January 2, 2002
As India took full advantage of the instability in Central Asia to push its agenda in Kashmir, and force a showdown with Pakistan, the rattling of the nuclear saber by Indian defense minister George Fernandes sent a collective shiver down the world's spine. The Pakistanis, emphasizing the need for negotiation, were rebuffed by New Delhi's arrogant Brahmins, who stoked war hysteria to shore up their faltering political fortunes at home – and openly bragged that they would "win" a nuclear exchange with Pakistan. Said Fernandes:
"We could take a strike, survive and then hit back. Pakistan would be finished. I do not really fear that the nuclear issue would figure in a conflict."
But surely this is unthinkable, and not only for reasons of morality. After all, the nuclear devastation of Pakistan's cities would blow right back in India's face, poisoning the land with radioactive elements and taking a huge toll of Indian as well as Pakistani lives. Ah, yes, but if you believe in reincarnation, as India's predominantly Hindu rulers do, then what's the problem? Why, all these people will just come back in another form, perhaps as dung beetles that glow in the dark. So, you see, it's no sweat, and no sin, to murder millions with the push of a button.
How the supposedly Christian Fernandes, who presumably doesn't believe in reincarnation, reconciles this threat of mass indiscriminate murder with the demands of Christian morality is anyone's guess. Certainly he was more than forthcoming in describing Indian bloodlust. The Times of London reported him saying that India's military, "from the top down, was eager to fight," and boasting that "Everyone is raring to go. In fact, something that actually bothers them is that things might now reach a point where one says there is no war."
Wading into the center of Asia to slay the monster Bin Laden, we have stirred up other creatures more monstrous than we ever imagined possible. In going after the poisonous snake of Al Qaeda, which has apparently slithered off into the high grass, we have disturbed the sleep of a much bigger and far more powerful reptile – a Tyrannosaurus Rex lurking in a forgotten corner of the world.
India swarms with dozens of nationalities and thousands of religious, ethnic, and social subgroups: it is, like its old Soviet ally, a vast prison-house of nations, struggling to be free. The Indian elite's efforts to forge a truly federalized central state apparatus over the heads of these squabbling interest groups have threatened, on occasion, to fall apart.
Awash in corruption amid pervasive poverty, the moderate-left Congress Party, after years of virtually uninterrupted rule, could never come up with one unifying idea that would bind the many different strands of Indian society together and rope in fractious minorities. So a new movement rose up, based on the concept of Hindutva, a racial and religious mythology similar to the old German racialist concept of the Volk, the nation-race or collective soul of a people. Like the extreme fundamentalist version of Islam practiced by the Taliban, this deviant strain of Hinduism was a largely artificial construct that increasingly bore little resemblance to the original.
The parallels with German Nazi ideology do not end there, however. According to the ideologues of Hindutva, the present-day Indians are the descendants of pure "Aryans" who conquered the subcontinent some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, and are also the also the heirs of today's northern Europeans. One guru floated the theory that the original "Aryas" came out of the Arctic circle, and then descended on India where they established their empire and divided society into castes, with themselves, naturally, at the top. The group at the center of the Hindutva movement, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has a provision in its constitution that its Supreme Leader must be a blue-eyed Sarasvat Brahmin. The symbol of this Hindu-fascist movement is, appropriately enough, the swastika, which Hitler originally borrowed from the ideologues of Indo-Europeanism.
This burgeoning Hindu-fascist movement is a many-headed hydra, which presents various faces to different publics. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is its political wing, run mainly by high- and mid-caste activists, drawn in by its appeal to a new Indian nationalism; Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a clerical-fascist propaganda group, and the openly fascist and brutally violent Bajrang Dal, the Hindutva equivalent of Hitler's Brownshirts, which regularly attacks minorities, such as Christians, and is always ready for street action against the BJP's political opponents. Along with a women's auxiliary, a youth group, and other organizations, this Hindutva hive is collectively known as the Sangh Parivar. Together, these groups forged an ideology that seeks to "saffronize" the culture, the government, the schools, and "Hinduize" a formerly pluralistic nation.
The Sangh Parivar was largely discredited until the 1990s, when the failure of the sclerotic Congress Party to revive the nation had become all too apparent. The catalyzing moment came in 1992, when the BJP went on the offensive with a series of violent street actions that left more than 1,200 dead. The crisis was sparked by a Hindu-fascist mob that pulled down an ancient mosque in the city of Ayohya, believed to be the spot where the Hindu warrior-god Ram was born. The BJP state government, rather than go after the vandals, cleared away the rubble and put up a Hindu shrine. Already in control of several state governments, the BJP finally overtook the Congress Party and, in 1996, formed a coalition government with various regionalist, formerly-secularist and even socialist critics of Hindutva.
But how was this religious obscurantist movement, one associated, after all, with Gandhi's assassin, to garner an electoral majority or cobble together a coalition government? The BJP and its rightist allies couldn't get more than 35 percent of the vote, and were forced to share power with other factions and parties. The solution: reach out to the traditionally anti-American left. A key link in the BJP-led coalition government is Samata Party leader George Fernandes, a devout Christian and a socialist whose previous claim to fame was that he led the effort to send Coca-Cola packing – during his stint as a government minister from 1977-79. The company was denounced by Fernandes as a symbol of American imperialism and economic exploitation: today, he seeks a military alliance with the American "exploiter" against supposedly "pro-terrorist" Pakistan. What gives?
As the Indian government's public face to the world during the war crisis – a kind of South Asian Donald Rumsfeld – Fernandes and the BJP are now claiming to be "partners" with the US in the war on terrorism. As the governing coalition's chief foreign policy hawk, Fernandes is a key figure whose absorption into the BJP-led coalition was a triumph for those advocates of Hindutva who wanted to see their movement grow beyond its rather limited ethnic and religious constituencies.
In his belligerence – and his political history – Fernandes represents the imperial ambitions of the Indian federal state. A Christian and a leftist who formerly campaigned against the "communalist" politics of the BJP, he is the jewel in the crown of the governing "National Democratic" coalition – and his rise to prominence points to an ominous development in the growth of a nuclear-armed Hindu-fascism. Hindutva is being secularized, if not exactly mainstreamed.
Another interesting fact about Fernandes is that the man who wants to nuke Pakistan in the name of India's "war on terrorism" was himself intimately involved with a known terrorist organization, the LTTE or Tamil Liberation Tigers, who seek to create a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon. The Tigers assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991, and were into suicide bombing in a big way well before Hamas and Al Qaeda got into the game. Their terrorist tactics long ago labeled them a terrorist outfit in the eyes of the US government.
In 1999, the BJP government lost a vote of confidence because, as it turned out, Fernandes was not just sympathetic to the pro-Indian Tamils, but was an activist in their "liberation" movement: he had led fundraising efforts, helped procure arms, and used his authority as defense minister to make it easier for the Tigers to smuggle arms – even going so far as to dismiss an Indian navy commander who had intercepted one too many sea-borne Tigers. The man who once hosted a conference of the LTTE in his own home is now saying that Pakistan must be nuked in order to defeat terrorism – is it me, or does anybody else see something wrong with this picture?
Prior to the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Peace accords of 1987, Sinhalese-Tamil ethnic warfare on the island had increasingly drawn in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, right on the other side of the Palk Strait from Sri Lanka, in support of the Tamil separatists. When the flow of arms and support was cut off, and the Indian Army sent in to keep the peace, the Tigers waged a war of "liberation" against what they saw as an occupation force. Truck bombs, suicide squads, assassinations, attacks on civilian and governmental offices, hijackings, all carried out by an extensive international network with units in 60-plus countries – and with the full cooperation of India's "anti-terrorist" minister of defense.
Here, indeed, is a strange turn in the worldwide war on terrorism. What next? Will the Irish Republican Army be recruited to "fight terrorism" alongside Fernandes?
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