The 16th Lok Sabha elections have culminated in something that anyone who looks closely at the history and functioning of this Brahminical Hindu nation could have easily expected. These elections announced the victory, however incomplete, of the right wing Hindutva party- BJP. The sheer number of seats (282 on its own) and the thumping majority has surely shocked many, including perhaps the BJP1. This so-called “clean sweep”, however, doesn’t represent the real aspirations or choices of the Indian population.
A closer look at the vote share reveals very clear facts about what the voter wanted and what he/she got. Several articles have demonstrated and analyzed the voting patterns and what it shows clearly, as particularly in the case of UP, is that the Muslims, Dalits and sections of backward castes had in fact voted against BJP. This despite the fact that the communal polarization made by BJP through Muzzafarnagar riots was one of the major reasons for its electoral ascent in UP2.
The perils of the First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system that India had adopted are quite evident in such a scenario. This system never truly represented the diverse choices of those who vote. But having said so, the rise of BJP electorally in the existing system has been momentous3 This new situation challenges the general notion of India as a secular, pluralistic, democratic society because the most divisive and communal force in the country will now head the central government. It also raises the question: whether India was ever a secular, pluralistic and democratic society? This two part essay attempts to look deeper into the trajectory which led to this situation we find ourselves in today.
The family and its progeny
To tackle the situation we must understand the exact nature of what lies before us today. The BJP is the political wing of the Sangh Parivar (the family of extreme Hindutva organizations) of which RSS (Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh)4 is the central ideological organization. Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Gandhi (since Godse considered Gandhi as taking a position inimical to Hindus, but later in this article, this aspect will be looked into – on what Gandhi’s actual position was regarding Hinduism and its relation with politics), was an active member of RSS and who during his trial for the murder distanced himself from RSS mentioning that he had left the organization. But it was later revealed that he was trying to save the organization from being made a party to the murder5.
Photo courtesy: Hindustan Times
M.S. Gowalkar, the second Sarsangchalak of RSS, who was the main force behind the formation of the Sangh Parivar and one of their foremost ideologues referred to as “Pujaniya Guruji”, delineated their ideology by opposing the concept of a secular state. He threw venom at other religions arguing for the building of a Hindu state and also considered Hitler and the Nazi ideology (heaping loads of praise on how Hitler eliminated the Jews) as something to be emulated in India6. Most of the BJP members – including the current PM, Narendra Modi, the previous BJP PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the previous BJP Home Minister and 2009 PM candidate L.K Advani – were trained ideologically in the RSS before being deputed to BJP to implement their objective of building a Hindu Rashtra as a political entity.
The role of RSS-BJP in several of the communal riots in India, including the most recent one in Muzzafarnagar, and also its involvement in terrorist attacks has been well studied and documented7. This rise of the fascist party once again brings to the fore its objective of creating a Hindu Rashtra and Akhand Bharat, which is based on the principle of eliminating all other cultures, religions, by either bringing them into the structural fold of Brahminical-Hinduism or making them second class citizens subordinate to upper caste Hindus, subjecting them to the same fate as Jews under Hitler. Other chief objectives include the promulgation of a Uniform Civil Code, abolition of reservation, abrogation of article 370, demolition of mosques, attacks on minority religious places, implementation of laws like AFSPA, POTA, evasion of justice to survivors of mass massacres of Muslims, Dalits etc. These goals are a serious concern for the subaltern sections (backward castes, Dalits, tribals, minorities, LGBT, women and people of the north east, J&K etc.) who have always been at the receiving end of the discriminatory, oppressive, feudal-patriarchal system of Brahminical Hinduism.
“Godse’s Children Hindutva Terror in India” by the veteran writer Subhash Gatade exposes the Hindutva terror perpetrated by over a dozen terrorist outfits allied to the Sangh Parivar
Not only was BJP voted to power by most of the so-called ‘peace loving’ common men and women (common here refers mostly to upper-caste Hindu middle class) but even the self-proclaimed liberals and secularists who had been ardent voices against communalism prior to elections and suddenly started shifting positions. These pseudo liberal-secular upper caste middle classes who are now congratulating the new Government showing their so called ‘respect for democracy’ would never take the same position had such a victory been claimed by any of the Muslim/Dalit/tribal/backward castes/north east parties.
Re-creating and distorting histories
All this, however, has a visible and easily traceable history. The Brahminical-Hindutva project to establish the Hindu Rashtra or Akhand Bharat was the major task undertaken through decades of communalization and distortion of history and culture which they were able to successfully propagate among the masses using state and civil society institutions in the social, cultural, political and philosophical spheres. It is ironic that the so-called re-creation and ‘revival’ of a non-existing glorious Hindu past and demonization of Muslims and other marginalized sections was done based on the works of colonial historians like James Mill whose approach has been severely criticized and whose findings were debunked by Indian historians8.
There have been several efforts from subaltern historians and intellectuals offering new insights into history which boldly and accurately reject the so-called Hindutva past and expose how Brahminism violently hegemonized the existing cultures or often even destroyed them. The propaganda by the Hindutva forces, which is both historically and factually false, about temple destruction, invasions by barbaric foreigners of a glorious culture etc., were declared rubbish by historians like Romila Thapar9. Actually these distortions and falsifications of history hardly require a deep scientific study to be proven wrong for the relics of the past are still present in the society around us though they have undergone various transformations through different socio-cultural-political-historical processes. Primary among these relics is one of the most oppressive systems anywhere in the world in any period of time – the caste system, which has been carried over from centuries to the present in newer and transformed forms (functioning both covertly and overtly) and which has even crept into other religions in India like Islam, Christianity, Sikhism10.
The blueprint of Modi’s marketing and communication strategy has been drawn by Citizens for Accountable Governance. (Photo Courtesy: Indian Express)
The ideology of Brahminical-Hindutva is actually to sustain a society based on the hierarchical-oppressive-patriarchal caste system in new and modern forms. Though Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas are still the forces who carry forward this ideological responsibility with Brahmins at the top, in different regions the regional dominant castes, some of whom were previously categorized as Shudras – like Jats, Marathas, Patels, Vokkaligas, Lingayats, Vanniyars, Reddys, Kammas, Nairs and even sections of upper castes among other non-Hindu religions – have undertaken the reins of Brahminical Hinduism. Though caste still pervades all institutions of the society and daily life, it is facing strong resistance from the subaltern sections and it is due to the inability of the Savarna Hindus to ideologically and politically fight this resistance that they had to resort to such a revivalist project through distortions and falsifications to defend and perpetuate this oppressive system.
The tools they deploy for this are mainly the fabrication of a historically non-existent “Hindu” identity against non-Hindu religions and cultures. It is the project to defend the hierarchical system by which the Savarna Hindus could lead a comfortable and parasitic life- aesthetically, intellectually & physically – over the toil of the subaltern sections since centuries till today. There are enough studies and archaeological evidences about civilizations, culture, and technologies that existed much before Aryans (who are equated with Hindus) had come to this part of the world.11 Even the cultures and practices within the so-called Hindu fold are so diversified and vastly vary among castes, within castes, regionally etc. Romila Thapar notes:
“The intention of Hindutva history is to support the vision of its founding fathers – Savarkar and Golwalkar – and to project the beginnings of Indian history as authored by indigenous Aryans. This contradicts the archaeological and the linguistic evidence of the Indo-Aryan speakers – but then who cares for evidence when a political message becomes the function of history.
This theory ignores all the other societies, some of which were speaking Dravidian and Munda, of which there are traces in Vedic Sanskrit. It ignores the widely accepted argument among historians today that the concept of Aryan is not an exclusive, racial identity, but the social evolution of a group incorporating linguistic, cultural and ritual features, brought in by migrants from across the Indo-Iranian borderlands. Desperate attempts are being made to prove that the Vedic people and the Harappans were identical. The linguistic evidence is ignored; particularly the presence of Dravidian and Munda, and only Sanskrit receives attention. The reading of archaeological evidence is forced to the point of supporting the equation of Harappan with Vedic, even if Harappan onagers have to be identified as the horses of the Vedic ashvamedha. Contrary to the evidence so far excavated, there is an insistence that the origins of the Indus civilisation be located on the banks of what some identify as the Sarasvati River. This would allow it to be called the Sarasvati civilisation, further evoking a Vedic source.”12
Irrespective of the fact that many of the Savarna Hindus used to vote for Congress, Left or secular regional parties, they perceive history broadly on the lines propagated by the extreme Hindutva forces. Though many of them talk strong secularism by opposing communal riots and supporting communal harmony, they still consider the history of a glorious Hindu past and barbaric foreign invasion to be true and that the past should be forgotten for a peaceful present! Many from the middle classes, including academicians, intellectuals etc., hold varying shades of such a flawed historical perspective which is evident from the manner in which they talk about communal harmony. And it is no co-incidence that a huge majority among these are from the upper caste Hindus, who yield enough power & influence in the opinion forming spheres in the civil society institutions of the country. For a such a huge project – to drill such lies and distortions deep into the psyche of the Hindus (predominantly upper castes but even sections of the backward castes) – to work successfully it needed an ideological foundation or a fertile soil which must have been laid much before and whose roots need to be tracked historically.
(The book makes a re-appraisal of the sources on the most challenging of historical events, i.e. the raid of Mahmud of Ghazni on Somanatha (Prabhas Pattana) in 1026 A.D., which has been repeatedly misrepresented and abused for political ends)
This foundation should be understood to have its roots back in the movements of Hindu revivalism that started since the 19th century or even before. Through these movements Hindutva, as we know it today, had started to extend its hegemonic control in the political and ideological aspects of the society. It donned different forms -a liberal form, a peaceful-devotional form, an extreme-violent-communal form, a secular form etc. But inherent in all these was the Brahminical-Hindutva ideology based on Hindu unity which was constructed by justifying and glorifying the hierarchical, oppressive, exclusivist and patriarchal structure of the Hindu caste system and by placing other religions as inferior, foreign, barbarous and inimical thereby creating mistrust and hatred among the masses. And this revivalism should be understood to be the hegemonic movement by the upper caste Hindus against the process of empowerment of the backward castes, tribals and dalits that started gaining strength since the 19th century as part of the colonial rule & new social movements. The period saw a range of Hindu upper castes dominated by Brahmins from the feudal classes with modern education taking the social reformist role in the socio-political-cultural spheres.
The vile revivalists
Vivekananda was one of the foremost Hindu social reformers who is today portrayed as a liberal secular progressive figure. Vivekananda’s abhorrence of other religions (Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam) and his rationalization of Hinduism firmly based on Vedic Brahminism was a firm effort to revive Hinduism by proving its superiority over other religions.13 It was based on this ideology that his efforts to reform the caste system (note it is reform, not removal) by giving new definitions to Brahmanas as something pure and high and that lower castes need to be made pure through sanskritization which is the task for the Brahmanas and that the lower castes should not be in a hurry to break the hierarchical caste structure. Vivekananda says:
“To the non-Brahmana castes I say, wait, be not in a hurry. Do not seize every opportunity of fighting the Brahmana, because as I have shown; you are suffering from your own fault. Who told you to neglect spirituality and Sanskrit learning? What have you been doing all this time? Why have you been indifferent? Why do you now fret and fume because somebody else had more brains, more energy, more pluck and go than you? Instead of wasting your energies in vain discussions and quarrels in the newspapers, instead of fighting and quarreling in your own homes – which is sinful – use all your energies in acquiring the culture which the Brahmana has, and the thing is done. Why do you not become Sanskrit scholars? Why do you not spend millions to bring Sanskrit education to all the castes of India? That is the question. The moment you do these things, you are equal to the Brahmana! That is the secret power in India.”14.
That such a figure as Vivekananda, a strong defender of Manu and the patriarchal caste system, pouring his communal venom over Muslims & Christians, and a staunch racist15 is revered by both the right and left wing (though one wonders if there is much difference) alike without any efforts to thoroughly critique his thoughts proves how much the Savarna Hindutva ideological hegemony has percolated even the supposedly most radical and emancipatory political thoughts in India.
Another prominent figure early on in the independence movement who raised aggressive Hindutva postures by preaching violence as a duty based on the Bhagavad Gita was Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He played a significant role in raising Hindutva consciousness and trying to synchronize it with Indian nationalism through his efforts like celebration of Ganesha festivals, Shivaji festivals, anti-cow slughter societies and inflaming Hindu sentiments against Muslims16. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was another staunch Hindu nationalist and the author of the national song Vande Mataram still sung widely in India as a nostalgic patriotic song that was used to rally against the British as part of the freedom struggle.
The song actually had more anti-Muslim sentiments as its core than anti-British (in fact it welcomes a British takeover driving away Muslims). Despite objections by Muslim freedom fighters it was approved by the Congress and later the Government as a national song after removing the objectionable anti-Muslim portions. Nevertheless he was conferred with the titles of Rai Bahadur and Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire by the British, an honour usually received by British stooges17. One can just wonder what would have happened if a similar song with all its ‘poetic beauty’ and ‘literary value’ had deeply anti-Hindu sentiments, whether it would have been approved by removing the objectionable parts or entirely banned. Indian nationalism was hence built by synchronizing it with Hindu identity, symbols, cultures and narratives irrespective of the secular and pluralistic overtures.
(Photo courtesy: hindutvabharath.blogspot.com used as propaganda tool for cultural nationalism)
Anything based on Hindu culture, more accurately Brahminical culture, was common as part of the mass psyche to be accepted as Indian but the same was not the case for other religions and cultures. This leads up to the foremost figure of Indian national movement, the Father of the Nation and the internationally revered Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi, who also based his politics on Hinduism. He declared himself to be a Sanatanic Hindu thus:
“I call myself a Sanatanic Hindu, because (1) I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and all that goes by the name Hindu scriptures, therefore in Avatars and rebirth. (2) I believe in Varnashrama Dharma, in a sense in my opinion strictly Vedic, but not in its present popular and crude sense. (3) I believe in the protection of the cow in its much larger sense than the popular. (4) I do not disbelieve in idol-worship.”20
Gandhi, true to his being a Sanatanic Hindu, was a strong supporter of the caste system and also identified swaraj and hence his politics in line with the Hindu caste system thus:
“I believe that if Hindu Society has been able to stand it is because it is founded on the caste system. The seeds of swaraj are to be found in the caste system. Different castes are like different sections of military division. Each division is working for the good of the whole. Caste is another name for control. Caste puts a limit on enjoyment. Caste does not allow a person to transgress caste limits in pursuit of his enjoyment. That is the meaning of such caste restrictions as interdining and intermarriage.
To destroy the caste system and adopt Western European social system means that Hindus must give up the principle of hereditary occupation which is the soul of the caste system. Hereditary principle is an eternal principle. To change it is to create disorder. I have no use for a Brahmin if I cannot call him a Brahmin for my life. It will be a chaos if every day a Brahmin is to be changed into a Shudra and a Shudra is to be changed into a Brahmin. The caste system is a natural order of society. In India it has been given a religious coating. Other countries not having understood the utility of the caste system, it existed only in a loose condition and consequently those countries have not derived from caste system the same degree of advantage which India has derived. These being my views I am opposed to all those who are out to destroy the caste system.”18
Ambedkar and the voice of the marginalized
There are other Hindu revivalists from the Hindu upper castes who were part of the independence movement or different socio-cultural movements who contributed to building this Hindu nationalism and who were not identified with the extreme Hindutva forces, but the contributions made by the above four figures who had mass appeal helped in building a firm ideological base for Hindu nationalism (synonym for Indian nationalism) deep among the masses (predominantly upper castes, but also sections of backward castes).
Irrespective of the presence of comparatively more progressive and secular thoughts in the freedom movement, the thoughts of these figures got the upper hand and helped build the base for a future India that is identified with Hinduism as the primary dominant religion or culture. Counter to this process of Indian nationalism were the radical movements from the subaltern sections led by Jyotibao Phule, Ayyankali, Sree Narayana Guru, Periyar E.V Ramaswamy etc. which lent severe blows to the patriarchal Brahminical Hindu system. There were also struggles by different marginalized sections such as the tribals, muslims for social empowerment and land struggles posing serious challenges to the class hierarchy of the upper caste elite sections.
Later, there were also attempts to accommodate all these within the broad Indian nationalist or the Hindu nationalist movement notwithstanding the overt opposition of these movements to Brahminical Hinduism. But the most serious resistance to the Brahminical Hindu hegemony at its political, ideological and philosophical base was exerted by Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar. Dr. Ambedkar dedicated his life to conduct a thorough study of the caste system, the Hindu religious texts and exposed the exploitative Hindu order which no other secular progressive individuals had ever dared to attempt. Ambedkar’s intellectual and scientific positions received no valid or rational responses from the savarna politicians or social reformers, among whom Gandhi was predominant.
Ambedkar says about Hinduism:
“Inequality is the soul of Hinduism. The morality of Hinduism is only social. It is unmoral and inhuman to say the least. What is unmoral and inhuman easily becomes immoral, inhuman and infamous. This is what Hinduism has become. Those who doubt this or deny this proposition should examine the social composition of the Hindu Society and ponder over the condition of some of the elements in it. The Primitive Tribes form a total of 25 million souls. The Criminal Tribes number 4.5 millions and the Untouchables number 50 millions. This makes a grand total of 79.5 millions. Now ask how these people could have remained in the state of moral, material, social and spiritual degradation surrounded as they have been by Hinduism. Hindus say that their civilisation is older than any civilisation, that Hinduism as a religion is superior to any other religion. If this is so how is that Hinduism failed to elevate these people, bring them enlightenment and hope; how is it that it failed even to reclaim them ; how is it that it stood with folded hands when millions and millions were taking to life to shame and crime? What is the answer to this? The only answer is that Hinduism is overwhelmed with the fear of pollution. It has not got the power to purify. It has not the impulse to serve and that is because by its very nature it is inhuman and unmoral.”19
In his revolutionary work “Annihilation of Caste”, Ambedkar says “If you wish to bring about a breach in the system, then you have got to apply the dynamite to the Vedas and the Shastras, which deny any part to reason; to the Vedas and Shastras, which deny any part to morality. You must destroy the religion of the Shrutis and the Smritis. Nothing else will avail.”20
(Photo courtesy: http://upliftthem.blogspot.in)
He also says how a swaraj without annihilating caste will be a swaraj only for caste Hindus whereas for the Dalits, backward castes and Tribals it will be more slavery than swaraj- a conviction that has been vindicated even after 66 years of Independence –
“In the fight for Swaraj you fight with the whole nation on your side. In this, you have to fight against the whole nation—and that too, your own. But it is more important than Swaraj. There is no use having Swaraj, if you cannot defend it. More important than the question of defending Swaraj is the question of defending the Hindus under the Swaraj. In my opinion, it is only when Hindu Society becomes a casteless society that it can hope to have strength enough to defend itself. Without such internal strength, Swaraj for Hindus may turn out to be only a step towards slavery.”21
Irrespective of the existence of a hegemonic Hindutva ideology, it was Ambedkar’s role in drafting the constitution that left us with a secular and progressive constitution. But despite such a strong constitution, the ideological base and firm soil of Hindu nationalism was established and it was on this that India was built. The partition and the accompanying horrors of communal riots were the outcome of this Hindutva soil that was being firmly established. In post-independence India, Hinduism had further spread its wings over all the major institutions of civil society such as Education, Academics, Art & Literature, Films, Politics, Media etc. The next part of this essay will demonstrate how these civil society institutions are a huge influencing force in the society as they mould its political-ideological outlook through their hegemonic interactions with the masses.
Please read Part II of the article here.
. Election Commission of India – http://eciresults.nic.in/
. Fake Pakistani Video used by BJP MLA and Hindutva forces to fan communal riots in Muzaffarnagar – http://twocircles.net/2013sep08/fake_pakistani_video_used_bjp_mla_and_hindutva_forces_fan_communal_riots_muzaffarnagar.htm#.U4EUpHKSzPo
Muzaffarnagar Riots: A Collection of Reports and Articles – http://sanhati.com/excerpted/9141/
Celebrations, fear as Muzaffarnagar riot seats go to BJP – http://indianexpress.com/article/india/politics/celebrations-fear-as-muzaffarnagar-riot-seats-go-to-bjp/
. Lecture on “History of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh” by Pralay Kanungo, Historian Nehru Memorial Library – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr-ZkknfZQg
. Ram Puniyani on Gandhi Murder and Role of RSS: Debate Continues – https://plus.google.com/116674643595755985354/posts/Wq27jb4H2J8
. Incendiary Hand of the RSS and Jana Sangh behind Communal Riots by H.K Vyas – http://www.sacw.net/IMG/pdf/handofRSS-JanSangh-HKVyas_sacw-net_.pdf
Documentary “Ram ke Naam” on the background of the destruction of Babri Masjid by Anant Patwardhan – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8muFY9k5zs
Documentary “Final Solution” on the post-Godhra riots & politics of hate in Gujarat by Rakesh Sharma – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0ZvADtrDPM
Communal Violence in Khirkiya, Harda, Madhya Pradesh: Report of a Fact Finding Team – http://nsi-delhi.blogspot.in/2013/10/blog-post_9550.html
The Rise Of Hindutva Terrorism by Praveen Swami – http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?265400
Hindutva in Karnataka: Experiments in Terror – chapter of the book ‘Five Years of Saffron Rule in Karnataka’ Edited by Ambrose Pinto S.J., Manak Publications, Delhi, P. 338, 2013 – http://nsi-delhi.blogspot.in/2013/05/hindutva-in-karnataka-experiments-in.html
Continuing Orissa riots: First Report by a Fact-Finding Team – http://kuidina.blogspot.in/2008/01/continuing-orissa-riots-first-report-by.html
The Swami Aseemanand Interviews – http://www.caravanmagazine.in/swami-aseemanand-interviews
. Lecture on “Communalisation of Education and History” by Rizwan Qaiser, Prof of History, Jamia Millia Islamia – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dO1oOMYt0y4
. India Untouched: Research Documentary! – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgDGmYdhZvU
Documentary – Jai Bhim Comrade by Anant Patwardhan (Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0VZfMncos0)
. Gene study reveals Indian origins – http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2009/09/24/2695631.htm
Indus Valley Civilization – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indus_Valley_Civilization
Tamilakam – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamilakam
. Seminar Presentation “In Defence of History” by Romila Thapar – http://www.india-seminar.com/2003/521/521%20romila%20thapar.htm
. Vivekananda’s Lectures from Colombo to Almora: The sages of India – http://www.vivekananda.net/Lectures/LecturesColomboAlmora/12.html
. Caste Problem in India by Vivekananda – http://www.dlshq.org/messages/caste.htm
. Vivekananda’s Ideological Yatra – http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6040:vivekanandas-ideological-yatra&catid=119&Itemid=132
. BAL GANGADHAR TILAK’S RATIONALISATION OF VIOLENCE THROUGH THE INTERPRETATION OF THE GITA by Dr. J. Kuruvachira, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of religion,Phenomenology of religion and Indian culture
. How secular is Vande Mataram? by A.G Noorani – http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl1601/16010940.htm
India: Songs That Sow the Seeds of Division – http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=9848
. Gandhi, Young India 6-10-1921 – http://www.mkgandhi.org/truthisgod/22hindu.htm
. Dr. B.R.Ambedkar on Gandhi and Gandhism (Gandhi wrote this in 1921-22 in a Gujarati journal called Nava-Jivan) – http://www.scribd.com/doc/35853949/Dr-B-R-Ambedkar-on-Gandhi-and-Gandhism
. B.R Ambedkar – Annihilation of Caste
Nidhin Sowjanya is a software engineer based in Bangalore.