South Asian Elites Keep People Divided and Conquered


In both advanced and underdeveloped countries, the ruling elites are carrying out a relentless drive to seize back the gains won by working people in the post-war period. Working people are compelled to pay for the global economic crisis, which is nothing but the outcome of brutal profiteering by the global corporations. Added to the woes of working people, fierce corporate exploitation of natural resources, land and cheap labor is going on in many Asian countries. 

What is the reaction of the working people across the world against the ongoing unprecedented assault on their rights, conditions and living standards? All over the world, large numbers of people are protesting in many ways: the campaigns on alternative demands, workers’ strikes, massive demonstrations and rallies are daily occurrences in many parts of the world. Movements like Occupy Wall Street are also active. The main challenge, however, is to coordinate long-lasting collective action, and organize all the people, including the hitherto unorganized. Such more organized collective actions will be a powerful barricade to stop the assault of the ruling elites and the corporate plunder. The collective international action of the people is also necessary.

It is a gigantic task. The activists and leaders face enormous practical difficulties to build up the durable united movement consisting of the vast majority of people. But the ruling elites effortlessly deploy the resentment of the people on the lines of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc.

This is happening in all South Asian countries, including India. In Myanmar (Burma) and Indonesia, the Buddhist and Muslim fundamentalists are actively promoting hatred among the people. In Myanmar, violence against Muslims is increasing as a result of the resurgence of a monk-led movement.

On Oct. 1, Buddhist mobs attacked Muslim neighborhoods in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, killing at least four people. Sectarian violence in Myanmar has killed at least 240 people and displaced 140,000, most of them Muslims, since June 2012. The ruling military government did not stop this violence. The main concern of the ruling elites is to maintain the military-dominated status quo. So they don’t care about severe human rights violations.

The religious unrest in Myanmar had a wider implication on Buddhist-Muslim tensions in Southeast Asia. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the President of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, warned of “a wider fallout, which could fuel growing inter-faith unrest across the region.” According to the report of the Indonesian human rights group, the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, 264 violent attacks took place in Indonesia in 2012, up from 244 and 216 incidents, respectively, in 2011 and 2010.

In southern Thailand, tensions between Muslims and Buddhists have again intensified. Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist nation, has a Muslim separatist movement, since Muslims were not fully integrated in the society. And in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, Buddhist-Muslim tensions have been frequently arising.

The commonality of these countries is that all the ruling elites of these Southeast Asian countries have pursued the agenda of austerity and neoliberalism through pushing more deregulation and privatization, cutting social benefits to the poor. Most people have been struggling to survive in a system fraught with poverty, corruption and super-exploitation. This was root cause of the tension between religious communities.

To cling to power and for political survival, the ruling elites on the one hand induce religious and ethnic disunity and on the other they depend more and more on the global hegemonic powers, particularly the US. For instance, the Philippines government of President Benigno Aquino, being unable to change the country’s gross inequality, is inviting more assistance and collaboration with the US military while spending $1.7 billion to buy more weapons and warships.

In India, the religious riots took place in Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh in the month of August.The Centre for Policy Research, a new Delhi based think-tank, indicted the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for inciting hate campaign among Hindu communities directing them against Muslims. Mischievous propaganda led to riots with the death of more than 50 people and the displacement of hundreds of families of the Muslim community. The important aspect of this trouble is that the Muzaffarnagar riots started with the rise of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate to the national level. Since Modi’s ascendancy, the religious peace was disturbed in many states in the country, including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Under the chief ministership of Narendra Modi, the horrors of the Gujarat pogrom of February-March 2002 took place, with gruesome attacks on the minority. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen categorically said: “As an Indian citizen I don’t want Modi as my PM … He has not done enough to make minorities feel safe.”

A section of the elites render support for Modi because of the reason that he would pursue neoliberal policies as he did in Gujarat as chief minister. The reason for a significant section from lower strata of Indian society supporting Modi lies in the severe discontent arising out of the decade-long neoliberal path pursued by the government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In the 1990s, when the Indian elites were pursuing neoliberal agenda, BJP actively mobilized many sections of the Hindu society along fundamentalist lines and rooted fear in the Muslim community. This in effect gave birth to many extremist Muslim organizations and many parts of India were immersed in communal clashes. Many people lost their lives and the Muslims suffered the most. Later, the demolition of the Babri mosque by a large mobilization of Hindu zealots led to the 1992 riots and the serial blasts in the metropolis in 1993. Now Modi, with his majoritarian agenda and divisive politics, is projected by corporate media and supported by India’s monopoly capital.

The emergence of religious fundamentalism in Indian polity hampered the process of uniting the working people against the onslaught of neoliberalism. The working people, unaware of the root causes of the existing inequalities and their low level living standards, are directed against the working people of other religions, races and ethnic groups. Such state of depoliticization of the working people is a valuable weapon of the corporate power. So depoliticization among the people is a challenge for the Left. The Left and progressives have to take sustained efforts to politicize the working people and build up the formidable unity against the corporate power.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2013

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