Beware, Men at Work: Hindu Rashtra under Construction!

Dipankar Bhattacharya

TEN YEARS after the shocking demolition of Babri Masjid in UP, the BJP has organised yet another crash course on applied Hindutva. The laboratory, this time around, has shifted to Gujarat, a state many of us mistakenly continue to associate with Gandhi. The message that went out from Ayodhya and has now been amplified in Ahmedabad is loud and clear: Beware, men at work, Hindu Rashtra under construction!

If that is a bit too loud and crude for our eyes and ears, we do have a ‘choice’. We can either read the Bangalore resolution of the RSS or watch the ‘soulful’ spectacle of Vajpayee unplugged in Goa. But there is no way we can ignore or misread the message itself. And for our own sake, we must now stop deluding ourselves about who this message is meant for. It is not meant for the religious minorities in India who happen to follow non-Hindu religions like Islam or Christianity. It is not meant for Pakistan and President Musharraf and his ilk. It is meant for all of us here in India who are not exactly enamoured of the saffron code of conduct and whose vision of India does not fit into the saffron straitjacket.

The BJP would like to parade Ayodhya and Ahmedabad as examples of what it calls spontaneous outburst of uncontrollable mass fury, of what awaits us if we fail to adopt the Hindu way of life as defined by Guru Golwalkar and his disciples. Like the notorious nuclear deterrents in modern warfare, these are weapons of both mass destruction and collective intimidation. But human history has survived these weapons precisely because some fools had the courage of pooh-poohing these all-powerful weapons and their owners as mere paper tigers. India can and will also survive if we can muster that kind of courage.

To call one’s enemy a paper tiger is not to underestimate the enemy or trivialise the battle. It is to refuse to be over-awed, to refuse to give up when the battle has just begun. And in this case it is not just one-day cricket, but a series of battles, a protracted war for reclaiming a country of continental dimensions, a multicultural mosaic that is animated by more than a billion people.

We know what is at stake in this war. We also know what made the stakes so high, the sheer fact that the people who are waging this war on us today occupy the commanding heights of organised political power in the country. Ten years ago they used state power to ensure the demolition of Babri Masjid. Yes, it was not an instance of a mob overpowering the state, but in the land of Jallianwala Bagh, Indervalli and Arwal massacres, Ayodhya in December 1992 was a classic case of the state ‘empowering’ a perfectly manageable crowd into a mighty mob of mythical proportions! But in December 1992, there was still a ‘different’ government at the Centre, which, though it acquiesced and even connived in all crucial stages of the process that culminated in December 6, at least had to appear to be accountable to the outcry that followed Ayodhya. Hence Kalyan Singh was removed belatedly, but the ‘chief monster’ of Gujarat, Narendra Modi merrily continues with his macabre ‘rajdharma’.

It may therefore appear that the solution lies in somehow cutting off the supply of power to the Sangh parivar. This is the logical basis on which the Congress is dreaming of a grand revival. This is also the ideological basis on which many others are calling for the broadest possible non-BJP coalition. But it is not difficult to see the increasingly limited validity of this line of argument especially in the kind of revolving-door coalition politics that now dominates in the country. One look at UP, where the BJP was relegated to the third position and yet it is eyeing power through yet another (post-poll?) bargain with the BSP, and the limits of this argument become obvious.

The point therefore is not just to enforce a temporary power-cut, but to push the saffron brigade back to where it came from, the fringes of Indian politics. Fascism as a fringe tendency or force has been a characteristic feature of modern rightwing politics, and for most parts of its ignominious history, the RSS has been no more than a fringe influence in India. And to push the parivar back to the margins, we need to find out the trajectory of its quantum leap from the periphery to the centre.

The decade of the BJP’s spectacular rise in Indian politics has also been the decade of increasing globalisation of Indian economy and culture. Western observers and ‘anti-globalisation’ activists are therefore often tempted to see the BJP’s rise as typically a revivalist Indian, if Hindu, response to the uncertainties spawned by globalisation. True, there is a revivalist streak of so-called ‘swadeshi’ within the parivar, but this is just a marginal voice in the wilderness best exemplified by the ‘exiled’ or ‘self-exiled’ status of someone like Govindacharya. To the globalisers, the brand image of the BJP is that of the most trusted ‘Indian’ agency of globalisation in general and Americanisation in particular. While the BJP’s kind of ‘indigenous’ culture and economics gel perfectly with the dominant agenda of globalisation, the anti-Pakistan and anti-China edge of its politics of Hindutva makes it a valuable ally for an American foreign policy modelled on the so-called clash of civilisations.

There is an Indian counterpart of this ‘backlash’ theory which sees the dramatic rise of the BJP merely as a desperate, last-ditch upper caste backlash to the growing Mandalisation of the polity. Such a view considers the BJP’s current position of strength as an essentially passing phase and believes that the BJP will get marginalised in the post-Mandal political arrangement much as the Congress has been marginalised in a state like Tamil Nadu. The departure of Shankarsingh Baghela in Gujarat or Kalyan Singh in UP from the BJP may also seem to lend credence to this view. But we must not forget that the BJP continues to make inroads among the dalits and backward castes and more importantly, it has little difficulty in doing business with predominantly dalit/OBC parties.

Going beyond these backlash theories and easy explanations, we must try and understand how the BJP came to thrive on the ruins of the Nehruvian vision. For far too long we have believed that India is simply too big and complex, too diverse and plural, for any fascist project, which by definition entails a huge degree of homogenisation, to ever succeed. We have taken the framework of Nehruvian secularism and democracy for granted and believed that it is immune to the danger of fascist subversion from within. The height of our gullibility and complacency can be seen in the fact that even now we often one-sidedly ridicule the BJP on its claim to be a party with a difference. The growing disappearance of the BJP’s ‘difference’ is another way of saying that the BJP has become ‘mainstream’. And it is suicidal to see this as a one-way traffic with only the BJP shedding its saffron baggage to increase its acceptability to the mainstream, and miss the other side of the picture, namely, increasing saffronisation of the mainstream. After all that has happened and is still happening in Gujarat, do we still have to wait to realise that the BJP has shed precious little and that it is the liberal Indian conscience which remains burdened with its baggage of illusions?

We must identify the three crucial floodgates through which the saffron sub-stream is threatening to inundate the non-saffron mainstream. The first concerns the very definition and meaning of India. It is not just Pakistan which remains caught in an identity crisis, with its past lying in South Asia and future being searched increasingly in West Asia. India too has an identity crisis to resolve. If the Indian identity is drained of any alternative democratic vision and defined merely in relation to Pakistan, as the post-Partition residue of what was once India, we will always be liable to be trapped within the confines of what the RSS describes as Hindu Rashtra. Witness the degeneration of official Indian nationalism after 1947, the progressive dilution of anti-imperialism and the rise of anti-Pakistanism as the touchstone of patriotism, and the competitive politics of chauvinism with every ‘mainstream’ party virtually trying to beat the BJP at its own game.

This flawed definition of nationalism has circumscribed another loaded notion, the so-called Indian idea of secularism. Unlike in the West, secularism in India has been used as a concept which signifies a traditional Indian marriage rather than divorce between religion and the state. In place of a strict separation between religion and politics, we have more of a state-sponsored arrangement of inter-religion equilibrium or equality. And who does not know that the fiction of equality is often the fig leaf used only to cover up the truth of some being more equal than the others?

The other two floodgates are located in the realm of the economic and foreign policies of India. Once the Nehru era rhetoric of a socialistic pattern of society and a mixed economy with the public sector occupying the commanding heights went out of fashion, and the retreat of the state from everything economic, especially productive, became the new buzzword, the BJP emerged as the natural leader of the new discourse of casino capitalism. And this U-turn in economics was accompanied by a parallel U-turn in foreign policy, as the professed line of non-alignment gave way to a most blatant and aggressive kind of wooing of Washington. Here too, the BJP carried greater credibility because its foreign policy of pro-Americanism came to be seen as a natural extension or corollary of its rabidly anti-left ideology.

Where do we go from here? India is indeed big and diverse with a rich history of composite culture and anti-imperialist national liberation struggle. Fascism can never have an easy victory in this country. India’s experiment with a modern democratic republic has not been in vain and all of us who are opposed to the nightmarish prospect of a fascist and saffronised India have a solid base to fight back from. But what do we fight for? Mere revival of the Congress or yet another rag-tag revolving-door coalition of forces devoid of any kind of credibility and determination? For a grand return of the good old days? Let us not forget that while pushing for a fascist restructuring of India, the BJP derives its greatest strength from the most deeply entrenched forces of the status quo.

Progress and not reaction, the future rather than the past, has to be the basis of secular India’s decisive showdown with the forces of communal fascism. True, we need a grand unity of the people against fascism, but a grand unity needs a grand vision. We need a vision that can connect the oppressed rural poor’s life-and-death struggle for basic rights with the intelligentsia’s quest for freedom of expression and thus lay the basis for a powerful assertion of India’s national dignity against every imperialist offensive. A shared vision that holds out hopes for all kinds of minorities and marginalised identities and thus regenerates a shared sense of national unity from below. In other words, we need the vision of a new India, a people’s democratic India based on consistent secularism, determined anti-imperialism and a national economy with a strong pro-people and socialist orientation, which alone can inspire the kind of unity, courage and commitment needed to thwart the growing fascist threat.

The real answer to communal fascism is a vibrant, functional people’s democracy. Democracy beyond the fragile game of fickle numbers. Democracy rooted primarily in the way wealth is generated and distributed, resources harnessed and shared, and decisions made and implemented. A society that indefinitely defers this democracy is always susceptible to subversion of the fascist kind.