Indian Home Minister Amit Shah has made it clear that the government will not take back a controversial citizenship amendment law despite hundreds of protests involving huge crowds from different communities across India over the last two months.
In view of the International Monetary Fund’s forecast on India’s economic growth, saying it may stay under 5 percent for the current year, or dwindling tax collections, the "cover up" logic does look fathomable at first glance. But feedback from the provinces suggests the community protests have perhaps given birth to a "Religious War".
On 12 January, thousands of rallies occurred across the country in support of a citizenship law, also known as the CAA. One such rally was unprecedented in terms of significance for being held in the Maoist district of Giridih in the state of Jharkhand.
“It was the biggest rally in the last 30 years. People from all castes including Yadav came under the saffron flag (a symbol of Hinduism)", Social Activist Ajit Kumar Rai from a remote block of Jamua told Sputnik.
The saffron flag represents Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a cultural and nationalist organisation that is also the ideological parental of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP. Its ideology suggests Bharat (India) belongs to Hindus and it exists acording to the theory of "Vasudev Kutumbkamb" (the world is one family).
Giridih is among India’s most backward districts. It doesn’t even have basic facilities like running water or sanitation. People in the region have not pressed successive governments to improve basic amenities in years.
“These are problems we've been facing for years. But Hindus have to think about the future", says Rai, who was joined by his 17-year-old son in the pro-citizenship law rally where slogans like “Desh ke Gaddaron Ko, Goli Maaro Saalo Ko” (the traitors must be shot dead) were chanted.
“They (Muslims) had pelted stones at our gathering in Giridih (a communally sensitive area) to infuse a sense of fear among us. But now, we don’t fear. We will retaliate at any cost", said Bhola Saw, another person from the business community whose son also participated in the rally.
This "retaliation" or "religious war" sentiment hasn’t just gripped the older generation but a vast number of local youngsters as well. Most teenagers in the district’s top school, now flaunt the saffron colour or badges on their vehicles or bags.
Narayan Saw, a prominent leftist ideologue who spent 40 years dedicatedly promoting the ideology in the region, recently joined a Hindu socio-cultural group called Gayatri Pariwar.
Asked the reason for joining a Hindu sociocultural organisation at a time when nationalist organisations are setting the discourse in society and Muslims are largely feeling threatened by new “aggressive” Hindus, Naryana Saw said: “We are spreading peace under Gayatri Pariwar".
One can sense the reason for losing thousands of leftist supporters to the saffron camp in the Santhal region of the tribal state of Jharkhand.
“Across the castes, people love to join saffron but that does not mean they all are supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)", Pranab Verma, a supporter of an anti-BJP group said.
Hindu and Muslim Strategies
Across India, Muslims (201 million) have been trying to consolidate their presence in an alliance with Dalits (untouchables) who constitute over 16 percent of the country’s population of over 1.3 billion.
A massive rally was held against the citizenship law, which allows non-Muslim persecuted immigrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to acquire Indian citizenship. In this rally, Muslims along with Dalits (untouchables) gathered at different places in the country including Jharkhand came out against the BJP in recently held state elections.
“Muslims feel threatened and a fear emerging from a growing saffron camp has intensified in the recent past. Muslims have realised that without the support of a section of Hindus, they cannot stand against aggressive saffron", said Bijoy Chaurasia, a local journalist and social activist from Jharkhand.
Travelling to Jharkhand’s neighbour - Bihar – infamous as the country's most divided state based on the caste system – people began complaining about loudspeakers atop mosques. This was a rare occurrence in a state, that has been governed by so-called "secular" parties (Congress, Janata Dal, etc.) since independence in 1947.
“We do not have problem as of now. But in the next 10-15 years at the rate with which their (Muslims) population is growing, Hindus will not stand against them. It is the right time to teach them a lesson", Ravi Prakash, 24, who recently got a job in the Bihar state government, said. He also mentioned the continuous infiltration from Bangladesh into Bihar and Jharkhand.
The saffron group has been forming at local levels to counter the formidable combination of untouchables and Muslims in the state.
“Babasaheb (co-founder of the Indian Constitution) is respectable among all of us and worshiped by untouchables. Will Muslims be ready to install a statue of Babasaheb at the front of their villages?” one of the saffron camp members asked while requesting anonymity.
Political pundits too have been mentioning the absence of the once well-known political "ritual" of hosting Iftar, the evening meal to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan, by political circles in Delhi.
If the absence of Iftar parties were an early indication of an end to identity politics, the fear of sharing the dais with protesters, especially Muslims, are a sign of major political vacuum created in an era of assertive right-wing Hindu politics.
“Muslims have lost faith in opposition parties. That’s why they do not want to allow them to intervene in the protest", one protester who is in the nucleus of Delhi’s ongoing Shaheen Bagh colony protest said. The colony has turned into a symbol of resolute anti-citizenship law protests in the country.
Even in the hinterland when protesters invited politicians to extend their support in rallies, prominent Congress politicians and others politely refused to come forward.
“During the protest, very rarely, politicians wanted to share the stage with Muslims. Even Muslim leaders from secular parties did not come to the stage with protesters. And this is that feeling of isolation, creating danger for society as a whole", said Chaurasia, a local journalist and social activist from Jharkhand.