The Mask Is Off


Economic & Political Weekly, Vol – L No. 43, October 24, 2015

The government’s primary agenda is clearly development—of a Hindu Rashtra.

There never was a mask. The decades-long aim of the Sangh Parivar with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at its centre has been to make India a “Hindu nation.” That aim was only put in the background when the RSS supported Narendra Modi’s bid for prime ministership and provided the foot soldiers for the 2014 parliamentary elections, as the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) successfully sold the electorate the dream of sab ka vikas (development for all). Hindu majoritarianism lost no time thereafter to rear its head and show its full face.

What we are seeing now, from Dadri to Udhampur, from Mumbai to Mangalore, is this majoritarianism let loose and beyond anyone’s control, certainly not 7, Race Course Road. The lynching, fire-bombing, defacing of dissenters, vitriolic campaigns on social media, social bans on Muslims and the taunts to migrate to Pakistan are not the work of “fringe” elements. They are the work of the mainstream of majoritarianism. They were earlier seen as on the fringes because never before did Hindu communal groups wield the power they do now.

These informal groups and mass organisations—some with formal and some with informal links to the RSS—were no less stunned by the scale of the Modi triumph of 2014. They—specifically the RSS—now interpret 2014 as a major change in electoral politics: The Hindu Right can now come to power without any electoral support from the minorities. A Hindu nation then is within reach. The power that comes from such an interpretation when harnessed with silence by the government can wreak havoc on the social fabric, as is now beginning to happen.

The organisations shepherding Hindu majoritarianism have never had much respect for democracy. Elections are meant to grab power and then remake India into a Hindu society. Hence the importance given to taking control of institutions of learning and culture. There is no point in expecting the RSS and members of its extended parivar to respect the Constitution, because the freedoms (and responsibilities) guaranteed in the Constitution are the very antitheses of their core beliefs of majoritarianism, religious intolerance, and social exclusion, and scorn for freedom of speech. The disregard for constitutional principles shows in how bit by bit one or the other leading light (not just the foot soldiers) sneers at Islam and Muslims, emphasises the superiority of men over women, denies the right of citizens to have their own social and cultural practices, and even questions the constitutional reservations for the lower castes. The hope of liberals that constitutional office would moderate the votaries of Hindutva was always terribly misplaced. The checks and balances of democracy are of no relevance because majoritarianism in India has no use for constitutional principles.

Seen thus, one cannot see Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak out against the increasing frequency of acts of violence perpetrated by the many agents of Hindu majoritarianism and make his party men fall in line. Except for his last term as Chief Minister of Gujarat when he kept the RSS at bay as he set out to burnish his Mr Development image, Modi has built his career as a firm believer in Hindutva. It was held in check during the Lok Sabha campaign, but only just. (Modi was the one who brought beef into the centre of politics when he spoke about the “pink revolution”; and when the first calls for non-supporters to migrate to Pakistan were made, he could only say, “Do not distract from the development agenda.”) Now as the forces of majoritarianism which put him in office set about trying to remake India, how can he go against them? That is why he takes two weeks before finally referring to Dadri, and then can only do so indirectly by citing the President of India’s call for amity. That is also why when a week later he does directly speak about Dadri, he asks what the centre can do when law and order is the responsibility of the state government. That is also why, after weeks and weeks of violent incidents and statements of hate, the Prime Minister of India does not take action against his colleagues in government and the party but chooses his party chief to send a message to them to refrain from making such statements. (Note that such talk should only be avoided, not that it violates the law and is a fundamental negation of the principles of a plural society.)

Narendra Modi perhaps hoped to ride two horses, one of
vikas and the other of Hindutva. He may have thought they could be kept separate, one would deliver majoritarianism its pound of flesh and the other would give corporate India its growth. The victor of 2014 is seeing that the politics of hate is not good for business and certainly not for his global image which he has been so careful to cultivate.

Nothing though will faze Hindutva and its representatives in government. None of them can come out and resist the so-called fringe elements. Hence only words like “condemnable,” “unfortunate,” “diversionary events” and “disturbing vandalism” are heard whenever a citizen is lynched by one of their own supporters, whenever dissenters are smeared with ink, and whenever Muslims are asked to keep away from social events. Whether the BJP and its allies win or lose in the Bihar assembly elections, there will be little change. Hindu majoritarianism will continue to try to impose its communal agenda on India. It is left to the writers of the country to stand up and say “No”, and to the President of India to make elliptical remarks, twice in two weeks, warning against the growth of intolerance.