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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 22

The Moral Highs of India’s “Cultural Nationalists”

Saturday 19 May 2007, by Badri Raina


India’s Hindu Right-wing is currently in the moral doghouse. Curious fate for an ideological set-up that stridently claims proprietary rights to the terrain of “values”. It is another matter that some fifteen years after they razed the mosque at Ayodhya in a despicable act of profound irreligion, the more conscientious even among Hindu saints and sadhus now openly characterise the BJP as in fact an unprincipled jamboree of crass atheists for whom the building of the Ram temple has been nothing more than a cynical ploy to garner Hindu-communal votes. Objective and knowled-geable political analysts have of course long learnt to identify the Hindu Right that routinely mouths the slogan of “cultural nationalism” as a proto-fascist phenomenon.

But to be now repeatedly found out as perhaps morally the most bankrupt among India’s major political formations must seem grievous and galling. Not because such bankruptcy is any surprise to the BJP itself, since its gestalt has always willingly replicated the low mercantile cunning of the successful retailer, but because its camouflage of pieties stands publicly shred to smithereens.

It all began some years ago (speaking, that is, only of recent times) when no less than the BJP party President was captured on hidden camera extending a copious palm to collar hefty wads of graft as earnest to pursuing a defence purchase deal.

This category of moral corruption was to be followed up during the NDA regime by several mega-scams which involved the allotment of choice urban plots of land to RSS cronies at throwaway prices, as also petrol pump dealerships likewise—something that continues to happen routinely wherever the party is voted to power.

During the tenure of the current UPA Government, the most notable instance has been the hidden-camera exposure of a slew of BJP Members of India’s Parliament accepting moneys for raising queries in the House, whatever queries that is.

As of this moment, the high moral podium is occupied by two honourable BJP Members of Parliament (again) who have been caught running a most lucrative human trafficking racket. The investigating agencies have unearthed a plethora of fake passports and fake identities—instruments that have been used repeatedly to cart women abroad in the guise of spouses in lieu of astronomical dividends, some to join their real spouses, and many others, as it now turns out, as fodder for the blue-film industry. Most of the latter on false pretences. Wretchedly, one of these two MPs is not just from Gujarat but close to Narendra Modi.

Now, as is well-known, Right-wing funda-mentalists the world over have always sought to identify free female sexual choice as the one indubitable source of “immorality”. The literature here is copious. Hindu “cultural nationalists” are of a piece here, although, arguably, the history even of savarna Hindu thought provides some more emancipatory traditions as well, until women began to become the political focus of a regimentation directed ostensibly against the “invaders”—Mughal, Afghan, or colonial—Christian—but ploughed to cement a male-militarist majoritarian future. Note that the constitution of the RSS which came into coerced existence as late as 1949 offers memberships only to the male of the species. Borrowing explicitly from both Italian fascism and Nazi racism, the RSS has held that women are best obliged to bear and rear the species, and to mind the hearth and the home.

Which is why the Hindu Right-wing, much like the Taliban, approaches the matter in two complementary ways. On the one hand their vigilantes (currently with menacing frequency) trash art forms or reading materials that represent women as agents of free choice, bash consenting young men and women, be it at college, or in the public park, or in the new-fangled malls—men and women who might just be walking side by side or holding hands—and do positive violence to such couples, if not foment a communal conflagaration, should they be inter-community twosomes. On the other hand, however, where the sleazy shenanigans of top Hindu Right-wing mentors come to light, recourse is made to aggressive denial and to invoking the conspiracy theory.

Not long ago, a highly placed RSS apparatchik who had been installed to mentor the BJP was caught, once again, on hidden camera (damn the dirty instrument) having a rather jolly time, refreshingly oblivious of the pieties of Right-wingism. But, lo and behold, a friendly BJP State Government and its wholly subservient state-apparatus went to work and defaced the Compact Disc before submission to the enquiring authority. At which it was proved that the whole thing had been yet another attempt by frustrated pseudo-secularists to blacken the shining moral face of the saintly Sangh Parivar.

And just the other day news has come that an honourable Minister in the BJP Government in Uttarakhand might have something to do with the call-girl career and subsequent murder of one Neelam. True to pattern, the honourable Minister disavows the least knowledge of this deceased wretch, even as a maverick channel dredges up evidence of acquaintance between the two going back some three years in the holy town of Hardwar.

Yet other instances have involved sex-rackets run by venerated sadhus who run fat-cat temples and matths, and sleaze, property-related violence and murder among saffron owners of various akhardas (literally plots of ground reserved for training of recruits in martial activity like wrestling and so on). In the racket that pertained to the Naranyanswami temple in Gujarat, indeed, the video-graphic evidence was too compelling to afford denial, although righteous indignation was expressed that the media were put upto the job out of spite. In most of these cases, not the one who is found out but the one who finds out is held guilty of immoral conduct.


SPEAKING of morality, you would think that lying constitutes a bad case of immorality. As we know, “thou shall not lie” is one of the commandments. That, however, has never prevented either Christian or Hindu fundamen-talists from lying with aplomb. The world has not forgotten Watergate, nor has the current Christian Right in America minded one bit the lies that the Bush regime spawned one after the other preparatory to its Iraq invasion—and that it continues to spawn and defend with “patriotic” self-righteousness.

During the course of the elections now underway in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP formally released a Compact Disc chokeful of venomous lies and abuse about Muslims. Once caught by alert segments of the media, the Hindu Right-wing lied to its teeth to say the CD was not an “authorised” one, and that no one in the BJP knew anything about what it contained! So blatant has this episode of abysmal lying been that regardless of the BJP’s disclaimers the matter has found cognisance with the Election Commission of India which is to adjudicate what punishment to mete out to the party. There is, of course, no telling what the Commission might do.

Or take the matter of the Godhra train burning of 2002—an occurrence that Modi, out-Goebbeleseing Goebbles, bled to the drop as his argument for the existence of the WMD among the Muslims of Gujarat, and using it without the least qualm to engender the massacre of some two thousand innocent lives.

It took the meticulous and non-partisan work of the Justice U.C. Bannerjee Commission to expose the heinous falsehood that the affected coach of the Sabarmati Express which was carrying saffron kar sevaks back from their triumphant act of destruction and desecration in Ayodhya was set afire from the outside as an act of pre-meditated “Islamist” conspiracy. Notwithstanding the campaign of calumny that was launched against Bannerjee, it now seems that the evidence of accidental fire from the inside is so compelling, and any other possibility so unsupported by the facts of the case, that the Nanavati Commission (report to be submitted) as well may have no other finding to report, its predilections notwithstanding.


FINALLY, if the Gujarat carnage had not been enough proof of the moral timbre of the Hindu Right-wing, let us talk about plain good old murder that brooks no mitigation.

It has now been officially reported by an upright police officer of the Gujarat CID (since removed), one DIG Geeta Johri, that the “encounter” in which one Sohrabuddin was liquidated by the Gujarat Police in November of 2005 was, after all, a “fake” encounter, and, to put it simply, an act of murder. And the ones committing that act were not exactly some low-level constables, but two IPS officers, Vanzara and Pandiya, both close to the Home Minister, Amit Shah, and in turn to Nero-Modi himself.

Within hours literally, under the say-so of the Supreme Court of India which was pleased to issue habeus corpus for the production of Sohrabuddin’s missing wife, Kausar Bee, the Gujarat Government has had to spill further beans (terrified that should it not, the case will be handed over to the Central CBI); it now acknowledges that the good lady, witness to her husband’s murder, has also been put to sleep, then burnt in the vicinity of the Vanzara house, and her ashes and remainders scattered in the nearby fields. Particularly piquant is the further fact (from the point of view of Modi’s Hindutva followers who wish to think that Hindus matter to him in some special way) that one Tulsi Ram Prajapati, an informer to the Gujarat Police, has likewise been liquidated to obviate any leaks. Some news channels report that another three or four Hindus have suffered the same fatal consequence. The case of referral to the CBI is now before the honourable Supreme Court for order.

Speaking of which, it is to be recalled that the father of the late Haren Pandya, the erstwhile Member of Modi’s Cabinet who fell out as a “dissident” and was one morning assassinated during his routine walk, to this day publicly holds none other than Modi guilty of his son’s murder. Morality piling on morality, and murder on murder; in between bribery, sleaze, lying and violent vigilantism, leading upto murder. Not to speak of those magnificently “nationalist” episodes during which minority Muslims are ostracised, terrified, maimed, burnt, and killed; or, as in the recent most case again, when a Christian school principal and preacher is set upon by the Bajrang Dal for expressing Christian views, and wounded to the bone. Or when whole Dalit slum colonies are razed, Dalit women raped and killed, and, in one case recently, four Dalit young men ritualistically murdered inch by inch in public view to the accompaniment of animal grunts of approval from caste Hindus. All in the name of occupying the moral high ground.


THERE is another aspect to the redoubtable moral timbre of the Hindu Right-wing fraternity. When the moral chips come apart, the fraternity jells into a rabid and shameless cacophony. Not one of the Sangh-associated intellectuals musters the integrity to call a lie a lie, a sleazy act a sleazy act, an act of moolah corruption an act of moolah corruption, a murder a murder, not to speak of a pogrom a pogrom.

By contrast, the history even of the Congress party (no stranger to corruption) is replete with instances of high moral conduct, even of open revolt. A knowledgeable journalist (Pankaj Vohra, HT, April 30, 2007) has pointed out how the imposition of the internal Emergency in 1975 led to such a revolt by a clutch of younger Congress-men and women who came to be called the “Young Turks”. Indeed, were one to go as far back as India’s first election (1952) one would come across recorded instance of a stunning moral character (the like of which may not be available anywhere). This is one when Jawaharlal Nehru, electioneering in the then REWA State, at the end of his speech admonished the crowd not to vote for the Congress candidate sitting next to him because he was a corrupt fellow. Those were the days.

Or take the recent Nandigram episode where on March 14, fourteen people lost their lives to police firing. Such a thing may have happened but once in the thirty years of uninterrupted rule by the Left Front, yet the occurrence drew instant criticism from known Left intellectuals, including humble ones like the present writer. (See my “Nandigram and the Left”, Z-net, April 11, 2007.) To this day, however, one hears nothing but rabid and disingenuous defences or justifications of the unspeakable Gujarat carnage of 2002. Even the needlessly lauded Atal Behari Vajpayee was to eat his hesitant words of paternal admonition in deference to the gang-up.


WHERE, then, does all that leave us and the Hindu “cultural nationalists”? Certain all-too-real class realities need to be noted. India’s comprador corporates and the media channels that speak for them may now and again be embarrassed by the communal politics of the Hindu Right-wing, if not so much as a revulsion against Hindu communa-lism per se as an irritation at the instability such a politics causes in the even and unthwarted operations of the market, yet they manage to return to view the aberrations of the Hindu Right-wing crassnesses with an ameliorative eye. The most handy manoeuvre employed is to say “hamaam mein sab nange hein”, ergo, who is there who is not naked in the bath. Translated, all politicians and parties are of one rotten fibre built. Of course, were the same irresponsible generalisation to be made about the media, a huge outcry would follow.

The fact is that, never sure of the temperament of the Congress (now bourgeois, now Third-Worldist, now anti-colonialist, now social-democratic, now seeking proximity to the superpower, now hell-bent on quotas, and usually reluctant to be easy on first-name terms with the media, often aristocratic in memory and gloating in its history), it is the BJP that offers the corporate world an uncomplicatedly congenial platform. Be it disinvestment in the public sector, be it transfer of assets to private hands, be it throwing open the market to global predators, or be it seeking a close relationship with Israel and America on the grounds of a common anti-Muslim agenda, backed up by militarism at home, or indeed be it unifying the nation around a sexy Hindu ethos as an insusrance against Left-wing consolidation (notice the corporate executive suit and tie informed by the kalava around the wrist)—the BJP fits the corporate bill. And it needs to be recognised that a great part of the Hindu Right-wing bravado even in the teeth of shameful shenanigans, the least of which would be enough to do in any of the other political parties, owes to the assurance it always has that where the least misdeed of the Congress or the Left, or the regional outfits led by the Other Backward Classes will be certified to draw corporate media fire, its worst criminalities are slated to receive kid-glove disapproval. You would need to watch a lot of television with sustained attention to recognise the truth of this, because often the casting of tone, time space and panel selection is so astute that the channel can claim perfect impartiality. Until of course something happens in the internal mechanics of any particular channel ownership in relation to the power structure that sides seem to change overnight.

It is therefore for ordinary citizens of India to carry forward the message that often those that claim closest proximity to church or temple or mosque are the ones who are farthest from god. This is a task that, of course, the Left-wing must lead and carry forward relentlessly in close association with the dedicated and selfless civil society agents who sustain the people’s agendas in admirable ways.

(Courtesy : Z-net, May 2, 2007)

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