How serious is the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India ?

Writing in the journal India Review, Korean scholar Heewon Kim says,

This article reviews the approaches used to understand the BJP-led NDA government’s policies toward religious minorities and argues that far from marking a radical departure, there are more continuities than discontinuities in these policies with previous administrations.

For all kinds of keyboard internet warriors, this conclusion would come as a disappointment. But it is only the boring conclusion to a truly banal argument.

There seems to be an understanding among many that Hindu-Muslim conflict is primordial, immemorial and ultimately irreconcilable. Partition is seen as incontrovertible proof of this view.

I would like to offer another perspective. In my view, taking into context the entire history of the twentieth century, the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India is rather benign, mainly due to the low real stakes in this conflict. I base this view on my readings of Russian, Chinese and Mexican history, especially the scale and intensity of armed conflict seen in inter group rivalries within those countries.

The forces of industrialization and democratization unleashed by England starting from 18th century proved immensely destabilizing to all world civilizations. This period saw extremely volatile political competition between groups harboring competing, irreconcilable visions for the future of various countries. In Russia, China and Mexico, this competition took the form of conservatives (usually capitalists), versus radicals (usually leftists). In the Muslim world, such competition has appeared in the form of secular regimes being pitted against Islamist movements, and increasingly, sectarian conflicts amongst various conservative movements.

The stakes for both sides in these conflicts were extremely high, and no accommodation with the opposing group was sought. This is evident from the sheer scale of warfare seen in these conflicts. The death tolls in each country ran into the multi millions, with decades of devastation.

Italian Trulli

Such high levels of conflict are not seen amongst Hindus and Muslims in India. The real stakes in Hindu-Muslim arguments are simply too low to militarize the conflict. On the table in other world conflicts, were programs of massive wealth transfer via land reform, extreme and eternal concentration of political power and utter suppression of language and religion. In contrast, Hindus and Muslims mostly argue about long dead kings, culinary choices and obscure theological points.

The simple truth is that even the establishment of a Hindu state will not alter the ground realities for India’s Muslims. Nepal was a Hindu monarchy for many decades, and its 5% Muslim population showed no interest in challenging the regime. Interestingly, the eventual overthrow of Nepal’s Hindu monarchy was carried out by a leftist movement (comprised of Hindus) in a civil war, much like the pattern seen in Russia, China and Mexico.

In many ways, India’s immense diversity and the sheer scale of its minority population, has restricted conflict to elite sparring rather than total war, which has very much been the norm across the world. But it has also prevented a genuine confrontation between the masses and the elites, the often mentioned lack of a revolution in Indian society. For a left vs right conflict in India, Hindu would need to fight Hindu. But the very presence of the Muslim seems to have softened any edge in this conflict.

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14 Replies to “How serious is the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India ?”

  1. ” Interestingly, the eventual overthrow of Nepal’s Hindu monarchy was carried out by a leftist movement (comprised of Hindus) ”

    I am not sure from where you coming from , but neither in India, nor in Nepal , Maoist are considered as “Hindus” or even Muslims or Christians for that matter. They dont consider themselves as hindus , muslims etc. Its like saying Maoist in Chattisgarh are “Hindus” or the LTTE was a “Hindu” organization, because they comprise of people who just happened to born Hindus/Muslim etc.

    Its like saying leader of the CPI(M) in India like Yechury, Pinarayi Vijayan are Hindus, because pretty sure they don’t identify as such

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    1. Saurav, such arguments hold for leftists and communists all around the world. For example, in Mexico, the leftists literally massacred Catholics (they would quite literally mow down people going to mass enmasse). It doesnt mean that I am saying that Mexican leftists were “Catholic” organizations, I am merely differentiating from the Hindu vs Muslim conflict.

      I would actually say that Indian leftists are actually far more “Hindu” than their co-idealogues around the world wide. Its just that we havent experienced such intense revolutions, so our thresholds and expectations are different.

      Interestingly, the analog of Hindu-Muslim in Mexico was Catholic-Protestant. The term for Protestant in Mexican Spanish literally meant unbeliever, but the Protestant numbers were far too small for a Hindu-Muslim type dynamic to play out there.

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      1. “Saurav, such arguments hold for leftists and communists all around the world. ”

        Yeah so we should hold them to their own definition. They dont’ consider themselves as hindus, why should we? The tamil wars were not Buddhist vs Hindus, just like the violence in Kerala b/w RSS and Left is not Hindu vs Hindu (just like it wasn;t in Nepal)

        “I would actually say that Indian leftists are actually far more “Hindu” than their co-idealogues around the world wide. ”

        LOL, that means you havent met some real Indian leftists. Meet the S-India, Bengali leftist not some N-Indian variant of Congress-lite Leftists.

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        1. Communists also decry caste. Why are so many of them from ‘upper’ castes ?

          The actions of individuals are influenced by a logic beyond that recognised by their conscious self. Their caste, class, family origins explains much.

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    2. Saurav,
      Its like saying the LTTE was a “Hindu” organization

      To give the devil its due, there wasnt any “Hindu” in the LTTE. They were ethno nationalist without any religious overtones.

      Cant say that about the Sri Lankan govt though. For sure, the Sinhala Buddhist, the land chosen by Buddha. However, that did not extend to being anti Hindu.

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      1. sbarrkum, what do you think would have happened had the LTTE actually emphasized more religious overtones ?

        One view could be that it would have decreased support from Tamil nationalist organizations in India, but garnered wider support across India. But I doubt this since I think there is a strong racial overtone to the Hindu identity in NW India (which has had an oversize influence in foreign policy matters), and the people from those regions dont really empathize strongly with folks of darker skin tones, no matter religion.

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        1. “One view could be that it would have decreased support from Tamil nationalist organizations in India, but garnered wider support across India. ”

          LOL. Look at how quickly the Sabrimala agitation petered down, and compare it with the whole Ram temple movement which still goes on and on. So yeah no support as such.

          The dravidian movement has more and less separated the “Hindu-ism” of South and North. (for better or for worse).

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          1. “The dravidian movement has more and less separated the “Hindu-ism” of South and North. (for better or for worse).”

            I honestly dont see much evidence of this. Its just that North Indians tend to see ethnic/caste based properties in the North for what they are, ethnic and caste political movements, whereas the same in the South are seen as ‘non-national’ parties.

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        2. Vikram

          sbarrkum, what do you think would have happened had the LTTE actually emphasized more religious overtones ?

          I think they did market themselves as appropriate to whoever was going to help them.
          eg. We are part of greater India (and possibly Hindu) to the Indian govt.
          We are Tamils to Tamil Nadu.

          However, at core they were secular Ethno Nationalists and were not going to bow or be part of any one. Basically send your money/weapons give us safe places and we agree to kow tow to Greater India/Tamil Nadu. However, we dont want you telling us what to do or trying to come over and lord it over us.

          That ideology became quite clear with what happened to the IPKF and Rajiv Gandhi.

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  2. 100% in agreement with Heewon Kim. He has put in words what I have always known. Compared to other nations on this earth, India really had an “easy” history.

    Russia in particular had a horrendous twentieth century. Multiple, back-to-back earth shattering calamities befell it in quick succession. Civil war in the wake of communist revolution, two world wars and Stalin happened to it, all within the just the first half of twentieth century. Each of these disasters killed population in millions. In fact Stalin used to boast brazenly that after he is done and gone, there will be less number of Russians, but they will be better Russians. Not sure about the better part, but certainly there were less numbers of Russians on this earth by the time he was done.

    Russian casualties in second world war outstripped those of other nations by an order of magnitude. Even the single battle of Stalingrad probably cost hundred times more lives than the modern Indian republic has lost in all of its wars.

    Indians should really understand and appreciate the scale of events they are talking about.

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    1. Yes, in the mid-nineteenth century Tocqueville had identified the Russian and American people as the main influencers on the human race in the time to come. Amazingly, the Russians did exert substantial influence despite the staggering levels of violence and disorder they had to face.

      Indians, by and large, are quite ignorant about world history. I wonder if this is just down to some weird inherited Anglo arrogance, or something deeper in our religious and social philosophies.

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  3. BJP is more bark than bite . UNC, article 370 and a host of national projects they have carried out zilch even though they have been in power with substantial parliamentary majority. That has not prevented left-wing certifying them as dyed in the wool Nazis and Fascist.

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    1. The hyperbole has become annoying, and it is worrying that this has taken the focus off the serious ecological damage done by this government in the name of accelerating economic growth.

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  4. Yeah, BJP is all bark and no bite. I’m tired of seeing ostensibly intelligent Lefties getting hysterical about how the BJP is going to establish an autocratic “Hindu Fascist” state and Rwanda all the Muslims. It is fatuous and has no basis in reality.

    Well, these guys also said Bush was a fascist, I guess. Just gotta ignore them, keep calm, and vote BJP (to annoy them hahaha.)

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