The India – Pakistan Conflict And An Alternative To Gandhi by Kaisa Stucke of Confluence Investment Management
Shortly after being elected into office last year, the new Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, visited a memorial for Veer Savarkar, an Indian independence fighter, praising his lifetime of “tireless efforts toward the regeneration of our motherland.” On its surface the move seems to be nothing out of the ordinary; however, the historical context of Savarkar as the father of the Hindu nationalist radicalism movement makes it somewhat controversial and a worry for the country’s religious minorities. Savarkar was a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi, although the two men took radically different views on fighting for Indian independence. As is well known, Gandhi supported the peaceful non-compliance movement, and his ideology welcomed all the religions of India. History is written by the victors thus Savarkar and his take on the struggle for independence have not received widespread attention. Savarkar argued for a more aggressive fight against the British and had strong views that India should be 100% Hindu. The Hindu radicalism movement is more significant than is generally recognized and is currently enjoying a revival.
Prime Minister Modi has been in power for a year now. Although he represents the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is considered to be the Hindu nationalist party, he was elected on the promise of economic reform, including infrastructure spending and labor laws. It is too early to judge his economic effectiveness on a national scale, but he has a successful track record as the former head of the Gujarat region. He is well-liked by voters, but he makes minorities very nervous as evidenced by the large-scale, religion-based riots that took place under his leadership in the Gujarat region. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with the riots, and even received the support of some minority leaders during his campaign for his economic liberalization aptitude. It does not help that some members of his party incite minority discrimination. So far, Modi has been conspicuously silent in response to the inflammatory rhetoric from his party, which leaves observers wondering if he, in fact, agrees with it or is too weak of a leader to confront it.
There is no denying that Indian politics have been chiefly molded based on Gandhi’s peaceful non-compliance movement, which emphasizes equal acceptance of all religions within India. It was a goal of the founders of the modern state of India to form a multi-religious constitution. However, we could see a return to more Hindu-centric policies under the current trends. This week, we will look at the resurgence of the Hindu nationalist movement. We will start by briefly describing the political history of independent India, looking at Gandhi and Savarkar’s conflicting ideals. Next, we will look at contemporary politics and explore the Hindu movement and its likely forms under Modi’s rule. As always, we will conclude with market ramifications, both within India and for international markets, in general.
The British Rule
The British Empire ruled India for 150 years before it gained its independence in 1947. The British used a “divide and conquer” method to play different power centers against each other. The British gave power to different religious groups and castes such that they would always need outside help to stay in control. After independence, the region was partitioned into India and Pakistan. Ever since, the two countries have been in near-constant conflict over religion as India is majority Hindu, while Pakistan is majority Muslim. The two countries have also fought over Kashmir, a region that both claim as their own.
India is majority Hindu, slightly less than 80% according to the most recent census. Although this number is high, it has fallen as the chart below shows. Islam represents the second largest group at almost 15%, and its proportion has grown rapidly. Christianity is a third religious group at less than 3%. Sikhism, a monotheistic religion mostly practiced in the northern regions, follows closely behind Christianity. We note that Sikhism has not received criticism from Hindu nationalists and the group is well integrated and respected within society as it is also indigenous to the country. Two prior PMs have been Sikhs. All other groups represent less than 1.0% of the population.
The radical Hindu nationalist movement’s main goal is to return India to a land of Hindus, reducing the proportion of supporters of other religions. The argument goes that, historically, the only religion native to the Hindus Valley was Hindu. Other religions were all introduced through outside influences, and natives were converted either by sword or enticements. For example, Mughal invasions introduced Islam and the Hindu population was converted by threat. On the other hand, Christian conversions occurred by inducements, with missionaries offering schooling and other benefits to converts. As a side note, Mother Theresa, who worked with the Indian poor, would be included in this group of Christians attempting conversion of Hindus with incentives. A widely held belief by Hindu radicals is that Muslims and Christians are foreigners whose goal is to make Hindus a minority in their own country. Some radical groups have suggested that Hindu women should have at least a handful of kids in order to keep up with the Muslim birthrate. Another idea that has received attention is that of “Love Jihad,” in which Muslim men marry young Hindu women by feigning love in order to convert them to Islam. At the same time, reports have surfaced over recent years of Hindu radical groups staging “homecoming” parties in poorer rural areas, whereby they convert Muslims and Christians back to Hinduism. All these reports are part of politics of fear to gain wider support for the group’s cause. In an age-old political stunt, the radicals on both sides can point to examples of extreme behavior on the other side to re-energize the party’s majority. For example, the Hindu radicals can point to “Love Jihad” to gain support for their fight against minorities in general.
Aggression between religious groups has become more frequent and more severe over the past decade, and usually occurs between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority. As mentioned before, Modi’s political career has been shadowed by accusations of allowing Muslim-Hindu violence to persist. In February 2002, a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire in Modi’s state of Gujarat. This incident was seen as an attack on Hindus and sparked anti-Muslim riots across the region. Some analysts have indicated that a high level of state involvement was suspected in the incident. Modi was cleared of initiating the violence, while other members of the administration were accused of giving the rioters lists of Muslim-owned properties. One member of the BJP associated with Modi was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
This violence clashes with the view of a harmonious, multi-religion India envisioned by Gandhi.
“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
Gandhi, widely considered the “father of India’s independence,” championed inclusive and tolerant policies for all religions. He was born into a privileged-caste Hindu family, with thoughts of becoming a lawyer. He studied in India