The clashes that took place in Bhagwanpur during a Hanuman Jayanti procession indicate that even Uttarakhand is not immune to the ongoing all-India turf battle between Hindu and Muslim fringe groups. While at one level it is a political game, of course, to obtain ‘committed’ votes during elections, it is also part of an ongoing process of redefining boundaries between secular and religious spaces. This is because it is no longer possible to have differences based on religion reflected in civil society the way it was before Independence, which essentially resulted in Partition. Also, social life cannot be based on a ‘value-less’ bunch of principles that do not respect boundaries. This was the direction taken in the early decades of Independence with, say, eating of beef by Hindus being flaunted as secularism. It was only natural that a reaction built up over the years, resulting in a more assertive Hindu identity, particularly in politics.
Both, the BJP and the ‘secular’ parties – many of which themselves are based on other divisive identities such as region, caste, language, etc. – are fundamentally focused on how this impacts on their vote banks. Where they constitute the government, the counter pressure is not to be embarrassed by a failure to maintain law and order. Considering that most governments are today run by the BJP, it naturally is facing the brunt of criticism.
With the vast majority of people not actively involved in the actual ‘confrontations’, their voting behaviour will shape the direction this evolution will take. It is the job of the ‘neutral’ institutions, such as the police, the executive, media and judiciary to ensure the fundamental principles of civil society are not violated. It may be noted that after the Anna Hazare movement and, recently, the farmers’ protests, mainstream agitations have increasingly taken the non-violent and democratic route, despite attempts at hijack and sabotage by vested interests and infiltrators. Protests centered around ‘Muslim’ causes such as the one at ‘Shaheen Bagh’ have, on the other hand, tended to take more extreme postures. Leaders of these movements have not been able to obtain the support of larger population groups and, instead, have succumbed to Leftist and fundamentalist manipulation. The recent state elections have come as a wake-up call regarding the negative political consequences of this approach. The clash will now between those seeking improved integration and those aiming at further divisions. The first step in this direction would be to look beyond short-sighted politics. Civil society institutions should work on this at their level to come up with a better definition of secularism – and practice it.