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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 23 New Delhi May 28, 2016

Two Years of Modi Rule: Unfolding Hindutva Agenda

Sunday 29 May 2016

by Ram Puniyani


Modi came to power with a bang in 2014. Riding on the support of the corporate world, the RSS combine, media blitz and sky-rocketing promises, he managed to get 31 per cent of votes and 282 seats in the Lok Sabha. This is the first time the BJP managed a simple majority in the Lower House of Parliament. This also became an occasion for Modi-BJP-RSS to unfold their agenda in full. While economic promises have floundered, the protective policies for the average downtrodden have been partly retracted along with the claims of great economic achievement by the RSS combine and its supporters. The reality of the economic situation has forced substantial section of the media to take cognisance of the plight of the people and criticise the failure of the government on economic and many other fronts.

The social scenario has been dismal, the growing intolerance, the attack on the autonomy of universities, the treatment of Dalits, as reflected in the death of Rohith Vemula, the intimidation of religious minorities through issues like beef-eating, Bharat Mata ki Jai, and nationalism have dominated the scene. By now most of the people are clear that the RSS is in the driving seat supervising the total unfolding of its agenda of Hindu nationalism.

Acche Din and Governance

Acche din had become a buzzword, black money being retrieved and deposited in everybody’s bank account was looked forward to and the anticipation of creation of jobs got registered in the people’s mind. None of these came through. Prices of essential commodities started shooting up, of all the things even dal (pulses) started becoming a luxury item. Fifteen lakhs is nowhere in the account and job creation is stagnant. As such the well-advertised foreign policy remained on the confused platter with nothing to show except the Prime Minister’s much-hyped global rendezvous on a regular basis. With Pakistan the policy of ‘blow hot, blow cold’ is in operation and the friendliest neighbour, Nepal, is drifting away from the earlier status of a close ally.

 The much-touted Maximum Governance-Minimal Government has been reduced to all powers being centralised in the hands of a single person and authoritarian streaks are visible as the Cabinet system, where the PM is first among equals, is being overturned towards a PM controlling everything. The major damage is in the arena of freedom of expression, autonomy of academic institutions, and communal harmony.

Hate Speech

Different leaders from different wings of the RSS combine went on a verbal rampage. For every voice dissenting from the ideology/policies of RSS-BJP-Modi, abusive words were used like, go to Pakistan, Haramzade, anti-national and the like. Many of those who ultered such words are in the Central Ministry as well, like Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Giriraj Singh. Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Prachi and Sakshi Maharaj were the other notable ones in this regard. Many of these worthies were labelled as fringe elements by some commentators. It is clear that they are no fringe elements; they are part of the core agenda of the RSS combine. The Prime Minister has not reprimanded any of them as these speeches are part of the divisive agenda being pursued by the VHP and its parent organisation, the RSS. During this time Godse, who murdered the Father of the Nation, Gandhi, is also coming to the fore and demands for temples in his name are in the air.

Education: Autonomy of Educational Institutes

The government made its intention of changing the syllabus very clear from the beginning. The Central Cabinet Minister, Venkaiah Naidu, had expressed this in so mnay words even before the elections. The real indication was given when RSS pracharak Dinananth Batra got the academic book, ‘Hindus and Alternate History’ by Wendy Doniger, pulped by pressurising the publishers through court cases. Those appointed in charge of educational institutions and academic bodies have explicitly stated their ideology. K. Sudarshan Rao, the one who has been appointed as the chief of the Indian Council of Historical Research, has stated that there is no problem in the caste system as nobody had complained against it. Similarly he is trying to present Hindu mythology as History.

The interference in the academic institutions led to the Director of IIT-Delhi and Board of Governors of IIT-Mumbai resigning from their posts. One Gajendra Chauhan was appointed as the Chairperson of the FTII. He did not have a stature for the high post. The students’ strike opposing his appointment was ignored and he continues to occupy the post. In IIT-Madras the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle was banned, but had to be restored after a lot of protests. In Hyderabad Central University the activities of the Ambedkar Students Association were opposed. These activities were the screening of the film, Muzzafarnagar Baki hai, a programme to oppose the death penalty of Yakub Memon, and organising a beef festival. Under pressure from the Central Ministry of HRD the students were expelled from the hostel, their scholarship was stopped. This is what led to the suicide of Rohith Vemula.

In JNU a programme was organised by the students to oppose the death penalty to Afzal Guru. Some masked men shouted anti-India slogans. A video was doctored and Kanhaiya Kumar and other students were arrested under the charge of sedition. Interestingly, the students (masked men), who shouted anti-India slogans, were not arrested. The doctored video was used to put Kanhaiya and others in jail. A massive students’ protest has grown in the country to oppose the high-handed government action in the academic campuses. In response a major protest took place by the teachers of JNU and other prominent academics; they began a series of lectures on Nationalism, covering its various aspects. The lectures gave the nation a perspective on the phenomenon of nationalism and also the distinction between Indian nationalism and Hindu nationalism.

 A new emotive issue was allowed to surface. That revolved around the slogan ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ (Hail Mother India). The RSS chief had said that the youth should be told to chant this slogan. In response to this the MIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi said he will not do so even if a knife was put on his throat. RSS fellow-traveller Baba Ramdev stated that had the Constitution not been there, by now lakhs of people would have been beheaded. The issue of Bharat Mata ki Jai again brought forth the issues related to who constitutes the nation in a very clear manner. Now the RSS combine is using the word deshdrohi (anti-national) for anybody and everybody who has opinions different from their own. One recalls that for his statement opposing that of Baba Ramdev, Akbaruddin Owaisi was arrested and had to be in jail for some time.

Growing Intolerance

As the government took charge, already the murder of Dr Dabholkar was in the backdrop. Meanwhile Com Pansare and Prof Kalburgi were murdered for their rational views. The beef ban and cow protection hysteria was built up. This led to many murders, the major one being that of Mohammad Akhlaq. The issue of ‘cow as mother’ has been brought up more strongly now leading to many acts of violence. After Akhlaq’s murder the heat of growing intolerance led many eminent citizens to return their awards for excellence in their areas of work. Rather than positively respond to their protests, they were looked down upon.

 As matters stand, it is becoming clear that all the wings of the RSS are in full action. They are getting all the protection and support from the ruling government. The RSS progeny which has come to maximum prominence is the ABVP, and it is coming to limelight in different educational campuses. Its aim is to oppose the secular, plural and democratic activities in the campuses as witnessed in the Hyderabad Central University, Allahabad University and JNU in particular.

 The incidents of the HCU and JNU tell us as to how brazenly the ABVP can assert itself on the issues related to pluralism and democracy, with due support from the ruling party. Incidents have also revealed that attacks on Dalits and other democratic formations are possible by the ABVP as it has the protective cover of the authorities selected because of their loyalty to the Hindutva ideology.

 On the one hand we have this imposition of the RSS ideology of Hindu nationalism, on the other the students and youth have come forward to defend the mantle of progressive values, the values of the Indian Constitution. The most heartening feature of recent times is that the students of different political persuasions, Ambedkarite-Left-Socialists are coming together on the democratic platform. This upsurge of the youth is a guide to the national movement as a whole reminding us of the need for all anti-communal forces to come together at social and political levels to oppose the rising tide of authoritarianism in the name of Hindutva. While the electoral experiment in Bihar has given the first respite, the students are providing the ground for the movement to protect democracy.

 We are in for challenging times. There are attacks and there is hope. We can definitely look forward to a united platform of all forces believing in the values of democracy and pluralism to come together and preserve those very values.

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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