kak at kak at
Tue Jan 19 15:29:16 UTC 1993

Ayodhya: A view from America

by Subhash Kak

In order to understand the dimensions of India's current political
crisis let me begin with a hypothetical question.  Assume that the
Ayodhya dispute has been resolved, will communal peace then return
to India?

The emotional outbursts of P.V. Narasimha Rao after the razing of
the Babri monument and their resonance in India's English press
have shifted the focus away from a cool-headed consideration of
the above question.  The debate in the media has been trivialized
to such a degree that the entire blame for the events has been put
on individuals or parties.  No attempt has been made to understand
the processes at work that have compelled the course of events.

It is my contention that the Ayodhya dispute is just a symptom of
a much deeper problem.  Without understanding the basic processes
the crisis might have, at best, been postponed.  Even if the Ayodhya
dispute is resolved India will go from crisis to crisis unless the
fundamental nature of the Indian system is changed.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism has been widely debated and the
causes will not be recounted here.  On the other hand, there are
three primary reasons for the increased Hindu militancy of the past
few years.  These reasons are related to the breakdown of the Indian
political system and the cynical use of vote-banks by the major

Politics of historical wrongs

The Indian Constitution which came into force in 1950 provided
quotas for certain historically disadvantaged castes and tribes in
the legislatures in proportion to their populations.  These quotas
ran to about 14 percent of the total.  In addition there were job
quotas of about 22 percent.  The quotas were to have been in force
for a period of 10 years only but the Constitution has been amended
for these to remain a part of the law.

Electoral considerations soon led to an enlargement of the quotas
to cover increasing groups of people.  Lacking a larger moral and
political vision, the politicians have used the quotas to divide
the population.  In certain states the quotas are as large as 70
percent of all the jobs.

For example the leftist Janata party, has developed its entire
political agenda on quotas based on caste divisions.  V.P. Singh,
who was prime minister during 1989-90 used the recommendations of
a certain Mandal Commission to announce reservations for more than
70 percent of all jobs.  This triggered a wave of suicides by the
youth that finally brought down his government.  Nevertheless in
the campaign that followed leading politicians like Rajiv Gandhi
and V.P. Singh spoke of their support for further quotas, some even
based on religion.

Most recently the P.V. Narasimha Rao Government has passed a bill
that would reserve close to 60 percent of all jobs based on different
criteria related to circumstances of birth rather than fitness to
perform the job.  In other words the Mandal Commission recommendations,
although with some modifications, have become law.  The law with
certain modifications has recently been upheld by India's Supreme
Court for its constitutionality although it ruled that the reserved
positions could not exceed 50 percent of the total jobs and economic
considerations could not be used for determining eligibility.  A
new cycle of demonstrations is sure to follow.

The logic of the quotas is to right a historical wrong.  The leftist
parties and the Congress have exploited the rhetoric of these wrongs
and of caste bashing to hold on to their electoral support.  With
the direction of the Supreme Court and the Central government the
quotas can only become stronger.  It is claimed that India is
following the example of the U.S. not realizing that U.S. does not
have quotas, only affirmative action.

Affirmative action means a host of devices to increase the
representation of the minorities in different walks of life, but
it does not mean hiring based on one's color or caste or religion.
Should the U.S. have quotas for the different ethnic groups, the
American economy will grind to a halt in no time.  The end game of
such a politics based on caste, religion, and ethnicity can only
be a situation like that of Somalia or Yugoslavia.

The leftist parties take it as axiomatic that India's backwardness
is due to the nature of the Hindu religion.  The Hindu right feels
that the caste politics of the leftist parties is a ploy to destroy
India's heritage.  It has countered by seizing on the emotive issue
of the historical wrongs by certain Muslim kings like Babar and
Aurangzeb to divert the attention from the caste politics of the

Observing the events of the past three years one sees that the
Ayodhya temple issue has often heated up following the moves of
the left on the caste quotas.

There is a feeling that the Congress party will not remain in power
too long because of the international collapse of the socialist
model of economy, which was the foundation of the party's policies.
What we witness then is a bitter fight between the left and the
right for the heart of India.

An asymmetric law

Now imagine the U.S. with a law that allows only the religious
minorities to run their tax-exempt parochial schools.  In such a
situation it will be natural for the Christian majority to consider
this law discriminatory and have it expunged.  Such an asymmetry
is another reason behind religious discord in India today.

Article [30(1)] in the Indian Constitution was used in the 70's by
the Communist provincial government of West Bengal to challenge
the right of the Hindus to run their schools and colleges.  According
to this Article members of the majority religion do not have the
right to establish their own religious schools whereas the minority
religions do.  When the Supreme Court of India upheld the interpretation
of the Communists, several Hindu sects (such as Ramakrishna Mission)
that ran schools filed for or received status as
 minority religions  to prevent the government takeover of their

The government of India did not respond to this ruling of the court
to try to change the law so that all religions would be treated
equally.  This has led to a great resentment amongst the Hindus.

Likewise the change in the law in 1986 that removed Muslim divorces
from adjudication by the Supreme Court will remain a lightning rod
to channel Hindu discontent with India's legal framework.

Pakistan and Kashmiri refugees

There is another important reason for the rise of the recent Hindu
militancy.  This is the general belief in India that Pakistan is
behind the sectarian killings that have racked the provinces of
Punjab and Kashmir for the past decade.  International pressure on
Pakistan to dissociate itself from such sectarian violence would
reduce tensions.

Another sore point are the victims of the sectarian violence in
Kashmir.  The government of India has, for strange electoral reasons,
decided to ignore them.  The Indian government should be asked to
provide a humane settlement for these Hindu refugees who have been
languishing in camps in Jammu and Delhi for the past three years.
If the government cannot guarantee reasonable protection even after
three years of turmoil, it should provide compensation for loss of
property and jobs.

The Indian constitution

The drama building up to the events in Ayodhya brings into focus
the inadequacy of the Indian political and legal systems to resolve
conflicts.  Indian politicians have not shown courage or imagination
during the whole episode.  The sorry state of the judicial system
has come into clear focus.

The government needs to have a clear policy framework.  A democracy
is a covenant between various interest groups and the colonial
practice of banning organizations is dangerous in a democracy.  If
individuals have broken the law they should be prosecuted but
organizations should not be banned.

The Centre's decision to dismiss opposition governments in several
states for transparently partisan reasons is going to be
counter-productive.  Such steps would make it difficult to arrive
at compromises that are basic to any political process.

It is absolutely essential that the government of India undertake
initiatives so that India becomes a truly secular state.  The
cheap  remedy of righting historical wrongs through the system of
caste quotas that the Narasimha Rao government has embraced should
be dropped.  Such a remedy is very costly in the long run.

A modern secular state does not concern itself with questions of
religion, caste, or ethnicity.  The Indian system is obsessively
concerned with these issues.  Perhaps this is not surprising because
the Indian state is the heir to the colonial British India and the
Indian government has gone on with the old ways of divide and rule.
This has been done in ways more imaginative than the British ever
dreamed of.  It seems that the time is ripe to write a new constitution
for India.

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