The appointment of Yogi Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister should have been the most normal thing in the world. After all, it is the constitutional prerogative of the winning party to choose the state’s figurehead. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 325 seats in the state – and with that, the right to appoint any person they please for the top job.
But Adityanath’s swearing-in has been a cause of concern. Some are calling it the death of India’s secularism. A few others see it as the death knell for Narendra Modi as Hindutva’s poster boy, predicting prime ministership for Adityanath in future. Some suspect the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the hardliner Hindu organisation – has finally found Modi’s successor.
Is Adityanath a Challenger to Modi?
I agree with the view that Adityanath presents a formidable challenge to Modi’s brand. Adityanath is definitely more aggressive and in-your-face about his philosophy compared to the Prime Minister.
While Modi might be circumspect and conciliatory in his approach towards the minorities, Adityanath may not practice any such restraint. Adityanath openly expressed his extremist opinions even before the BJP came to power in 2014 – and has continued with the same acerbic tone even in the UP elections.
Amidst the debate over constitution, secularism, and sectarianism, we seem to have lost sight of the fact that Adityanath’s rise to power is symptomatic of a dangerous trend in contemporary Indian politics. If we don’t take stock of the situation now, we are on our way to becoming another Pakistan.
Religion Reigns Supreme in Pakistan
This might come as a shock to the current generation, but the founding figures of Pakistan were perfectly aware of the dangers inherent in a politics based on religion – and what it could do to a nation. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the man responsible for Pakistan, gave a speech in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August 1947, the import of which is extremely jarring given the state of the nation today. He said:
We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time, the Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.
These sentiments were expressed in a Pakistan that today butchers members from minority Hindu and Christian communities. It’s the same Pakistan where Muslims belonging to the Shia or Ahmadiyya sect are systematically eliminated in terror attacks. Jinnah dreamt of a nation where religion would be personal choice, not a political tool; where Hindus and Muslims would be the same in the eyes of the State.
Today, religion dictates every aspect of life in Pakistan. Political power is inextricably bound with Islamic extremism. In Pakistan, the liberal governor of Punjab was shot dead by his own bodyguard who in turn is celebrated today as a hero by educated lawyers of the court. Jinnah must be turning in his grave at the deplorable state of affairs in his country.
Rise of Radical Islam
After Jinnah’s death, his successor Liaquat Ali Khan carried forward his legacy and advocated a secular Pakistan. He, too, made the same arguments about keeping religion and politics separate. After his death however, there was nothing that could keep the two apart. In 1953, there was a series of violent riots against the Ahmadiyya population with the aim of outcasting them, but these were soon quelled by the administration.
Anti-Ahmadi leader Syed Maududi was arrested and sentenced to death. For Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan and the then Governor-General Iskander Mirza, Islam was not just a religion, but was tied to their essential notions of identity. Maududi held that Pakistan could progress only if it followed Sharia law.
Maududi, in fact, was so orthodox in his views that he exhorted everyone not to cast votes for the Muslim League during the peak of its campaign in 1945 because the League embraced secular politics.
Extremism Has Morphed into Terrorism
Since its very inception, there was immense pressure on the Pakistan government to function in consonance with Islamic law. Orthodox forces condemned secular politics and advocated an Islamic state. Iskander Mirza dismissed Prime Minister Nazimuddin and the Chief Minister of Punjab from office precisely because they weren’t tough enough on extremist parties during the 1953 Lahore riots.
It is interesting to note that in the same country where murders are now routinely committed in the name of Islam, a report by Justice Munir in the aftermath of the riots said this:
There is no uniform definition of Islam. The phrase Islamic constitution is meaningless. And it is extremely desirable that religion and the state be kept separate.
Does anyone dare echo these sentiments in Pakistan today? Such an individual will be instantly hung for blasphemy. For a long time now, political figures in Pakistan have appealed to these extremist sentiments – just so that they can win elections – to the extent that extremism has morphed into terrorism.
Foundation of a Terror State
If Pakistan is known as a terror state today, it is precisely because of this reason. The first blow was dealt in 1956 when Pakistan was proclaimed as an Islamic republic in its constitution. General Ayub tried to remove the phrase from the constitution in 1962, but it was speedily reinstated a year later when he was succeeded by Yahya Khan who needed to appease orthodox forces to keep them on his side in the tussle with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Bhutto, who was by all means a modern man, was forced to align himself with the orthodox Islamic forces to stay in power. Bhutto transformed Islam into state religion, declared Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslims, and turned minority communities into second class citizens. After that, there was no going back. Islamic militarisation followed – and the foundation of a terror state was laid.
India’s Secular Credentials
Jinnah would be unable to recognise this Pakistan as the same one he founded all those decades ago. Indian constitution-makers imagined a secular nation and for this reason, kept religion and politics apart. So much so that when President Rajendra Prasad wanted to attend the inauguration ceremony of the Somnath temple, a debate raged about whether the head of state should participate in religious functions of a public nature.
The RSS, however, has always viewed politics through the lens of religion. Their vision of a Hindu nation is comparable to Maududi’s Islamic state. This vision necessarily discriminates against other religions and impinges on the rights of their practitioners.
Pakistan turned into the terror state it is today when it let extremist voices overpower political discourse.
Learning Lessons from Pakistan
Modi won the mandate in 2014 based on his promise of development, not the vision of a ‘Hindu rashtra’. Even now, he only talks explicitly of his development agenda but it is clear that in his reign, Hindutva extremism has flourished and claimed many victims. The reins of politics cannot be handed over to a religious ideologue, which is exactly what Adityanath is.
Anointing him as the chief minister despite his record of bigotry flies in the face of our democracy’s foundational principles. Pakistan is still paying for the mistake it made in 1956. Our actions right now will yield similar results in the years to come. Instead of taking a cue from Pakistan’s trajectory, are we trying to emulate it? This road can only lead to our implosion and is dangerous.
(With Yogi Adityanath’s anointment as UP CM, is India on its way to embracing a radical form of Hindutva, the way Pakistan adopted radical extremism after Jinnah? This is the view, you can read the counter-view by Vinay Sahasrabuddhe here.)
(The writer is an author and spokesperson of AAP. He can be reached at @ashutosh83B. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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