The Ranas of Amritsar could not tolerate the pro-Khalistani terrorism of the mid-1980s. So they shifted their home and business to Mohali on the outskirts of Chandigarh. Many like them, mainly Hindus, fled from terrorised Punjab to safer places. The exodus of Pandits from Kashmir in the nineties, too, was out of fear. But no longer is the young Hindu willing to run away from the battlefield. And for the first time in Indian history, the Centre has sent advisories to four state governments, three ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, directing them to abide by the Constitution and protect minorities. The advisory is just one step short of Article 355, a rarely used formality before dismissing a state government.
The Hindu's tolerance level is dropping, and today he is an angry man. As head of the poly-trauma ward of Sawai Man Singh Hospital, Jaipur, Dr Rajendra Chaturvedi attends to victims of riots, accidents and domestic violence. But the May 13 blasts changed him. "There were more than 60 casualties," he said. "Healthy men bled to death in minutes." The Brahmin now sports a tilak and speaks out against Islamic terror.
Terror campaigns irk the average Hindu. "Delaying Afzal Guru's hanging [in the Parliament attack case] sends out the signal that the government is unwilling to act on terror," said M.L. Gupta, a Jaipur blasts survivor. The sentiment was echoed by Rajinder Singh Shekhawat, a taxi driver who witnessed the explosion at Jaipur's Badi Chaupad. "Hindus have many enemies. The biggest one is terrorism, condoned by a corrupt government," he said.
Pankaj Singh, 30, executive member of the BJP Uttar Pradesh unit, said, "The feeling is that Hindus are branded communal if they refuse to tolerate terrorism, infiltration and loss of educational and economic opportunities." Youngsters who went to Azamgarh to protest the attack on Gorakhpur MP, Yogi Aditya Nath, felt the same way.
Bangalore-based entrepreneur Savitri Shanker (name changed) said she was annoyed by reports of Hindus baptising their children for securing admissions in Christian schools and colleges. She also talked of her help's cancer-stricken relative who was taken to a hospice. The hospice management promised the family free treatment and other benefits if they would convert. The family refused and admitted the patient in a hospital. Shanker is "sad, but not surprised" by the rampage against churches in Karnataka and Orissa.
Perhaps the young Hindu's knee-jerk reaction has been triggered by the change in circumstances. Pavitra and Kunal (names changed), a Bangalore-based couple, said that their views had changed since their college days seven years ago. Said Pavitra, 26: "We had many Muslim classmates who were close friends. They looked and dressed like us. Now they have begun to wear their Muslim identity on their sleeve. We are not able to laugh at the same jokes and there is a bit of tension when we meet."
Kunal said: "After the bomb blasts, there was definitely an awkwardness on our part. And when we hear of them getting preferential quotas, it hurts." The couple said they still would "not look away if we see them". But they are thinking of volunteering for or contributing to a pro-Hindu organisation. They asked, "If it is OK for others to affirm their religion, is it wrong for us to do the same?"
Fears that were confined to the minority communities are now surfacing among upwardly mobile Hindus. Said businesswoman Anita Vasanth, 48: "It's about wanting India for all of us Indians. To get minority votes politicians are doing so many things at my cost. Don't thwart me to make others grow; it leads to heartburn and more."
While such thoughts and behavioural shifts are seen across the country, unorganised and spontaneous hit-backs have been relatively few. But it is a matter of time before that happens, said a senior BJP leader who did not wish to be named. "We are sitting on a time bomb," he said. "It [the backlash] can happen any time. It is just that there is no pro-Hindu political party." What about the BJP? "Who says the BJP is pro-Hindu?" he asked. "What has the party done for the Hindus? The BJP has taken up the issue of minority appeasement to make a vote bank of those opposed to such appeasement." He said if Hindus had seen the BJP as pro-Hindu, the party would have got more than 400 seats in the post-Ayodhya Lok Sabha polls.
Veteran journalist and Prasar Bharati Board chairman M.V. Kamath said that a Hindu awakening had occurred, and he attributes the BJP victory in Karnataka to "the constant and irritating stress on secularism at the cost of Hindu sensitivity." Vinayak Deshpande who oversees the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's operations in north India said that Hindus were defenceless in facing the cultural attack from the west, and the religious attacks from missionaries and terrorists. He said the larger Hindu community should plan and combat those problems. But Hindu leaders know too well that anti-terror anger is not a strong enough glue to bind the majority community.