Mainstream, VOL LII No 30, July 19, 2014
Neo-converts to Moditva and Flabbergasted Left-Liberals
Sunday 20 July 2014
The following is a sequel to the author’s article on the Left-liberals’ approach to Moditva in the post-election scenario.
by Biswajit Roy
In a month after Narendra Modi’s advent to the South Block with Modified BJP gaining brute majority in Parliament, India has witnessed the gruesome killing of Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh by the Hindu Rashtra Sena in Pune, HRS-VHP attacks on Muslims in the region as well as the hounding of Modi’s social media critics by the police, in addition to increasing intimidation of scholars who differ withthe Hindutva representation of India’s past and present. All these suggest what kind of macabre forces the Sangh Parivar will unleash in the coming months. For assorted secular liberals of all varieties—Left and Gandhian, Nehruvian and socialist, modernist and post-modernist—who are apparently clueless about their collective defeat and confused about the future course, it’s high time to pull up their socks and close ranks to fight back, pending their differences. But they need to shun the shibboleths and churn out new ideas and strategies to fight Hindutva fascism, rather, its hybrid avatar that has coupled with corporate growth fundamentalism or neo-liberalism to create Moditva.
Modi epitomises the convergence of majori-tarian/authoritarian nationalists led by the RSS and the creamy layer of the crony capitalists, who want licence to ruthlessly plunder natural, financial and human resources, be it under governments, communities and individual lesser mortals in the name of ‘development’. Together, they ratcheted up the Rs 5000-crore propaganda machine for Modi as the ‘strong’ leader who would neither ‘appease’ the religious minorities nor tolerate the social groups and political-ideological forces opposed to the Gujarat model of development. The Home Ministry-media orchestrated hounding of NGOs (for that matter, non-NGO jholewalas too) for opposing ‘development’ projects in Gujarat and elsewhere and the Culture Ministry’s plan to promote the Hindutva pantheons, in addition to the persecution of minorities are two sides of the same coin.
Modi’s call for ‘Ek Bharat—Shrestha Bharat’ and his promise of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’ actually reflect the wish-lists of the RSS and India Inc. since both sides yearn for a dissent-free, steamrolled India to run their respective writs. Multinationals and Breton Woods institutions, which have been prescribing the replacement of the post-War welfare state with a de facto capitalist dictator-ship, are also looking for a ‘conducive atmosphere for investment’. Thus the marriage of religious nationalism and corporate developmentalism which is increasingly tied up to global capital is much more dangerous than the hitherto parallel shows of Hindu Right-wing and crony capitalists.
It must be admitted that the new hybrid has created a much wider social constituency for Moditva than the Hindutva in its ugliest form that he had practised in Gujarat 2002 and what the RSS-BJP did in Ayodhya in 1992. The liberals, who had highlighted Modi’s past atrocities in their pre-poll campaign, hardly factored in his developmental rhetoric that resulted in greater public acceptance of the Janus-faced Prime Minister. He has succeeded in creating confu-sions among many non-communal people who felt that he had discarded his predatory politics to fulfil his national ambition. Post-poll responses to Moditva should address the religious Hindus as well as confused seculars on the pitfalls of the RSS-Modi-Ambanis convergence. There is a need to monitor, assess and expose the emerging cloak-and-dagger scenario in which not only the religious minorities and secular forces opposed to Hindutva and develop-mentalism would face state and non-state attacks. Modi’s economic policy statements already suggest ruthless structural violence is also in the offing, which would hit millions of the Hindu majority. However, the Hindutva-corporate convergence has also created an opportunity to widen the opposition to the Gujarat model by coordinating the mass and class resistance against the neo-liberal onslaught with anti-communalist public actions.
Some of the doe-eyed liberals like the Congress leader, Shashi Tharoor, may not count the perils for the ‘cattle class’ in the coming days while admiring Modi’s post-poll ‘moderate and inclusive gestures’. But the Prime Minister’s silence on Shaikh’s killing, one of those millions of ‘aspirational’ youths whom he has promised an El Dorado, his pre-coronation high-decibel Ganga-pujan and the absence of any Muslim among the 282 BJP MPs are not coincidental. Neither his subtle and not-so-subtle hate campaign against the Muslims and those who ‘appease’ them nor his rants on ‘pink revolution’ (read beef-processing industry) and Bangladeshi ‘infiltrators’ who do not observe Durga-Asthami (read Muslim illegal migrants) were merely poll-time rhetoric. Analysing Modi’s poll speeches, Jyoti Punwani has enumerated (The Hoot. June 5) the examples of his systematic and deliberate incitement to communal polarisation by spreading an anti-Muslim fear psychosis and harping on majoritarian sentiments while accusing his rivals of ‘vote-bank politics’.
Opinions differ how much Modi owes his victory to communal polarisation and his developmental rhetoric. But there is no denying that the two-pronged strategy has helped him to harvest both the Hindu upper-caste as well as OBC and Dalit votes in increasing percentages this time. It is also evident that the staggering tally of the BJP, despite the fact that it bagged only 31 per cent share of the total votes polled in the general election, has swept some self-acclaimed liberal intellectuals off their feet. These neo-converts, the Trojan horses for Moditva, should be exposed.
Mr Development and a new Vivekananda: the Two-in-One
Shiv Visvanathan, the most articulate among the neo-converts so far, has been swept by the tsu-Namo. Singing unmitigated paeans to Modi’s poll campaign in an article on the day of Modi’s swearing-in (‘How Modi defeated liberals like me’, The Hindu, May 26), he ridiculed the new Prime Minister’s English-speaking secular detractors including the ‘Nehruvian elite’ for being ‘paranoid and brittle’ and raising false alarm about a ‘period of McCarthyism’ under the Modi regime. The noted sociologist did not merely list the Sangh-induced perceptions among Hindus but endorsed Modi and the Sangh Parivar’s old complaint of minority appeasement. He called secularism ‘a form of political correct-ness’, an ‘invidious weapon’ which the Congress regime had used to ‘placate minorities electorally, violating the majoritarian sense of fairness’.
Thus secularism became a ‘repression of the middle class’ by an ‘Orwellian club where some prejudices were more equal than others’, he said. Citing the controversy on religious conversion, he has blamed secularists for treating Hindutva groups as ‘sinister’ while condoning ‘the fundamentalism of other religions... as benign and as a minoritarian privilege’. Nonetheless, the self-styled liberal did not bother to examine the complaints of minority appeasement in the light of reports of panels led by Justices Rajindar Sachar and Ranganath Misra as well as studies in religious conversion in post-independence India and reports following the Sangh-instigated killing of Graham Staines in Odisha.
His eulogy for Modi’s post-victory Ganga Arati in Varanasi led to some unabashed flattery next week. (‘Narendra Modi’s symbolic war’, EPW, May 31) Describing the pilgrimage city as the ‘oldest living city on the planet’ that ‘was a cosmos of its own’, the awestruck ethnogra-pher discovered that ‘Modi was soaking himself in civilisation’ by playing the lead in the ‘Vivekananda-like script that let him speak of cosmos, constitution, civic and community simultaneously’. Thus, ‘not merely (Modi) was touching a cosmic pulse’ but also ‘creating a vibrant Hinduism as metaphor’. “Even a Dante could not have created a greater vision of cosmic politics,” an ecstatic Visvanathan commented after crediting the poster-boy of hybrid Hindutva with ‘a better sense of Glimpses of History than any Nehru’.
The scholar’s phantasmagoria about the coming of a modernist Hindu prophet is one half of the ‘semiotic construct’ that could not be complete without its other half, Modi the ‘Mr Development’ who has provided a ‘theology of change’. With ‘development as a simulacra’ being Modi’s ‘greatest creation’, it ‘became a collective morality’ helping him to ‘delegitimise Delhi’ and destroy the ‘Nehruvian world’. The victor of the great ‘symbolic war’ has replaced the old with ‘an alternative muscular and spiritual vision created around Malaviya, Vivekananda, Patel and Ambedkar’ who together had ‘defined the grammar of nationalism’, thus asserting a ‘notion of historical justice’, presumably to ‘repressed’ Hindus.
At the same time, Modi has mastered a ‘number game called development making creative use of symbols blending modernity and folklore’ and ‘created a different anthropo-logy of modernity as a morality play’. Needless to say, Modi’s politics of communal polarisation and corporate brand promotion campaign for Moditva did not bother the neo-convert. Perhaps, he fought shy of including Savarkar, Golwalkar and Hedgewar among those teachers of correct grammar of Indian nationalism because of his liberal claims. Hence, he clubbed Vivekananda and Ambedkar with Hindu supremacists to lend his protagonist a wider nationalist respectability.
I can’t afford to pretend to be an academic or claim a subtle understanding of semiotics like the erudite professor. All I found that the scholar-cum-TV studio-hopper is so mesmerised by Modi that he could not count on Varanasi’s tradition of ‘Ganga-Yamuna tahjeeb’ and the tana-bana or warp and weft of its syncretic culture and mixed community economy which have largely thrived around the age-old weaving industry and trade. Both represent the cosmos of this ancient city, which has outgrown the demolition and reclamation contests of Hindu and Muslim bigots, violence by marauding armies down the history and divisive politicians in modern days. The coexistence of the Kashi Viswanath temple and Gyan Vapi mosque and so many others across Varanasi not only attest to the history of religio-temporal conflicts but also the city’s strength and desire to withstand and surpass them.
If Modi had really soaked himself in the city’s civilisational values or touched its cosmic pulse, he would have campaigned differently or dedicated his victory as the city’s MP and country’s Prime Minister to the inclusive legacy of the city of temples and mosques rather than to what Visvanathan called a ‘vibrant Hinduism’. Namo’s choice of Varanasi, a ‘symbolic master-piece’, was aimed at occupying the centre-stage of the Hindu-Hindi heartland to legitimise the claims of the west Indian ‘outsider’ to the throne in Delhi and not to spread his message on ‘cosmos and community’, a la Vivekananda. If he had shown any keenness to preserve the shared heritage of Shenai maestro Bismillah Khan and Ramkathakars at the Ganga ghats, visited mosques and temples alike during his campaign, his Ganga Puja would not have been construed as a post-victory exhibition of his Hindu nationalist core but a tribute to Varanasi’s pluralist history. For that matter, it was not an honest admission of his religious self or an effort to identify with the religiosity of the Hindu faithful but a choreographed political statement to his primary constituency proclaiming the electoral victory of Hindutva over India’s constitu-tional principles.
The Elusive Hindu Self and Distorted Grammar of Nationalism
Still, the authentic India or essential Hindu self will continue to elude Modi as it did to his ideological progenitors. Visvanathan must be aware that the so-called authentic grammar of nationalism of Patel, Malaviya and their likes including G.B. Pant, Sampurnanand, P.D. Tandon could not hide the divided Hindu self when it came to rename United Province, originally the United Province of Oudh and Agra, after 1947. As Gyanesh Kudaisya has cited legislative and other records (Region, Nation, “Heartland”, Uttar Pradesh in India’s Body Politic, Sage 2006), proposals to extend the name of Oudh to the whole province, that alludes to the kingdom of Rama was objected on the ground that the ‘Braj Basi’, the people of Mathura-Vrindaban region that is the hub of the Krishna cult or Vaishnava sects as well as residents of Varanasi, the centre of Shiva-worshippers, would not accept it. The suggestion of ‘Ram Rajya” among other alternatives, also did not find many takers.
Most Hindu Congress leaders later veered around the move to rename the State as ‘Aryavarta’, the land of Aryans or their descendents. Accordingly, the UP Congress Committee conveyed its decision to the central Constituent Assembly. Muslim leaders from different dispensations opposed it preferring to retain the old name that signified the unity of both communities and regions. Some of them even offered to rename the State after Nehru or Azad. It was the Congress’ central leadership, presumably Nehru, Azad and their fellow-travellers, who dismissed the ‘Arya-varta’ proposal after a heated discussion in the Constituent Assembly. Ambedkar moved a Bill which the nation’s the then highest body adopted in order to empower the Governor General to alter names of the provinces. A compromise among the CA members from the State led to its renaming as Uttar Pradesh.
In the meantime, Azad and other nationalist Muslim leaders joined hands in undoing the damage done by the Muslim League and its grotesque Two-Nation theory in UP and the rest of the country. They helped Patel to persuade the Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly to drop the idea of separate electorate for religious minorities in postcolonial India.
The Hindu supremacists, however, succeeded in imposing the Hindi hegemony at the expense of Urdu or Hindustani that has been the language of the masses as well as other regional languages, first in UP and later in the rest of the country, in the name of continuity of ‘Bharatiya Sanskriti’. They had the in their ranks powerful Congress-men—L.B. Shastri, Pant, Tandon, K.P. Tripathi as well as Congress veteran-turned-Hindu Mahasabha leader M.M. Malaviya and socialist doyens Narendra Deva and Rammonohar Lohia. The latter group’s arguments, however, were more informed by their desire to dislodge English as the official language. As Francesca Orsini pointed out, there were “three different axes: a political axis between the Right and Left, and two cultural axes, one between Hindi and English, which partly overlaps with, but also distinguished from, another axis between popular and elite”. The cultural commonality of these Hindi politicians, despite their ideological differences, underlined their shared cultural identity, she noted. In the same period, Urdu was imposed on the Bengali majority in the name of Islamic nationalism in Pakistan. Communalisation of languages took a vicious cycle with far-reaching consequences in the Indian subcontinent.
It is now well known that the then Faizabad DM, later a Jana Sangh MP, was instrumental in the surreptitious installing of an idol of Ramlala inside the Babri mosque in 1949 with the help of Hindu Mahasabha leaders including an accused in the Gandhi murder case. The Pant administration in Lucknow, historians vary on its role in the conspiracy, declined to remove the idol on the ground of Hindu sentiments despite Nehru’s indignation and Patel’s concerns. It’s an irony of history that Nehru’s grandson, Rajiv Gandhi, reopened the Pandora’s Box by opening the gate of the disputed site and then allowing the foundation-laying for the Ram temple four decades later.
In this backdrop of history, what kind of ‘grammar of nationalism’ Modi has inherited from Malaviya, for that matter, Savarkar and Golw-alkar? What he has passed on to Amit Shah, his most trusted General in the election war in UP 2014 (now the BJP President) who refuelled the communal cauldron in Muzaffarnagar and elsewhere? What kind of ‘remaking of Modi’ has morphed the ‘dockside bully enacting Bajrang Dal cameos’ in 2002 into a contemporary Vivekananda who has straightened the ‘travesty of History’ by replacing the imaginary ‘Nehruvian nation’ with flesh-n-blood India or Bharat? What kind of modernisation of Modi, and by default the RSS, has made him dislodge the original moderniser of the Indian nation-state and turned it from an unreal ‘secular entity’ into a robust ‘spiritual essence, a civilisational statement’? Should we accept the design to exclude minorities from the ‘highest temple of democracy’, hate campaigns and persecution against them and forced homogenisation as the essence of India’s civilisational ethos and nationalism?
Modi represents Authentic India?
Positing a ‘strange struggle’ between ‘secularism as a form of piety or political correctness and the people’s sense of religiosity and of the cosmic way religion impregnated the everydayness of their lives’, Visvanathan found that for the majority Hindus ‘syncretism is a better answer than secularism’, though he himself felt that ‘tolerance is a weak form of secularism’. Does Modi or Sangh’s ‘cultural nationalism’ represent the everydayness of religion in majority lives, their syncretism and tolerance? No. If Modi had any respect for India’s civilisational ethos, diverse traditions and identities, myriad faith and faithful, he would have not refused to wear a skull cap, visited non-Hindu shrines or highlighted symbols of syncretic cultures down the ages and heroes of anti-colonial, anti-feudal struggles revered by all communities during his poll campaign. His invocations of the regional icons at the poll rallies, aimed at touching the local chord, were decidedly focused on Hindu upper-caste sensitivities with some concession to backwards and Dalits in particular areas. Except Sikhs in Punjab, the backroom resea-rchers for Modi (whom the self-defeated liberal has bestowed with better understanding of Indian history) forgot to supply him the names of Muslim, Christian and other minority leaders among the nationalists, also hills and plains tribal heroes of various strands of our freedom struggle.
Still, Visvanathan dovetailed his adulation for Modi as the embodiment ofauthentic India to his criticism of Nehruvian secularism, impl-ying that Moditva was better than the latter. He advocated ‘pluralistic encounters’ between religion and state, religion and science et al. that will ‘allow for levels of reality and inter-pretation’. He spoke of reinventing ‘secularism not as an apologetic or disciplinary space but as a playful dialogue’. In an apparent effort to salvage his liberal pretension and to feign intellectual detachment from Moditva, he then concluded: “Only then can we offer an alternative to the resentments that Mr Modi thrived on and mobilised.” But the question remains: did Modi care for any such dialogue among the ideals of India that would promote voluntary and fear-free harmony of the faithful while making room for heretics and atheists of all persuasions?
In fact, Modi’s divisive symbolism during the polls only signified the Sangh’s shrewd ideo-political project to grab state power first and then steamroll all opposition to impose a Hinduised homogeneity replacing the secular construct. Such steamrolling of all other identities—caste, class, gender, regional, urban-rural, linguistic and ethnic— of the great Hindu and Sanskritised population will ensure greater control over popular mood and mobilisation both at the political as well as social-cultural level. These proponents of the Hindutva variety of majoritarian authoritarianism have reached the top through democracy as their original inspiration, Adolf Hitler. Like the Prussian Junkers, who facilitated Hitler’s rise due to their contempt of republican niceties and hazards of democracy, Modi primarily owed his new-found respectability to top corporate families and the media force-multipliers under their control.
The Corporate Connection
In fact, the religio-cultural template of the unprecedented bonhomie between Modi and top-league corporate families deserves closer and informed scrutiny if we want to understand the chemistry of the new hybrid. It is no wonder that India Inc. is dominated by socially conservative, upper and middle caste Hindus like Ambanis and Adanis as well as Birlas, besides a few Parsis like Tatas. Regional affinity is also another factor as most Indian capitalists hail from Gujarat and Rajasthan, the traditional land of traders and entrepreneurs. No other Prime Minister represented western India, except Morarji Desai for a very short time. The Indian big bourgeoisie’s social-cultural attitudes and corporate world-views overwhelmingly match those of Modi’s, though the tycoons’ political preference for Hindutva may vary. Nevertheless, a sample survey on their religious practices as well as presence of Muslims in their management hierarchy and workforce would reveal their communal prejudices.
Hitler’s Holocaust was the worst expression of the accumulated Christian hatred of Jews that was shared by most Germans in Nazified Germany including its bourgeoisie. Top guns of the Indian industry rallied behind Modi, parti-cularly who are Gujarati by origin or those have business stakes in the State, after the anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002, though more tacitly than now. They will generally approve Modi and the RSS’ Hindutva mission as long as it conforms to the corporate agenda, both by enforcing majoritarian homogeneity through religio-nationalist hype and subduing any dissent against neo-liberal plunders. As Modi’s use of the Adani group’s aircraft to reach Delhi even after being declared the Prime Minister-elect was hugely symbolic, ‘Mr development’s simulacra’ would definitely inspire the ‘collective morality’ of all his mentors-turned-clients among crony capitalists and their aspiring, wannabe clones.
His lyrical prose notwithstanding, I have critiqued Visvanathan in detail for two reasons. First, to underline how Moditva’s victory has blunted the critical faculties of seasoned social-political commentators. Second, to harp on the need to rekindle the debates and dialogues among those who are not overwhelmed by Modi’s success but still refuse to see beyond their simplistic understanding and cloistered responses to the new fusion of Hindutva and neo-liberalism. It is easy to dismiss the hype by the Modi’s neo-converts. But it is much more difficult to articulate innovative political strategies and restore the social-cultural resources to fight back the hegemonic combine.
Modi’s intellectual cohorts have been using the disarray among Left-liberals up to the hilt while renewing their attacks on the ‘Nehruvian consensus’ over secularism. But Ramchandra Guha has recently pointed out that there was no such consensus among politicians and scholars despite the domination of the Nehruvian vision for a brief period. Aditya Nigam is correct (Kafila.org, June 3) in saying that Visvanathan’s arguments against secularism are mere restatement of what sociologist Ashis Nandy and his fellow critics have articulated long back with more insights. Victory of Moditva has renewed the debates among activists including those who are supporters of the European notion of secularism based on separation of state and the church (or, religion and politics) and its critics. There are many other aspects. We need to revisit the debates and explore new horizons in the wake of new developments. But a line should be drawn between those who have converted to Moditva and those who want to oppose it beyond rhetoric and would strive for fresh insights into the Indian society and polity as well as innovative ways for effective intervention and counter-mobilisation.
The author is a Kolkata-based journalist.