Some promising revelations

Will Obama’s memoir help break global silence over Hindutva extremism?


A Promised Land, that has recently been released, leaves little doubt that the political leadership in North America is aware of the existence of a majoritarian religious chauvinism in the world’s so called largest secular democracy.  

Authored by the former US President Barack Obama, the book is his memoir of first term in office from 2008-2012. During this time, he made his first official visit to India back in November 2010. In his brief memories of that visit shared in Chapter 24, Obama talks about his meeting with then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the leader of then-ruling Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi.  

Based on his conversation with Singh, he has noted about his concerns over growing anti-Muslim sentiments in India due to terror attacks originating from Pakistan-based Muslim extremist groups and how this was helping the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) increasing its influence.  

The BJP came to power under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. Since then the attacks on religious minorities, particularly Muslims have increased. While Obama is understandably silent about it in his book that does not cover his second term in the office from 2012-2016; he draws a parallel between the rise of BJP and the illiberal forces in Europe and his own home country.  

Significantly, he mentions about the murder of MK Gandhi- the towering leader of India’s passive resistance movement against British occupation by a Hindu extremist in 1948. Without going into the detail of the conspiracy behind the assassination, he only writes, “He was shot at point blank range by a young Hindu extremist who viewed his ecumenism as a betrayal of the faith”.  
Gandhi was murdered by Nathuram Godse, who was once associated with RSS, a Hindutva supremacist group of which the BJP is a political wing and was banned in the aftermath of this high profile killing. Modi is also a member of the RSS. Gandhi was despised by the Hindutva Right for his advocacy of Hindu-Muslim unity and opposition to ultra-Hindu nationalism.  

That Obama chose to overlook these connections is one thing, but even the slight admission of these facts establishes that the US administration isn’t unaware of the ascendance of Hindutva extremism to power.  

While we can only guess if Obama is planning to write another memoir of his second term in which he might come out with a more candid critical assessment of Modi and his party. But these small observations are sufficient to break the deafening silence over what has been going on in India.  

However, Obama’s silence about other issues, such as Sikh Genocide won’t go unnoticed.  

Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all over India following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 by the goons led by the activists of the slain leader’s Congress party. Whereas he mentions about the assassination of Indira Gandhi, he makes no reference to the ugly events that followed her death. This is despite the fact that he describes Manmohan Singh as “a member of the tiny, often persecuted Sikh religious minority who’d risen to the highest office in the land”. That the BJP alone has not been polarising Hindu majority is a fact that cannot be denied.  

Another major omission he has made is his impressions in terms of the brutal caste system allegedly sanctioned by Hindutva religion within the Indian society. While Obama has rightly criticised Gandhi for his failure in undoing the “stifling caste system” his comparison of the freedom movement of Gandhi against foreign rule with Black emancipation struggle in America is flawed.  

His argument that Gandhi’s nonviolence was a beacon for the dispossessed, including Black Americans under Jim Crow is rather weak considering how Gandhi and his associates had allegedly overlooked the struggle of so called untouchables or Dalits who were being discriminated against by the upper caste Hindus who were in the forefront of the freedom movement. If there was anyone who strongly defended the rights of Dalits in India and can be equated with the leaders of Black emancipation struggle it was none other than the architect of the Indian constitution Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.  

Though Gandhi opposed untouchability, he lacked conviction to question the validity of the caste system for which he had to face fierce criticism of Ambedkar. By turning a blind eye to Amebdkar, Obama did little justice to the issue which has become more relevant under a right wing Hindutva nationalist regime that believes in caste system and is determined to dilute the Constitution that guarantees religious freedom and equality while at the same time attempting to appropriate both Gandhi and Ambedkar.  

*Views expressed are the author’s own.

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