N. Sukumar and Shailaja Menon
I like the religion that teaches liberty, equality and fraternity ~ B.R. Ambedkar
The RSS-BJP combine has fine tuned its political strategy and chameleon like forge their words to suit different occasions. Apparently the conductor of the grand orchestra is located in Nagpur. In his public utterances, PM Modi sticks to the goal of development, bringing in mothers and sisters along with soldiers as extremely valuable for nation building. He never invokes the guiding spirits of the RSS in his public addresses. In his 71st Independence Day speech, he appealed to the values derived from sudharshan chakradhari Mohan to charkhadhari Mohan. The ‘nation’ anyways is aware about the other ‘Mohan’ who is the soul force behind the ‘cultural awakening’ of Hindu India.
The alter ego of the prime minister, Amit Shah never minces his words about the ultimate agenda of his party. “It is only in India that mutts and religious institutions work along with the government and even more than the government for the welfare of society” (The Indian Express, Delhi, Monday Aug 14 2017, p-7) If religious institutions are better than the state why do we need the state at all? He dismissed very smoothly the entire ethos of constitutional morality, the democratic and secular country for which thousands braved the gallows and prisons in their fight against colonial rule. The RSS and its cronies were never part of this struggle and hence will not understand the price that ordinary Indians paid for achieving freedom, equality and justice. Their only icon- V.D. Savarkar cravenly begged the British to release him from Cellular Jail.
Yet another ideologue, Ram Madhav cleverly takes forward the discourse of dharma and in order to substantiate it quotes another study which argues that America is essentially a nation with a conservative ethos. There is a tacit admission that India’s case is also similar. He cites Viveknanda’s dictum “Dharma Praana Bharata” (Dharma is the soul force of Bharat) and this vision of Bharat is “reflected in the genius of the country, which is rooted in its religio-social institutions like state, family, caste, guru and festival. There is even an economic idea centered around work, sharing happiness and charity.” (Ram Madhav, “Coming Full Circle at 70”, Indian Express, Delhi, Aug 15, 2017). A common citizen is supposed to pay taxes but wealthy temples are exempted from such measures. One can discern a change in the temple discourse. It has proceeded beyond dharma and karma and focuses on this worldly issues. How can one conceive of a poverty free India when its scripturally compelled and justified to donate to temples?
At a neighbouring temple during the evening aarti, the loudspeakers speak about banning cow slaughter and that the cow should be declared the national animal. Majority of the shops in Delhi seek charity in the name of the ‘mother cow’. Not surprisingly, in the Aryan heartland of Uttar Pradesh wherein the lines between the temple and state have been blurred as a Yogi has become a political functionary. As a member of Parliament sitting in the opposition, he questioned the state apathy towards the children but as the chief minister he has proved woefully inadequate in tackling the health crisis. Here, one can find ambulances for cows and young children are medically massacred for want of basic health care. One shudders to think the repercussions if instead of children, cows would have died. A cultural war would have been declared against the dalits and minorities. Presumably this reflects the new Indian ‘genius’ at work.
The valorization of caste, festival, guru etc as espoused by different Sangh ideologues foregrounds the temple as the key institution in the RSS’s idea of India. The Hindu upper caste family is the ideal to which everyone should strive for. Needless to say, this strikes at the very root of the struggles for caste and gender emancipation waged by untouchables and women. The Nehruvian notions of democracy, socialism and secular values are considered ‘western’. But then how does the RSS reconcile with Ambedkar who was enamored of the French Revolution and its slogans of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity?’ Ambedkar also strived to enshrine these values in the Indian Constitution. By virtue of being a Dalit, Ambedkar is welcomed into the RSS pantheon but his entire critique of Hindu religion, culture and caste is conveniently sanitized.
Privileging the Mob
Ram Madhav takes forward his argument and challenges the liberals in India that they are victims of demophobia-fear of the mob. He semantically fuses the mob and the humble people of the country who are behind Modi. The premise of the 2014 elections was based on the agenda of development which enthused the people to vote for Modi. Unfortunately, the mobs empowered and unleashed by the communal state disrespected the citizens’ privacy and resorted to lynching. The Prime Minister has never condemned the hooliganism displayed by his foot soldiers. One ponders if the mobs resorting to public lynching are ‘humble’ and their humility is reflected in butchering their fellow citizens in the name of beef, caste and religious identity.
History has always been the Achilles heel of the Sangh Parivar. The scores of men and women who willingly went to prisons and gallows dreaming of a free India did not have a Hindu rashtra as their ideal. In his article, Ram Madhav glosses over the differences between Gandhi and Nehru and considers Gandhi as a ‘true Indian’ and others presumably are traitors. If that is the case, why did they have to kill Gandhi and try to appropriate Ambedkar who is western not only in terms of ideas but also attire? Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Maulana Azad, Ambedkar and other stalwarts had their differences of opinion but their discourse was couched in decency and mutual respect, unlike the paucity and poverty of ideas which dominates the cultural and political discourse at present. Any dissent is termed anti-national and tanks are dispatched to universities to browbeat students and teachers into submission. Nationalism has been reduced to a private property of a particular religious group and others need to furnish proof of their patriotism like the madrassas of Uttar Pradesh who have to provide electronic evidence of their independence day celebrations.
The New India Movement (2017-22)
In a full page advertisement in the national dailies, the Government of India in a language reminiscent of Hindu spirituality (Sankalp se Siddhi), whitewashes the entire trajectory of Indian democracy and seeks to usher in an alternative paradigm to ‘we the people’ (Preamble to the Constitution). It speaks of communal free, terrorism free, corruption free, poverty free India. PM Modi’s pet campaign is Swach Bharat, the logo for which is Gandhi’s spectacles. In his book, ‘Karmayogi’, PM Modi terms scavenging a spiritual experience. Will the self proclaimed nationalists acquiesce to undertake such spiritual tasks? It is inhuman to glamorize a stigmatized occupation as a spiritually enriching experience. If soldiers are valorized for protecting the borders and losing their lives in the process, what about manual scavengers who enter manholes and die of noxious gases to create a Smart City? The RSS privileges samarasta or social harmony (Ambedkar Jayanti is Samarasta Divas) but Ambedkar was never in favour of the status-quo which silences any dissent. However, the edifice of a new order cannot be constructed on the moth eaten foundations of society. Though the Sangh Parivar’s abhorrence of Nehru is well known, one seeks solace in his words, “We are citizens of a great country, on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action”.
Unfortunately, in his Independence Day speech, PM Modi sounded more like a salesman peddling his programs than a Prime Minister who induces confidence amongst his citizens as the constitutional representative of a democratic and secular state. A sizeable section of the citizenry cower in fear that they might be physically eliminated for not bowing to the cultural diktats of the non-state and extra constitutional actors. The RSS supremo, Mohan Bhagwat violated the orders of the constitutional functionaries to hoist the national flag in a school in Palakkad, Kerala. Violating the constitutional provisions with impunity in all areas of public life is the ‘new normal’. If they consider themselves the true patriots of Mother India, why the hesitation to hoist the national tricolor at their headquarters in Nagpur?
N. Sukumar teaches Political Science at the Department of Political Science, Delhi University; Shailaja Menon teaches History at the School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi.