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Mainstream, VOL LV No 14 New Delhi March 25, 2017

The Rhetoric and the Reality

Saturday 25 March 2017, by Badri Raina


In making the choice of Yogi Adityanath as the chief executive of Uttar Pradesh in preference to more run-of-the-mill pracharaks, Narendra Modi has made a telling declaration of intent both for the general elections of 2019 and for concerning the reconstitution of the Republic generally. After all, if the record of the Central Government on “development” is anything to go by, the new dispensation in Uttar Pradesh is not likely to move mountains by 2019; thus it is thought best to keep the saffron foregrounded, just in case. In the words of an astute senior television executive/anchor, the log-in for the coming days will be “development” but the password is to be “Hindutva”.

Not that this is any big departure in the dynamics of the political force now dominant in India; among many others, this writer has from the first underlined how constitutionalism and a free-booting assault on its first principles have been the tandem modus operandi of the official BJP and its non-official back-up squads. What is new is the boldness and in-your-face determi-nation now to extend and intensify the putsch for the soul of the nation in ways in which the legacies of the freedom movement and especially of the Nehruvian era may be shown to be transitory aberrations in a saga of continuity going back to some arbitrarily designated point in time.

If we were to leave aside the frailties of the EVM system, it must be a great deal that the electorate in Uttar Pradesh responded as they did to the total exclusion of the twenty per cent or so Muslims from political inclusion in the BJP’s list of candidates, and the strenuous efforts made by other political forces to bring them on board. As it were, the BJP has succeeded in saying that Hindu India is sufficient both unto itself and to the country, and that whether or not the Muslims wish to come on board on terms set by the dominant Hindutva forces, in line with the old Golwalker thesis as set forth in his We, or Our Nationhood Defined (1938). This successful denial of a community voice of the Muslims must seem very fraught, and one can only speculate about what consequences this may lead to. Incidentally, the Yogiji has in his very first address to the press spoken of “vishesh praavdhaan” (special measures) to improve the lot of Dalits and women, none of which in the RSS lexicon is tantamount to “appeasement”; appeasement, it must be understood, refers only and exclusively to any special measures taken to improve the lot of Muslims who, the RSS agrees, are in poor material shape as outlined by the Sachar Committee Report. The conclusion to be drawn must be that if once Muslims acknowledge that they are at the bottom of the Hindus, then “vishesh praavdhaan” can ensue.

In passing one may take note of another remarkable but founding double-speak on behalf of the Hindutva forces: Shri Mohan Bhagwat has often said that everyone residing in India is a Hindu; if that be so, then one is askance to understand why any question or anxiety with regard to “demographics” may be raised at all. After all, if we are all Hindus then children born in any number to any Indian are ipso facto adding to a Hindu nation. But, of course, this is not so. The whole project here is to get Indian Muslims to acknowledge that they have no separate religious cultural identity, whereas Hindus of various social distinctions may well be allowed theirs. Indeed, the deafening silence here about Sikhs, Jains, Parsis is most telling: they are rarely told that they must jettison all that differentiates them from the domiant upper-caste Hindu determinants of cultural identity. We are often instructed how the DNA of all Indians is one and the same; yet, Muslim DNA somehow remains a matter of great and threatening “otherness”. The same applies to the Christians, except that their numbers are too forgettable to elevate them to “Enemy Number One”. (Golwalker, Bunch of Thoughts, 1968)

Following Savarkar, the problem is that whereas Muslims and Christians are graciously granted the right to separate religions, they remain cultural aliens since their major places of worship fall outside their Pitr Bhoomi. Thus a territorial nationalism ordains that their loyalty to the nation must always be suspect. Curiously, Indians who have abandoned Indian territory altogether to live in Christian or Muslim lands continue to occupy a proud place in the heart of the Hindutva ideologues. Indeed, they enjoy a rather enviable double privilege: their flag-waiving everytime Mr Modi visits abroad proclaims them more Indian than Indian Muslims and Christians living in India, even as they live opulent dollar-driven lives in other parts of the world.

This abject historical outcome for Indian Muslims is not, however, attributable only to the successes of Hindutva politics. Rather, that success has ridden to glory on two conjoint failures: one, the continuing failure of Muslim leaderships to constitute the Indian Muslim masses first into citizens, and of secular leaderships to critique Muslim orthodoxies with the same openness and rigour as they critique Hindutva shenanigans. It is true that the Congress had a long run of Muslim allegiance because the Congress, without doing anything of substance for the upliftment of the Muslim masses, never made them feel that they were alien to India, whereas the Hindutva ideologues all the way from Savarkar’s Hindutva,Who Is a Hindu, 1923 sought to exclude them from a national identity altogether. What we are seeing now is a collapse of that deeply flawed secular covenant, and of a massive consolidation of the Savarkar line. All that equally massively facilitated by a de-politicised and depoltiicising market-fundamenta-lism which has over the last three decades bred a new generation of Indians for whom “development” has come to connote militarism and money-making assertion to the exclusion of social and socially differentiated concerns, however historically deep-rooted and suffused with inequities across the board. This reconstitution of all social concerns into the legitimising or delegitimising slogans now promises to form part of a new globalisation of shallow and unanlysed populisms located in ever-shrinking power structures that seek to force the issue any brutal way they may.

What are the prospects? That a brutally centralising economic order in cahoots with a brutally centralisng politics will come to violent grief as before now, unimpelled by any oppositional consolidation. Or, that political forces that have by and large remained, at least in theory, opposed to the monochromatic authoritarianism of the Rightwing led by the RSS may find a new cause for a new and more genuine secular togetherness of purpose—such as fights on two conjoint fronts: one, against the political economy of neo-fascism, and, secondly, that gives no quarter to religious primacy and irrationalism no matter where such illiberal, irrational, suffocating and coercive formations exist. That can happen only if the deprived masses across the board are mobilised to stand upto not only the exploitative material arrange-ments but, equally importantly, exploitative cultural theses that seek to keep in place cultural elites who use religious orthodoxy—all man-made—to keep those masses in thrall. One would like to think that such an agenda should leave little scope for the kind of diffusion and disarray that now exists among progressive political forces, except that India’s sectarian and solipsistic habits of leadership die so hard. The hope is that objective lessons of contemporary life may, in their own interests, bring them to turn new leaves and to more ably recognise where the real menace resides. In other words, it may no longer be enough for the Indian Left to come together at election times, but to seek a full-scale organisational unity, and to acknowledge that all by themselves they remain far too insignificant to cause those transformations to happen that cry for existence. Concomitantly, during the next two or so years, such progressive forces must learn to make the fullest use of institutional machineries that still remain available, even as consolidations of new perceptions and purposes must become increasingly visible on the street.

One is not here recommending some mechanical and muscular Liberal fight back, but a re-constituted and recognised Liberalism that first acknowledges squarely the selective and often opportunistic episodes of Liberal politics. And a willingness to recognise that Liberal political and intellectual formations have indeed tended to rust into coteries of self-pleasing bodies unable to embrace democratic renewals and devolutions that may lend credence to their public assertions and interventions. If today the legacy of Left rule over three decades in West Bengal seems so to have evaporated as to yield space to bold new assertions by the RSS, that legacy must be understood to have been a pretty lame one in the first place. Those three decades seem to have left little democratic residue among the polity, and little memory of any far-reaching and lasting transformations achieved, for example, in such areas as pubiic education and public health, in contrast, for example, to what the Left achieved in Cuba. In pan-Indian terms perhaps, the frozen inertia of the Centre-Left, both with regard to its own organisational and politcal wherewithal, and its cussed failure to acknowledge the consequences of its mere proforma obeisances to democratic and economic equity, has today yielded a bitter fruit, as its power structures came to be placed above and beyond the urgencies of history.

Nothing, therefore, could be more grievously tragic than for the Centre-Left to think that just some mechanical turns in the passage of time will bring it back into reckoning. Its recall to life, as it were, must now be based on a sentient new praxis that gladly jettisons forms of exertion and expectation that may no longer be of value. That such a new consciousness is already in evidence, however haltingly, is a good omen, but time is of essence here.

What is at stake is the uniquely precious legacy of a nation constituted not on the basis of a single religion, a single ethnicity, a single language, but of an unparalleled diversity and plurality of social and intellectual life, a legacy that made of the Indian Freedom Movement a world-historical example.

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 latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.

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