The 51st anniversary of the independence of India and the founding of Pakistan was celebrated not only in New Delhi and Islamabad but also in most major cities across North America and elsewhere in the aftermath of the senseless Kargil war. Leaders of both countries used their confrontation at Kargil to arouse jingoism after scheduling its end at the behest of the USA. Both claimed victory. The dead and the displaced became the vehicle for generating rivalry in patriotism and the people of Kashmir watched their fate being debated without their participation. It is nonetheless heartening that voices of sanity both here and in the subcontinent organized protests, helped the innocent victims fleeing from the war zone and opposed the call by RSS (Rashtria Swayamsevak Sangh) mouthpiece "Organiser" to use nuclear weapons and by Pakistani charlatans to fight till the finish.
The elections to be held soon in India will most likely reinstall the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government with an increased majority. Alternatively Sonia Gandhi's Congress Party may come to power if many of the smaller regional parties find her more acceptable and more generous than the BJP. A section of political analysts hope that the Congress Party government will restore secularism in India and solve the current crisis in Indian polity. But will it? The current BBJP-led government at the center is a culmination of communal sectarian politics, which has prevailed since the independence and in particular since Indira Gandhi and then Rajiv Gandhi appealed to Hindu ethos to restore their grip on Indian politics lost during the 1975-1977 "Emergency" period.
While the Congress Party as the party of governance with or without Sonia Gandhi as the Prime Minister, will be somewhat of a set back for BJP, it in no way weakens the hold of the Hindutva forces over all facets of Indian society. RSS, which controls BJP and all other forces of fanaticism including Vishwa Hindu Parishaad (VHP) and Bal Thakrey's Shiva Sen, has over the years masterfully permeated all levels of civil society. It has succeeded in winning over a large section of the Indian working class into its trade unions. Its Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh is the fastest growing trade union and has surged ahead of the combined strength of the trade unions led by all the Communist parties. The women's organization of the Sangh Parivar is effectively undoing all the work done by progressive women's organizations and is reinforcing the role of women as ideal Hindu housewives. They have organizations among the army, youth, students, tribal people and on and on. In addition to administrative control over a large number of schools in the Hindi-speaking belt, Sangh Parivar has altered school textbooks to suit their interpretation of history and culture. Religious fundamentalism has emerged as a world-wide phenomenon and has thus provided a backdrop for specific expressions of distinct forms of religious revivalism. The traditional theory of "respect for all religions", has transformed itself into "respect for all forms of religion-based identity" blurrring the difference between traditional religious practices and fundamentalism. It is not thus surprising that the large affluent middle class of India now identifies with the BJP government.
The Indian Diaspora in North America and elsewhere with intimate ties with the this section in India has been playing a very active role in the strengthening of Hindutva, politically and financially. Branches of VHP and RSS exist in several major centers in the US, Canada, Britain, Europe, Africa, Caribbean and elsewhere. They have cleverly devised and misconstrued the question of identity to harness the new generation among the Indian Diaspora as a vehicle of support for all that is repugnant and against all that is modern and progressive.
The cultural revivalism is on the rampage. It comprises of caste hierarchy, promises Hindu ethos as the single dominant civil code of India, demands subjugation from its religious minorities, thrives on hostility towards Pakistan and denies the cultural and linguistic diversity of India. The one single act of demolition of Babari Mosque has converted many of the traditional rituals into acts of assertion of Hindu identity and has isolated the large Muslim minority.
Under these conditions merely keeping BJP out of power at the Center does little to alter the situation in India. Changes in cultural attitude take a very long time to undo if such is the need. We have not even succeeded in undoing the British colonial vulgarization of Indian history.
What India needs is the emergence of an alternate political force, a truly democratic and secular political formation. This potential very much exists in India in the form of numerous left parties, single-task-oriented groups and individuals. Less is lost by letting BJP remain in power while preparing to defeat it at all levels of the civil society than in taking the expedient road to keep BJP out of power under the leadership of the Congress party and letting Hindutva forces remain entrenched in civil life. To expect the Indian National Congress to cater to secularism, human rights, democracy and peace is at best a wishful thinking.
Indian political scene is bound to polarize us. In the current situation, progressive democratic Indians living outside India are doing their utmost to lend support to forces of secularism, democracy, peace and human rights. However, we are not as effective as we should be partly because we have not been able to develop some common forum to raise our voices. Let us strive towards becoming a force in support of the progressive democratic movement in the subcontinent.
The situation in Pakistan is equally dismal. The dominant role of the army in Pakistan politics, the continued influence of feudal lords in Sindh, North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere, isolation of Muhajirs from the mainstream politics, debt and financial crisis especially because of the nuclear race with India and above all its continued reliance on religion as the uniting force have forced the government to more and more rely on fundamentalist elements. This not only aggravates the internal crisis but also become a hindrance in normalizing relations with India. The Taliban movement grew from Pakistan with the aid of the USA and Britain. Talibans have done immense harm to the people of Afghanistan especially the women. They exert significant influence in Pakistan. Only a vigorous mass movement can prevent the takeover of Pakistan by Talibans. Although this awareness exists among many Pakistanis living abroad, complacency has the upper hand.