India’s Kristallnacht?

Gwynne Dyer is a Canadian-born independent journalist whose column is published in more than 175 papers in 45 countries.

By Gwynne Dyer


The anti-Muslim pogrom in Delhi last week only killed 43 people, and a few of them weren’t even Muslims. But then on Kristallnacht (‘The Night of Broken Glass’) in Germany in 1938, only 91 Jews were killed. It was still a Nazi declaration of war on the Jews, and a forewarning of the 6 million Jewish deaths to come.

Is this India’s Kristallnacht? History does not repeat, but it does have patterns.

First, a disclaimer. Many senior officials in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP (Indian People’s Party) indulge in blood-curdling anti-Muslim rhetoric, but there is no plan to exterminate Muslims in death camps. It can’t be done.

Only one in a hundred Germans was Jewish in 1933, when Hitler came to power. One-seventh of India’s population – two hundred million people – are Muslims. A Nazi-style ‘Final Solution’, or even the expulsion of the entire Muslim population (like the Nazis’ early fantasies about shipping Europe’s Jews to Madagascar) is just not practical in India.

Narendra Modi is a realist, and his project is not genocide. It is the re-definition of Hindus as the only ‘real’ Indians, and the demotion of Indian Muslims to second-class citizenship. But it will still take a lot of violence to cow Muslims into accepting their new lower status, and that is what we were seeing in Delhi last week.

Modi’s project went into high gear soon after he was re-elected with a landslide majority last May. In August he stripped Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, of the special status it had enjoyed since it joined India in 1947. Then in December he brought in two new laws that will make ‘second-class citizenship’ for Muslims a reality.

The Citizenship Amendment Act makes it easy for immigrants of every religion except Muslims to become Indian citizens.

The National Register of Citizens means the hundreds of millions of people born in India who have no documents to prove their nationality must apply for citizenship, just as if they were immigrants.

Getting Indian citizenship will be easy if they are Hindu (or Sikh, or Christian, or Buddhist), but almost impossible in practice if they are Muslim.

The huge non-stop protests since December show that many Indians, including many Hindus, are appalled by Modi’s frontal assault on the principle of a secular Indian state whose citizens are equal before the law. But most Hindus seem to approve, and Hindus are 80% of the population.

Modi hasn’t won yet. The protesters have not given up, the courts are not completely subjugated by the ruling party, and the BJP actually lost the election for the Delhi state assembly last month. But it won the ‘riots’ that followed.

The Delhi violence was not just neighbour turning on neighbour in a spontaneous outburst of hatred. It was started by young Hindu thugs armed with iron bars, sticks and machetes, trucked in from nearby rural parts of Uttar Pradesh state to attack Muslims and get the violence going.

Similar events are occurring all over India, and almost always the police stand by or actually join in the anti-Muslim attacks. There are stories of Hindus protecting their Muslim neighbours, as you would expect – there are good people everywhere – but the future doesn’t look promising.

The protests may go on for another month, or another six months, but Modi has four more years to work with before he faces another election. By then India may be an unrecognisable place: a ‘soft’ fascist state achieved more or less by democratic means.

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