The religious polarization of India

Justice Markandey Katju-


Although the Constitution of India declares India to be a secular country, the ground reality is very different. In recent years, particularly after the Hindu right wing Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP ) came to power in 2014, Indian society has been considerably polarized on religious lines.

Consider the following facts :

  1. Lynching and atrocities on Muslims continues unabated. Most Hindus are either indifferent to this, or even sometimes inwardly happy. One terrorist less. The perpetrators are rarely, if at all, punished.
  2. In many schools in India Muslim children are being conveyed overtly and also by suggestions, by Hindu teachers and fellow Hindu students, that Muslims are fanatics, terrorists and foreigners
  3. By delivering the disgraceful Ayodhya verdict the Supreme Court has conveyed the message ‘Jiski laathi usi ki bhains ‘ ( might is right ) and that naked aggression will be overlooked and even sanctified.
  4. West Bengal, which was till recent years a model secular state, has largely been polarized on religious lines. Many Hindus have joined the BJP there. Tamilnadu, Kerala, Andhra, Odisha etc may also soon follow suit.
  5. Most Hindus have become communal. This I know from personal experience. My own Hindu relatives and friends, when they are sure there is no Muslim present, often spout venom on Muslims.
  6. Most institutions in India have been ‘saffronised’. History has been perverted, secular rulers like Akbar and Tipu Sultan depicted as communal just because they were Muslims. Science has been sought to be perverted, e.g. in a National Science Congress speakers claimed Ravana had 24 types of airplanes and airports in Srilanka ( Modi himself spoke nonsense that head transplant surgery and genetic engineering was known in ancient India ). The Indian media has largely prostrated itself before the present rulers. Several senior journalists who refused to toe the govt line were sacked.
  7. BJP leaders shamelessly defended lynchers of Muslims, e.g. former Union Minister Jayant Sinha who garlanded the lynching accused.
  8. Hate speeches against minorities go on with impunity, and Muslims live in fear in many places.
  9. After the Babri Masjid demolition, other Muslim religious sites, e.g. in Kashi and Mathura, are in danger. Even Jama Masjid, Delhi has been claimed by Sakshi Maharaj, MP, to be a Hindu temple, which must be restored.
  10. Muslims are attacked for marrying or having an affair with a Hindu girl (called love jihad ), for sporting a beard, wearing a skull cap, and for refusing to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’, and berated as anti-nationals, traitors, terrorists and Pakistanis
  11. Names of some cities and roads have been changed e.g. Allahabad and Mughal Sarai, and others may follow
  12. In the 542 member Indian Lok Sabha (the lower House of Parliament) there are only 27 Muslim members i.e. 5% of the total seats, although Muslims comprise over 15% of India’s population. Of the 303 BJP MPs only 1 is Muslim.
  13. Even the NRIs in America (where I am presently staying ) have become polarized, and many new RSS ‘shakhas’ opened here


It is clear that in recent years polarization of Indian society on religious basis has witnessed an exponential upsurge. Earlier too there was communal feeling, but it was largely latent, erupting only on occasions. Now under BJP rule from 2014 it has become open, virulent. and continuous. What is the cause?

Some people say that it is because of reaction among Hindus who were earlier suppressed due to appeasement policy of Congress towards Muslims who were treated as a vote bank. Others say that Muslims are inherently fanatics and bigots, who often resort to terrorism, etc. But what is the truth?

The truth is that 99% of all people, whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Parsi or Buddhist are good people. Most Muslims, like most Hindus, are peaceful, upright and law abiding. So it is absurd to say that all, or even most, Muslims are bigots and terrorists.

In fact there was no communal feeling before 1857, as I have explained in my article ‘The Truth about Pakistan’ published in the Pakistani newspaper The Nation some years back. Before 1857 Hindus and Muslims lived harmoniously, Hindus used to participate in Eid and Muharram, and Muslims in Holi and Diwali.

Communalism was artificially created after suppressing the 1857 Mutiny ( in which Hindus and Muslims fought together against the British ) by the British rulers as part of their divide and rule policy ( see BN Pande’s ‘History in the service of Imperialism’ online ), and this was continued even after Independence, but now it has increased exponentially.

There are two reasons for the recent upsurge in communal polarization in India, one internal, and the other external. Let me explain


Internal causes of polarization

The Congress Party, by its Muslim appeasement policy (to get Muslim votes ) created a strong reaction among many Hindus, who though forming 80% of the Indian population, felt they were being ignored, and all the Congress cared for was the 15% Muslims. This naturally created a backlash, which helped the BJP to come to power in 2014. Of course, the scandalous corruption by most Congress leaders and Modi’s ‘vikas’ slogan also helped.

However, now the Indian economy is tanking, with huge dip in GDP, manufacturing sector, IT, real estate etc. on the rapid decline, and record unemployment as admitted by National Sample Survey, a Govt of India organization ( 12 million Indian youth are entering the job market every year but jobs are shrinking ), child malnourishment ( every second Indian child is malnourished, according to Global Hunger Index and UNICEF ), 50% Indian women anaemic, farmers suicides ( already well over 300,000 ) continuing unabated, almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, etc.

The present Govt of India has no inkling how to resolve these massive problems, so to divert public attention from them it has to have a scapegoat. This scapegoat is the Muslims, who, like the Jews in the Nazi era, are blamed for all social evils. Muslims are vilified as fanatics, anti-national and terrorists. The Indian media, which has largely been ‘Modified’, dutifully obliges by spreading communal hatred.

Propaganda is such a powerful thing that even good people’s minds can be poisoned. For instance, Germans are ordinarily very good people, but during the Nazi era almost the whole German nation went mad, their minds poisoned by Hitler and Goebbels. Similarly, by the communal propaganda and other wicked techniques of the BJP most Hindus have been made Muslim haters in recent years.

Some people deny that BJP is anti-minority, and they refer to Modi’s statement ‘ Sabka saath, sabka vishwas ‘ but everyone knows this is hypocrisy and empty rhetoric. BJP’s entire politics is based on hatred of minorities, particularly Muslims. BJP is dominated by an organization called the RSS (Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh ), which is rabidly anti minority ( see the book ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ by the former RSS leader M.S.Golwalkar). Only by spreading and increasing religious hatred can the BJP thrive.


  1. External causes of polarization

This world really consists of two worlds, the world of the developed, highly industrialized countries ( North America, Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and China ), and the world of the underdeveloped countries ( which includes India ).

The national objective of India must be to transform and uplift itself into the ranks of the developed countries, for then only can it abolish poverty, unemployment and its other massive problems.

However, this transformation will be opposed tooth and nail by the developed countries, which have an unwritten rule that underdeveloped countries must not be allowed to join the ranks of the developed countries. Why this is so needs to be explained.

Cost of labor is a big chunk of the total cost of production. So if the cost of labor is less the cost of production is less, and one can sell his product at a cheaper price and eliminate his business rival by underselling him i.e. by selling the same quality goods at a cheaper price. There is competition in the market, and one businessman eliminates another not with guns, bombs or tanks but by underselling him.

For instance, after the 1949 Revolution, the Chinese leaders built up a massive industrial base in China. That massive industrial base, coupled with the cheap labor available in China, enabled the Chinese to undersell the whole world in consumer goods. Today the supermarkets of Western countries are packed with Chinese goods, which sell at less than half the price of goods made by Western manufacturers (because the Western labor is expensive). Consequently, many Western industries, which could not face the Chinese competition, had to close down.

Now coming to India, the situation in 1947, when India became independent, was that there were then very few industries and very few engineers. This was because of the policy of the British rulers who did not want India to become an industrialized nation, and wanted to keep it backward and feudal. However, after Independence there was a limited degree of industrialization in India, a heavy industrial base (steel plants etc.) were set up, engineering colleges like IITs were established, etc. The result is that today India is very different from the India of 1947. Today it has all that is required to become a highly industrialized nation—a huge pool of technical talent (its IT engineers are largely manning Silicon Valley, and American Universities are full of Indian Professors in Engineering, Science and Mathematics) and immense natural resources.

But if India in fact becomes a highly industrialized country then with its cheap labor it will undersell the Western industrial products. Our labor is even cheaper than Chinese labor, so we will even undersell the Chinese if we get highly industrialized. So, if India gets highly industrialized who will buy the expensive products of the industries of the presently developed countries? Will they not have to close down causing massive unemployment?

India is presently the most developed of the underdeveloped countries, and with correct modern minded leadership it can become a highly developed country in 15-20 years (with modern minded leaders after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 Japan took only this much time to transform itself from a feudal to a highly developed country). But if it does, will it not greatly damage the industries of the developed countries with their expensive labor?

So developed countries will strongly oppose India’s joining the ranks of the developed countries. And how do they do that? By supporting and inciting religious and caste conflicts. In other words, by making Indians fight with each other. I strongly suspect their hidden hand behind the increased religious polarization of Indian society.


[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.