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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 20, May 10, 2014

Why Banaras is Uncomfortable with Modi

Monday 12 May 2014, by Dipak Malik

Narendra Modi, the new mascot of the Sangh Parivar, has chosen Varanasi as his spring-board for his prime ministerial ambition in 2014. Nineteen ninetynine saw Lucknow sending Atal Behari Vajpayee on the prime ministerial trajectory. It was different as Lucknow is the city of composite culture and had offered one of the finest Hindustani cultural and literary traditions which represented the essence of the Hindu-Muslim cultural matrix. Narendra Modi’s arrival in Kashi is, of course, altogether different as it is being portrayed as an innocuous return of the prodigal in the lap of mother Ganges, a symbolism very heavily dipped in mytho-logical-religious import of the Ganga at Varanasi. This may look innocuous, but in the case of a Narendra Modi unapologetic for the 2002 Gujarat pogrom against hapless Muslims, it is not merely subtle Hindutva but obviously an exclusivist Hindutva of the Savarkar brand which he is more adept in. It is in public domain that Vajpayee as the Prime Minister asked Modi to stick to the constitutional responsibility of protecting citizens of India and paraphrased it in a proverb, asking Modi to observe ‘Rajdharma’ (the duty enshrined for an impartial state). Modi, of course, did not pay heed to it and remains adamantly unapologetic even today.

Modi started his nomination helicopter show by landing in the Banaras Hindu University campus and then garlanding Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya’s statue standing at the main entrance of the University. Modi and his advisors, including his US-based image-maker outfit, pathetically poor about historical facts and swayed by the Sangh Parivar’s reconstruction of a communalising history, did a big mistake by identifying Malviya, the tallest Hindu leader of the 20th century, as an adhrent to their brand of Savarkarian Hindutva. Malviya, on the other hand was non-communal as well as entirely dismissive of the concept of Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation) as narrated to Prof Mukut Bihari Lal, a close confidant of Malviya, when Lal reminded Malviya that Dr Munje was for the Hindu Rashtra. This was as usual misreading as well as misappropriation of Malviya to suit the Sangh Parivar’s goals.

The next helishow was at the Vallabh Bhai Patel statue, which was again pregnant with meaning, an overture to the local Patel electorate as well as again a misappropriation of Patel, who was clearly of the view that the RSS ideology did contribute to the assassination of the Mahatma.

The third stoppage was at Vivekananda’s statue who wanted a powerful India with the mind of Hindus and the body of Muslims, thus a composite nationhood that he had inherited from his teacher, Ramakrishna Paramhansdev.

Modi and his campaign managers, however, were trying to hide the Hindutva wrapped in dry Savarkarian communalism, but the spots could not be hidden for long. Before filing his nomination he had to put a high drama of being called by mother Ganges rejecting that it was not the mundane BJP which sent him to Kashi but mother Ganges herself invited him. Even Malviya, the great Hindu leader, could not claim anything like that.

Varanasi is not comfortable with people who want to usurp the titles of its spiritual heritage. The spiritual heritage of Kashi has been harmony between the three great vehicles of religious movements of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Varanasi or Kashi is a city of an ‘argumentative culture’. It is a town which has a history of millennia-long discourse being synthesised in peace and tranquillity. The medi-aeval India saw Saint Kabir who proclaimed that he was neither a Hindu nor a Muslim. It has Tulsidas who dared to put the Ramayana story in Awadhi dialect much to the fury of the hegemonic priestcrafts. It was a revolution in itself when the people were able to read the Ramayana without the mediation of the all- powerful, hegemonic priests interpreting it to serve their own professional interests.

Buddha’s revolutionary voice got a platform in Sarnath in Varanasi as he started a new religious movement of Buddhism as a stormy critic of the Brahmanic traditions of Hinduism. The Dalit saint, Ravidas, also could stand to the ruling hegemony of the day in medieval India. During the freedom struggle Banaras was one of the twin cities of the great movement along with Allahabad.

Banaras is not a moment of civilisational clash but civilisational movement. Modi and his managers are perhaps not aware of it. This finds Modi more as a stranger to the historical tradition of the town than the seemingly innocuous return of the prodigal son to the lap of mother Ganges.

Prof Dipak Malik is the Director Emeritus, Gandhian Institute of Studies, Varanasi.