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Dreams of a Hindu nation leave minorities sleepless

#Dreams #Hindu #nation #leave #minorities #sleepless

The Hindu priest on the banks of the sacred Ganges river spoke softly but had a threatening message 75 years after the birth of independent India: his religion must be at the heart of Indian identity.

“We have to change with the times,” said Jairam Mishra. “Now we must cut off every hand that rises up against Hinduism.”

Hindus make up the overwhelming majority of India’s 1.4 billion people, but when Mahatma Gandhi secured its independence from Britain in 1947, it was a secular, multicultural state.

Now, demands from the right to declare the country a Hindu nation and enshrine Hindu supremacy in law are growing louder, making the some 210 million Muslims increasingly concerned about their future.

These demands are at the core of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, and his government has backed measures and projects across the country – including a grand new temple corridor in the holy city of Varanasi – that reinforce and symbolize this trend.

Gandhi was a devout Hindu but insisted that in India “every man enjoys equal status regardless of his religion”.

“The state must be completely secular,” he said.

He was assassinated less than a year after the independence and partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 by a Hindu fanatic who felt he was too tolerant of Muslims.

And Mishra believes that Gandhi’s ideals are now outdated.

“If someone slaps you on one cheek,” he told AFP, “Gandhi said we have to offer the other. Hindus are generally peaceful and calm compared to other religions.

“They hesitate to even kill a mosquito, but other communities take advantage of that mindset and will continue to dominate us unless we change.”

– Temples and Statues –

For many, that shift is already underway, accentuated by the rhetoric of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and symbolized by the large-scale Hinduism-related projects with which it has enthralled its sectarian base during their eight years in power.

A major temple is under construction in the holy Hindu city of Ayodhya, where Hindu zealots demolished a Mughal-era mosque three decades ago, sparking widespread sectarian violence that has killed more than 1,000 people nationwide and been a catalyst for the breathtaking rise of the right Politics.

The BJP has supported a 210-meter-tall, $300 million statue off the coast of Mumbai of the Hindu warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji, who successfully challenged the Islamic Mughal Empire.

And nine months ago, with much fanfare, Modi opened a grand corridor of temples in his constituency of Varanasi while taking a dip in the Ganges on TV.

He’s represented the city since 2014, when he won his first landslide victory in the national election, and his achievements in transforming its once creaky amenities are recognized even by his critics.

“Infrastructure development, roads, riverfront projects and cleanliness – everything is better,” said Syed Feroz Hussain, 44.

But the Muslim hospital worker said he was “really worried” about his children’s future.

“Unlike in the past, there is also too much violence and killing because of religion and a constant sense of tension and hatred” between communities, he said.

– Central Narrative –

Located in Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state, with more residents than Brazil – Varanasi is at the forefront of the BJP’s “Hindutva” agenda.

It renamed nearby Allahabad back to Prayagraj, 450 years after Mughal Emperor Akbar changed the city’s name.

Authorities have carried out indiscriminate demolitions of the homes of those accused of crimes – most of them Muslims – in what activists say is an unconstitutional attempt to quash dissent from minorities.

In Karnataka – which has seen a spate of attacks on Christians over the past year – the BJP has backed a ban on hijabs in schools, sparking Muslim street protests.

Encouraged Hindu groups have laid claims to Muslim sites they say were built on top of temples during Islamic rule – including a centuries-old mosque alongside the great Varanasi corridor opened by Modi – stoking fears of a new Ayodhya .

A new wave of anti-Muslim riots was sparked in 2002 after a train carrying 59 Hindu pilgrims from the site was set on fire and at least 1,000 people in Gujarat were hacked, shot and burned. Modi was the state’s premier at the time and was accused of not doing enough to stop the killing.

But Professor Harsh V. Pant of King’s College London said the rise of the BJP was made possible by Gandhi’s own Congress party, which had ruled the country for decades.

While preaching secularism, he has encouraged extremist elements in both major religions for electoral purposes, he said.

But the BJP capitalized on Hindu sentiment after mobs destroyed the Ayodhya Mosque in 1992 and is now “central to Indian politics,” Pant said.

“Everyone buys their narrative, responds to it, and feels like nobody else has any ideas,” he said.

“They’re here for the next two to three decades.”

– ‘Growing Schism’-

This shift is a boon to those who want India declared a Hindu nation, like the right-wing organization Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

“We are a Hindu nation because India’s identity is Hindu,” its leader Surendra Jain told AFP.

The “double face of secularism” has “become a curse and a threat to India’s very existence”.

“It doesn’t mean everyone else has to go,” he added. “You can live peacefully, but the character and ethos of India will always be Hindu.”

As prime minister, Modi has largely avoided the divisive rhetoric he used during his tenure in Gujarat, but critics say he often ignores inflammatory comments from figures in his own party.

And his actions, they say, enable calls for a Hindu nation without explicitly endorsing it.

This worries Muslims. Nasir Jamal Khan, 52, a caretaker at a mosque in Varanasi, said there was a “sense of growing division” even though “our ancestors were born here”.

Hoping for a day when India’s elected leaders stop talking about religion, he told AFP: “I see the PM as a father in the family. It is not for a father to treat his children differently.”

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#Dreams #Hindu #nation #leave #minorities #sleepless

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