Deepak Harichandan

There has to be a debate between the human development approach and the Hindutva model of development

Two kinds of law representing two kinds of decision-making have marked the initial days of the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh. These are not critical as progressive legislation but as case studies of the way of thinking of the new regime. The first of the decisions cuts across nature and culture and has to do with cow slaughter. The second deals with the imposition of ‘anti-Romeo’ squads and cuts across issues of gender and ethnicity. Both acts raise the question on whether law and governance are progressive movements towards justice or rhetorical acts which reveal deeper paranoid fears that we need to confront.

Our Romeo vs Shakespeare’s

First, a word about our Romeo. The Shakespearean Romeo evokes tragedy, misunderstanding, a poignancy, but the story rises to the heights of the tragedy. Our local Romeo is more a character out of Charles Lamb, a banalised nukkad rowdy. In fact, he is very reminiscent of the rowdy as created by law. The British, in fact, created two kinds of lawbreakers, at two ends of the spectrum. The first was the thug targeted by Lord William Bentinck.

The rowdy, a regular character in movies with bulging biceps, a handkerchief around his neck, was as much a victim, a local bully and gangster who lived on and off the streets. Mr. Adityanath’s Romeo is the rowdy of romance, the local eve-teaser. He has little to do with literature and less with romance. In fact, the anti-Romeo act reveals that this law is selective, and secondly, it reveals more about the fears of Mr. Adityanath rather than the fears of women in the city.

Second, the anti-rowdy project is a part of a wider programme. One has to see it as part of ‘ghar wapsi’ and Love Jihad. Anti-Romeo is part of the Yogi’s campaign. The anti-Muslim bias is obvious in the first two. In the third, a secular cover tells Hindus and Muslims not to mix too freely. They will now be seen as law or order issues. The local nuisance is raised to the height of villainy and disposed of. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is pretending to soothe local fears and settle political scores. In justifying it, local leaders have said that romance should be a drawing room affair and not a spectacle on the streets. Implicit in it are two assumptions. Romance should have parental approval, and it should be restricted to the same community.

There is a humourless quality to the whole affair. When Prashant Bhushan suggested that Krishna may not have been so lucky if Mr. Adityanath had lived in mythical times, the Bajrang Dal and other Hindutva groups immediately protested. It is clear that our gods have a sense of humour, of love, of fun and frolic that Mr. Adityanath and his ilk lack. One wonders why the threat of the Bajrang Dal is not seen as a threat to rights or to law and order. One senses Krishna might be having a chuckle at the antics of his so-called loyalists.

A creeping paranoia

What one witnesses here is a paranoia extending to daily life. It is almost as if the idea of security is one word which is extending from the frontiers of the nation state to the daily lives of the people, guarding boundaries at the national and ethnic level. In fact, security has become the new myth that the ideology of the BJP/RSS/Bajrang Dal/Shiv Sena is enforcing. It is based on hate, paranoia and suspicion and it allows for only one interpretation. Religious narratives such as the Ramayan allowed for hundreds of variants which the Adityanaths and Bajrang Dal would be the first to ban.

What one is witnessing is not an attempt to tackle the so-called lumpen elements of a city, seen by the middle class as perpetual threats to law and order. Instead of tackling the lumpen elements with a framework of rights, I am afraid what is happening is what I call the lumpenisation of the law. Earlier, relations between boy and girl, especially from different communities, would be tackled vigilante style. Now, vigilantism is being justified as an act of governance. In fact, even fundamentalism becomes an act of governance or law and order. The affability and plurality of Hinduism loses out to the puritanism of Hindutva. One is watching not the emergence of an anti-Romeo but anti-human rights group.

Every law must have a mirror-like double. The idea of the double brings out the parallelism between two phenomena where inversions bring out similarities. What the anti-Romeo did for gender, the cow slaughter ban does for the link between nature and culture. What Mr. Adityanath was threatening, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has already articulated in the Assembly, a vision of a shakahari state, where vegetarianism evokes truth and morality. The great dream is to demand closure of all meat shops.

In a sociological sense, fundamentalism about food can be as lethal as fundamentalism about sex. It is not only the question of morality. It is also a question of diversity, and diversity requires a variety of food habits where diversity of crops, food, myth and religion sustain a pluralism of culture. Within each group, food habits can be uniform, but diversity demands difference as the soul of culture, while Mr. Adityanath demands uniformity.

In the name of the cow

It is not as if the ban on cow slaughter is an ode to the cow. The cow in fact becomes a strangely ambivalent creature. In the BJP State, the cow is more a fact of culture than of nature. What we have is an urban society living off its agricultural nostalgia. In fact, violence to food is a deeper topic, of the aggressive use of hormones, cruelty to animals, the ethics of biotechnology, none of which is even addressed by Mr. Adityanath. What we are witnessing is a substitutability of violence to the Muslim and the Dalit in the name of the cow, as evident most recently from the attack in Alwar on Muslim men transporting cows.

Gujarat Home Minister Pradeepsinh Jadeja might say “A single drop of cow blood falling on earth pains Hindus”. Yet, Hindutva does not mind declaring a bloodbath to enforce its vegetarian dream.

In fact, there is a schizophrenic spilt between nature and culture. Nature is confirmed as nature only if it is Hinduised. A cow is sacred, the Ganges is sacred but there is little effort to see how the religious sources of sacred can create ecological sustainability or non-violence. There is no will to extend the non-violence of the cow to wider categories of nature. Rather, a parochial idea of the sacred seeks to create other forms of violence. Worse, there is a split, where the Muslim is portrayed as a butcher in these Hindutva dreams, while the cow as animal acquires a humanity. With this inversion, the cow becomes a person while the Muslim becomes a non-person, losing his rights as a citizen. Such a militant Hindutva has little sense of Hinduism or the Constitution.

Oddly, the drive to such exclusive vegetarianism seems to rest uneasily with a promise of development which claims to be for all. In fact, if the Adityanath model is threatening to generalise a Hindutva model of development, then that idea needs to be debated and challenged. It cannot be imposed on other ethnic groups. One faces the irony that the violence done on behalf of the cow and the woman in the name of non-violence creates a sense of injustice which we do not have the courage to confront. There has to be a debate between the human development approach and the Hindutva model of development. The more troubling question is whether such a debate will be allowed to proceed in an open-ended academic way or whether it gets dismissed, BJP-style, as another sort of sedition. The number of unpatriotic Indians is multiplying everyday.