Vinod Mubayi and Daya Varma


South Asia finds itself at a critical juncture facing multiple crises in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka while  India goes through a general election, which could bring the rabidly communal BJP to power.


Last month’s INSAF Bulletin carried an account of the human rights catastrophe confronting Sri Lanka’s  minority Tamil population as the end-game between the brutal Sri Lankan Army and the equally, if not more,  brutal LTTE winds down.  The lead story in this month’s issue is the push towards the emergence of a theocratic  state, with all its attendant brutalities, in Pakistan.  Bangladesh has just gone through a traumatic convulsion; the  mutiny by a paramilitary organization, Bangladesh Rifles, and the slaughter of scores of its officers drawn  mainly from the regular Army.  The fact that this attempted coup occurred just a few weeks after the whole scale  rout of Islamist parties in the general elections, which brought the relatively secular Awami League to power, is  unlikely to be just a coincidence.


Despite the unending suicide bombings, sectarian clashes, and creeping Talibanization, there are some positive  signs of democratic movement in Pakistan as witnessed by the unprecedented response of the people to the  lawyers agitation for the restoration of the judiciary.  The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has  welcomed the restoration of judiciary as a first step towards strengthening democracy and rule of law according  to Asma Jehangir, Chairperson HRCP.  She said the people of Pakistan have sent a clear message that they will  not settle for a sham democratic process.  Public pressure has also forced Zardari to reverse his totally  undemocratic move to unseat the PML (N) government in Punjab. In Bangladesh also, the civilian government  of Sheik Hasina has managed so far to defuse the situation by negotiations and prevent the Army from staging  another takeover.


Meanwhile, India is just a few weeks away from general elections, where the Hindu-rashtra (nation) worshipping  supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are attempting to catapult it again to power. A victory for the BJP- led coalition would mark the advent of another dark chapter in Indian polity, if the experience of its rule from  1998-2004 is taken into account.  As the well-known historian K.N. Panikkar has indicated recently, during the  rule of BJP-led governments both at the Centre and in the states, cadre from the Sangh Parivar were actively  recruited into the organs of the administration, particularly the police, to “transform the character” of  administrative practice itself from the mostly secular policies followed previously into an outright communal  agenda.  For example, Panikkar points out that “in the communal conflagration in Gujarat in 2002, the police not  only refused to intervene to save the victims but actually abetted members of organizations such as the Vishwa  (world) Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal in their crimes.”  Most alarmingly, communalism has reared  its ugly head even in the hitherto largely secular Army as witnessed by the indictment of a serving officer Lt.  Col. Purohit in the Malegaon bomb blasts case.  It is clear that wherever the BJP has ruled it has used its control  of the state apparatus to push its long-term agenda of a theocratic state, a Hindu rashtra, by intervening  extensively in educational and cultural fields, placing committed communal-minded cadre in key positions,  rewriting history textbooks used in schools from a Hindu communal perspective, in short, acting as a mirror  image of the practices of the Islamic fundamentalist groups described by Pervez Hoodbhoy in his article below  on Pakistan.


At this dangerous juncture in the South Asian political scene, India’s response to the multiple crises afflicting its  neighbors will be important, given its position as the largest country and economy in the SAARC grouping.  Towards Pakistan, India’s traditional attitude has been one of scoring points or exhibiting a certain smug air of  satisfaction when Pakistan finds itself in difficulties. But this needs to change given the depth and seriousness of  the current crisis in Pakistan. India also needs to augment its humanitarian efforts to help the civilians trapped in  the war between the LTTE and the Sri Lanka Army.  Overall this is a very testing time for the region when the  contradictory impulses of imperialism, fundamentalism, national chauvinism, secularism, and democratic  governance are competing fiercely with each other and the victory of one or the other can either tear the region  apart for many decades to come or heal its wounds for future generations to live together in peace.

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