backed V.P. Singh’s National Front government. Now, instead of mobilizing the working class and the oppressed in independent action, the Communist parties are playing around with a new popular-front alliance with Congress (I). And the inability of these reformists to solve the burning needs of the toiling masses breeds disillusionment.
Some land reform in West Bengal has helped to build support for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in that state, but without a thoroughgoing agrarian revolution which expropriates the feudal landlords and the big capitalist farmers, the poor peasants still have no land and can be sucked in by the communalists. While corruption increases and his son gets rich, West Bengal CPI(M) premier Jyoti Basu tries to attract imperialist investors to the state, on the promise that the working masses can be held in check.
Today, the CPs administer capitalist governments and defend the bourgeois order. There were also communal outbursts in Calcutta, capital of West Bengal, where the CPI(M) has ruled for 15 years. While both the CPI(M) and the CPI derive their mass support at least in part from an anti-communalist reputation, they undercut any decent impulses of their own militants by making alliances with communal and casteist organisations, as well as by denouncing the independence struggles of the Sikhs in Punjab and Muslim Kashmiris as “terrorism,” backing the central government’s ruthless repression of these legitimate struggles.
In the absence of working-class-centred struggle, one tragedy is that the oppressed may turn to the most obscurantist, reactionary extremists in their own communities. In the Punjab, the Sikh struggle is dominated by Khalistani religious fundamentalists. In Kashmir, the sway of Islamic fanatics who identify with Afghan CIA-aided cutthroat zealots like Hekmatyar has increased at the expense of more secular-minded Kashmiri liberation groups. Nationalists and communalists take their cue from the “Death of Communism” reaction spawned by the counterrevolutionary victories in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. In Shillong, capital of Meghalaya in the northeast, graffiti directed against Bengali and other migrants proclaims: “When the Germans & English are anti-alien, why not we?” (Frontline, 20 November 1992).
Workers Revolution Must Crush Communalist Vermin
Muslims are the first targets of the BJP/VHP/RSS communal thugs, but not their only victims. Muslims are generally poorer, reflecting the fact that many are descended from converts among Harijans (“Untouchables”) and low-caste people seeking to escape caste oppression. Though they constitute about 14 per cent of the population, they make up only 2 per cent of those who pass senior civil servants’ exams, for example. After the Muslims, the Hindu fanatics will go after other religious minorities
While Hindu fundamentalists protested about alleged favouritism to the Muslims over the notorious Shah Bano case, where a divorced Muslim woman was denied alimony in the name of upholding Muslim personal law, there are plenty of atrocities on the other side of the communal divide. A recent horrendous example of what the BJP/RSS stand for was when two young lovers and their friend were murdered in a village in Rajasthan, because they dared to defy the taboo on relationships between upper-caste people and “Untouchables.” And it is exactly among the urban social layers most attracted to the BJP that the barbarous murders of women for their dowries have increased most. Similarly, it is these layers who avail themselves of modern medical science to selectively abort female fetuses.
Explosions of religious fanaticism and pogroms have to be ruthlessly suppressed. But the capitalist rulers will institute only a white (counterrevolutionary) terror, one that will inevitably set one community against another. The strengthening of the central state power will in no way prevent communalist slaughter, but on the contrary will serve to bolster the Hindu chauvinists, suppress working-class struggle and fan the flames of future massacres.
The relatively small but strategically placed and combative Indian proletariat can crush the marauding communalists by carrying out a workers revolution. They have a special and immediate interest in crushing these vermin, since the workers are frequently drawn from local and migrant minorities. In the great industrial cities like Kanpur, Bangalore, Bhopal and Lucknow, the proletariat should defend the Muslim quarters from the communalists and the chauvinist police rampage, just as the Bolshevik-led workers defended the Jews in tsarist Russia from the Black Hundreds. They should also deal with any Islamic fundamentalists who simply want to reciprocate the crimes of the Hindu extremists.
But to extirpate the pathological killers who have whipped up communalist passions to a fever pitch will require strong measures that can only be successful by uniting the oppressed and exploited of all the myriad communities in the Indian state in defense of socialist revolution, offering the fundamental prospect of a better life through common effort rather than the desperate competition for the crumbs of capitalism.
An article in the New York Times (6 December 1992), only a day before the Ayodhya mosque was destroyed, waxed eloquent about Bombay as a capitalist mecca, a “cosmopolitan” “city of opportunity”: “It is where India is being reshaped and, if India is to claw its way from poverty and socialism, where it will happen first.” But in December some of the worst communal killing was in Bombay, the metropolis at the heart of the Maharashtra industrial belt. More than half of Bombay’s 12-million-plus population are slum dwellers, many of them migrants from other areas of the country. Most of the deaths in Bombay came when the local police fired indiscriminately on Muslim protesters. Muslims then attacked Hindus and vice versa.
The Bombay police are heavily infiltrated by Shiv Sena, a local fascist group, named after a 17th century Hindu ruler, Shivaji, who fought the Muslim Moghul king Aurangzeb. Shiv Sena denounces “outsiders” and was formed in the ‘60s to combat the influence of the Communists and trade unionists in the burgeoning working class of the state. With the indifference or active connivance of the police, Shiv Sena targeted Muslims. Muslims were forced to flee in some areas, but in other parts of the slums Muslims and Hindus joined together to fight off the attackers, barricading the alleys to keep out Shiv Sena and the police. One fisherman from a mixed Hindu/Muslim shanty community said:
“'They had come before
Today in India the bourgeois politicians scarcely bother to mask their corruption, nepotism, venality and outright criminality. Every election is accompanied by hundreds of deaths, and hundreds of thousands among the lower castes and “Untouchables” are denied a vote. Under capitalism, scientific and technological progress doesn’t supplant, but rather reinforces social backwardness. The “Green Revolution” in agriculture utilised new grain varieties to largely eliminate grain imports, yet tens of millions still go hungry. A large industrial capacity and output has not transformed the lives of the great bulk of the Indian people; indeed they are ground down even further, with child labour endemic from textile shops to the great coal fields of Dhabad. There are millions of VCRs, but far from purveying enlightenment, they are used to propagate religious fanaticism.
Writing in 1942 on the revolutionary tasks of the proletariat in India, the Trotskyists of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India (BLPI) stated:
“The realisation of the combined character of the Indian revolution is essential for the planning of the revolutionary strategy of the working class. Should the working class fail in its historic task of seizing power and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, the revolution will inevitably recede, the bourgeois tasks themselves remain unperformed, and the power swing back in the end to the imperialists without whom the Indian bourgeoisie cannot maintain itself against the hostile masses. A backward country like India can accomplish its bourgeois-democratic revolution only through the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Such is the perspective we in the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) fight for today. Forward to the construction of Bolshevik parties in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Forward to the soviet socialist federation of South Asia!