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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 35, New Delhi, August 15, 2020

The Angst of August: Reading The Recent Political History of India | Anil Nauriya

Friday 14 August 2020, by Anil Nauriya

by Anil Nauriya

The Temple Construction at Ayodhya at the spot where the Babri Masjid stood is a product of a pseudo-religious movement which one of its early proponents, who later served as Deputy Prime Minister, had once admitted was essentially political in character.

The baggage of RSS-Advani ideas is being thrust on the people with the help of an Enabling Judiciary. The fifth of August that ruling circles seek to mark, to recall the steps taken with regard to Jammu and Kashmir on that day in 2019 and the event in Ayodhya in 2020 has an underlying focus on Hindutva, a doctrine embodying a view of state and nation that runs counter to the Basic Structure of the Constitution of India and the principles of the Republic. [1]

Jawaharlal Nehru’s correspondence with President Rajendra Prasad in 1951 sets out an exemplary and necessary standard that a state and those who hold public office must observe, making clear the distinction between attending public religious functions as holders of public office and as private citizens.

However, the present case is one that falls in an infinitely worse category. Dr Rajendra Prasad was not associated with any movement for demolition. The question then was only whether while holding public office he ought to attend an inauguration ceremony of the Somnath Temple as distinct from making a separate private visit on a later occasion. In the present case relating to Ayodhya however, the incumbent Prime Minister associated with a movement that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid has now gone to Ayodhya in an exhibition of triumphalism for the inauguration of a temple constructed at the same spot.

Although internecine issues between the RSS and the ruling party at the Centre are not my present concern in this article, we cannot ignore the role of RSS control of the BJP and its implications for the polity and society.

The media needs especially to be  careful not to buy into the psychological warfare being waged across the country or to contribute to particular outcomes through self-fulfilling prophecies, suggestive discourse or by auto-suggestion.

L K Advani’s and Narendra Modi’s politics have been and are a matter of public record. But we must recall how sections of the media had sought to portray Advani’s politics as “secular”. Hindutva forces also propagated the idea in purported justification of their vandalism that the Babri mosque was a “non-praying one” (and therefore no more than a "structure") but did not emphasise on how far this was the result of a Court order. The media unthinkingly lapped up the term "disputed structure".

 The allegation and notion of “appeasement” was introduced even in contexts where there was, in fact, no such phenomenon. The fact that the energy behind Hindu law reform of the 1950s did not extend also to Muslims was not an instance of “appeasement” as is erroneously alleged. It arose out of the assurance, repeatedly given to religious minorities, that no law directly touching them as minorities would be made without their general approval and that such laws would be enacted only when opinion within their respective communities would require it. In a similar fashion, for a long time Hindu law in Pakistan and Bangladesh remained unreformed. Were the governments in those countries “appeasing” the Hindus? It may be right to criticise the Congress on certain issues, as for example, its pusillanimity over Muslim law reform and other errors on this front. Yet one must not be overawed by the BJP in this context.

The Anna Hazare movement was generated and the 2014 General Elections powered to a considerable extent by the media. The UPA / Congress failed to see this in time. Even a statutory body for the electronic media (on the lines of the Press Council) was not established.

Indian Public Discourse

The public discourse in the media and elsewhere often circulated one-sided allegations based on half-truths. It is not quite true, for instance, that ancient Indian tradition was sweepingly dubbed retrograde in Jawaharlal Nehru’s days or after. Respect for the positive features of India’s pre-Muslim heritage was already reflected in such works as Nehru’s Discovery of India. The Marxist Socialist, Acharya Narendra Deva (1889-1956), has also in his writings, written at length about how rationally to relate to ancient India.

The media propagated another myth of the "vote bank" at the behest of Mr Advani and the BJP. It is difficult to appreciate how the so-called Muslim vote was treated as having been a "vote bank" of the secular parties if their vote did not go to a particular political party. Contrariwise, the emergence of a majoritarian "vote bank" at the behest of the BJP was treated as a natural development and even sought to be legitimised as such.

How far is it correct to saddle the “liberal secular class” with responsibility for the social backwardness of sections of a minority community?

The failure of the secular parties to correct their mistakes is self-evident. But it is not correct to suggest that the secular forces " pampered" Muslims. A statement by Dr Manmohan Singh about the minorities is sometimes referred to as proof of this. In fact, whatever the wisdom of the statement, pampering and pauperization in India in the last few decades have little to do with “secularist liberals” or with any specific religion. There are classes that are pampered. They belong to the elite classes and include persons of all religions. There are people who are pauperized. They belong to the toiling classes and belong to all religions.

The Use of ’Nationalist’ for ’Communal-Sectarian’

Yet another practice grew in the Indian discourse and particularly the media.

At some point the Hindu communal-sectarian groups began to be described as "nationalist". This was contrary to the understanding in the course of the freedom movement and in 20th century discourse in Modern Indian history where such groups were correctly identified as "communal" or "communal-sectarian".

The new media discourse resulted largely from the uncritical adoption by it in recent years of the European practice of describing sectarian groups as "nationalist".

From this distortion in discourse two things followed. First, it was an easy step falsely to portray earlier ruling parties as not having been adequately nationalist. Jawaharlal Nehru who had spent years in prison for Indian freedom became now a focus of abuse and defamation at the hands of forces who had stood aside during the freedom movement and had even been implicated in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Second, since the communal-sectarian forces now began to be depicted as ’nationalist’, it was yet another easy step to portray those who differed from them as being ’anti-national’.

  It is necessary to re-emphasise here the distinction between the inclusive and sectarian understanding of nationalism. For those who were prone to now being depicted as ’anti-national’ were also often from among those who were being excluded from the sectarian understanding of nationalism.

The expression communalism /sectarianism is obviously more to the point than ’nationalism’. Although the use of the latter expression for majority-sectarian forces in India has now become widespread, it is necessary to contest it. For to contest it means questioning Hindu Rashtravad at its threshold. The nationalism (of whatever variety) of Hindutva must never be conceded. It should be stressed that they are destroyers of national unity

But Congress persons seem somewhat hesitant to confront such issues point by point. They are fearful of dealing with various issues which they erroneously pre-designate as the people’s sentiment. They should be guiding this sentiment rather than running around scared.

 Paradoxically, with the electoral successes of Hindutva, the word “communalism” has oddly enough gone out of the dictionary of some writers. So just when communalism grows more powerful and needs to be questioned, it appears to cease to be challenged as before.

Jawaharlal Nehru

 As this writer has suggested before, it is necessary to understand that there are two ’Nehru models’ in circulation in both the popular and academic understanding. One is the "Gandhi—Nehru model". The other is the post-1969 Nehru versus Gandhi model in which Gandhi and Nehru are presented as being akin to ideological adversaries. The former model has a future while the latter model, propagated in some circles, is erroneous, historically inaccurate and economically reductionist.

Longer-term education will be required to resurrect the secular-humanist- pluralistic framework. In the pre-freedom days the establishment of "National Schools" as they were called to distinguish them from Government schools were established in their hundreds under the auspices of the Congress and Congress-associated or Congress-influenced organisations. What holds the Congress back now? On the other hand, the RSS has set up its chain of schools in the last few decades and is now reaping the rewards of this work. The Congress must tackle the RSS at this level as well. These matters have been discussed in greater detail by me elsewhere and in Mainstream [2]. I have tried specifically to dispose of the apparently widespread impression that Gandhi and Nehru held divergent positions on the secular state or that they understood the expression in a different sense. [3]

It must be stated also that Gandhi’s view of a secular state was not statist. He saw the interconnections between state and society. In supporting a secular state, Gandhi understood that such a state would have to be backed by society. Instinctively he saw the historical and social relation between a secular state and elements of humanism in society. The relation was later neglected, especially post-1969, and this left the field free for Hindutva forces to grow in society. Six days before Gandhi was shot dead in January 1948 he had in principle endorsed the view that: “A well-organised body of constructive workers will be needed ... Their service to the people will be their sanction and the merit of their work will be their charter. The ministers will draw their inspiration from such a body which will advise and guide the secular government.”

The real crisis of Indian secularism arose with the snapping of the connection between the Congress and its constructive work dimension. This happened primarily with the split in the Congress in 1969.

The Jana Sangh BJP

The RSS has single-mindedly sought to advance its agenda of destroying India’s secular, humanist and pluralistic ethos. For this, it has relied on a shifting array of personalities, whatever their differences inter se may have been. In 1971 it was Vajpayee who was the main rabble-rouser on behalf of the Jana Sangh. The Jayaprakash Narayan movement in the mid-1970s was deeply impregnated with the RSS. With the rise of Advani, Vajpayee began to be projected as a moderate. Now with the rise of Modi, it is Advani who is sometimes projected as the moderate. Some writers give it a further twist and present the current Prime Minister as the new moderate as compared with his Home Minister. And so the marketing rigmarole goes on.

Much of the media follows the BJP Government’s lead in its discourse whether it be on any of the above matters or on developments in relation to Jammu and Kashmir, or on the developments in recent months on the Sino-Indian border or on issues of public health arising from the ongoing pandemic.

Important not to be intimidated by Hindutva 

Lest we be swept off our feet by the self-fulfilling prophecy of long-term Hindutva rule, it is useful to bear some points in mind. It is essential not to be intimidated by Hindutva. All those who voted for the BJP in 2014 and 2019 cannot be lumped together within the meaning of “political Hindu”.

While the Congress and other parties might make various internal changes, it needs to be understood that it is not just Hindu sectarianism, or the “political Hindu”, that propelled the current dispensation into power. The Congress movement was trounced in the last decade or so by forces larger than Hindu sectarianism. These include:

(a) Western Capital furious over such matters as what was described, not wholly correctly, as retrospective taxation of Vodafone.
 (b) Indian Capital [including, apart from Hindu, even Parsi Capital (Tatas and Godrej)] furious over the pro-people MGNREGA and the pro-people changes in the Land Laws.
[When the UPA Government enacted MGNREGA and modified the Land acquisition regime it should have anticipated a reaction from Indian Capital. Indian Capital’s exclusive claim on India’s public financial resources and Land assets was being questioned for the first time on this scale. The Congress should have taken countermeasures in time to keep Indian Capital on a leash.];
 and
 (c) the Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) for complex cultural reasons, including of course Hindu communal-sectarian reasons.

Pressure must be brought to bear on political formations and the media to conform to certain norms of decency. There is a pertinent judgment of Justice M C Chagla in the late fifties in the Bombay High Court. He warned of the day when money bags could subvert Indian democracy. When MGNREGA (entailing diversion of public financial resources on which the Money Bags thought they had the first claim) was conceived and expanded and, later, when the new Land laws were enacted in 2013 a reaction from these quarters should have been expected. The Money Bags were not necessarily supporting Hindutva. They were venting their anger at the regime that dented their domination over India’s Land and Capital. In their campaign they roped in Non-Resident Indians living in the United Kingdom and in North America as well as the media which also helped build up a so-called Lok Pal movement that is now little interested in the Lok Pal, having achieved Regime Change.

One should be prepared to defy large numbers if one believes one is essentially correct and the numbers have been misled. The percentage voting figures in successive elections do not conclusively suggest that the so-called secular forces have been discarded. Then there is the question of what has been discarded. The "Gandhi—Nehru model" or the post-1969 ’Nehru versus Gandhi’ model in which Gandhi and Nehru are presented as adversaries? I believe that the former model has a future while the latter model is, as mentioned earlier, historically inaccurate and reductionist.

It is to be hoped that Dalit activists will also strengthen the struggle against Hindutva. Increasingly, there is a seeming growth in caste consciousness almost across the board. This is true in the general sense that everyone is influenced by their upbringing and social milieu. But political activism involves years of commitment to common struggles and people do evolve beyond their origins.

The dismissive style has become common especially among those speaking on behalf of Dalits. This reflects a growing disillusionment with society at large and a retreat into a Dalit zone of activism.

Yet, if all that the non-Dalit sections of the polity had was caste consciousness then one wonders where the stringent provisions on atrocities against Dalits and all the Constitutional safeguards came from.

It would appear that there are two main alternatives before Dalit activists. One is to join with all those who are willing to struggle for social change, in which process both Dalits and non-Dalits might find the "other" unsatisfactory or lacking in the "proper" understanding but would at least learn from one another. The other is to dismiss all non-Dalit activism as fake or an eye-wash.

The seeking out of larger alliances and broader solidarities for the purpose of dislodging the BJP is the condition precedent for further movement. However, if that is not possible, the least that can legitimately be expected is that Dalit groups would not align with the BJP at any level. The manner in which Ms Mayawati entered into an alliance with the BJP in Uttar Pradesh within weeks of the Gujarat killings of 2002 is a precedent to be avoided.

[Written on the 78th anniversary of the Quit India Resolution, 8 August 2020.]


[1For an earlier assessment of judicial sanctification of Hindutva politics by one Supreme Court Bench see my article, ’The Hindutva Judgements: A Warning Signal’, Economic and Political Weekly, 6 January 1996.

[2See, for example, Mainstream, May 27, 2017 and Social Scientist, March-April 2019.

[3Mainstream, 1 Nov 2003

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