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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 30 New Delhi July 13, 2019

Return of Hindutva: A Challenge for Secularism

Saturday 13 July 2019, by Gargi Chakravartty



Hindutva’s Second Coming by Subhas Gatade; published by Media House, Delhi; 2019; pages: 272; Rs 395 (US $ 18).

The return of Modi to power with a huge margin in this 2019 election is a clear verdict for the Hindutva plank. Why and how it happened leave us, the secular billions, to ponder about the reality and its aftermath. And at that juncture Subhas Gatade’s 272-page analysis titled ‘Hindutva’s Second Coming’ gives us something concrete to think over once again. This in-depth study with rich academic perception is a commendable work, bereft of jargons and convoluted expressions, often found in books written from a high pedestal which goes beyond the mental reach of lay readers. Precisely for this reason the author needs to be specially acclaimed for bringing out facts at one place based on notes and references which are so far scattered in divergent historical materials. It serves as a Reader for millions who are combating communalism and distortion of history at the grassroot level.

While analysing Hindutva’s second coming, the author divided the contents into three sections, each with a focal point and finally Appendix-IV, the most informative one on Nehru and Ambedkar. Beginning with the soaring increase of whatsapp in India, the author has substantiated with reports and even quoted data survey to show how the 2019 election can be called a “WhatsApp Election” with its huge network spreading “fake news”. How dangerous it had been, even from the point of view of creating serious violence and therefore the misuse of whatsapp and Twitter with the BJP’s entire strategy of distorting historical facts to intermingle nationalism, religion and patriotism having far-reaching ominous or threatening social consequences.

Looking back on those years after partition with “deaths of around two million people and forcible displacement of 10-12 million”, the author rightly gives credit to the then “robust leadership with firm committment to secularism to handle the post-independent challenges”. (p. 23) Here he has brought in the ideological battle of the RSS with its concept of Hindutva and development with nationalism. Delving deep into the issue he has shown how “the secular construct was countered by the majoritarian Hindu construct”. (p. 27) His study on Maharashtra’s social-cultural scenario deserves special mention. His attempt to find out the roots of the emergence of Hindu nationalism in the backdrop of the two-fold factors of Muslim threat along with lower caste assertion is corroborated with materials from analyses by renowned scholars and historians. He has dealt in detail the concept of the “exclusivist” version of Hindu unity, the different facets of Golwalkar and Deoras along with the transition of the RSS from a non-entity to a place of ‘reverence’ through their large number of affiliated bodies.

In the chapter on Militarisation of Hindus, the author has traced the trajectory of militarisation and shown how through this process the nation was Hinduised. In this section he has brought out the background and data of mob- lynching and vigilante violence. The religious celebrations with trishul dikshas and armed processions were deliberate attempts by the RSS to legitimise religion for political use and institutionalising riot systems as the author rightly placed in a footnote. (p. 63)

The book does not only deal with the emergence of the Hindutva in India; rather it throws light on the majoritarian religious cultural nationalism and its danger in South Asia, for example, in Sri Lanka the Buddhist violence through Bodu Bala Sena’s hate speech against Muslims and Tamil Hindus. The similarity between Sinhala-Buddhist militants and Hindutva supremacists in terms of hate and violence is a widespread South Asian phenomenon. Here comes the role of the state vis-a-vis majoritarian politics. The Saudisation or Wahabisation of Pakistan, Buddhist chauvinsim in Sri Lanka, plight of Rohingyas in Myanmar (720,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh), Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh (killing of bloggers irrespective of religion) are shown as a connected chain, definitely shocking news for the entire world.

The most interesting chapter titled ‘Dear Hitler’ is an eye-opener to us, as it reveals the popularity of Hitler in India and the fact that ‘Mein Kampf’ is widely read! Hitler’s authoritarianism is admired by the Indian elite as they think a dictatorial regime to be the answer to India’s innumerable problems. The author has analysed in depth the psyche of the Indian elite to remain contented “within their own cocoon of selective amnesia” (p. 102), not bothered about organised killings, lynching etc. as they similarly keep themselves distanced from ethnic cleansing of Jews by Hitler and deny the genocide of Holocaust! It is a shocking revelation that in the NCERT textbooks in Gujarat Hitler was portrayed as a hero. There is a co-relationship between this glorification of Hitler and the meeting of Dr Munje of the Hindu Mahasabha with Mussolini in India. This explains their strategy to militarise the RSS and militarily regenerate the Hindus.

Section II deals with the thought, concept, activities of the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS idealogues and leaders, starting from Savarkar, Shyama Prasad to Mohan Bhagwat. The transition of Savarkar after his transportation for life to the Andamans, where he had handed over a mercy petition on November 14, 1913 promising the British Government to serve in any capacity, from one who endorsed Hindu-Muslim unity to someone who propounded the theory of Hindu Nation has been elucidated in a historical framework. This chapter also gives an account of Savarkar’s praise for Hitler and endorsement of ethnic cleansing in Nazi Germany. Jinnah is known as the propounder of the two-nation theory, but much before 1940 Savarkar declared this theory at the 19th session of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937. This is a well- documented fact. But what is interesting is that the author to substantiate the point has quoted a pro-Sangh Parivar historian, R.C. Majumdar. The ambience for the partition was built up with Savarkar “asking Hindu Youth to join the military with a call ‘Militarise Hindus, Hinduise the Nation’” and also “helping the Britishers to find recruits for their army”. This happened at a time when most of our national leaders were in jail during the ‘Quit India‘ Movement.

Similarly another stalwart of the Hindu Mahasabha, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, occupies considerable space in this treatise. The conversation between Shyama Prasad and Sardar Patel after Gandhi’s assassination is not known to this generation. Patel conveyed to Shyama-prasad how the involvement of the Hindu Mahasabha in Gandhi’s assassination and the activities of the RSS proved to be a “clear threat to the existence of Government and the State”. Interestingly Shyamaprasad “did not resign to express his dissent over these actions”. (p. 142) He was party to all the decisions of the Nehru Cabinet including the banning of the RSS. He, however, resigned on the issue of the Nehru-Liaqat Ali Pact of 1950. Each of these leaders had suffered from dichotomy. So had Shyamaprasad, his sharing of power with the Muslim League in Bengal was one such instance.

The most significant aspect of Shyamaprasad, that is not widely known, is his initial acceptance of the “inevitability of Article 370”. In the correspondence between Shyamaprasad and Nehru on February 17, 1953 this argument is reiterated. The author has concluded this chapter by saying: “Till date the BJP maintains that if the government then had heeded to Mukherjee’s opposition to the said Article, Kashmir would have been in a different situation right now but still has not gathered courage to admit that he had conceded to the proposal in writing earlier.” (p. 150)

The ambience and milieu of hate towards Gandhi with slogans of Gandhi Murdabad at Mahasabha meetings was created by the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha in such a manner that when Gandhi was assassinated by Godse, sweets were distributed by the Hindu supremacists. This chapter also reveals the five attempts to kill Gandhi by these elements since June 25, 1934 (in 1944 twice, in June 1946, on January 20, 1948 in Delhi and finally on January 30, 1948) which explains the theory of conspiracy behind Gandhi’s assassination. Gandhi was their target because of his ‘pro-Muslim’ mentality, and also because he was the main obstacle to the path of building a Hindu Rashtra. Gandhi was not just assassinated but with him his idea of composite nationalism was targeted. This issue is not yet settled, as Godse, the assassin, has surfaced in the society as a patriot. The glorify Godse campaign has such far- reaching consequences that Sadhvi Pragya, who openly praised Godse as a patriot in her election campaign, could get elected to the Lok Sabha with a huge margin! This slows how deep the Hindutva ideology has penetrated into our society. There is enough evidence of a conspiracy and Savarkar was the main person behind it. For me, it has been a renewed learning process to go through those evidences written in the book.

The chapter on Deendayal Upadhyaya, who is being projected as the BJP’s Gandhi, on Shyamaprasad and on the formation of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh takes us to a period where Muslims are considered a “complex problem”. (p. 191) The dislike of the idea of secularism is explicit in all their writings and speeches. Even the federal character of our Constitution has been critically judged with a preference to the unitary form. (p. 192) Deen-dayal’s theory of integral humanism did not deter him from speaking against Hindu-Muslim unity. Since his time, the idea of an inclusive India took a backseat. The chapter on Mohan Bhagwat revives our recent memory of his utterances such as mobilising an “army” in three days. His claim of the RSS being a democratic organisation has been rightly refuted with provisions of having no entry for women, or a leadership chosen through nomination and not election. However, the fact remains that the RSS/BJP during this phase has emerged as a predominant voice with a huge vote-share in the electoral process.

The third section titled “Hindutva’s Second Coming: the Way Ahead” is highly fascinating as numerous contentious issues are discussed here. While comparing this phase of undeclared emergency with Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, the author states the earlier Emergency “could never gain legitimacy of the people”. (p. 231) The worst victim is secularism. The author may be right when he observes: “One needs to introspect the whole idea of secularism and enquire why there is a lack of social foundation for secularism in this country.” (p. 234) The author considers that there is an absence of broadening the constituency of the ‘secular movement’ or integrating it in a larger framework, and also there is the failure of the Opposition. The question that remains is: why did the anti-colonial struggle fail to impact on our future generations who do not have any idea of its legacy and on the contrary are brainwashed and mesmerised by a majoritarian outlook? It is a South Asian phenomenon, one type of fanatic idea feeds the other. This chain is connected as the author mentions: “Buddhist extremists in Myanmar strengthen Islamists in Bangladesh and they further add strength to the Hindutva supremacists here.” (p. 236)

The last section titled Appendix: Nehru, Ambedkar and Challenge of Majoritarianism provides a tool to fight these Hindu supremacists with quotes and excerpts from their writings and speeches. Today when Ambedkar is being sought to be appropriated by the BJP/RSS and Gandhi’s killers, the people should know that he had talked about no state religion and said that liberty of conscience should be guaranteed to every citizen. (p. 246) Ambedkar, who had envisaged state socialism, could sense the danger of majoritarianism, and talk about a new doctrine of the Divine Right of the Majority to rule the minorities according to the wishes of the majority. (p. 248) His abhorrence to majori-tarianism is evident in his writings.

Though the RSS with its affiliated bodies may try to dent into the SC Hindu vote-bank, the SC population should be told what Ambedkar had said when he had formed the Scheduled Caste Federation: “The Scheduled Caste Federation will not have any alliance with any reactionary party such as the Hindu Mahasabha or the RSS.” (p. 249) Ambedkar’s idea of making political democracy into social democracy is extremely significant as he realised that democracy and secularism are inseparable. Today when secularism is under a serious threat this revisit to Ambedkar’s writings will undoubtedly enrich one’s vision of India and strengthen the zeal for the struggle ahead.

This book has come at a time when the need to sharpen our reasoning and faculty in com-bating the serious challenge of Hindu majori-tarianism in India is most imperative. The wide range of information about the rich legacy of our secular thought textured in an extremely readable manner in this book will, indeed, boost all those forces that are working at various levels to prevent the dismantling of the idea of India.

The reviewer is a former Associate Professor of History, Maitreyi College, University of Delhi.

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