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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 1-2, December 24, December 31, 2022 (Double issue)

With No Roots in Public Culture, Hindutva is a Lone Militant | Radhakanta Barik

Saturday 24 December 2022, by Radhakanta Barik


by Radhakanta Barik *

THE PRESENT HOME MINISTER and prominent leader of the BJP, Amit Shah, believes that the Bharatiya Janata Party will rule for forty to fifty years. There is a book on Modi saying the same thing (Ajay Singh’s forthcoming book cited in Walter Andersen 2022). The question young and progressive India is asking is, ‘is it possible’?

It is not like the Congress which is a product of national movements and has negotiated with diverse social groups and castes, as such having a support base among these groups. The Indian National Congress Party has managed to carry well the Aristotelian idea of politics that welfare of all in combination with the Hobbes theory of social contract.

The Preamble of Indian Constitution speaks loudly about the philosophy of social contract between the state and social groups and individuals. This guided the INC to take up social economic programmes for implementation. In the 1946 election manifesto, it clearly said that the free Indian government would implement the abolition of Zamindari to ensure the economic safety of the toiling masses. It continued to implement agricultural programmes and allowed for articulating the various socio-economic demands in its various election manifestoes till 1967. In combination with the agrarian programme, the Congress party went on to put in place public sector industries and technological institutions for constructing a modern India. This benefited every section of the Indian society and individual. Implementation of the programmes for the poor and marginal social groups created an urge in their mental landscape to provide legitimacy to the Indian state. The image of the party grew in the public culture of the people of India, in both rural and urban India. This helped in building the two functions of public space.

As Habermas tell us, public culture has two functions: a holistic function and an epistemic function (Habermas 1974; Muzaffar Ali 2022). These functions are critical for legitimacy of any system. Here, the collectivity turns into present continuous public process. It creates a cohesiveness of various interpretations. Public sphere fulfills its epistemic function when it has the inbuilt capacity of transcending its limitations. In India, the INC, the Left parties and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have the capacity to conduct double or even multiple functions in a system for reinventing legitimacy, as all the three political groupings were a part of the early social reforms movements during the national freedom movement. They were not inspired by any specific religious streams; certainly not by Hindutva.

Hindutva does not have any root in public culture. This compels the various pro-Hindutva factions, both political and social, to use violence as a tool to awaken communal consciousness. Examples of these are many: use of cow vigilantes to attack Muslim; they manufacture love jihad against Muslims; privatise to satisfy the profit motive of the cadres or the RSS. For becoming parts the private militia they are being paid. As a result, public culture is getting vitiated by Hindutva propaganda. As the political economist Antonio Gramsci said, it is all about power for hegemony, unlike the simple Marxian class elimination. This is why Hindutva has been able to break the common sense of rural people. Not long ago, rural masses even frowned upon the demolition of the Babri Masjid; the destruction of Babri Masjid was not liked by people. Such acts lack legitimacy in public culture. Rural people do not like violence of any kind, least of all, religious violence. Villagers used to think of construction of a temple but never destruction of another symbol of religion. Naturally, various religious groups have co-existed in rural India for thousands of years. Today, a stage has arrived in the nation’s politics that the elite are queuing up to visit the Ram Mandir.

Hindutva has managed to break the common sense of the dominant population. The tolerance that is in Hinduism has been caged today. Rapidly emerging is a sectarian Hindutva. It may or may not help in constructing the hegemony the political right desire; one can say, however, that Hindutva does not have any understanding of public culture.

In rural India public culture was always very limited. Now, in the twenty-first century, with better roads and expansion of education, public culture has grown in rural India. Tea shops and market areas create public space in rural India. Hindutva aims at destroying the evolving public culture in rural India as they cannot conquer it. Traditional spaces like tea dhabas, barber shops, market areas do not allow them to have an easy access to public culture. Interconnectedness among private individuals makes for public space. This is being constructed with the help of dialogues, discussions and debates among those participating in it. The forces of Hindutva do not have the patience to participate in it. They are interested in destroying it by taking help of the communication systems – forcing them to speak their idioms which revolve around religion.

Public sphere is not dominated by religious idioms, although most of them believe in some form of religion. Religion has its place but it does not interfere in public space. Religions form a distinct identity by discursive activities. Hindutva is interested in investing in the instrumentality of religion which carries some symbols like vegetarianism, Hanuman and Ram. Hindutva has expanded with the help of such accessories. They now have access to public culture. Hegemony is a concept related to culture as Gramsci pointed out in his book. Culture is a text and it has a grammar. Each culture is distinct and is an autonomous one. Each culture has been shaped by all the communities sharing the space. Hindutva is facing a challenge from this very syncretic culture. That makes them distant from it. Now the far right has at last developed a strategy – create riots against the Muslims which make them alien.

The far right cannot still have hegemony in culture. Most of the communities in India live within their own cultures and they look at the modern economy and society through their particular cultural world view. At the same time, they do not want to leave the material world because of their cultural roots. Hindutva is diabolically clever; it accepts the cultural world view which is primitive but without coming in conflict with the modern world. Hindutva looks at primitive culture as the culture and finds the roots of conflict within this to subserve minorities. For this, now the have a new tool – education. This the far right in India is doing by specifically reformulating the curriculum for schools. Education has brought modernity, science and technology; at the same time, modernity has directed rational discourse over social and economic issues. In a country like India, this cannot be changed overnight.

Hindutva has been in a laboratory for many decades, letting a group of far-right people work on it. It remained in an experimental phase from Savarkar to Vajpayee. In 1989, they experimented with the Ram Mandir issue by starting the Rath yatra. It didn’t work. In 1992, they destroyed the Babri mosque. This started pushing the right wing’s Rath at a higher speed. Modi realized what a brilliant weapon he had in communalism. He used it successfully in 2002 by presenting the Godhra incident as evidence and created a massive riot in Gujarat. Their politics thus got a huge momentum. The illusion of corruption and the anti-corruption movement by their nominees, Anna Hazare and Kejriwal, weakened the ruling Congress. Here capital, the American style of using technology and money from abroad helped the far right win the 2014 general election. At last hegemony was in their fist.

After that they haven’t looked back. Today, the state is helping them in spreading Hindutva. Police, judges and civil service work day and night to generate hegemony through Hindutva. As obstacles before them, however, stands the written Constitution of India which cannot be easily changed, no matter how loud the call for amendment and revision. The way the country’s economy is disintegrating is also not helping their ambitious project of hegemony to grow. We can confidently hope, imperialism, even when well camouflaged, is not going to work. They might speak of Akhanda Bharat; and copying neighbour Pakistan and Afghanistan, they might be Talibanising Hindus but the far right needs to remember that Hindutva does not have a public space yet; only a communicative space which has given them power. Their aim is to create another Pakistan, a Hindu Pakistan – in other words a theocracy. This, however, is not an easy task as they confront civil society and public space held so far by the secular mindset in rural and urban India. They continue to lack public culture which is a shared one and interconnected one. People sit in public spaces and create public culture. They lack both public space and public culture.

Foundation of Israel is based on a religion which inspires Hindutva forces which got a strong disapproval from Mahatma Gandhi in an article demanding that Palestine would be a state where both Palestinians and others could live together. Gandhi was a man of secular and of strong views which did not get approval of Zionists. Even the American universities owned by Zionists did not allow the course on Gandhi and Gandhian ideas till today. In 1977 Janata Party government headed by Desai where Shri Vajpayee was the Minister of External Affairs. He suggested Shri Desai to give recognition to Israel where he told, " If his government does it then the government will fall." But Vajpayee’s student Shri Modi as Prime Minister went to Israel and made many agreements with the Prime Minister of Israel without going to Palestine which is an old friend of India. He learnt a lesson from Israel, " one can live in a hostile environment" which he is practicing here with his neighbors such as Pakistan and China. It is a tragedy that we have a war mongering Prime Minister Modi who is ready to go for a war any moment.

One finds, in the last six months, the BJP ideology is losing some of itsr support base. This has made the right wing jittery and more aggressive. Scene 1 started with the dancing of the dharm sansad that used abusive language against Muslims. Muslims and secular forces did not react. Scene 2 finds a battalion of false archaeologists who opened the temple in Kashi, Mathura and Delhi. No one was particularly interested. Muslims in India are cultured and cool people. They did not react. Scene 3 has been creating more riots, to which some sections of Muslims responded with equal violence. However, these failed to generate any mass violence on both sides. Right-wing scriptwriters, however, do not have any idea what the next matchbox is.

It is a matter of regret that false ‘cow’ love is taking over the BJP-ruled States without actual care being provided for the gentle creatures, rather than the welfare of human being. Every second day there is a killing of an innocent citizen by cow vigilantes in the States ruled by the BJP. Neither mother cow nor mother India have a say in this. Are we going back to the age of darkness where no reason works? There is a story written by Sachi Routra, the Gyanpitha award winner in Odiya literature in 1937, titled ‘Darkness’ where a farmer loses his property to the landlord, priestly group and his caste leaders on false charges of killing a cow. The priest and landlord forces the man to do prayaschitta in the Puri temple. After he did this, they were not happy and forced him to flee to the jungles where he died of hunger. It is ironical that even his dead body was not carried by anybody, till his wife paid a bribe of Rs 10. With the payment of bribe, everybody including his caste leaders and priestly group became a happy lot. It has similarity to today’s situation, who finances the cow vigilantes? Why is the BJP – the ruling party at the Centre and States – unable to stop such brutal killings? This is the question being raised by every sensitive viewer of the contemporary political and economic situation.

Despite failures of Himalayan size, De-Modification has not started. Why? This question needs to be answered by all. The de-Modification really began the day prime minister Modi announced the Lockdown in the middle of the night in 2019 and the working class came to the streets and marched to their villages. This is a long march against Modi. The day privatisation of LIC and Railways started, the middle class started withdrawing their support as their deposits shrank. This class is the product of the Indian railways. They have so long moved with chuck- chuck sound of the trains and have had an experience of India in all its colours and varieties, opening people’s minds. Even the upper middle class has started questioning this government, as illustrated in a beautiful manner in a marriage where the bride refused to marry the groom because of his support to Modi. This was a small news item in the corner of a newspaper but it is big news. Industrialists are today divided on the policy pursued by the Modi government in managing Covid 19.

Modi has a concept of power similar to Arendt’s view – it is a function of technology (Hannah Arendt 1977). Modi, with the backing of industrialists, has shaped the electronic and print media to some extent to popularize only his personality. This glorified image of Modi is being sold to media is doing day and night speaking of Modi and this image is being sold by the electronic media, 24 hours, as Swati Chaturvedi points out in her book, ‘I am a Troll’. ‘Rightwing propaganda websites constantly peddle hate tweets and slander journalists. They are backed up by coordinated hashtag campaigns where anonymous Twitter handles retweet the same tweet continuously until trending begins’ (Chaturvedi 2009). She gives instances of ‘gory cow-related slaughter and imaginary instances of love jihad’.

When Gauri Lankesh was killed in Bangaluru in 2017, a twitter handle followed by the leaders of the party gave warning to other journalists that they were ‘going to go in the Lankesh way’ soon.The Wire calculated that a network of 757 twitter accounts were used to mount attacks against Mohammad Zubair . The government machinery used the dead tweets, converting them into live ones and used these against opponents. It is time, this hate speech manufacturing network is. The lawyer Colin Gonsalves says, ‘this is vital for democracy to survive and for the judiciary not be intimidated’.

Capitalism and liberal democracy both worked in the case of India. A pluralistic and multi- cultural society continued to grow in this framework. With the rise of the Modi regime, there has been a retreat of liberal democracy. Capitalism has turned into crony capitalism. It has brought authoritarianism with communalism. This is working to destroyed the Indian economy and liberal democracy. It has attacked the Right to Fraternity prescribed in Indian the Constitution in its Preamble. The Social Contract theory is being challenged today; it cannot survive because of political economic reasons. This may not last as it is not rooted in public space. However, ideology without public culture does not have the strength to survive long, as vested interests predict.

(Author: Prof Radhakanta Barik was a former member of the faculty at Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi)


  • Habermas, Jurgen, Theory and Practice, Boston: Beacon Press. 1974b, The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article, New German Critique; Sara Lennon and Frank Lennon Translated article, No3, pp 3-24.
  • Hannah Arendt’s Communications concept of Power, Translated by Thomas Mccarthy , Social Research, vol.44,No1,pp3-44, 1977.
  • Walter Andersen, How Modi reshaped the BJP, cited Ajay Singh, The architect of New BJP: How Narendra Modi Transformed the BJP, coming from Penguin, Indian Express, July 21, 2022.
  • Muzzafar Ali, The Public Sphere Rediscovered: Arendt and the Perennial Presence of Aristotle in Habermas in EPW, June 4, 2022.
  • Colin Gonsalves, Stamp Out this Hate Speech Manufacturing Netwok, The Hindu, 16 July, 2022.
  • Swati Chaturvedi, I am a troll: Inside the BJP’s Secret Digital Army, Juggernaut, 2009. Columnist at ndtv, GulfNews.
  • Gramsci: Selections from the Prison Notebooks (Amazon). Gramsci developed the notion of hegemony in the Prison Writings. The idea came as part of his critique of the deterministic economic interpretation of history; of ‘mechanical historical materialism’. Hegemony, to Gramsci, is the ‘cultural, moral and ideological’ leadership of a group over allied and subaltern groups.

[The above article was edited by Papri Sri Raman]

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