PTH is extremely grateful to Ayush Khanna for making this contribution.
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge” said Nehru. We find ourselves in the queer predicament of asking ourselves what pledge Nehru, perhaps the most liberal and secular politician in independent India’s history, was talking about. Only months after he made this speech, his political mentor, Mahatma Gandhi, was shot dead.
The RSS distributed sweets at his death, and a Sardar Patel, usually sympathetic towards the right wing, found the anachronistic, medieval and gory celebration of death grotesque enough to ban the RSS. Savarkar escaped the noose very narrowly and we know now that he was a part of the conspiracy. That incident jolted the Congress to the extent that the right wing elements within the Congress like Sardar Patel, united with their brethren across the aisle (Nehru) and in a bipartisan manner, cracked down on the Savarkar engendered Hindutva in the country.
Although the ban was lifted, the incident forced Hindutva to the confines of the fringe where it lurked until it’s soul, long suppressed, found utterance with the demolition of the Babri Masjid. India was fatigued with the Congress and eventually the vacuum for a robust opposition had begun to grow. There were others. But they were unable to hold onto their own and in their failure, the vacuum grew faster until it reached it’s crescendo and was filled alarmingly by the ideology that had been spurned but managed to rise again, phoenix like, and enter the consciousness of the people using the invidious drama of demolition.
In retrospect, the formation of a robust opposition was an inevitable, inexorable process in a dynamic and functioning democracy. The shape that robust opposition would take however and the blame for the danger it poses, is harder to apportion. Do we blame Sardar Patel for lifting the ban on the RSS eliciting a promise of electoral abstinence from them?
Do we blame the Indian people who, in their love for Nehru then, refused to allow Rajaji’s Swatantra Party to grow which was opposed to Nehruvian economics and proposed the end of license Raj advocating the ease of doing business? Had this party flourished, we would have seen the rise of an opposition that would have been a socially liberal, economically right wing counterbalance to the Congress Party thus filling that nascent opposition vacuum. Do we blame the failure of other oppositions that rose against the dictatorial tendencies of Mrs Gandhi, who rebelled competently, but governed incompetently? Or do we blame the various other dithering oppositions that were flashes in the pan? Because ultimately, the vacuum was filled by an irreversible act of vandalism.
With the death of Muhammad Ikhlaq in Dadri, it is important to take a moment to think about the history that lead to this incident. Not a wishful sigh of ‘what if’s’ but a rational look at the past. A man was killed and his son critically injured for the alleged consumption of beef by a mob of two hundred people. The meat was sent to the authorities to be tested. India is one of those countries that can take pride in allowing a case of heinous crime to be hinged around the results of meat tested. The meat tested negative for beef. However had it tested positive, the manner in which this case would have been perceived would have been quite different. How did it come to this? The beef ban has been the one major loophole in Indian secularism which otherwise disallows any legislation to be passed on the grounds of curbing the rights of any individual on the basis of religion.
This loophole has been exploited continuously by the Hindutva brigade in the country and they have used the issue to vitiate the social fabric and polarize communities. It is all the more incredulous because most of the lower cast communities in India have no issue with beef including the Dalits and the tribal folk. This is then, an upper cast imposition on an overwhelming majority in India. Nor is there any religious basis for this in as much as there are plenty of historical sources to suggest that beef was consumed by the early Hindus. Later Brahminical texts like the egregious Manusmriti too did not have a beef with beef.
Hinduism then does not offer the cow any canonical sanctity however tenuous such a sanctity would be, even if it existed, in a faith as diverse as Hinduism. But a polytheistic, pantheistic religion with no overriding book and no set does and don’ts, is inherently open-ended and difficult to mobilize around. That is where the ban on cow slaughter comes in which uses a negative (don’t) in order to cut across the pantheism and polytheism of Hinduism and unite Hindus behind a subject and therefore a party/constituency. In this, in many ways, the right wing has succeeded and many Hindus have internalized, accepted and even propagated the political relevance of the holy cow. That internalization has led to this justification of an innocent man’s murder today from a section of the BJP.
The situation is all the more critical today because this section of the BJP that insists on justifying the murder are calling for a Mahapanchayat on the 11th of October to protest the arrest of the thugs who killed Mohammed Ikhlaq, injured his son and demand a lighter sentence for the accused. One cannot have imagined that the BJP would become so brazen in protecting it’s vote bank that it would be willing to speak out against justice. Their cultural minister referred to the Dadri lynching as an “accident” and asked people not to give it a communal angle as though the Hindu mob that lynched a Muslim for allegedly eating beef (which was mutton) was crazed with secularism.
More problematic still is the deflection from many BJP supporters questioning the neutrality of the media, questioning whether similar attacks on Hindus are covered with equal zeal, questioning the motives of the outrage, in short, doing everything possible to desist from dealing with the problem at hand. Such deflections, justifications and defenses only serve to unmask the ugly face of the BJP, it’s supporters and Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose silence only serves to incriminate the BJP all the more.
The man who is the most tech-savvy and communicative Prime Minister of India has not said a word about Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Pragya, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Sakshi Maharaj etc. Nor did he speak about the murder of a Muslim techie in Pune because he was sporting a beard and a skull cap, or speak out in this instance when Ikhlaq was lynched for allegedly eating beef. People are contrasting Modi with President Obama who has been making strong statements in similar cases, first, when a Muslim boy, Ahmed, was arrested for making a clock and on the recent Oregon shooting, when he spoke about America’s inability to deal with gun violence.
Strong statements in such cases reaffirm the resolve of the government and silence is seen as indifference if not tacit complicity. The reasons for this ought to be absolutely clear enough. A polarized electorate is in the interests of the BJP. No other party stands to gain as much if the electorate is polarized on religious grounds. They seek to widen the existing core communal vote in a top down manner. This belief has been strengthened after the Muzzafarnagar riots and the subsequent performance of the BJP in UP in the general elections of 2014, a state in which their performance in the past has been pedestrian.
The question we need to ask ourselves is how we can fight this overall polarization. If we are to resist the right wing’s agenda, it has to be a resistance of the right wing in all spheres of our lives where they seek to impose their ideology. We ought to do so by understanding and disseminating the fact that first and foremost, the moral and cultural ethics of the right wing in India are an anachronistic morass of a generally colonial and specifically Victorian nature.
This is borne out by the right wing’s position on issues such as homosexuality for instance. They support article 377 which criminalizes homosexual acts and this was a legislation that was introduced by the British. The narrative of different sexualities in India however has been a very different one going back to the times of the Mahabharata and before. This is also true of their views on nudity and the manner in which they threatened the painter M.F Hussain when Hindu temples like Khajuraho have never shied away from expressing nudity even on the walls of the sanctum sanctorum.
The same is true of literature, clothing, displays of affection in public, place of women in society etc. In all these instances, the right wing is consumed by a sense of morality that is stuck in the colonial era which instilled in Indians a sense of shame regarding their own past and instead attempts to aggrandize the Indian experience by myths of inventions and bombs that their sense of masculinity takes pride in. Instead of a dogmatic ideology and a sense of morality that is stuck in the colonial era, we require a collective outlook that is based on compassion, empathy and is willing to ameliorate with changing times.
Right wing Hindutva in India is a confused ideology, the imposition of which will be enormously detrimental to the heterogeneous construct of everyday inclusive peace in India. The ideology seeks to homogenize people, for the electoral expediency of the BJP, by curtailing the freedoms of a very heterogeneous people. The murders of intellectuals like Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi and the emerging role of the right wing Sanatan Sanstha are attempts to do exactly this.
Unless we want our freedoms constantly curtailed by an antediluvian clique, the need of the hour is a strong and powerful pushback that makes it counterproductive for the right wing to impose anything on a diverse group of people. Such a pushback cannot be restricted to protesting against beef bans, but against every such attempt the right wing makes to create a pan-Hindu consensus.
There can never be a pan-Hindu consensus that hinges on faith. The attempt to create such a consensus would involve a whitewash of thousands of years of irreconcilable debate and contradiction within Hinduism, a flourishing heritage that should be the basis for our freedoms in all spheres and a heritage that should be reflected in our laws by doing away with the ban on cow slaughter, section 377, the blasphemy law and all other colonial hangovers. Nehru’s words regarding the redeeming of our pledge is about doing exactly that.
It is our overall challenge to the Hindutva narrative and emphasis on the colonial construct of their morality that can engender a change in their approach. If their own supporters make this clear to them by being vocal about such issues, the right wing will be forced to abandon their search for social cohesion and homogeneity and instead shift their focus on providing the right wing economic opposition that Rajaji had sought to provide the Indian people all those years ago. If our focus is development, our differences ought to be on ways in which we develop India and on governance. There is no room for a compromise on our collective freedoms for this to happen. In order to make that clear to the right wing, we will have to fight long and hard.
More importantly, we will have to, much like Patel and Nehru, be able to display bipartisanship in our pushback, for this will not be possible if the more moderate BJP supporters leaning towards the center, are not on board. For at least they can see that curtailing our collective freedoms is counterproductive for everyone in the long term. At least they can appreciate the importance of internalizing the sacrosanctity of our freedoms as opposed to internalizing the sacrosanctity of majoritarian impositions. They will have to put the interests of the country before the interests of the party and do so without another momentous tragedy precipitating this bipartisanship. Let this momentous tragedy be catalyst enough.