Heightened Nationalism in Times of Emergency

A month ago, some friends and I got into a heated discussion on the necessity of partition and the role of Islam in Pakistan politics. Both Amir and Bilal, students in Germany, argued for the necessity of partition and the role of Islam in law and politics. Many other Pakistanis also vest their trust in the centralized executive power and the Pakistani military. Last week the Taliban in Pakistan led several attacks that targeted Shia Muslims. One of the Pakistanis here lost a dear relative in the most recent attacks in a Peshawar mosque. While many friends consoled him in wake of the tragedy, it did not seem to change much in their outlook on politics. During the consolation, many of the discussed fervently about their views on terrorism in Pakistan, all of which seemed to be a dissatisfaction with the current situation, and demand immediate action and reaction. The military or the executive branch seem to be the go-to solution. I have heard about crises in a political philosophy (e.g. Carl Schmitt), but no other place seemed to be more crisis-ridden than Pakistan. In classes, I am also reminded of the omniscient energy of nationalism that seeps into every day life in India. In both countries, there are not enough restrictions on the demand for action and reclamation, especially in times when a group considers defending oneself
The political identity of "Hindus" rose in the 19th century partly in response to the threat of Christianity, social Darwinism and the growing consciousness of Otherness. Islam in South Asia also adapted to different times, which I have written about in Islamic Reform, South Asia, and Self-Reflection. These religious identities that adapted to new labels and contexts play an influential role in 20th century politics, including Hindu nationalism. In 1990, BJP politician L.K. Advani's Rath Yatra sparked riots that left many dead in Gujarat. In 1992, the demolishing of the Babri Masjid led to sectarian violence in other Indian provinces as well in which many Muslims were massacred. Documentaries Ram Ke Naam, Boy in the Branch and Men in the Tree show the ideological roots of Ayodhya conflict and the new wave of Hindu nationalism. Many Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteers known as the kar sevaks (servers-in-action) were mobilized around the country. Even though the men could not keep up their RSS activities after Ayodhya due to pressures of earning a living, They still believed in the cause and felt proud having participated in the momentous event, with statements like “I was on the dome” or “I cleared the debris.” The temple had been a source of political contest between Hindu and Muslim communities since the 1940s. Why did the movement happen in the 1990s? Even though there are theories of elite conspiracy, other factors also contributed to the acceptance of Hindu nationalist ideology. 
Arvind Rajagopal’s Politics after Television documented the political effects on popular opinion from the widely followed commercial television series Ramayana. The book highlighted the role of the television and mass media in shaping peoples’ understanding of society. We have learned in class that the TV adaptation that started playing in 1987 is a uniquely North Indian and Sanskritized interpretation of a story that actually has many versions. But it clearly influenced many viewers. For example, more than one interviewee in Politics of Television, Mr. Jha, longed for a moral rule by Lord Ram-- "At the time of the Ramayan people used to say that everything is truth. Now there is truth in nothing. All 'departments' [sic] are corrupt. It wasn’t like this before – and this is the difference. Of course, even then there was poverty, but even the poor were knowledgeable and honest. Today, the wealthy and educated men are the most corrupt." Hindu nationalist thus “used religious appeals to distinguish itself from the unscrupulous majority of politicians in returning to politics a long-awaited dharma, a sense of duty and righteousness.”
The opening of Ram Ke Naam also shows how video clips serve as a good source for sharing religious experiences as well as political messages, mixing truth with myths. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and co. clearly take advantage of the rise of mass communication, which has becomes a tool of expression as well as propaganda for the resourceful. In the documentary, court appointed priest at the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi Temple Pujari Laldas is interviewed at length. He replies to “What do you think of the VHP’s plan to build a temple?” --
Screenshot of Laldas from Ram Ke Naam
This is a political game played by the VHP. There was never a ban on building temples (during the Mughal times). Besides, according to our tradition, any place where the idols of God are kept, is a temple. That's the Hindu custom. ... And even if they wanted to build a separate temple, why demolish a structure where idols already exist? Those who want to do this are actually more interested in creating tensions in India in order to cash in on the Hindu vote. They don't care about the genocide that will occur, how many will be killed, how much destroyed, or even about what will happen to Hindus in Muslim majority areas. ... Muslim rulers granted land for Hindu temples, like Janki Ghat and parts of Hanuman Garhi were built by Muslims.

Just like what Laldas has observed, in previous riots, there were many Hindu politicians that stress differences and cut cleavages between the two communities to gain votes. Sadhus would defend and legitimize politicians with their spiritual currency and profit from political allies. Steven Wilkinson has shown that riots and deaths tend to "cluster in the months before elections, and then drop off sharply in the months after an election is held.” The Gujarat elections were scheduled in 2003 and the BJP just lost two cities' municipal elections in 200. While the documentaries did not depict the riots in 2002, previous incidents had similar context. Like the kar sevaks interviewed in The Men in the Tree, Naredra Modi is also a former RSS cadre member. Jaffrelot shows that then Gujarat chief minister Modi orchestrated a retaliation to the Godhra train incident in 2002 and even ordered police officers not to contain the consequent Hindu backlash. Yet Modi refused to acknowledge his role in inciting riots by making the dead nationalists a spectacle on TV and argued that the Hindu backlashes were spontaneous. (The VHP even published a manual to teach its activists to make planned riots appear as spontaneous acts of violence.) Several anonymous civil servants leaked to human rights investigators that Gujarat ministers directed the advance of the assailants from the “city police control room” of Ahmedabad. (p5) During the backlash, local BJP and VHP leaders also were out in the streets alongside the attackers and suffered no consequence afterwards.
In contrast to his actions that effectively absolved responsibility of Hindu rioters, Modi stated that the train attack was a pre-planned act of terrorism, even though evidence showed otherwise: the train only stopped after repeated harassment of the Hindu nationalists. Jaffrelot points to another political strategy: the thorough diffusion of Hindutva in reaction to a fear of Jihad. Jaffrelot shows that the Indian state has encouraged and indulged the use of labeling (Muslim) reactions to Hindu violence as "terrorism." The deployment of anti-terrorism discourse is distinct from the "communal" character of riots in the 1990s.
Not only was the BJP campaign rife with anti-Muslim references, but it was also based on an obvious equation between Islam and terrorism. One of the BJP's television commercials began with the sound of a train pulling into a station, followed by the clamor of riots and women's screams before the ringing of temple bells was covered by the din of automatic rifle fire. After which, Modi's reassuring countenance appeared, hinting to voters that only he could protect Gujarat from such violence. The BJP Election Manifesto pledged to train Gujarat youth, particularly those living on the Pakistani border, in anti-terrorist tactics. Self defense militias would beset up in border towns where large numbers of retired servicemen would be brought in. Special gun permits would be issued to the lifeblood of a nation under siege.

Yet even if the parties and organizations like BJP, VHP and RSS instigated and organized many of these riots, this fact does not exonerate the "ordinary Hindus" nor does it explain Hindutva's hegemony at this time. In Mass Movement or Elite Conspiracy? The Puzzle of Hindu Nationalism, Basu argues that "ordinary men and women were informed by their antipathy toward the state," previously mostly represented by the Congress Party. (p56) Indeed, as one of the leaders in Congress Party, Rajiv Gandhi undermined secularism when he supported very conservative Muslims in a decision denying alimony to a divorced Muslim woman, Shah Bano. Rajiv Gandhi pandered to a clerical elite and Muslim orthodoxy rather than a more feminist and secularist decision. This political mistake was exploited by the Hindu right and termed this as “pseudo-secularism” and favored minorities The BJP only addressed sections previously neglected by Indian politicians and could not be reduced to a simple allegiance to Hinduism. Basu argues that "the middle classes may support the BJP because they favor a stronger, more authoritarian state with more ambitious foreign policy objectives, whereas slum dwellers may support the BJP because it promises to legalize their dwellings." I was shocked when I got to know a Gottingen student who is an Indian Muslim BJP supporter for Modi's pro-development stance, but now I am understanding his alliance since he is from a middle class.
In the end, defending a group identity seems to be a great response to crisis, even though I would prefer to mourn and heal. Yet a violence response can also serve as an answer to many contradictions and uncomfortable questions---The Pakistani government indulged in calls for hanging the culprits of the Peshawar military school attack (Sharif lifted the ban on death sentences for acts of terrorism), while the Jordanian one executed the female bomber prisoner in response to the tragic death of the Jordanian pilot under ISIS.