"The next war will be a national war. It will not be settled by one decisive battle but will be a long wearisome struggle with an enemy who will not be overcome until his whole national force is broken… a war which will utterly exhaust our own people even if we are victorious."
General Helmut von Moltke spoke these words to Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1911. The "next war" ended up being the "War to End All Wars," World War I. But when I read this passage this past weekend, I was not reminded of the Great War. No, General von Moltke's words gave me pause to think about what is going on in India, and what might happen in the not too distant future.
It all began when Muslims killed 58 Hindus on a train in Ahmedabad in the western province of Gujarat. Reprisals from the Hindus were swift and vicious. Ahsan Jafri, a former MP, and members of his family were doused with gasoline and set afire. Hundreds more, both Hindu and Muslim, died in the ensuing violence. Despite everything that has happened, the violence has yet to spread beyond Gujarat.
So why all the violence in India and why now? This is not a stand-off with Pakistan over Kashmir. This is Indian vs. Indian. Yes, it is Hindu vs. Muslim, but still this is a domestic dispute. I'm not really sure why hundreds of Indians, Hindu and Muslim alike, have died in the past week, but I do know who is to blame: The politicians.
First some background. On Dec. 6, 1992, Hindu extremists destroyed the 464-year-old Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, in Gujarat, and the murder of 2,000 Muslims across the country soon followed. Yes, there are other extremists out there, not just Muslim, regardless of what you may hear in the news.
They, the Hindu extremists, claim the site is the birthplace of the deity Ram. The fundamentalist World Hindu Congress has been trying for months to break ground on a new temple in Ayodhya. The violence is happening now because if the temple is not built soon, it may not be built at all.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, the party of the fundamentalists, is close to losing power in New Delhi. They lost state elections last week, and one of the states where they are still strong is Gujarat. So instead of dealing with the real issues in India-be they unemployment, poverty, or what not-the BJP has decided to distract the public and more or less call for a war against the Muslims in India.
For the most part, the Indian public has ignored the call to arms of the BJP and the Hindu National Congress. They are gravitating more and more towards the secular Nehru-Gandhi family, led by Ranjiv Gandhi's widow Sonia. Maybe they are sick of the BJP rhetoric. Maybe they are sick of the violence. Or maybe they realize a war with India's Muslims could bring in Pakistan, which would mean thousands or millions more deaths.
By now, some of you are wondering what General von Moltke's words really have to do with India. Well, I was thinking that if the BJP continues to call Hindus to douse Muslims with petrol and set them alight, that Pakistan would be drawn into a war with India to protect the Muslim minority in the predominantly Hindu nation. Then there would be a national war which would exhaust even the victors.
But I truly hope von Moltke's words have nothing to do with anything, especially anything currently happening in India.