There is a rather simple definition of communalism. A single search on one’s browser can identify that communalism denotes attempts to construct religious or ethnic identity, incite strife between people identified as different communities, and stimulate communal violence between those groups. India has been infected with this disease known as communalism, and lack of treatment has shown severe symptoms.

Communalism in India:

Muhammad Ali Jinnah once said, "We shall have India divided or we shall have India destroyed." He often smiles from the afterlife when he looks at India and sees that both of those things have been accomplished.

In India, at any given time, one is bound to find a title in a news channel or newspaper with the phrase “Hindu and Muslim” in it with a negative connotation. India is a country with citizens of various communities, and violence between cultural, social and religious groups have been abnormally frequent in the nation’s history. A century ago, the country’s rulers thrived on their successful divide and rule policy, inciting hatred between Hindus and Muslims. Even after more than seventy years of India’s emancipation from the British Raj, however, there is something that continues to spew hate in the minds of Indians.

Religion is a belief very close to human beings, and that has been used as an advantage by many people. As mentioned before, the British Raj used Indians’ attachment to religion to their advantage by causing a sense of enmity in the minds of the people. Numerous organizations and political parties such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the All-India Muslim League, the Shiv Sena, the Hindu Mahasabha, etc. also used Indians’ religious affinity to their advantage and got popular among their respective religions using religious chauvinism.

Most people may recall the existence of the word ‘secular’ in the Indian Constitution’s preamble from when they used to recite it in sixth grade. From where, then, does the issue of communalism and ‘Hindu versus Muslim’ even generate? The fundamental reason is indubitably the divide and rule policy during the British Raj as mentioned before and the subsequent partition of India leading to violence between Hindus and Muslims. However, one can rightfully point out that something that happened before most of the people in India was even born would not have such a detrimental impact on Indians. Slave trade does not incite violence between communities of divergent skin tones, the hundred years’ war does not cause violence between Britain and France, and in fact, even the colonial regime does not incite violence between Britain and India. How is it possible, then, that communalism continues to afflict India even after over seventy years of gaining independence from the perpetrators of communal violence?

The seed that the colonizers planted in the Indian soil grew to become India’s very own tree of communal hatred. India forced the British Raj to leave in 1947, but just like India kept their cricket, it also kept their communal ideology (excelling at both of those things). These ideologies were kept alive by the formation of the aforementioned communal organizations (RSS, Muslim League, etc.). The presence of these organizations has had a detrimental impact on the nation’s fight against communalism. The impact of these organizations increases exponentially when political parties get involved.

Politics in India:

India had been ruled by coalition parties due to a lack of a majority for many years until 2014 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power. As of May 2020, the BJP rules with/without coalition over eighteen out of thirty states and union territories, and has three hundred and three seats in the lower house of the Indian Parliament (more than 55%) with no opposition. Even without any mention of gigantic rallies and campaigns held by the government for self-promotion, statistics corroborate that Indian politics is predominantly in the grasp of the BJP.

One may question the existence of communalism in Indian politics. In a session of parliament in February 2015, the then (and current) Prime Minister Narendra Modi denounced communalism and asserted that his government stood for unity wherein all religions prosper within the framework of the Constitution. In January 2016, Modi also stated that India has not given communalism, but spirituality to the world. If the representative of the world’s largest democracy declares the absence of communalism in Indian politics so tenaciously, one would certainly believe in the nonexistence of the same.

Modi, however, appears to be slightly incorrect regarding communalism. Comments such as "People who are setting fire (to property) can be seen on TV... They can be identified by the clothes they are wearing" have been made by the Prime Minister. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of the BJP has made remarks such as “If they take one Hindu girl, we will take hundred Muslim girls. If they kill one Hindu man, we will kill hundred Muslim men.” Numerous other comments such as “Don’t buy vegetables from Muslims”, “Feed them bullets not biryani”, “Muslims shouldn’t be living in India”, “If Muslims become more than 30% that country is in danger” have been made by politicians such as BJP MP Vinay Katiyar, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, BJP MLA Suresh Tiwari, etc. The Prime Minister should change his statement regarding the existence of communalism in politics because it is evident that Indian politics has been littered with communalism.

Communal Violence:

India has witnessed the consequences of communalism in politics multiple times. One of the most memorable is the Gujarat Riots of 2002, under the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The burning of a train in Godhra on 27 February 2002, which caused the deaths of 58 Hindu pilgrims karsevaks returning from Ayodhya, is cited as having instigated the violence. Following this, Muslims were actively targeted; their houses burnt, people killed, etc. Many brutal killings and rapes were reported as well as widespread looting and destruction of property. The number of deaths was estimated to be over two thousand. These events are officially classified as a communalist riot, where politics is legally not involved. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India rejected all claims against the ruling party. However, many scholars have described these events as a pogrom, and even genocide. The ruling party is accused of not only failing to suppress the attacks but also inciting the riots. Historians and political analysts such as Gyanendra Pandey and Paul Brass have also condemned the party for similar accusations.

Another similar incident took place even more recently, and the involvement of politics was clearer this time. The 2020 Delhi Pogrom resulted in the death of 53 people in North-East Delhi, two-thirds of whom were Muslims. Similar to the Gujarat Riots, this also involved brutal murders, destruction of property, looting, etc. Kapil Mishra of the BJP was running for a seat in the Delhi Legislative Assembly. After getting banned from campaigning for forty-eight hours from the Election Commission for hate speech on Twitter, Mishra threatened protestors of Shaheen Bagh, and said that if they did not clear the roads, he would “take matters into his own hand.” This was followed by the pogrom in Delhi, where Muslims were actively targeted. The pogrom was preceded by a chant made by BJP MP Anurag Thakur, which said “kill the traitors”, referring to Muslims and protestors of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).

Religious Manipulation:

The existence of communalism in politics and its severe consequences have been established. Why, however, do politicians incite violence? Why would anyone like to be part of a controversy, being accused of major crimes? Doesn’t inciting violence make one susceptible to legal charges and defamation in society? The truth is, causing hatred between communities and going against minorities makes one very popular among the majority. Siding with the majority has proved to be a rather efficient method in getting attention and support. Politicians and political entities thrive while using majoritarianism. Siding with the majority has helped many rulers in history, such as S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka while supporting Sinhalese, Adolf Hitler in Germany while supporting Nordic German Aryans, etc. Therefore, inciting hatred between communities, while detrimental to society, is beneficial to politicians.

Gaining political power by causing hate between religions seems to be a method used in history. However, as mentioned above, the BJP continues to use communalism to gain support. Aside from causing violence against Muslims, the BJP is also guilty of manipulating Hindus. The BJP won the General Elections of 2019 despite failed economic policies, an increase in unemployment, controversial MPs and MLAs (Pragya Thakur, Anant Kumar Hegde, and Sakshi Maharaj), etc. The main reason for their victory was brainwashing Hindus. Modi took a holy dip in the confluence of three rivers in Allahabad during Kumbh (a Hindu festival). He often took part in ‘aarti’ by the Ganga in Varanasi, the latest one a day ahead of filing his nomination from his constituency. On May 18, just a day ahead of the last phase of elections, he left for Kedarnath shrine and sat in a cave to meditate while dressed as a hermit for eighteen hours. It was not only Modi who performed such acts. Even Pragya Thakur of BJP visited numerous temples in Bhopal such as the Ganesh Temple during her campaign for the 2019 General Elections. Digvijaya Singh of the Indian National Congress (INC) adopted a similar strategy for his campaign in 2019, offering prayers and feeding cows. The visits to holy shrines and temples during the campaign is not a coincidence. These politicians appealed directly to the Hindus to gain support.

This is undoubtedly one of the most unethical strategies to gain political support. Politicians using religious violence on one hand and appealing to people’s religious affinity on the other is extremely immoral. Communalism does not just cause violence between communities but leads to people using the ‘religion card’ to get power. Political candidates are given votes due to their depiction of religiosity instead of merit and experience, and thus India is being ruled by incompetent religious leaders. These methods of manipulation based on religion blind Indians, and they are thus unable to see who should be making decisions for the country.

Role of Media:

The usage of communal hatred and manipulation in history has set a terrible precedent. The method has proven to be successful for politicians countless times, and when current politicians analyse the political advantage of communalism, they do not hesitate to use these methods themselves. Politicians, however, are not the only ones who recognize the support one gains by spreading communal hatred and religious manipulation. Media also understands the political benefits of communalism, plays an enormous role in spreading it. Communalism in media is one of the main causes and effects of communalism in politics. One would assume that people studying history and politics would reduce the impact of attempts at spreading communalism by politicians. The education and awareness that is lessening communalism, however, is simply counteracted by communalism spread by the media.

Numerous news channels have been guilty of spreading communalism one way or the other. These channels either deny or justify communalism by politicians, spread misinformation that may cause hatred between communities, communalise non-communal issues, or even pass off communal remarks themselves. News channels such as Sudarshan TV, News18 India, etc. have made numerous claims which may cause communal hatred, such as “conspiracies to turn India into an Islamic country”. Journalists such as Sudhir Chaudhary and Arnab Goswami have been served with legal charges for depicting content that spreads communalism.


The nation’s fight against communalism has been tedious yet unsuccessful. There is absolutely no foolproof method to prevent communalism, let alone end it. The only thing one can do is educate not just themselves, but others as well. Politics and religion should never merge. A democracy cannot function when religion is blocking the minds of people, making them unable to make the necessary decisions for the country. Solutions such as ‘politicians should be less communal’ or ‘politicians shouldn’t let hatred get between communities’ are futile. It is up to the people, the real decision-makers in a democracy, to cure India of this disease.

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