Will we one day reunite as 'Akhand Bharat'?
INDIA'S ruling BJP's General Secretary, Mr. Ram Madhav, recently said in an interview to Al Jazeera that the RSS, his core organisation, still believes that one day Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, "which have for historical reasons separated only 60 years ago, will again, through popular goodwill, come together and 'Akhand Bharat' will be created". The idea of Akhand Bharat is a dream of the RSS, and of the BJP, which is a right-wing party with close ideological and organisational links to the former, and of other Hindutvadi organisations and their adherents. I am not going to speak for Pakistan. But, whether future generations of Bangladeshis will reunite their country with India will depend fully on those generations that are probably yet to be born.
If we recall history, we see that despite innumerable attempts by the Muslims of the unpartitioned India, they failed to ensure and protect their politico-economic, socio-religious, cultural and other rights in the midst of the overwhelming Hindu majority population, and under the 27-month-long Congress rule following the general election of 1937. In every Hindu majority province, the Muslims were victims of serious riots and oppression.
A separate State was not in the minds of the Muslims at the beginning. But the Congress' intransigent opposition to any measure by the British Government aimed at benefiting the minority Muslim population – like the 1905 partition of Bengal, grant of separate electorate for the Muslims, giving power to the Muslims in those provinces where they were in majority – compelled them to demand a separate homeland. The Congress repudiated all British government plans that stipulated power-sharing with the Muslim League – the party that at those times epitomised the aspirations of almost all Muslims of India.
Have the basics of the Hindu-Muslim relations changed in India over the last 68 years? One proof that they have not changed much is the fact that right-wing Hindutvadi cultural and political organisations such as the Hindu Mahasabha, RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, BJP, etc., that envision India as a Hindu country, still wield enormous popular support and influence. In effect, they regard Muslims as outsiders. Even after about 70 years of existence of the democratic and constitutionally secular India, Muslims are killed there for eating beef. The Muslims in India could still be coerced into converting back to Hinduism under the Ghar Wapsi programme. Celebrity actors like Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan felt insecure and alienated in an atmosphere of growing religious intolerance in India in recent months; and they faced severe backlashes for voicing their sense of insecurity.
At the behest of the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a High Level Committee, chaired by Justice Rajindar Sachar, prepared and submitted a report on the socioeconomic and educational status of the Muslims in India in November 2006. It's not possible to mention all of the findings of that committee in the extremely limited space of this article. But some key ones were: the unemployment rate among Muslim graduates was the highest among all the socio-religious categories and participation of Muslims in jobs in both the public and private sectors was quite low. The number of Muslims in Central Government departments and agencies was "abysmally" low at all levels. "There was not even one state in which the representation of Muslims in the government departments matched their population share (around14 percent)", states the report.
Behind the impressive façade of some VVIPs and key positions held by Muslims, there existed a pitiable scenario of near total absence of Muslims in superior cadre jobs (IAS 3 percent, IFS 1.8 percent, IPS/Security Agencies 4 percent). Employment of Muslims was also very low in the universities, banks and central public sector undertakings. The access of Muslims to bank credit was low and inadequate.
About one third of small villages with high concentration of Muslims did not have any educational institutions. About 40 percent of big villages with a substantial Muslim concentration did not have any medical facilities.
There has been no perceptible improvement in the conditions of the Muslims since the Sachar Committee Report.
Do the communal policies of the RSS and other Hindutvadi organisations help make an impression in favour of envisaging reunification of Bangladesh with India at some point of time in the future? With these organisations' declared Hindu-centric policies and their recent activities against Muslims, and other religious minorities, Mr. Ram Madhav is not in a position to speak of reunification of the three countries. Their communal, divisive, non-inclusive policies do not advance Mr. Madhav's great expectations or dream of an Akhand Bharat.
Until Indian politics truly rises above communal parochialism, until there occurs a paradigm shift in India's politics to ensure politico-economic, socio-religious, cultural and other equity and equality for all religious and ethnic communities regardless of their size, unless India's constitutional secularism truly finds its roots in the society, and until the minority Muslim communities across India are seen to be happily living in honour, prestige and security in India, I do not visualise any reason why the future generations of Bangladeshis should decide to reunite their country with India.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary.