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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 34, New Delhi, August 8, 2020

Towards Theocracy: the ignominious collapse of Secular Democracy in India | Badri Raina

Friday 7 August 2020, by Badri Raina

The constitution of India is there, like many other artifacts in the archives, but, like the human appendix, it may now be vestigial.

No political force, including the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party, has taken a formal divorce from it; it has simply been abandoned as many consorts are.

In speaking of having brought “nar” and “narayan” (man and god) “lok” and “aastha” (people and faith), “ateet” and “vartaman” (past and present) together, the constitutionally-installed prime minister of India (leaving out now the word “republic” as a pointer to a probable future) has ringingly declared that the “largest democracy” does not mean to follow the secular principle of the separation between church and state that informs the “oldest democracy”, the United States of America.

And few have expressed any disagreement, barring the usual opinion-making suspects.

The brick-laying ceremony at Ayodhya was the logical culmination of a putsch, initiated by L.K.Advani through his rath yatra in 1990, which holds that India may have been inscribed a secular republic but must be recognized to be actually a Hindu nation in which one religion must have pride of place. As much is emphatically clear from the statement also made by Alok Kumar, spokesperson of the VHP (Indian Express, August 5) that the temple in Ayodhya is not just another temple but a signifier of a “Hindu renaissance.”

That the event was undertaken during an inauspicious period in the religious calendar on the highly evocative anniversary of the defeat (sic) of “Muslim majoritarianism” in Kashmir, with none of the four Shankaracharyas in attendance, and the prime minister qua the prime minister emphatically the prima donna, leaves no one in doubt that what the nation has witnessed was not a religious occasion merely but frontally a political watershed.

Indeed, in comparing what happened on August 5 in Ayodhya with the freedom struggle, Modi left no one in any doubt on that score. The statement is a loaded one: if India obtained freedom from the British colonizers in 1947, on August 5 Hindus won the freedom struggle against centuries of “Muslim” rule. Recall the one-sentence Modi uttered when prostrating at the door of parliament house in 2014—that some twelve hundred years of slavery stood abolished with the installation of a Bharatiya Janata Party government at the centre; clearly implying that the erstwhile Vajpeyi-led government did not qualify for that peroration, having been a troublesome mixed bag, unable or unwilling to realize the RSS agenda.

We may well wonder why rule by Sultans and Monarchs who followed the Islamic faith is dubbed in the annals of the Hindutva rightwing as “Muslim” rule when the Maurya empire was not called Buddhist rule, or the Gupta dynasty Hindu rule or British rule as Christian rule.

One reason, of course, is that Muslims stayed in the country, and became inextricably enmeshed with India’s civilization. Be that as it may, the current rite of passage to a probable Hindu theocracy must not be fibbed off as a cultural or civilizational shift, since India’s culture and civilization cannot be severed from Muslim contributions. What we are witnessing is forthrightly a work-in-progress whereby the concept “majority” may no longer be understood as a democratic-electoral majority but quite unambiguously, a Hindu majority, regardless of the schisms within India’s Hindu social order.

Advani, bow and arrow in hand, with fire in the eye and Jai Shri Ram as enabling slogan (discarding the time-honoured salutation of Jai Siya Ram) recast Ram as a martial Shatriya warrior, out to conquer the “enemy” within. While that old pioneer may now be cooling his heels in awaiting the verdict in a criminal case associated with the demolition of the old Babri mosque, it is the executive head of India who has now presided over the fruit of his labour.

Remember that the Supreme Court of India remained unfazed by its own pronouncements that the structure was indeed a mosque, that the insertion of idols there in 1949 was an act of “desecration,” that its demolition was “illegal,” and felt obliged to exercise its special powers to pronounce in favour of the Hindu side may suggest how powerfully the Hindutva forces marshalled their clout over the decades on the issue, gaining, in the process rich political dividends, reducing secular politics to a dithering rump.

A plea has already been made to the Supreme Court to adjudicate the excision of “secular, and socialist” epithets from the Preamble of the Constitution. There is little reason to hold on to the faith that this may not occur.

Given that Hindutva is no longer a fringe among Hindus—most of whom, regardless of social fissures, have found it beyond their political ken to combat—we may well wonder from where a definitive resistance to that final transformation of the nature of the Indian state may come from.

The “colonization” of Ram (Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s eloquent characterization—Indian Express, August 5) having been effected, the constitution logically stands to be the next object of appropriation. Unlike in Trump’s America, where both institutions and public opinion push back staunchly against executive fiat, there is but little insight here that citizens still devoted to the ideals of the freedom movement may look to for redress.

The road from a republic to a theocracy thus seems smooth and unchallenged. It remains to be seen how the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party may fashion its praxis towards that final goal.

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