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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 13

The Hindutva Experiment: from Lab to Factory?

Sunday 16 March 2008, by Mukul Dube


In the months and years following the Gujarat genocide of 2002, many from the camp of Hindutva characterised that province as the “laboratory” where an “experiment” had been carried out. They proclaimed that the success of the experiment meant that the process could be replicated in other parts of the country so as to achieve their ultimate goal, a “Hindu Rashtra”.

Such talk became restrained after the defeat of the NDA in the general election of 2004, but it did not cease. Since then, every success of the BJP and its allies has led to its resurgence. Not surprisingly, Narendra Modi’s victory in the recent Assembly election in Gujarat brought about elation in the ranks of the Sangh Parivar: for they could claim that the success of the original laboratory experiment had been shown to be lasting and to have defied the “anti-incumbency factor” as well as apparent divisions within the Hindu Right in Gujarat.

The genocide of 2002 has been described, and most convincingly, as state sponsored. It was not just that the state apparatus of Gujarat either looked away while the mobs rampaged, or else aided and guided the mobs, or even on occasion itself became part of the mob: what was crucial was that the federal Indian state, whose capital is Delhi, gave the State of Gujarat and its mobs the freedom and the time to loot, kill, rape and pillage.

In power in Delhi at the time was a coalition led by the ideological kith and kin of those who were in absolute power in Gujarat. Not only did the elders of the Sangh Parivar fail to use the considerable powers vested in them by the Constitution of India, they brazenly lied in Parliament. The key functionary, the Home Minister—who by then was also the Deputy Prime Minister—said that Narendra Modi was “in control of the situation”. The real meaning of this was not lost on many: what Advani meant was, “Our boys are in control and we will let them get on with the job.” The media coverage, which caused so much anguish across the land, only made the hearts of the Hindutva beasts swell with pride. The Opposition in Parliament could do nothing.

That Opposition has been, since 2004, the UPA alliance which has ruled India from Delhi. Before the general election, the Congress, its leading partner, made loud noises about bringing Gujarat back to the path of secularism and about righting the wrongs done to such a large number of Gujaratis. Once in power, though, it looked the other way while things in Gujarat remained as they were and, in some respects, became worse. Possibly the most glaring instance of this was the repeal of POTA, which was a token repeal in that it was not retrospective and in that the people who had been arrested under that law, almost all able-bodied, earning Muslims, continue to languish in the prisons of Gujarat without trial while their families starve.

SEVERAL commentators have described Gujarat as being, in effect, no longer a part of India. It is a rogue state which has achieved the distinction of becoming a “Hindu rajya”. There is much truth in this. However, the rest of India remains notionally secular and the coalition in power in Delhi describes itself as secular. What is alarming in these circumstances is the persistence and rise of Hindutva bigotry in several parts of the country. It would be understandable if discrimination and violence against Muslims and Christians were limited to States ruled by BJP governments: but such discrimination and violence continue to be seen even in States in which the BJP is not in power. Certainly they have not become less in the nearly four years of UPA rule.

Most people attribute this to the “soft Hindutva” of the Congress and its allies. More than anything else, this seems to refer to fear of alienating the Hindu voter. The fallacy in this line of thought is that it implicitly accepts the Sangh Parivar’s claim to represent all Hindus. It equates criticism of Hindutva with an attack on Hinduism.

A more rational and convincing explanation can be found by looking at the past. Two things which had long been known were brought sharply into focus sixty years ago when M.K. Gandhi was assassinated. One was the large numbers of RSS sympathisers—and perhaps some members—in the ranks of the Congress. The other was the extent to which the RSS had infiltrated not just the apparatus of state—police, administration, judiciary—but also all or most spheres of life which are ordinarily secular, that is, without any relation to religion.

It has been observed that the RSS thinks not of proximate goals but in the truly long term. It follows a policy of “Catch ‘Em Young” and begins to mould individuals when they are scarcely more than infants. The inculcation of the core ideas of Hindutva begins with the games that little children are made to play and the songs that they are made to sing. The “education” of those somewhat older, and that of adults, follows the same pattern:

seemingly normal, everyday, “natural” activities and remarks are the means by which minds are corrupted. Hindutva is pervasive, there is no part of life that it does not touch. The proliferation of Sangh Parivar branches—covering children, women, tribal peoples, culture, history and so on—is evidence of this.

The RSS and its ideology are now over eighty years old. It can be said that the work that was begun so many decades ago is now coming to fruition in that ideology is finally being expressed through violent action on an almost countrywide scale. If the phenomenon is seen as an on-going process, it becomes clear that violence can only increase.

Many people, including this writer, have argued that Gujarat 2002 was possible because the political wing of Hindutva ruled both in Gandhinagar and in Delhi. The persistence—and, indeed, the growth—of Hindutva in the period since the general election of 2004, suggest that that argument is limited and perhaps flawed. What we are seeing today may well be the repetition across the country of the successful experiment, promising lab processes being carried out on an industrial scale.

[(A friend, Meher Engineer, writes from Kolkata:

“I am forwarding an e-mail about the situation in Nandigram. The recent violent clashes between the RSS and CPM cadres in Kerala and Delhi emphasise what the e-mail says about the behaviour of the CPM and its cadres in Nandigram.

“The cadres in Nandigram continue to harrass those who they call outsiders, and the party says nothing in public. Its Delhi cadres fail to repel the RSS cadres who attacked its office, and smashed up Mr Yechury’s car, and it protests vigorously.

“Why the difference? Is there an unspoken compact between the CPM and the RSS which accepts bashing up in politics because it happens bilaterally? Is the public bullied in order to keep them away from politics? Is that more important than repelling an attack by ‘the Rightist, fascist beast’?
“A word about the party’s use of Right fascism will not be out of place. I would happily accept that party spokesmen are right in claiming that the CPM cannot be called fascist (is the party’s name behind that claim?); forget the attempt, made by an ex-CPM cadre now firmly within the ranks of the BJP’s West Bengal unit, to smash Mamata Banerjee’s skull, in full public view, in Kolkata, and forget the fact that an open enquiry into what led Badshah Alam to make that attack did not happen. But I cannot ignore the meaning of ‘force is the midwife of any society pregnant with change’, or fail to compare it with the party’s use of force in Nandigram.)]

“I urge Mainstream to publish this letter together with Bijoya Chanda’s e-mail

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