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Opinion

January 2, 2015

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Hindutva trumps ‘development’

Some Indian commentators have deplored the conferment of the country’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, on Hindu Mahasabha founder Madan Mohan Malaviya. But many have welcomed its award to the Sangh Parivar’s first prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. They include even Amartya Sen, himself a Bharat Ratna and a Nobel Laureate, who called Vajpayee a “great statesman” while expressing some reservations about his policies.
The first group is emphatically right – not so much because Malaviya was given the award 69 years after he died, which makes little sense, but because the Mahasabha has for a century has propagated and practised virulent Hindu communalism.
It now wants to erect statues of Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse, a wholly disgusting idea, but one which bears continuity with Mahasabha leaders Malaviya, Lajpat Rai and BS Moonje. Moonje visited Mussolini in 1931 and tried to shape the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh along fascist lines.
Malaviya falsely complained that “Hindu numbers are depleting”, advocated “reconversion” of non-Hindus, would accept food and water only from Brahmins, and was devoted to protecting “the sacred thread (janeu), religion, the Vedas, Puranas, cows and Brahmins” – ideas and practices which would embarrass devout Hindus opposed to the caste system.
Malaviya is called the founder of the Banaras Hindu University. But Tejkar Jha, who is researching a book on the BHU, says that Malaviya was at best a “fringe player” in its foundation in 1916, the major role being played by British Theosophist Annie Besant and the Maharaja of Darbhanga.
The government’s motive in honouring Malaviya seems narrowly related to Narendra Modi’s nomination as the Lok Sabha candidate from Varanasi by his grandson Giridhar. It also seems calculated to impose a Hindutva icon on the public and create a nasty precedent.
What of Vajpayee? He is less extreme than Malaviya. But his intimate relationship with

the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, which catapulted the Bharatiya Janata Party from two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 85 in 1989, resulted in the demolition of the Babri mosque and a spate of riots in which thousands were killed.
Vajpayee was responsible for India’s 1998 nuclear tests and embrace of nuclear deterrence (which India for 50 years had described as a “repugnant” doctrine). This fulfilled a long-term Sangh obsession, but created a dangerous regional environment, triggering an arms race not just with Pakistan, but more damagingly, China.
Vajpayee laid the foundation for communal intolerance, which found its bloodiest expression in the butchery of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. He first criticised Modi’s complicity in it and reminded him of “Rajdharma”, but defended him in his infamous ‘aag-kisne-lagaayi’ speech two months later.
Had Vajpayee himself followed ‘Rajdharma’, in particular the constitution, he would have dismissed Modi and not allowed assembly elections in Gujarat’s communally surcharged climate. These paved the way for the triumph of Hindutva in Gujarat and communal polarisation nationally, which eventually resulted in Modi becoming India’s prime minister.
True, after Pokharan Vajpayee made half-hearted attempts at peace with Pakistan, like the Lahore-Delhi bus. But he allowed the Agra summit to be sabotaged. He also ordered a scary 10-month-long military standoff with Pakistan in 2001 costing $2 billion, which achieved nothing.
Similarly, he failed to free the BJP of the RSS’ influence and put it on a moderate path when he had a chance to do so. On every critical occasion, Vajpayee proved too timid or too loyal to the Sangh to do the right thing. A dispassionate evaluation of his legacy cannot ignore this largely negative component. On balance, he didn’t prove a responsible, if conservative, leader passionately committed to democracy, leave alone a statesman.
Awards apart, the Parivar is making its overbearing influence felt in numerous state institutions, even as its functionaries indulge in hate-speech contrasting ramzadas and haramzadas and in provocative acts including ghar wapsi (‘reconversio’’) through inducements. For RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, the minorities are “our maal” (goods), stolen by “outsiders”, which Hindus have the right to “recover”.
The downgrading of Christmas Day as ‘good governance’ day, to be celebrated on Malaviya-Vajpayee’s birth anniversaries, is an assault on religious freedom. Even foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, who has a Socialist past and is sober by BJP standards, has demanded that the Bhagavad Gita be declared India’s “national scripture” – a demand that’s simply incompatible with the cconstitution, under which the state cannot espouse any religion.
What India is witnessing is the Parivar’s concerted campaign to impose a redefinition of the state as essentially Hindu and of citizenship as something based on religion and culture, not civic equality and a participatory community which respects diversity and plurality.
Modi made a few token and ineffectual noises about restraining Parivar-style hate speech but his actions suggest the opposite. Thus he refused the opposition’s eminently reasonable demand that he make a statement in parliament on the issue – and held up bills on insurance, coal-mining, land acquisition, etc.
By pushing these measures through ordinances, the government is denigrating parliament, and making democracy dysfunctional. This is the price Hindutva is extracting from India in addition to spreading virulent sectarianism.
The government is drawing protests from businessmen and major chambers of commerce, comprising Modi’s wealthiest domestic supporters. They have been joined by self-styled liberals who have turned soft on Modi over the past year. They contrast the BJP’s ‘economic Right’ to its ‘cultural Right’, and back the first against the second. They all regard the Parivar’s anti-minority campaign as an aberration from the ‘development’ agenda (read, pro-business neoliberal policies), and as some kind of BJP ‘self-goal’.
They are profoundly mistaken. Contrary to propaganda, Modi wasn’t elected on a ‘development’ plank. This was mere dressing on its Hindutva agenda, meant to broaden its appeal to the as-yet-non-communalised sections of the middle classes. In 2013-14, the BJP didn’t even claim, as it did in earlier years, to have distanced itself from that agenda.
That agenda was implemented through systematic incitement to communal violence, with 247 recorded incidents in 2013 in Uttar Pradesh alone – from Pratapgarh and Faizabad in the east to Allahabad, Bareilly, Bijnore, Mathura and Bulandshahr, and worst of all, Muzaffarnagar westwards.
The RSS was drafted into the BJP election campaign with greater intensity and numbers than ever before, with huge backing from the electronic and social media, and bankrolled by enormous sums, of the same order as that spent in US presidential campaigns.
Hindutva motifs were carefully deployed, as also slogans like ‘Pink Revolution’ (beef exports) to chide Muslims. As journalist Harish Khare puts it in his new perceptive book How Modi Won It, Modi “succeeded in instigating another Hindu uprising to become Prime Minister”.
For the Parivar, as for Modi, the top priority is not job creation, not even economic development, but politics – how to deepen and widen Hindutva’s influence and ensure its long-term dominance in India, if necessary by coercion. If there’s a clash between promoting growth (or even the economic giveaways promised to Big Business) and furthering the Sangh agenda, the Sangh must take precedence – always.
This poses a new challenge to secular-democratic forces, which cannot be met merely through rational argument and parliamentary debate, important as these are. It demands grassroots mobilisation on issues that concern the core-rights of the people threatened by the Hindutva-dominated neoliberal order.
The writer, a former newspaper editor,is a researcher and rights activist based in Delhi.
Email: [email protected]

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