Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2015-12-22 10:17:56 Published on Dec 22, 2015
The biggest danger India faces is from within

India has known wars and a lot of turmoil in the past, as well as serious challenges by separatist forces to the unity and integrity of the country. But in 2015, few will doubt that the nation created in the trying days of 1947 is  here to stay, and if those who lead us can get their act together, we are destined for better days.

Bluntly put, with a million plus army, a powerful navy and air force and nuclear weapons, the chances of any combination of external enemies overwhelming us is next to zero. Unfortunately, when it comes to securing ourselves from within, the story is quite different.

Nuclear weapons or no nuclear weapons, the country continues to be buffeted by contrary storms — separatist movements, ethno-linguistic quarrels, caste clashes, communal and revolutionary violence. In the past year, as its heartland is racked by an uptick of communal violence, India’s internal unity seems more fragile. Minor incidents, some clearly staged for the purpose, have triggered riot and murder, reopening old wounds.

At any given moment some part of India, or the other, faces a siege within.

Not for nothing did Prime Minister Modi’s friend, US President Barack Obama issue an unprecedented warning during his January 2015 visit that “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith.”


Whoever has managed to establish his sway over this vast and ethnically and religiously diverse country, they have had their hands full in just keeping control of it. The British were the exception proving the rule. They politically united this continental sized country, and after 1857, effectively disarmed it. Their bonus was that they could use Indian troops to further imperial policy abroad and defend the empire in the two world wars.

With the British gone and the country divided, the old ethnic, linguistic and religious fissures remerged. The external challenges have been minor, leading to some short wars, that have been more akin to border skirmishes. By contrast, since the 1950s, India’s military and police forces have been repeatedly called on to fight long campaigns against separatist insurgents in the North-east, Punjab and Kashmir, and  central India.

The North-eastern insurgencies have never been more than an irritant for New Delhi, what really shook India was the Punjab uprising in the 1980s, followed by Jammu & Kashmir in 1990. Not surprisingly, our external adversaries, Pakistan and China sought to widen the fissures wherever they could.

Using the Kautilyan instrumentalities of  Saam, Daam, Dand, Bhed (persuade-buy- punish and divide)  India has largely prevailed. Often, it has not hesitated to use the policy of blood and iron, ignoring judicial due process. But its real success has been in its commitment, by and large, to the agreement it made with the diverse people of this country in a document called the Constitution of India. In this it not only promised  all Indians equal rights, but also, importantly, committed itself to provide cultural space to the minorities to live and worship as they please, maintain their own marital and dietary traditions.

Communalism and Terrorism

India has been racked by religious violence for millennia because it has been the land of many religions and sects. Following independence, with large Muslim majority areas hived away, things settled down, but beginning with the Jabalpur riot of 1961, communal violence has recurred time and again in the country.

The causes are many -- the friction of communities living cheek by jowl giving rise to incidents during overlapping religious festivals, love affairs and petty quarrels, more insidiously, the  political mobilization. Unfortunately, there are, more often than not,  deliberate efforts to provoke and incite— the flesh of a cow or pig being thrown at a religious place,  copies of the Quran/Granth Sahib burnt, rumours of sexual violence—which almost never fail to provoke despite their obvious intent.

Events like the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the Godhra train burnings of kar sevaks and the consequent massacre of Muslims in Gujarat have played into those who have sought to use the instrumentality of terror—the deliberate targeting of non-combatants for political effect. Many of these are the handiwork of Pakistani jihadi groups working in tandem with its intelligence agency the ISI.

Bomb blasts are nihilist acts that do not differentiate between Muslim and Hindu, or Indians and foreigners. Their aim is to weaken the country, while paradoxically, they have probably strengthened it.

Indian Muslims have been involved in other acts of terrorism such as the Bombay blasts of 1993, the train bombings of 2006 and the 2008 Delhi and Ahmedabad bombings. In most  instances, the ISI played a role as a director or facilitator. Even so, the participation of Indian Muslims in terror attacks in India is microscopic.

A back of the envelope count will show that the total of Indian Muslims involved in terrorist acts and conspiracies would not exceed 200 in the last three decades. India has ensured that its 170 million Indian Muslims have resisted the blandishments of violent religious extremism which has gripped and overcome many Muslim communities elsewhere across the globe.

The Kashmir and Punjab militancies belong to separate categories. But the Kashmir militancy was sullied by the killings of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 and massacres of the Hindu community, mainly by Pakistani terrorists. However, since 2006, terror strikes on minorities have receded and current pattern of attacks seek out military or police targets. In Punjab Sikh terrorists sought to identify and kill Hindus in buses, trains and the like. Separatist movements in the northeast have by-and-large sought to fight the state or its instrumentalities.

 The danger today

In 2015 it is clear that no separatist force, no matter how determined, can break the Indian Union. However, this does not mean that the Union is proof against all threats.

Though there have been no major terror attacks since 2008, but the danger of strikes, aided and assisted by Islamabad, has not gone away. The infrastructure -- in the form of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Indian Mujahideen leaders, Amir Reza Khan and Riyaz Bhatkal, Dawood Ibrahim, and some Sikh terrorist leaders — remains intact in Pakistan.

Violent Islamist radicalism remains a threat notwithstanding its negligible presence today. Movements like the Daesh pose threats whose course cannot be predicted.  Countering them requires a continued deft handling of the Indian Muslims, who have long turned their backs on radicals.

However, this is easier said than done, given the rise of  Hindutva militancy through radicals like the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Shiv Sena and  smaller groups like the Hindu Sena and the Abhinav Bharat. Their heightened activities have come in the wake of the political success of  the Bharatiya Janata Party and is, more often than not, focussed on demonizing the Muslim community.

The rising tempo of  mob-violence targeting the Muslims in the name of Hindu religious sentiment is  truly the road to perdition. If the Hindutva agenda is successful, it would mean the further isolation and backwardness of the Muslims,  which will make them vulnerable to Islamist propaganda. So far what has kept the Indian Muslims from being swayed by Islamist propaganda is that they are united in  their secular aspirations with other Indians, and support of the Indian constitutional compact.

Hindutva advocates want to end this and want to push Muslims and other minorities to a second class status by imposing disabilities on their dietary preferences, social practices and their right to live where they choose. No community will accept a second class status and, if pushed to the wall, it will fight back. Given the numerical and geographical spread of the minorities, this time around there will be no partition, but a rending of the entire social and political fabric of the country.

The future: anarchy or order?

With India becoming the most populous nation in the world, there will be opportunities, as well as great hazards. A large proportion of working age people up to 2050 is our historic opportunity, provided we can make our young better educated and productive. A failure to reform our rotten education system resulting in unemployed -- and unemployable -- young persons, or leaving entire communities and groups behind, could give a fillip to the Maoists and radicals of all kinds, Hindus and Muslims.

As it is, the transformation process of an overwhelmingly agrarian nation to an urban, industrial power is loaded with stress. Historically, such a process leads to dislocation and disorientation of communities everywhere in the world. Yesterday’s winners could become < data-term="goog_2077637908">tomorrow’s losers, and  women, Dalits, Muslims and tribals could find it hard to keep up with the others, because they are already much further behind. Anger and frustration could lead the losers to violence.  Given the many existing fissures of India, it is all too easy for politicians—and external adversaries-- to stir up the troubled waters.

Importantly, by 2050, India will also be the country populated by the largest numbers of Muslims in the world. According to Riaz Hassan of the University of South Australia, the population of Hindus will rise 36 per cent, from 1.03 billion in 2010 to 1.38 billion in 2050, but that of Muslims will rise 76 per cent from 176 million to 310 million.  So while Hindus would remain a majority at 77 per cent of the population, the proportion of Muslims would go up from 14 per cent to 18 per cent in 2050.

Clearly, the biggest danger that India confronts today are movements seeking to demean and humiliate minorities and making them feel as though they are not quite “Indian”. In practical terms, the project of marginalizing Muslims is  unworkable, after all you cannot sweep hundreds of millions of people away, or compel them to do “ghar wapisi”.

But we should not underestimate the virulence of movements of the Hindu majority that arise from the failure of the system to provide education and jobs. It is all too easy to turn  their resentment towards minorities, or Dalits and backward classes who benefit from reservations.

The nation’s unity

There is a certain vanity that India was always a nation state and will endure as such. That’s simply not true, and it discounts the enormous efforts made by a succession of leaders who fought for our independence and helped shape and preserve the country that came to being in 1947. As in Europe, there has been a certain civilizational area—call it Indian or Indo-Islamic--  but that did not necessarily have to yield a single nation, and it did not, because today there are already three states in what was British India.

An alternate vision of what we may have been comes from the plan that the British government approved in May 1947 envisaged the transfer of power to individual British provinces and partitioning Bengal and Punjab. The 560-odd Princely States could join any of these units and eventually, they could work out a way of reconstituting themselves as a single, or five or ten Indias.

As is well known Nehru blew his top when he was shown this plan on the eve of its announcement and compelled Lord Mountbatten to revert to the older Partition proposal that led to the creation of an India and Pakistan on August 14/15 1947.

India is a young nation, just 67 years old. It has taken hard work to keep maintain its physical and conceptual integrity. The battle has not quite been won. Challenges remain in the North-east, Jammu & Kashmir, and the jungles of Chhattisgarh, and newer ones are emerging.

It is fashionable today to diss the Congress party’s leadership in the post independence period. But were it not for Sardar Patel’s leadership of the Union Home Ministry we would not have had the physical India of today. And were it not for Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s  intellectual catholicity, we would not have managed to shape the sense of nationhood that has transcended ethnicity, caste and religion. His gift of secularism was not just an intellectual conceit, but the key ingredient in fabricating  and preserving the modern Indian nation.

(This essay is a modified version of an article that appeared in the 40th anniversary issue of India Today on December 21, 2015)

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

Read More +