Mainstream, VOL LV No 21 New Delhi May 13, 2017
The Synthesis: Acceptance of the Political Hindu
Sunday 14 May 2017, by
Quite a few weeks have passed since the verdict of March 2017 that gave a real boost to the saffronites while leaving the secular liberals hurt and clueless. Now, it’s time to define, honestly, what has happened, and more importantly, why it happened. While the larger perspective of any such analysis remains constant—how to advance towards an India that is internally at peace with the right to freedom of expression and dignified life of all citizens ensured—an objective comprehension of the changing reality is the key to the study of the present.
With Yogi Adityanath being anointed as the Chief Mnister of UP, where the BJP has bagged four-fifths of the seats of the Assembly, it seems that a three-decade-long high-decibel clash between the so-called ‘secular’ brigade and the militant ‘Hindutva’ forces is finally reaching a synthesis. The earlier thesis that reigned uncontested till the mid-1980s, loosely the ‘appeasement secularism’, faced the challenge of antithesis of religious Hindutva for political purpose in the late 1980s, and in varied form the two opposites fought with each other for three decades. Now, finally, in the minds of the people, the contesting ideas have reached a synthesis. While the appeasement secularism, best expressed by Manmohan Singh in his assertion that the minorities must have the ‘first claim on resources’, is being rejected vehemently, the weird ideas of the L.K. Advani-RSS combine of putting flashes of Hindu faith above the law has not been accepted either.
The new narrative, as reflected by popular opinion, certifies dominance of the ‘political Hindu’ over matters relating to the state and governance, but without hurting the freedom of any religion, race, caste or sect. It means from now on things will be seen largely through the prism of the majority, be it on relations with Pakistan, be it chanting the azadi slogan or issues like Triple talaaq and polygamy. Loosely, the new narrative, or the synthesis, can be dubbed as ‘majority-oriented nationalism’, in which the BJP led by Narendra Modi has replaced ‘Jai Shri Ram’ with “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, and has turned the focus from violence and destruction (like the demolition of the Babri Masjid or the 2002 Gujarat pogrom) to construction (making India a proud, developed country).
True, the endorsement of the synthesis is not going to bestow the BJP and its allies more than 50 per cent votes in 2019, but that is because the Lok Sabha poll will not be a plebiscite on this. And that is good news for the Opposition, and some of those may soon adjust their position according to the emerging synthesis.
On the New Narrative (the Synthesis)
The new narrative or the synthesis emphasises on two things: Firstly, the majority will not tolerate (a) restrictions that the minorities are exempted from, or (b) giving illogical concessions to the Muslims. Secondly, the Hindus will create a situation where (a) the glorious part of the pre-Muslim past of the Indian civilisation is recognised, taught to the children, and revered as the heritage of the country, and (b) nationalism based on the concepts of “Indian exceptionalism” and ‘India first’ is accepted by all. However, the narrative does not endorse violence as a means to impose it. The issue of cow slaughter is the best one for elucidation of this point. The position is like this: yes, we want to ban cow slaughter throughout the country, but through legal means and keeping the diversity of the country in mind, and without allowing vandalism.
As evident by the recent words of Mohan Bhagwat and other RSS stalwarts, there is not much gap between the RSS and Modi on this assumption. In fact, the position on cow slaughter was stated by Mohan Bhagwat at an event to observe anniversary of Lord Mahavir (April 9, 2017).
On the political front, this narrative is drawing sustenance from a motley combination of Hindutva, development, crusade against corruption (for example, through demoneti-sation), pro-poor moorings, nationalism, and very significantly, an agenda of being differently ‘inclusive’. The long-term goal is to change the attitudes of irreverence for the Hindu past (pre-Islam days) or being cheeky about the Hindu faith. In short, the narrative is somewhat like this: We are a many-thousand-year-old civili-sation, and by a fusion of our heritage and modernity we will create a great country that will occupy its proper place of pride in the world.
An increasingly bigger chunk of people across the country is endorsing this political package presented by Narendra Modi as ‘the best’ among the available alternatives. At the same time, the common man is finding in him a representative of them, a chai-wallah plus OBC who, in their perception, does not indulge in nepotism, does not think of thrusting on them a family, talks and behaves like a common man and has attained a great height for which the elites are trying to malign him. There is no other expla-nation of Narendra Modi’s acceptance from Himachal to Karnataka, from Maharashtra to Assam, and now even touching the shores of Bay of Bengal (Odisha and Begal).
But, what I have called the ‘synthesis’ is still somewhat unstructured, because the perception of it varies at different levels of the support-base of the RSS-BJP combine. A large section of people accepted the new narrative as it promises to adjust itself with all other lofty ideals (as is the case with American exceptionalism) like democratic constitutionalism, human rights, and tolerance of different views. This is what is meant by ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ that is now being expanded, by the Prime Minister, to include the Pasminda (backward) Muslims. But, at the bottom, there is a large segment of core Hindu supporters for whom such lofty ideals mean nothing. Led by a fundamentalist fringe of the Hindu society, they will be satisfied if a Hindu ‘Taliban’ regime is established. The BJP as a party is still prone to give concessions to this radical fringe, particularly at the time of elections.
Through the anointment of Yogi Adityanath, the non-Brahmin pithadhiswar of the Gorakhnath temple, the saffron brigade has started an experiment that offers the radical fringe to excel with the development agenda while persuing the quintessential Hindutva within the constitu-tional limits. Yogi Adityanath, in a way, sym-bolised the new narrative. Once he said: “If they kill one Hindu, we will kill a hundred of them.” But if ‘they’ do not? Adityanath’s temple and Gorakhpur town has an answer. The temple has Muslim employees, and quite interestingly, some of the shops within the precinct of the temple are run by the Muslims. These Muslims claim they get help from the head priest when in need. Now, catapulted to a high seat, in his first speech at a rally as the Chief Minister he said: ‘I promise I will ensure there would be no discrimination based on caste, creed or commu-nity.” His task is well-defined: following the post-2002 path of Narendra Modi.
Several factors that contributed to the under-pinning of the synthesis, like (a) the counter-productive attempt by the secular brigade to polarise the Muslim votes, (b) the absorption of Mandal by the Kamandal forces, (c) the nationalism plank being accepted by the people, and (d) the ‘holy war against corruption’ getting resounding support. Now, when it seems Modi’s return to power in 2019 is a foregone conclusion, it is time for some plain-speak. We need to understand what caused the change that dumped the Congress almost to oblivion and substituted it with the BJP as the only pan-Indian party.
The Achilles Heel of the Old Thesis
After independence, when the Hindu Code Bill and other civil laws were presented before Parliament, the conservative Hindus fought those tooth and nail. But, the Hindus at large did not support those conservatives. Unfortunately, this reform process did not spread to cover the Muslims. It was an instance of appeasement, though considering the situation of the country, particularly the riots that followed the political Muslim’s desire to partition India, it is difficult to judge whether the ommission was unwise. India never accepted the ‘two-nation theory’, and unlike Muslim Pakistan was committed to protect the religious minorities. But the Indian Constitution gave equal rights and freedom to all, and did not promote the idea of dishing out illogical favour to any community.
The Hindus did not mind it then, for after being threatened by the political Muslim in pre-1947 days, they were now secure in India, where they consisted 80 per cent of the population.
What was shocking was that in later decades no effort was made to create a standardised (may we say secular?) civil code that would abolish all the malpractices of all religions. It emboldened the fundamentalist Muslims, consequentially weakening the secular character of the polity. Thereafter, the Muslim funda-mentalists won one after another concession. The concept of jihad could openly be discussed or propagated through Islamic schools known as madrassa. For no benevolent reason two words, one of them ‘secular’, were inserted in the preamble of the Constitution. Within a decade, the fundamentalists became powerful enough to force the government to change Supreme Court verdict on the Shah Bano case. And then they ensured the banning of The Satanic Verses. The ‘fault-line of culture’ was allowed to go through India, encouraging the Islamic fundamentalists further. Thus, by the late 1980s, it was evident that in ‘secular’ India the Muslim fundamentalists are more than equal. Different ‘secular’ parties adopted people like Yaqub Qureshi (who justified the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine), and reportedly announced Rs 51 crore reward for the killers. Along with it, surreptitiously, the seculars allowed infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh through Assam and Bengal, and regularised a large chunk of them as Indian citizens.
The majority community, that was getting peeved so long, now turned circumspect about the intention of the secular liberals. More so, because the thesis was not limited to the political field only. Almost everything that related to ancient India and ‘Hindu’ tradition was dubbed retrograde, and everything Western was accepted as modern and progressive. Westernised to the core, and reeling under the severe influence of the Leftists, the liberal intellectuals rebuffed all the glories of ancient India, be that about its philosophical depth or achievements in fields of science, medicine and so on. Generations born in free India never found anything in their text- books that described the glorious past of their motherland and interpreted why it was lost in the Middle Ages. Ayurveda or Yoga was mocked as retrograde. The sanctity of knowledge in the Upanishads was considered irrelevant. Gradually, after Western liberal thoughts, Marxism crept into the textbooks (more intensely in Bengal, Kerala, and Tripura). As a whole, Jadunath Sarkar was replaced by Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib, not in history textbooks only, but in the entire thought-process. It was not like who was right in what context. It was total rejection of one thought and hundred per cent acceptance of the other.
It all did tantamount to making the Hindus feel threatened by the dominance of a secular class that was irreverent to everything Hindu, but indulgent to Islamic fundamentalism.
Such appeasement, ironically, was not helping the Muslims as a community. Rather, it was pushing an entire community towards darkness, thrusting upon them a sort of fundamentalist-dictated life where Islam was the only decider. For the Muslims in India, Islam became not only a way of life, but an encompassing garb of anti-modern medievalist living. A large number of khariji madrassas in Bengal and Assam is a pointer to the reason behind backwardness of the Muslims. Is this something to relish? Was it not the secular state’s duty to take steps to reverse the situation? Is it not the secular state’s duty to liberate the Muslim women from their medievalist life of sharing the husband’s bed with other women, or live in utter subjugation lest the husband utters the T-word thrice? The liberal-secular class was so blinded by their faith in appeasement secularism that they failed to see how they were denying the women of their rights. If legal polygamy cannot be abolished, how can one stave illegal polygamy and desertion by the husband?
Religion as a Weapon for the Hindus (the Antithesis)
The whole edifice of this partisan and biased thesis started crumbling when generation X (born 1965 onwards) and Y (born 1977 onwards) grew up. It was the time when India was making attempts to re-establish itself in the comity of nations through economic advance-ment, thanks to the former PM, P.V. Narasimha Rao. This resurgent India, and that was 80 per cent resurgent Hindu, was not open to insult. It was the generation that found its best representative, in cricket, in Sourav Ganguly. If sledged, in every walk of life, they will retaliate. For them, neither the US, nor the USSR, was the land of gods. Not all of the Hindus of this generation (particularly in the North, West and a part of South) were very devoted, but they were not ready to tolerate attacks on their religion. Psychologically, they had a deep connect with the vast majority of Hindu population who were deeply religious. Together, they were not to tolerate a situation where painting Saraswati nude would be considered as secular, but similar acts against Islam would be cast aside as communal.
How the thesis was affecting other walks of life can be gauged by the decision of a company named Dabur. At the fag end of the last century, the company, that popularised Ayurvedic products in the country, started shifting its focus to the non-Ayurvedic segment, ostensibly imagining with modernism Ayurveda will lose its appeal in India and will not help the company spread in foreign lands. Almost two decades later, it is now established that modernity does not entail blind rejection of ancient knowledge. A man who is by no imagination a secular, Baba Ramdev, brought Ayurveda back with a vengeance, and Patanjali recorded phenomenal rise. This is the common man’s answer to the senseless secular idea of rejection of our ancient knowledge.
When the situation turned from bad to worse during Rajiv Gandhi’s regime, L.K. Advani came up with his antithesis. It was a crude form of Hindutva inspired by the thought of revenge and somewhat akin to jihadism. It was not something new; it was just going back to the essentials of the Jana Sangh. During the pre-partition days, when the Muslim League came up with ‘Direct Action’ to solidify the pre-eminence of the political Muslim through bloodbath, a plethora of forces came up to counter it by arousing the political Hindu. Among these forces, the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS dominated in those days. But, when the RSS formed the Jana Sangh, it failed to sway the mind of the Hindus, as back then the Hindus felt they now had their own land where they were secure. The RSS, since its inception, debated within its walls what will get prominence in their ideology: Religion or Nationalism? Now, Advani replaced the mode-rate Vajpayee as the party President (1986), and made another bold attempt to invoke the political Hindu through religiosity. From the party’s old agenda of reclaiming Ayodhya-Kashi-Mathura, abrogation of Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code, Advani up picked Ayodhya, for it was an emotive issue (while the mosque was a non-praying one). And now, the common Hindu, particularly of northern India, found a way to vent the pent-up frustration against the political establishment. While the RSS claimed all Indians are culturally ‘Hindus’, Advani declared that the Ram temple was a ‘matter of faith’, above the jurisdiction of law.
This ‘jihadi’ Hindutva lost its vigour as soon as it registered the final victory by razing the mosque (1992). Furthermore, the antithesis was not acceptable to a large section of the political Hindu, for they refused to recognise medievalism as a way of life. So, it had to be pruned of its jihadi character, and Atal Behari Vajpayee, who virtually disassociated himself from the ‘mandir wohi banayenge’ rant, had to be presented as the ‘future PM’. The country accepted this sober RSS man in 1998.
And then came 2002. First, on February 27, in a BJP-ruled State, the Muslims attacked a train and burned down its compartments killing 59 people, including kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya. What followed was the Gujarat pogrom in which, according to the official figures, 1044 (Muslims 790, Hindu 254) people died. It was an example of what Adityanath said later in the context of UP: “If they kill one Hindu, then we will kill a hundred (of them).” And since 2002, Modi remained as the hero of the Hindutva force. The antithesis, now reinforced by a sort of reverse ‘direct action’, succeeded to sway the people of a swathe of northern Indian States, particularly Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and, of course, Gujarat. However, the limitation of the anti-thesis was also evident. Mandalisation of the polity, triggered off by V.P. Singh’s implemen-tation of the Mandal Commission report, divided the Hindu society in a positive way, and gave a boost to the Lohiaite socialists. These socialists succeeded to make a bond of the dominant castes and the Muslims, and that ensured communal amity in Bihar and UP. Elsewhere, in large parts of southern and eastern India, people were not much interested in the crude form of Hindutva that was much, much more communal than what falls within religion-based political culture.
One man, who was known among the seculars as the ‘butcher of Gujarat’, realised the limitation of ‘jihadi’ Hindutva. He, Narendra Modi, had already become the apple of the eye of the fundamentalist Hindus since 2002. But, he knew, it was not a sufficient inducer to power and acceptance nationwide. So, Modi cultivated the development plank sincerely for the next ten years, which was publicised all over the country through the RSS propaganda machinery. Mean-while, Advani tried to play a Vajpayee, even dubbed Jinnah secular (!), and lost his appeal. BJP’s vote, nationwide, came down to about 20 per cent. Since 2004, the seculars ran the government, and got thumbs up again in 2009.
It was probably the period (2004-14) when the secular liberals had their golden opportunity to enforce a ‘synthesis’ by amending their mistakes. They refused to do so. The secularist liberals did not stop pampering the Muslims. Manmohan Singh, an exceptional PM without any political base that could help him win even a Lok Sabha seat, declared that the first right to the resources of the country belonged to the minorities. It was awfully illogical. First, if a community as a whole is to be selected on the ground of economic backwardness, it should be the tribal population who shall have the first claim. Secondly, why should a community be selected for such a right instead of the poor from all the communities? It was Modi who, just after winning the elections of 2014, rectified the mistake by declaring that the first right to the nation’s resources goes to the poor.
During this period, the liberals supported the Congress, SP, BSP, RJD, and similar parties that often smack of the feudal mindset of family fiefdom, corruption and goondaism. The appeasement politics influenced the others so much that the Trinamul Congress Government in Bengal started copying the Left, and then went a step ahead by announcing allowance only for the Muslim clerics. The judiciary had to step in to nullify it. Always critical of radical Hindutva, and rightly so, seldom a secular liberal intellectual talked about aggression of Salafi Islam, an obscurantist sect of the Muslims who are against music and all modern elements of civilisation (including democracy or equal rights of women). The secular liberals, enthused by a secular government at the Centre, allowed the situation to deteriorate further.
Consequentially, the political Hindu was now ready for asserting itself. Narendra Modi offered them a political plank. Now it was development, progress and, of course, nationalism. 2014 marked a watershed. Thereafter Modi consolidated his position by adding up newer dimensions to it, fight against corruption (through demoneti-sation) being one of it. He even used, to the hilt, his chai-wallah and OBC identities to sway the mind of the people. The RSS, a somewhat reformed one, went to the Dalit homes to embrace them as partners of the Hindu society, and to make them part of the political Hindu. And they almost stopped talking of every Indian as Hindu. Some of them openly advocated a pluralist, free society (Manmohan Vaidya and Dattatreya Hosabale, Jaipur Literary Festival).
As the 2017 verdict proves, this new narrative is being accepted across the caste-spectrum. In short, Kamandal is now assimilating Mandal. In UP, quite a sizable section of OBCs (sans the Yadavs) and Dalits (minus the Jathavs) have voted for the BJP conglomerate. With a changed approach, where the Brahminical traits are somewhat subdued, it is being easier for the BJP to expand the political Hindu across the castes. Alongside, the BJP is entering fast in the North-East, where Buddhists and Christians are rallying around it. Personally, I am not sure whether any significant section of the Muslims of UP voted for the BJP this time. But, in future, they may. Particularly the backwards (Pasminda Muslims). In the recent National Executive meeting of the BJP in Bhubaneswar, Narendra Modi made it clear that he was all for giving space to the backwards among the Muslims within the OBC quota for reservation.
Probable Threats to the System
Till the winning streak of Modi or his successors continues, the dominant political Hindu may contribute to peace and prosperity of the nation (except in Kashmir, the question I am not touching in this article, though it helps further consolidation of the political Hindu). The new synthesis may also lead to secularisation of the political Hindu, except for the fringe. The history of the Hindus points to coexistence with the others, but only if the others did not pose a challenge to them. Now, as things never remain static, in future democratic compulsions may propel the people to break the equilibrium. If that brings back the appeasement secularists to power, or such a possibility gets strong, the Hindu fringe, that is, the fundamentalists, may come out with communal Hindutva in an aggressive way and may threaten the goal of peace and development (with the genuine rights of all citizens protected).
So far, in the last two years, the secular parties have played a role that is wearisomely out-of-sync with reality. An uproar against gau-rakshak vigilantism is completely justified, but attacks against the RBI Governor or CSO is not justified at all. What was most disgusting was the senseless carpet-bombing on demonetisation. In my last article in this magazine (‘Demoneti-sation: Decoding the Moves of a pracharak Prime Minister,’ Annual 2016 issue), I stated that Modi was now keen to add in his arsenal the image of a crusader against corruption. I wrote: “If Modi succeeds to portray such a perception in the electorate’s mind, he will emerge as a leader much, much, taller than his competitors.” The Opposition as well the liberal intellectuals, thanks to their total disconnect with the masses whose thirst for Ram Rajya is still alive, just helped Modi to attain the height prematurely. Demonetisation has not succeeded to unearth black money to the extent Modi dreamed of. Neither the follow-up steps like attack on benami property has yielded much result so far. But all this has become irrelevant now. It is all advantage Modi, for Indian society is now likely to become somewhat tax compliant as the shield of impunity has gone. It will allow the government to enjoy more revenue which could be utilised to provide relief to all segments of people, particularly the poor. When 2019 comes, it is likely that Modi’s popularity among the economically downtrodden will soar.
The hold of the old thesis is so overwhelming on our secular liberal intellectuals that the Congress (that boasts of intellectuals like Sashi Tharoor) and most of the other secular parties have failed to come out against Triple talaaq or polygamy till date, while Kamal Ataturk could reform Turkey a hundred years ago..
If the seculars continue with such irate attacks and inane dilly-dally, it may give the BJP a tremendous boost. The BJP has become anti-fragile (in the sense Nassim Nicholas Taleb used it), and the more the secular liberal intellectuals, media or politicians will hit it, the more it will get stronger. If the seculars do not mend their ways, they may in future transfer this anti-fragility even to the fringe elements, the gau-rakshaks and people like T. Raja Singh who has threatened to cut off the heads of those who dare to oppose construction of the Ram temple. So, every side should be cautious while attacking the opponents. That is what democracy calls for.
If we want to have a great democracy, we have to be sincere in our approach, and face the situation at hand without political bias. The civil society should take a lead in this regard.
Diptendra Raychaudhuri is the deputy editor of a Bengali daily Aajkaal, and author of the fiction titled A Naxal Story. He can be contacted at e-mail: dip10-dra[at]gmail.com