Home > 2018 > The Power of Periyar and the Unravelling of the NDA

Mainstream, VOL LVI No 13 New Delhi March 17, 2018

The Power of Periyar and the Unravelling of the NDA

Sunday 18 March 2018, by Badri Raina

When the old man, Akhlaque, was done to death inside his house, allegedly for storing beef in his refrigerator by a murderous, vandalising, vigilante mob, the Supremos said nothing. Sundry satraps said a lot nobody who swears by the Constitution should say. They went unchecked. It was said occasionally that the law would take its course. In point of fact, not the law but the vandals and vigilantes took their course.

The same when the equally innocent Pehlu Khan was lynched and killed: the Supremos said nothing. Not the law but the lynch mobs took their course.

Nor did the Supremos utter a syllable of disapproval when fifteen-year-old Junaid was playfully assassinated in a moving train for wearing a skull cap. The usual suspects let loose abuse that no citizen should fling at another.

You see, these are the people who belong elsewhere—aren’t they brazenly reminded every day?—people whose votes are neither sought nor wanted, people who never attain to a ruling party ticket at election times, people who do not matter, except in so far as their existence constantly warns us of threats to our “nationalism” and security. Their chief punyabhoomi not being on Indian soil, they are citizens by sufferance, never mind that they chose to repudiate the call to turn their back on their pitrabhoomi, Bharat and have never failed to be the first among her defenders—more than may be said for many of the accusers and baiters. Not to mention the fact that their multifaceted genius and incomparable industry in countless spheres of India’s history over more than a millennium should have incalculably deepened and elevated India’s cultural life and made this land an example worldwide of the unique human value and ennobling richness of composite and pluralist living.

Switch to the Statues. It is much to be doubted if the fall of the one in Tripura would have drawn much of a rebuke from the Supremos had it not been that such vandalism there “took off the sheen” from the electoral victory obtained by cynically aligning with those who seek a separate State. Just as the victory in Nagaland was a result of aligning with a faction that still has the agenda of a Greater Nagaland uppermost on its political calendar.

But, folks, Periyar is quite another matter. Lenin may rule the hearts and minds of some forty per cent of a miniscule Tripura population, and of those already defeated and discredited in West Bengal, Periyar may not be fibbed off without grievous consequences. For one thing, he was not a “foreigner” like the fallen idol in Tripura. And, more pressingly, he brought about a revolution below the Vindhyas that no Sangh Parivar historian may write off or attack without a heinous electoral fallout for anyone seeking to extend a political footprint among those sentient parts of the Republic.

Speaking, in passing, of demolishing statues of “foreigners”, what if in many parts of the world the growing bevy of anti-immigrant “nationalists” were to go on a spree bringing down the many Gandhi statues that exist worldwide? Would the powers-that-be in India now simply say “well, we never did like him anyway”?

But coming back to Periyar: if all the killings and lynchings of flesh and blood human beings over the last some years drew not a syllable of disapproval from the ruling party Supremos, the vandalisation of this one Statue (merely) has quickly drawn reaction: stop this, the honorable Prime Minister has said, although it is to be much wondered whether the “Brahminical” party that seeks to build an empire down in the Deccan as well by incorporating the Other Backward Classes has now made a faux pas which no political cunning may undo.

We may thus have tobe much grateful to the local BJP leader, H. Raja, who set the blunder rolling in Dravidian land. Even as Amit Shah- ji has said there will be no action taken against him, Shah-ji’s vaulting ambition to secure the recalcitrant South has occasioned a most welcome, even if patently disingenuous, peroration on the virtues of Indian “diversity” and the wisdom of those who framed the Constitution: “We in the BJP believe that a wide range of ideas and ideologies co-exist in India. This is how the makers of our Constitution envisaged our great nation to be. India’s diversity and vibrant culture of debate and discussion is what strengthens us.” (The Indian Express, March 8, 2018)

Never mind that this “diversity” and “culture of debate and discussion” does not include Indian Muslims and Christians; yet, Periyar may have done for us what legions of secular and democratic Indians have failed to do, namely, oblige the Hindu Rashtravaadis to own, even if for the grossest of tactical reasons, the legacy of a secular, democratic and Constitutional Republic. For now at least.

So we say Ramaswamy Naicker zindabad! You have the power that we need desperately.

NDA Unravelling

In the meanwhile, an epidemic of disgruntle-ment among the allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party seems to have volubly set in. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, literally.

In the land of my birth, the PDP, however it seeks to last the remaining years out, is not only now bemoaning the fake nature of the “Agenda of Alliance”, but face to face every day with a “nationalist” putsch that defines its agenda in terms of the need to crush resistance at all costs. Imagine that the operative political articulator of government policy there seems to be not the party but the no-nonsense Chief of the Army. So watch that space. Certainly, come 2019, a repeat of that alliance seems unthinkable.

In the Punjab, the Akalis rue their fate inas- much as they, as loyal allies, should not be thought fit even for Headships of Corporations, not to speak of sundry Governor posts etc. And to the extent that their notable spokespersons say as much publicly, the extent of the disenchantment may be imagined.

On the West coast, the Shiva Sena has been fuming now for a whole year at least: no response from their ally of old on the demands for elevating the Marathi language or according reservation to Marathas in education and employment. This ally has pretty much declared that come the next General Election, they mean tobe on their own.

On the South-East coast, the redoubtable ally, Telegu Desam have indeed put the cat among the ruling pigeons; not being granted the promised “special status”, they have pulled out of the Central Government and are likely to formally announce their departure from the political alliance sooner than later.

And in the land of the Tamils, what could have been a likely ally in the AIADMK has been scared off the thought of allying with a Hindutva party that disrespects Peryar and modern Tamil legacy, as has been the superstar, Rajnikant, finding himself obliged to make all the right noises of Tamilian outrage at the desecration of the statue of Periyar at the instigation of the BJP party secretary in the state.

Coming as these things do concurrently with the BJP’s severe and repeated losses in bypolls one after the other—in Rajasthan, in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, in Madhya Pradesh, in Odisha, in West Bengal, in Maharashtra, and I may have omitted a few others, the ruling BJP seems on course for a shocking comeuppance in the next General Elections whenever these are held. Wretchedly, the litany of broken promises and the overall abysmal levels of governance both at the Centre and in the States ruled by the BJP topped lately with charges of humongous corruption, now seem too looming to be perorated away by the great helmsman. Facts now come to sting the rhetoric in mortal ways, and people are no fools. Nor is the trump card of communal polarisation likely to yield the sort of result that the BJP habitually presses it to yield. No more telling acknowledgment of this than in the quotation above from Shri Amit Shah who may be hard put to answer now if he and the Sangh seek once again to push the electoral cart towards hate-mongering polerisation. In the Lok Sabha bypolls from Alwar, the BJP candidate asked for votes from Hindus because he was a Hindu; he lost by one lakh and ninety thousand votes.

The conncommitantly ominous development is the resolve of the Opposition political forces to come together. What more eloquent evidence of this than the mortal antagonists, the SP and the BSP fighting the UP bypolls together in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. Although the Congress has its own candidates, the party may give the wink to its followers to defeat the BJP.

The joker in the Opposition pack for now seems to be the Left, or sections of it one ought to say. It will be upto the right-thinking Left leaderships to persuade the nay sayers that if it was alright to team up with the RSS in 1977 to defeat “Authoritarianism”, it would look foolish not to team up with a chastened Congress to defeat what they themselves tirelessly dub as “Fascism”.

As to an “alternate policy framework” Lenin and Marx might both have said that where the idea of the Republic itself is in jeopardy, the primary task ought to be to salvage Democracy, however class-based it be, from total extinction.

In the words of good old Hobbsbawm, “interesting times”.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

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