Monthly Archives: January, 2016

“Why are there forty million poor people in America?”

In the 1950s King told his fiancée Coretta Scott, “I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic.” Such views were not simply a product of youth, and he continued to believe accordingly. In a 1965 talk to the Negro American Labor Council (often overlooked, King had strong and important relationships with the labor movement), King bluntly observed, “there must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism. “   A year later he explained that solving the “economic problem of the Negro” would involve “billions of dollars.” You can’t end slums, he added, without “profit . . . be[ing] taken out of the slums. But if you do that, “you’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground . . . You are messing with captains of Industry.” To do this would be tread “in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism.”



In August, 1967 King delivered one of his more important addresses to the SCLC Convention. Titled, “Where Do We Go From Here” (and the basis of a book with the same title), he showed that his analysis had moved beyond race in the South to class and capitalism nationally:

I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about “Where do we go from here,” that we honestly face the fact that the Movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s market place. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, “Who owns the oil?” You begin to ask the question, “Who owns the iron ore?” You begin to ask the question, “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two thirds water?” These are questions that must be asked.

After the Civil and Voting Rights Acts went into effect after 1965 and the southern apartheid regime was finally being dismantled, King’s focus on inequality and the economy changed his standing in America and would become his undoing (see Poor People’s Movement below) as liberals, who’d supported him when he was seeking inclusion in the American system for Blacks in the South, now began to abandon him when he spoke of the greater problem of material injustice for Blacks and  inequality for all poor people all over America. The Civil Rights campaigns sought jobs along with justice, but never challenged the structure of capitalism; rather they sought to include 15 million or so Blacks in the American economy—as investors, workers, and consumers. But King’s rejection of capitalism, along with his global notoriety as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and his popularity among the poor, made him a threat to all segments of the ruling elite, not just southern politicians and bigots.

The Dream That Was

Views of Martin Luther King Jr. Day haven’t changed, but even after seven years of having the first black president in office, Americans are more dubious than ever that King’s dream of equal opportunity has been achieved. Blacks are the most skeptical.

BEE369 Minister Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching at an event

BEE369 Minister Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching at an event

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 28% of American Adults believe America has reached the day King preached about in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech when men and women of all races have equal opportunity. That’s down from a high of 35% two years ago at this time. But 61% say the United States has not yet reached a time of equal opportunity, up from a low of 49% in 2012 and surpassing the previous high of 59% in August 2013 on the 50th anniversary of King’s speech.

Growth of Communalism in Independent India




National Movement was not able to counter forces of communalism adequately or evolve an effective strategy against them but it was only because of the strong secular commitment of the national movement that despite the traumatic event of partition and carnage that it accompanied, independent India made secularism a basic pillar of its Constitution,  state and society.

One would have to trace steps back to the time when consciousness of separate ethnic identities started developing in the minds of people to understand the colossal issue of ethnic conflict in independent India.

“Before British officials started to record a Punjabi’s religion, the latter did not necessarily or primarily think of himself as a Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. If asked who or what he was, he might have mentioned his zaat or village before speaking of his religion.” (Gandhi, Rajmohan 2013)

Rajmohan Gandhi, in his book on Punjab history makes this remark which throws light on the concept of identities in the past. When and how these identities became a staple food of political manipulations and manoeuvring is the matter to be thought of.

As a part of imperial design of establishing the stronghold of the empire in the subcontinent, India’s colonial masters created and perpetuated myths about peoples, along with this there was a greater emphasis on homogenising certain ‘communities’ and differentiating them from others through the creation of and perpetuation of knowledge and fear. There have been convincing arguments on the idea of construction of group categories by knowledge elite and its promotion by the powerful, the methods of arriving at a census by categorization and classification may be one such example.

How have these tools of control and manipulation survived into independent India and what pressure they exert on the society and culture would be the matter of deliberation.


Trajectory of communalism in independent India:

The occurrence of communal violence in the post-independence period has been classified into various phases:

  • The calm decade of 1950-60 with sporadic instances of violence
  • The rising of communal tensions gradually across the next decade of 1961-70
  • The ‘peaceful’ period of war and emergency from 1971-77
  • Violent years of 1978-80 ending in Moradabad violence killing 1000 people
  • The most communally charged decade starting in 1980 culminating in the destruction of Babri Masjid in 1992 and letting loose the demon of communal violence across the country

Congress managed to dominate in the first two decades after independence because of welfarist industrialisation and institutionalizing democratic rule, but gradually Congress took to slow decline, challenges from above and below undermined congress’ dominance. The rise of political Hindutva questioning the very principles of Nehruvian model and expanding influence in civil society by the extension of shakhas forms the background of the mobilization by these Hindutva elements of masses against corruption and Emergency of 1970s.

After the dismal performance of Jan Sangh in 1984 elections, a more aggressive policy of Hindutva was adopted. Since the 12% of largest religious minority of the country was small to terrorise the population of subjugation by them, the Hindutva adopted a different approach of criticizing the State of ‘Muslim appeasement’ and ‘Unfair treatment’ of Hindus.

The issue of absence of Uniform Civil Code has been brought up time and again as the manifestation of discrimination against Hindus. The case of Shah Bano that came into limelight because of this absence of Uniform Civil Code where a Muslim woman considered eligible for receiving alimony under the general civil laws was deprived of it due to the application of Muslim personal laws, this case unleashed a series of debates between progressive and conservative muslims. Fearing the loss of support base in muslim fundamentalists the congress government legislatively overturned the ruling of Supreme Court which insisted on the supremacy of Indian Penal Code, this was used by the Hindu communalists for propagating the idea of Muslim appeasement by the Govt. and it was to neutralize this and to appease the Hindus that locks of Babri Masjid were opened.



The secularism of Indian constitution

A secular state with substantially secularized laws resting on secular constitution co-exists with a civil society in which the religious influence is pervasive; this creates the highly tensed atmosphere in India.

Secularism was defined in a comprehensive manner during the national movement, one which meant the separation of religion from politics and the state, the treatment of religion as a private matter for the individual, state neutrality towards or equal respect for all religions, absence of discrimination between followers of different religions, and active opposition to communalism. And since Indian constitution was to a huge extent an attempt at materializing the promises and legacy of National Movement, it had secular spirit from the very beginning. Though the term secular was added only by the 42nd Amendment in 1976, the idea of the constitution was secular from the very beginning, adding the term might just have been an act to asserting that essence.

However, one very major problem with the Indian Constitution has been the gap between the ideals enshrined and the prevalent practices and worsening the problem was the ignorance and illiteracy of the masses.

One needs to define Indian secularism and communalism and their practices before going any further, Secularism in India translates into state power directed against the political use of religion.

  • Secularists and their political organizations respect the religious beliefs of others, as long as they keep clear of politics. Secularists do not blame either Hindus or Muslims as communities for riots but they blame the politicians, Hindu and Muslim where they find either or both responsible and non-communal factors as economic conditions.
  • Indian secularists are also nationalists who believe and teach that there is an Indian history that encompasses all the peoples of the subcontinent, thus secularism is the issue of a particular kind of nationalism, that of composite nationalism.

But with the constant rise in communal forces over the years, there has been an active communalisation of the society, this communalisation not always results in communal carnage but the creation and propagation of fear and the idea of other-ness of a community compromises the idea of  secular India that was perceived.

  • Communalism is essentially and ideology, a set of beliefs which falsely represent the interest of a social group. Religion or religious ideology has nothing to do with communalism; communal politics is the politics of communal identity. The example of Hindutva claiming to represent 85% of the Indian population suggests the gross ignorance by communal forces of multiple identities with in this so called majority of theirs. The idea of majority changing from issue to issue and programme to programme is non-existent to the communalists.

But more important is understanding the meanings of secularization, and communalization.

Secularization implies co-existence between secular and sacred, and in India it would mean a many sided process involving the progressive decline of religious influence in economic political and social life of human beings, and even over their private habits and motivations.

Communalism in a society like India, means a competitive de-secularization. And as communalism has its symbolic equivalents in cultural, political and social terms, secularism lacks any such symbolic representation and that might be the reason of its slow penetration in the society. Secularism might be equated to the development of modern civil society, and it would be wrong to confine the hindrance to growth of  this civil society in just two dimensions of religion and caste, which is affected by diverse cultural, regional, class and group identities.


Manifestation of Communal forces

Communalization not always results in communal violence, there might exist strong currents of communal animosity in a society but not riots or violence, there might be various economic and political reasons behind this prevalent communalism, but the demographic factor plays a decisive role in the behaviour of not only the communities in question but also the political parties. Extensive studies have been undertaken by various scholars in the reasons of the eruption of violence and its relation with various non-religious causes:

  1. Civil Society as deterrent to Communal Strife: It has been argued that when local networks of civic engagement exist between the communities tensions and conflicts are regulated and maintained and when they are missing communal identities lead to endemic and ghastly violence.(Varshney 2002). These networks can be broken down into two parts:
  • Associational forms of engagement in organizational setting, which are significant in cities.
  • Everyday form of engagement as unorganized setting, effective in villages.

and both these forms of engagements promote peace but the capacity of associational form to withstand national-level shocks is substantially higher. These civic links also, according to Ashutosh Varshney, prevent the manipulation of ethnicity by political elite for political purposes, because if electorate is ‘inter-ethnically’ engaged, the politicians may be unable and unwilling to polarize.

Before going any further we would stop here to define what civic society basically is, civic society in any society is the space which exists independent of the state and makes interconnections between individuals possible. Civic space is organized in associations that are modern and voluntaristic, though civic society is highly modern in character but modernity is a necessary but not a sufficient precondition for the rise of civil society and some forms of association that might be on traditional lines but that serve modern ends should be considered a part of the civil society.

Inter-communal engagement leads to the formation of institutionalized peace system.

It has also been argued that due to presence of a strong civic society in villages the communal tensions hardly ever materialize in violence there, with 4% rural death in overall communal rioting in the period from 1950-1995, and it was only during Ayodhya movement that communal violence penetrated villages since independence, but the picture has significantly altered after the Muzzafarnagar violence. Ashish Nandy has maintained the link between the traditional and rural India and he argues that somewhere somehow, religious violence has something to do with the urban industrial vision of life and the political process arising out of it, this refers to the non-religious basis of communal violence.


  1. Violence as the result of political manoeuvring: The idea of riots, pogroms and ethnic strife arising out of popular discontent leads to the displacement of blame from the actual perpetrators of violence who benefit from it ultimately, this is called by Paul Brass as blurring of responsibility and it is this vagueness of communal violence which makes it so effective for serving hidden political, economic and social ends. The riots, it has been argued, have 3 phases, one of rehearsal/preparation, then of enactment/activation and last of explanation/interpretation, and it is the last one that shapes the consciousness of masses and proves the effectiveness of the act, which is marked by diffusion of blame widely contributing to the perpetuation of violent productions in future.

Brass, argues that an Institutionalized Riot System operated in areas where riots are endemic, like Aligarh and Meerut. There exists a vicious circle of political/economic/social rivalry, communal solidarity or polarization and riots. This vicious circle chokes the political parties standing for secular principles and practices. It should be noted here that these kinds of circles play a significant role only in places where the population size of ‘rival’ communities is considerable, thus demography plays a decisive role in the process of riot production.

In addition to that another factor that plays a significant role in the proper enactment of riots and pogroms is the existence of a Police-Politician-Goon nexus, where goons are used as the means of starting the violence and the inactivity of the police forces and of the armed forces results in numerous deaths of minorities that could have been avoided only if the police or armed forces acted on time. The low representation of minorities in the armed forces and the communal feelings harboured by the officers adds up to this nexus.


  1. The Violence around Votes: Arguing very near the argument of Brass, Wilkinson has claimed that ethnic violence far from being relatively spontaneous eruptions of anger are often planned by politicians for clear electoral purposes. He goes on to say that political end may also motivate politicians to maintain peace and control violence at times and incite it at others. Democratic states protect minorities when it is in their electoral interest to do so, politicians in government would supply security to minorities when minorities are in important support base of that party or in the support base of their coalition partners Wilkinson has proposed a criteria of 6months on either side of elections as a proximity measure of violence.

This argument encompasses all the political parties there are, and not spares even the ones claiming to be organized on secular lines, it has been proved by incidents in Indian history that all parties, whether organized on secular or communal lines, often resort to use of violence on ethnic grounds as means of political benefit. Often class wars are manipulated into religious ones The ‘occasionally communal’ character of certain parties en-cashes the consistent work of communal parties and ends in chattering of trust of the affected sections in so called messiahs of secularism, the stand of ‘soft-Hindutva’, which Congress adopted by allowing the unlocking of the Babri Masjid gate and by the ambiguous invocation of ‘ramrajya’ by Rajiv Gandhi set loose a series of violent clashes that led to the worst communal havoc India has seen since Independence.


The rise of the Hindutva :

When in 1949, Rashtra Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) got back its legality, it had agreed to a number of limitations put up by the Government. RSS had limited itself to cultural activities and Ram had been central to its cultural programme from its very inception in 1925, but the mobilisation of masses on the issue of Ram-Janm-Bhoomi gained momentum only in 1980s. Ram in two avatars of Ram-lalla and Warrior Ram has been propagated as a symbol of Hindutva. Hindutva and Hinduism are two different things with Hindutva aiming at propagation of an ideology that bestows a single identity on the country and it banks on symbols and stereotypes, thus it can be stated here that while Hindutva represents use of religious identity for communal ends, Hinduism represents traditional religiosity. The all-encompassing tradition of Hinduism benefits the Hindutva elements to claim the support of 85% of Indian Population.

The Sangh parivar which has evolved numerous organs overtime in response to the challenges that came their way have played a marginal role in the politics of national level for a long time since independence but the trend has changed. RSS-BJP-VHP-Bajrang Dal equation forms the backbone of the Hindutva phenomenon in India, with Bhartiya Janta Party acting as the political organ, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad as the social one and Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh as the ideological organ. The proponents of Hindutva claim to be true secularists and call the so called secular parties and organizations as pseudo secularist, they stand on absolute opposition to the idea of composite nationalism rather they talk of a Hindu Rashtra where non-Hindu should respect and imbibe Hindu culture and language, giving independence to all the religions under the over-arching Hindu umbrella is what true secularism for Hindutva forces stands for.

The parivar has always upheld the autonomy of its constituent bodies, but the political rise of BJP as a national party can be only understood by looking at the intense mobilisation and groundwork undertaken by the RSS and VHP cadres.



The multi-dimensional character of the communal forces in India and their multi-dimensional motives and effects that they produce can only be understood by understanding the Indian civil society and India state and the areas of their interaction. While the communal forces on the extremes of both the Majority and Minority communities keeps pulling India apart, there has been a constant decay in the activity of the secular forces in the country, with the so called secular parties giving in to the communal and political pressures.

Reading the growth of Communal forces another trend that comes to the front is the rusted criminal justice system which lends the recommendations of numerous Inquiry committees ineffectual. This further reduces the trust of the common man in the System of governance.

The tattered fabric of Indian social order needs much more mending, the disparity in representation of minorities in administrative and civil bodies, the backwardness in terms of education and skill in minorities is still prevalent. The gap between the ideals enshrined in the constitution and the level of consciousness of masses needs to be filled but the benefit that this gap provides the politicians of our times forms the main hindrance in this process.

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