As I have described in my recently released Memoirs of a Maverick, I reached Karachi just a few weeks before President Zia ul-Haq declared the Nizam-e-Mustafa, the rule of the Prophet—the first step in what came to be called “Islamisation”. So, Karan Thapar, interviewing me on my Pakistan chapter, asked me against whom Islamisation was targeted. “The impious Muslim,” I replied. “Not,” I was asked, “against the Pakistani Hindu?” On reflection, I said the blasphemy laws have been used against Pakistan’s main minority, the Christians. But Hindus? No.
Later, thinking about this exchange, I wondered against whom hindutva was targeted. Clearly the Indian Muslim. On further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that hindutva has nothing against Islam per se nor against the global Muslim community. That is why Modi wanders the world hugging every passing Muslim leader—sheikhs, sultans and their ilk. Interestingly, he does not do the same with Indian Muslims. Why?
The answer perhaps lies in the contestation that took place about a century ago, in the 1920s and 1930s, between Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists who virulently disagreed on everything but ardently agreed on one thing—that Hindus and Muslims belonged not to two religions within a common nation but constituted two incompatible nations. While this curious agreement-cum-disagreement had its roots in the post-1857 intellectual ferment, it did not acquire political traction till after the first elections held in 1937 under the British-sponsored Government of India Act, 1935, which provided for separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims.
The 1937 elections were a disaster for Jinnah’s Muslim League, which secured only 5 per cent of the Muslim vote in Muslim separate electorates. But in his role as the Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah succeeded in fuelling a separatist sentiment among his Muslim followers that, with British blessings, left a vivisected subcontinent as the last colonial legacy. That final contest was essentially led by Mahatma Gandhi, fighting for a united India, and Jinnah fighting for a separate nation.
It was an intriguing contest for Jinnah was so ignorant of Muslim ritual that he could not even say his namaz, while Gandhi was so steeped in religious discourse that readings from the Holy Quran and the Bible were integral to his daily prayer meetings: “Ishwar Allah tero naam, sabko sanmati de bhagwan.” In contrast, the advocates of hindutva from Savarkar to Modi know nothing about Islam and care little for it. This is not because hindutva has anything theological against Islam or against Muslims outside Bharat. It is because the presence of a 200-million strong Muslim minority in Bharat dilutes the exclusively Hindu identity of this country.
Thus, the key difference between the Islamisation of Pakistan by Zia and the ongoing project of hindutvising our country is not that of making better Hindus of 1.4 billion Indians but of showing the minorities their place in Hindu Bharat. As a truly believing Muslim, Zia was the most pious Muslim (arguably the only pious Muslim) that Islamic Pakistan has ever had at its head. Zia wanted to fashion his country, conceived and born in the name of Islam, into a truly Islamic nation (according to his lights) notwithstanding the country’s elite who wanted to dilute strict Islam with a few drops of the waters of Scotland and winking at Friday namaz and the rigours of fasting from dawn to dusk during Ramzan. Hindutva, on the other hand, has no agenda of further Hinduising Hindus but concentrates on diluting the Muslim presence in what they believe should be a pak (that is, pure) Hindu nation. That is the crux of the conundrum.
Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.