Posted by: John Elliott | April 8, 2009

Religious intolerance surfaces in Indian election

See also  _______________________________________________________________________

It’s curious how the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is having unintended and totally unexpected impacts on India’s general election campaign which officially begins on April 16.

Varun Gandhi, grandson of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, has refocused the Bharatiya Janata Party’s fundamentalist electoral platform over the past three weeks, and now the memory of the anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 has focussed attention on a less-than-savoury side of the Congress Party.

Both events, coincidentally, are highlighting extreme Hindu views regarding Muslims and Sikhs.

Shoe thrown at Chidambaram

Shoe thrown at Chidambaram

The dynasty has been hoping that the election focus would be on Rahul Gandhi, prime-minister-in-the-making, and on his mother, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party and the current coalition government, so that they would together get the credit for leading Congress to victory in a new coalition government. But these other events have now burst onto the stage.

Dealing with the second event first, a Sikh journalist threw a shoe during a press conference yesterday at Palaniappan Chidambaram, the home minister, because the Congress has allowed Jagdish Tytler, a controversial politician, to stand as a candidate in the election. [On April 9, two days after the shoe throwing, the Congress Party withdrew Tytler and another candidate from the general election in response to growing criticism].

Tytler has been accused for the past 25 years of being one of the instigators of vicious riots staged by Hindus against Sikhs after a Sikh security guard shot Indira Gandhi. The specific Tytler allegation relates to a Sikh temple being set on fire, causing the death of three people.

I was in Delhi at the time and saw how Sikhs feared for their lives as 3,000 were killed and the riots spread – riots that were undoubtedly encouraged by Congress politicians and not quelled for several days by the party’s leadership that included Rajiv Gandhi, who became prime minister (and was assassinated in 1991).

Jagdish Tytler

Jagdish Tytler

Sikh anger over those events has been reawakened by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) last week asking a Delhi court to clear Tytler of charges against him and to close the case that has been running through the courts for years. The court will give its verdict on April 9  [deferred till April 28] but, whatever it says, many Sikhs are convinced that the CBI was working under the instructions of the Gandhi-led government that wanted to clear Tytler so he could stand as a candidate.

If those suspicious are correct, the government’s plan has misfired, as became quickly evident today when protests against Tytler spread across the Sikh’s home state of Punjab, disrupting traffic and blocking railtracks.

Leading Sikhs defended the journalist. The SGPC, known as the Sikhs’ parliament, offered him a job and legal expenses, and the Shiromani Akali Dal,  a Sikh political party, offered him a two lakhs of rupees ($4,000) reward and offered to make him a parliamentary candidate.

Reports suggest that Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister and a Sikh, is far from happy about the candidature of Tytler, who seems to have some hold over the party’s leadership. The government has today reacted to the protests by reconsidering his role.

The fact that Congress has not dealt with prosecutions stemming from the 1984 riots while it has been in power over the past 25 years seems to show an appalling bias. This strengthens the feeling of hurt and estrangement that fed the Sikhs’ call for Khalistan (a form of independence or autonomy for Punjab) through the 1980s.

Varun Gandhi filmed on a video

Varun Gandhi filmed on a video

The Varun Gandhi episode involves the 29-year-old son of an estranged member of the Gandhi dynasty who has become a prominent and cherished member of the BJP. Seen till now as a mild, soft-spoken young man who wrote poetry, he has suddenly become the poster boy of the BJP’s extreme nationalist wing since he was filmed allegedly verbally attacking Muslims  and Sikhs (even though he is mother is a Sikh). He claims videotapes were doctored.

It is not clear whether his attack was planned with BJP leaders. Initially it was seen as detrimental to the BJP’s cause at a time when the party is trying to play down its nationalist Hindutva doctrine and make broad economic and developmental appeals to the electorate.

But the BJP has now decided to ally itself with Varun, and some leaders have visited him in jail, where he is being held for his inflammatory speeches. This is because, like it or not, Gandhi is playing to many BJP supporters’ deeply held anti-Muslim views, and he has rallied them to the BJP‘s cause – leaving other politicians to tut tut on the sidelines and regret that Gandhi had been quite so outspoken.

All this shows how nothing is ever simple in India. While Varun Gandhi’s mother is a Sikh, his late father Sanjay (Rajiv’s brother) was half Parsi and half Hindu. And Jagdish Tytler, born to a Hindu father and Sikh mother in what is now Pakistan, was brought up after his parents died by a prominent Christian educationalist.

You’d think that such diverse backgrounds would breed tolerance!


This post is also on the FT India page –,dwp_uuid=a6dfcf08-9c79-11da-8762-0000779e2340.html



  1. Yeah right! you people don’t even talk about the Hindus who were and are being brutalized by Muslims in Kashmir and had to leave their home. Nor do you talking abou the baptist funded Christian terrorist organisation operating in India’s NE. It has become virtually impossible for people to remain practicing Hindus in the state of Tripura and kashmir has almost zero% Hindu population left.
    You don’t even talk about the Hindus who were burnt alive in Gujrat by the Muslims, nor do you mention the activities of the paedophile Catholic priests.
    It seems that you people believe that Hindus should behave like lame cows taking all kinds of crap that people throw at them and tolerate all sorts of nonsense.

  2. A poll for your consideration:

  3. Most of countries leading to high income status and already develop nation or First world. Only countries where communist reign and issue of useless religion arises again n again are very very far from queue to develop nation. We require to be “Golden Bird” or “sohney ki chidia
    again, provide we must be in same position again as centuries ago, “TOGETHER”

    Please read this link before further baseless thinks and talk about that ” Sikhism / Hinduism / Islam”.

    Sikh are not against any religion. They are against prejudiced by extremist. As every done as different identity so the Sikh are different. Sikh are not outcome from and for Hindus against Muslims or else. This religion foundation based on , social equality , believe in One GOD and against oppression. ” Let live together and respect all with their own religion beliefs, religious outfits and their customs “.

    A complete, powerful and energetic human is not a complete , if he/she is Hindu/Sikh/Muslims/Christan or else. A complete human is human if they believe in social equality, believe in one God, unshorn hair, respect all religion. Learn scientific reasons to have unshorn hair and covering head.

  4. “You’d think that such diverse backgrounds would breed tolerance!”

    Bud, the problem is not with these leaders they are just as bad as a shopkeeper / salesman trying to sell his goods using catchy lines and manipulating the information.

    The problem lies with us, the common man.
    They only sell what we are willing to buy.

    Say for news, people are more intrested in knowing about Rakhi Sawant’s boy friend than about sucides of farmers. So, the news channels sell that.

    Was thr a easier way for Raj Thackrey or Pramod Mutalik to become national figures overnight.

    I personally feel that the Politicians and leaders are just as normal as we are. They just sell what we’re willing to buy. We the common man, still oppose inter-caste marriages, inter-religion marriages can bring riots to a town. We try to form groups/ herds and hate someone from another group.

    One very fine example: LK Advani the epitome of hardcore hindutva had his niece marrying a Muslim and he had the grace of attending the wedding. It was back in 1990’s, when he was the face of hardcore hindutva.

    I guess deep down they’re as normal as we’re, just selling what the public demand is.

  5. Sikhs and sikhism is a variant of Hinduism and there is no animosity at all between these two ideologically. In fact Sikhism was borne out of Hinduism as a defense against Islam. How intellectually dishonest to say this as Hindu-Sikh issue when it’s actually a Congress-Sikh matter. Nowdays Congress is totally a (crypto) Christian party with evangelicals driving the agenda.

    Regarding Varun issue, does anti-terrorism conflate to anti-muslim? That too based on doctored tapes. Does the author know about ISI cells in Nepal and plans to create Mughalistan using the UP corridor bridging Pakistan and Bangladesh? Knowing history is critical to write about India. I don’t see that here.

  6. India is far too complex to be defined as intolerant based on 2 opportunist ring wing people, the fact is India has stayed largely united even after genocide of Sikhs and Muslims that killed 3000 and 2000 people respectively. I see this as part of evolution of democracy, you cannot escape ugly far right or left in this process, but as time passes people finally come to senses and lick their wounds ,,for example BJP is now finding is really hard to fool people with Ram temple plank , for same reason their ram setu flopped. This evolution takes decades and begins from good liberal education like luckily lot of us in urban India are not getting. Democracy is not a guarantee against far right politics or genocide as both Hitler and Bush emerged from robust democratic societies , so did Modi. As educated Indians are job is to rise steadfast against injustice aka Teesta Stalwad, Mahatma Gandhi etc. the socially will gradually transform it self , we guys so lucky that secularism is an ancient concept in our country that can sustain attacks for bunch of fascists.

  7. Very sad to see that for the general elections of India – the country, these political parties try to align themselves with caste, creede, religion and region, rather than aligning themselves with what is best for the country. No one talks about India anymore, it is all about being a Muslim or a Hindu or a Sikh or a Kashmiri or a Keralite.

  8. How depressing! Congress never learns and the BJP hasn’t changed its spots. I wish they would take a trip to Syria, where 4 Muslim sects and upwards of 6 Christian churches live peacefully side by side. Democracy isn’t worth much if it breeds intolerance…

  9. As usual you hit the nail on the head. I always enjoy reading your posts. It is a sad commentary indeed…your last line captures it would hope that we would climb out of our religious silos by this time..apparently it is not happening and taking centerstage instead. The problem is exacerbated by our seeming inability to focus on issues that matter and have a rational debate..instead it seems that the political leaders seem hellbent on evoking an emotional response from the electorate. Sad commentary for the secular state that the founding fathers tried to create. As power in India has decentralised, we seem to have more of these silos, not less.

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