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Ding Gang: Can religious identity bring unity to India?

2019-08-22

By Ding Gang    Source: Global Times    Published: 2019-8-21


The Indian government has abolished the special status for India-controlled Kashmir and decided to split the region into two union territories - Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh - to be directly ruled by the central government.



Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had vowed to do so during his campaign for the 2014 election. During the general election 2019, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) again promised to revoke Kashmir's special status. Such moves have intensified tensions in the region.


India aimed at further cutting off the links between Pakistan and India-controlled Kashmir, which New Delhi believed the move can effectively reduce terrorist activities in the region. However, this could be a move of a long-term plan by the Modi administration to forge a unified national identity for the long term.


If we review the policies made by Modi after he took office, we can see a clear trend - consolidating his rule by returning to Hinduism and using religious identity to strengthen national identity.


However, India is a multi-religious country with Islam as the second-largest faith. About 14 percent of the Indian population is Muslim. Modi's Kashmir move will possibly enhance what has been called the Hindu identity.


The ruling BJP regarded the move a historic victory. But it is to a great extent a victory of one religion against another, and will instead damage the political image of the multi-religious country - often described as epitomizing unity in diversity.


The Modi administration's move does no good to promote coexistence and integration of different religions with efforts at secularization. This will lead to increasing nationalism tinted with religion, squeeze the living space for Muslims and ultimately fuel confrontation among different religions.


It will set a bad example by splitting regional and geopolitical structures on the basis of religion. This has made India face an old problem: the displacement of political identity by religious identity in a modern multicultural secular nation. Secularism is what the "father of the nation" - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who led India to independence in 1947 - swore by.


The border areas of different countries in South and Central Asia have multiple religions. These areas saw wars caused by contradictions among faiths and the intention of spreading religion. How to reconcile different religions in the process of modernization has become a challenge to countries in the region, which is a core problem concerning regional and national stability.


The changing reality in India has accentuated concerns about religion's growing role in geopolitics of the region.


There is a pressing need for religious harmony on the Indian subcontinent. This cannot be achieved by going the way of colonialists who divided the region on the basis of religion or ethnicity. Reinforcing religious identity will intensify conflicts on borders and among ethnic groups. This is not the right way to long-term stability.


It is generally believed that unless India can transcend the pursuit of religious identity and build the foundation of a modern secular state, stability would be hard to come by.


However, going back to the Mughal Dynasty, which ruled during Medieval times, and the following British colonial era, the stability, which was built on religious identity, has always been strengthened, despite being weakened once. Efforts at a multi-religious national identity have never succeeded, which reflects the difficulties of reconciling religions.


India is a developing power and is in the pivotal stage of seeking a self-governance model. The consolidation of religious nationalism has added uncertainties to the geopolitical landscape of South Asia and Asia-Pacific region. We need to pay attention to whether India can find a stable path between religious nationalism and harmony among religions.


The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.

Key Words: India   Kashmir   RDCY   Ding Gang    

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