Hindu-Muslim coexistence in India is erroneously touted as an example of interfaith cooperation in a modern democratic state.

To imagine India a democracy is far-fetched. Some half a billion of its rural and pauperized population live in the current equivalent of the Bronze Age. Owning a TV set does not change their Bronze Age perceptions. They vote for whatever party bribes them best, stages more colorful electoral shows, and attracts more stars. Although seemingly a quantitative difference only from seemingly haphazard Western voting habits, the rural Indian picture is qualitatively different in its primitiveness. Many voters just have not developed to the point where abstract nationalism and religious traits come into play.

It is a meaningless generalization to speak of Hindu-Muslim coexistence in India. The issue of coexistence is limited to several cities; villages are mostly mono-religious. In the cities, clashes are common.

India doesn’t have an ethnic majority to spearhead the fight. Also, India’s Muslim minority is not a coherent group, but is scattered among dozens of tribes and dialects. Add to that Hinduism’s typically polytheist tolerance and traditional non-belligerence, and the Muslim minority’s disinclination to revolt against a much larger Hindu group. Still, India’s Hindu population is becoming increasingly nationalistic, as electoral advances show, and clashes between Hindus and Muslims are becoming more common. A temporary lull in Hindu-Muslim confrontations has been due to several factors:

• a history of religious tolerance under British occupation.
• a huge deportation of Muslims from India and Hindus from Pakistan, which crushed the backbone of insurrection in both countries for decades.
• strong ultra-secular government (likewise, the communists suppressed ethnic nationalism in the USSR during their years in power).
• little practical reason for tensions: besides the Dharma wheel on the flag, India lacks Hindu symbolism.
• India’s unique culture of submissiveness to authority.
• extreme poverty, which makes political issues secondary to survival.

Economic growth in India makes the population more active politically. The rural population moves to the cities, intensifies demographic pressure, and upsets the Hindu-Muslim balance. Economic contrasts are becoming more visible: very few Indians are engaged in the modern productive economy, but TV and cities make it highly visible; jealousy is easily channeled down ethnic and religious divides. India is searching for national identity, with Hinduism preached in schools under the guise of “common cultural heritage.”

We may expect violent religious clashes in India in the coming decades.