Robert D. Kaplan delivers

RobertDKaplan.jpgIn a brisk 830 words, Robert D. Kaplan of The Atlantic explains some of the smoldering tensions that led to this past week's slaughter in Mumbai. Behold two key paragraphs:

In the early Cold War decades, India's ruling Congress Party, the party of independence, sought to unite both Hindus and Muslims under the umbrella of a shared community and new nation-state. It worked, more or less, until the 1970s, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi enacted dictatorial emergency decrees that erased much of the romantic sheen from Congress's image. New imagined communities then started to form. In the 1980s, and particularly in the 1990s, with the opening up of the Indian economy to the outside world, Indians, especially the new Hindu middle class, began a search for roots to anchor them inside an insipid world civilization that they were joining as a result of their new economic status. This enhanced status, by the way, gave them new insecurities, as they suddenly had wealth to protect.

Consequently, we had the rise of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party, or BJP). The BJP is one of several Hindu nationalist organizations that promotes a revisionist view of Indian history, in which the Mughals and other Muslim dynasties of the medieval and early modern era (which helped create India's dazzlingly syncretic civilization - but who also brought terrible depredations upon the Hindus) are considered interlopers in what should have remained a purely Hindu civilization and story-line. Mass communications have helped Hindus in this historical journey, enabling the creation of a standardized and ideologized Hinduism out of many local variants. It goes without saying that a similar process simultaneously occurred within parts of the Indian Muslim community, who joined a world Muslim civilization that competed with Indian nationalism for their loyalty. Bottom line: this is not an ancient historical divide so much as a recreated modern one.

Kaplan, the author of Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, is understated and subdued in identifying the many important factors in this horrible drama. His closing sentence explains why The Atlantic is essential reading these days: "I have just spent a month reporting in Gujarat on Hindu-Muslim relations, and will have much more to say on the subject in the future."

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