DEFEAT OF AN IDEA – HAS THE BJP LOST OUT TO HINDUISM – BY ASHISH NANDY AND SHOMA CHAUDHRY – TEHELKA





HAS THE BJP LOST OUT TO HINDUISM?

ASHISH NANDY INTERPRETS THE SUDDEN DECLINE OF THE RIGHT WING

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Sunday, 21 June 2009
 
 
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 25, Dated Jun 27, 2009
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Hindutva is embarrassed by Hinduness. A new generation of confident Indians has started to move beyond its logic of fear and hate. Will the BJP be able to seize this moment for creative reinvention?

ASHIS NANDY with SHOMA CHAUDHURY

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Save the Nation Youth being trained at a RSS shakha 
Photos: AP

THE CASCADING crisis within the BJP since May 16 and their confused debate about the role Hindutva has played in their electoral defeat tells a fascinating story. It would be premature to read any of this as a signal of either the disintegration of the party or Hindutva, but one could safely say the idea of Hindutva has been defeated by India for the moment. Put on a backburner and challenged to reinvent itself.

The BJP’s dependence on Hindutva as its defining characteristic was bound to become problematic for it. Data shows that less than 10 percent of Indians have ever voted for the BJP on ideological grounds. The Hindutva project was constructed on tapping into and fostering fear and a siege mentality within Hindus: a sense of being a minority in a country in which they are clearly a numerical majority. In itself, this was not a bad thing. You need a political party to ‘summit’ these emotions so you can manage them. The Republican Party in America, for instance, also encourages and allies with Christian fundamentalists. They know a small marginal part of the vote comes from there — small, but a crucial vote percentage. So they woo them pre-election. Post election, though, there could be indirect rewards but no official rewards are handed out to them. The BJP did not understand this art of political management. They did not learn how to treat Hindutva groups as merely a sect within them; they believed their entire existence depended on the ideology.

This whole ideological stand — making Hindutva their central official line – was a myopic mistake. (The RSS of course has never been in politics so their understanding of politics is even worse.) The Indian genius is to manage contradictions. Most people forget, the Congress Party, the original party of the freedom movement, allowed many of its members to simultaneously belong to both the Congress and the Hindu Maha Sabha or other Hindu nationalist formations. This was very prevalent in Bengal because a huge proportion of Bengali freedom fighters came from a background of Hindu nationalism. Tagore himself was a member of both the Congress and the Muslim League. It is because these political impulses were accommodated within the Congress as factions that they were easier to negotiate in the early years. The BJP’s dilemma is that it thought its existence was predicated on Hindutva: now that they have lost drastically, they think Hindutva has become a liability and should be jettisoned. But the fact is, the relationship between the BJP and Hindutva will only become more clandestine. The debate they are trying to have within the party is actually nothing more than a power struggle wearing the garb of ideological challenge.

Gandhi was no romantic. He knew that India could have its own version of a nation state

In itself, this power struggle is a healthy thing. Contrary to all the speculation around them, the BJP is not necessarily slated to disintegrate like the Janata Party. The Janata party was a coalition of factions; the BJP has merely become a party with factions. With Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani past their time, all the top posts are vacant. If the BJP wants to survive and do reasonably well, they should “do a Congress”: they should find a Narasimha Rao or Manmohan Singh to lead them. All their current and prominent leaders are too high-pitched.

The BJP may be short-sighted in analysing its defeat dominantly through the Hindutva lens, but its electoral defeat does point to a kind of defeat of Hindutva itself. At the core of the Hindutva project is a war between Hindusim and Hindutva that is around 150 years old. It began in the middle of the 19th century, when ideas of Hindtuva began to take shape with the Hindu reform movements. In a sense, the defeat of Hindutva today is also a defeat of the West because the Hindutva project was one of the last remnants of the colonial West in Indian consciousness.

TODAY, BOTH detractors and defenders of Hindutva are confused about what it stands for. The truth may not be palatable to many, but Hindutva grew out of an admiration of the western European nation state and our attempt to have an indigenous form of it. When Veer Savarkar, the Hindutva fountainhead, insisted that Hindus must not read the Vedas and Upanishads but read science and technology and western political theory, this is what he had in mind. He was looking for a way to transform a chaotic, diverse, anarchic society into an organising principle for a masculine, western-style nation state, something akin to Bismarck’s Germany.

To achieve this, the Hindutva project required Indians to repudiate their Indianness, and Hindus to repudiate their Hinduness. That was part of the war. It required a chaotic, diverse society to homogenise itself into something that could be more globally acceptable and to live according to European norms. Again, public memory is short. Few people remember that Savarkar was very secular in his personal life – in the western sense. He refused to have his funeral rights according to Hindu custom; he wanted his body taken for cremation in a mechanised vehicle rather than the shoulders of relatives. He also refused to give his wife a Hindu funeral though women members of the Hindu Mahasabha sat in front of his house on a dharna.

Reformers were trying to produce tamed versions of religion able to sustain pan-Indian nationalism

Savarkar’s main criticism of Gandhi, in fact, was that he was unscientific, irrational and illiterate in modern political theory. He was wrong about that. Gandhi did understand political theory, but it had deeper roots, taken not only from Indian society but from the dissenting West. Gandhi did not believe in the modern nation state or in conventional ideas of nationality, nation and nationalism. He went on record to say that armed nationalism is no different from imperialism. At that point in our history, he seemed a romantic fuddy duddy. The fact is, he was way ahead of his time. He understood that India was particularly well-equipped to craft its own version of a modern nation state. It was under no obligation to follow European textbook definitions of the nation state. The irony is that today many western nations are moving away from the old model and becoming more flexible: 14 countries in Europe do not maintain any armies and have opened their borders to become the European Union. On the other hand, because of our colonial past, India and China are two of the purest forms of 19th century nation states you can find in the world today. Tagore’s friend, Brahmobandhab Upadhyay, a Catholic who called himself a ‘Hindu Christian’. Vivekananda himself said the ideal Indian would be one who had a Hindu mind and a Muslim body. But very early in his intellectual journey, Savarkar decided mere geography was too insipid a basis for nationality and began to advocate a more strident Hindu nationalism. The distasteful, clenched-teeth hatred of Muslims and other minorities associated with Hindutva took root then.

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Club members Ganesh puja in Mumbai
Photos: SHAILENDRA PANDEY
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Spine straight The Hindutva project wanted to cast Hindus in Islamic and Protestant Christian mould
Photos: AP
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Multiple ledgers Two urchins celebrate Diwali 
Photos: AP

After its defeat this election, the BJP feels its middleclass base has moved away from it because it is disenchanted with Hindutva. This, perhaps, is not entirely true. The Indian middle-class has a natural affinity with the less strident aspects of Hindutva. Primarily, this is because the RSS and BJP had very strong links with the Hindu reform movements, particularly the Arya Samaj. Both Munje and Hedgewar, though, were also inspired by Ramakrishna. The project was very clear. There was a seamless continuity between these reform movements and European concepts of a nation state. This continuity began to transform Hinduism and partly led to a form of religion compatible with a modern nation state – in the same way that Protestant Christians in Europe had become more comfortable with the nation state, industrial capitalism and secularism. In many ways, all Indian religious reformers were trying to produce house-broken, tamed versions of religion which could sustain a pan- Indian consciousness and pan-Indian nationalism. All these reformers had internalised aspects of masculine Protestant Christianity. Angarik Dharmapal’s Maha Bodhi society in Calcutta, in fact, produced a kind of Protestant Buddhism which the Sri Lankans find very convenient for their majoritarian state. Hindu society was even more diverse and cruel. Anyone wedded to the conventional idea of a nation state naturally found it too chaotic, unmanageable and subversive. The idea of Hindutva was supposed to be something Hindus could hold on to and yet remain good citizens of a modern nation.

The middle-class — which is the most privileged and therefore naturally most invested in the conventional notion of the nation state — is therefore also a natural constituency for Hindutva and its version of Hindusim. In Savarkar’s fearsome novel Kala Pani, the only futuristic novel produced by a Hindutva ideologue, he paints a (for him utopian) vision of a future India that will be a totally homogenous society. People would marry across caste and sect and language and become good, pan-Indian citizens — almost like the over-insipid, boring, lowest common denominator Indians one sees nowadays in India’s metropolises. Indians with no difference in language or custom: everyone speaking in the same accents, everyone having the same choice in music, cinema, clothes. Absolutely homogenised — almost like uniform clones.

SAVARKAR WAS prescient because this, in fact, is almost a mirror image of contemporary urban middle class Indians. A class that has access to a globalised economy, speaks English as its primary language, and is shaped by a uniform media. What resonance does this new-generation Malayali or Bengali or Tamilian brought up in Delhi have with the vernacular Hindusim of his grandparents, or even parents? Do all those myriad gods and goddesses with strange names, family priests, ishta dev and ishta devis make any sense to them? What is emerging instead is a pan-Indian Hinduism that allows you to dip into a bit of Onam and a bit of Diwali and a bit of Durga puja, and not be too deeply invested in any of it. Contrary to the ‘milleniaold’ milleniaold’ tradition Hindutva ideologues claim they are a part of, this new kind of Hinduism is a very new faith. It is no more than 150 years old. It was born in the 19th century and is directly inspired by Protestant Christianity in the wake of the Arya Samaj. And this faith is also a kind of lack of faith. You can carry it with you wherever you go. It is a kind of laptop Hinduism.

The Hindutva project in India is destined not to ever occupy centre space though, because it is challenged by Hinduism. When one talks of this Hinduism which is 4,000 years old, we have in mind a religion or tradition – a sentiment — that might be shrinking everyday but still moves a majority in India. It is this concept of faith — diverse, local, intimate and highly ritual — that most Indians live with. Apart from economic reasons and the crunch on jobs and infrastructure, one of the reasons why the Shiv Sena could garner so much support for their opposition to the influx of Biharis in Mumbai was the proliferation of chhat puja. The Mumbai-wallahs felt threatened, there was a sense of ‘itni chhatt puja kahan se aa gayi’? The Biharis would have had less of a hostile backlash if they had participated in the Ganesh pujas instead. Interestingly, there are many more Durga pujas in Mumbai and Delhi than in Kolkata, but there is no hostility against this because it has graduated into an all- India phenomenon. Chhathasn’t — yet.

The ‘millenia-old’ tradition Hindutva ideologues claim is actually a very new faith

It would be a mistake to conflate the occasional eruption of these hostilities with a belief that the idea of India’s plural traditions is a romantic myth. Religious groupings and sects — within Hinduism, and even between different religions — have always participated in each other’s local festivals, but they were not homogenised into an anodyne laptop religion. India was not an imitation of the Enlightenment model, in which you are deemed cosmopolitan only when you feel the other person to be completely equal. In traditional Indian societies, you are equal only in the sense that you have the right to think the other community is inferior to you, and the other person has a right to think you are inferior to them — even though neither of you might say so openly. In a homogenised, individualised society, the former is seen as cosmopolitanism. In a communitybased society, it is the latter cosmopolitanism that works.

In this continuing war between traditional, chaotic, diverse Hinduism and ordering, homogenising Hindutva, the BJP’s electoral defeat is a sign that Hindusim (which is by far the stronger force in electoral numbers) has defeated Hindutva. Hindutva expects Indians to live according to European norms of nationhood. But we are Indians: we are incorrigible, cussed, we have learnt to live with contradictions for centuries, we have learnt to live with chaos and ill-defined, half-baked ideas. We also want to keep options open for the next generation. These are the attributes that have ensured our survival when so many other major civilisations have failed. These are attributes that the BJP has to find ways to accommodate and respond to.

(I once interviewed Madanlal Pahwa — one of the Hindu militants who was among Gandhi’s assasins — in his old age. Ultimately, his most memorable years were of his childhood spent in a district in Pakistan’s West Punjab, which had Baba Farid’s mazar. There was a religious fair he would go to where qawwalis were sung. He called himself a kattar Hindu but that’s what his most nostalgic memories were about. This tells you something. We Indians are accustomed to living with multiple ledgers. He was a Hindutva wallah and all his language came from there, but his memories came from elsewhere.)

None of these arguments add up to an assertion that Hindutva will die out. What is true, though, is that, unless it metamorphoses, it will never enjoy the same vigour it did in past decades because it is inherently uncomfortable and embarrassed by Indianness and traditional Hinduism. For a generation newly emergent from colonial dominance, there was a fascination and sense of respectful subordination to things Western. But with this new post-independent, post-colonial generation, things are different. Indians have gone back to their own rhythms now, so even for the middle-classes, Manmohan Singh’s ‘West’ — with its idea that anyone can be a Tata or Ambani — is more attractive to many than Savarkar’s ‘West’. The aspiration for a global, material identity has overtaken cultural identity.

There is much Advani has to answer for, but he is quite a tragic figure. No one has read hm right

GIVEN BOTH the perceived and electoral defeat of Hindutva, it will be interesting to see what future route the BJP charts for itself. In many ways, Advani is a tragic figure. It is possible that no one has yet been able to read him correctly. Unlike Vajpayee, Advani had lived in a Hindu minority state and went to a Christian missionary convent. Having lived in a Muslimmajority state, Muslims were not unknown to him, and, perhaps, he did not feel the intrinsic discomfort expected of him. He was a part of the RSS – and probably believed in it — but there is a strong possibility that he also recognised in some ways that Hindutva was a political instrument rather than an all-encompassing ideology.

There is much Advani has to answer for. He is culpable for the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and cannot escape history’s judgement by saying he was talking of Ram as a cultural icon and not a religious figure. He knew he was creating an explosive communal situation. But his party’s reaction to his statement on Jinnah makes him tragic. There was nothing new he said about Jinnah – it is an indication of where our political culture has reached that no one seemed to understand this. Strangely enough, despite a tremendous difference in personality, like Savarkar, Jinnah was a person who thought entirely in Western liberal terms. Their ideological bouquet were almost exactly the same. Advani was only recognising that when he called Jinnah secular. Pakistan’s first law minister was a Hindu, its first national anthem was also written by a Hindu, upon Jinnah’s invitation. Both men shared the idea that nationality is crucial in a nation state and a certain amount of violence and bloodshed is normal in the jostling for dominance. In fact, Jinnah was less accepting of this notion of violence than Savarkar.

Advani tried to cast himself as a statesman in the Vajpayee mould, but could not repudiate his past. At the same time, he could not project himself as an ideologue that could be cast in a heroic mould as, say, Narendra Modi seems to have become for the Gujarati people. He did wear different masks at different times in his career to take political advantage, but it is possible he personally remained somewhat distanced from all of them.

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Shadow play LK Advani ; perhaps the BJP now needs a leader who can lower the temperature of the party
Photos: SHAILENDRA PANDEY
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Soul competition Middle-class Hindus today have a kind of laptop religion, easy to carry around
Photos: REUTERS

But this only intensifies the riddles for the BJP because it is quite possible that Narendra Modi too has passed his zenith. This election has indicated a decline in his popularity. The problem is, he did not leave any escape routes for himself, not even a cosmetic apology or expression of regret for the events in Gujarat 2002. This is likely to haunt his entire career. So the search for the correct leader has become the BJP’s biggest challenge – a leader who can lower the divisiveness and high temperature the party has become associated with.

But other questions remain for the party. If the BJP abandons Hindutva, what shape can its right of centre politics take? Its economic program cannot stretch too right of center because a majority of Indians live outside the spoils of the neo-liberal economic system. If only for electoral gains, they have to be accommodated.

What this means is that the BJP could be headed for a different kind of ideology, in which Hindutva will play a part, but there will be other competing concepts. There is no reason why Hindutva itself cannot take on a more benign form. Tagore, for instance, makes extremely powerful arguments for Hindutva in his novel Gora. This was a response to both Kipling’s Kim and Savarkar, and almost anticipated Gandhi in some ways. But even if the BJP and RSS’ think tanks are unable to come up with such innovations, it is quite certain that the party will retain some links with the ideology, and even if it is not part of its functioning ideology, it will be a party more tolerant of Hindutva groups.

VAJPAYEE, FOR instance, held Hindutva as a kind of vague, emotional frame. There’s no problem with that; in fact, it’s probably necessary in the Indian context. As Nawaz Sharif told Vajpayee, as part of the Muslim League and BJP, they were best positioned to break fresh ground in Indo-Pak relations as neither of their constituencies could accuse them of being wishywashy liberals. Above everything else though, like the Maoists who were encouraged to come overground and become part of the democratic process, the Hindu right wing must be politically accommodated. They cannot be annihilated or wished away, just as the Naxals could not be wished away. (Charu Mazumdar’s group in Bengal was wiped out with police action, but in barely 30 years Naxalism has come back again with greater force. These are idealistic people. It is a pity they have opted for the gun, but the problems they represent are real. Sitting in urban citadels, one might imagine that one can solve these problems over a 100 years and wait for some “trickle down” effect, but if millions of people are condemned to die in the meantime, one cannot expect everyone to remain unmoved.) In the same way, there are rump groups who are rabid enough to believe they should break down the Babri Masjid. They cannot just be wished away. They have to be politically accommodated and tamed.

The Mughal empire has some lessons that could be of great significance to contemporary India. The empire was so successful that the British left the Mughal system intact for 100 years. Even the Delhi Durbar of 1911 followed all conventions of a Mughal court. It allowed different levels of allegiance to the centre. The Jaipur Maharaja, for instance, was closer to Mughal Delhi than a sultan in Bengal: this meant he had more power and influence, nothing more.

The BJP has been demanding Article 370 should be abolished and the Uniform Civil Code brought in to India. These are legitimate demands in a European-style modern nation state. But why must we follow that route? Instead of hedging on Article 370, one should use it more effectively – go the whole hog with it. Why didn’t we give Article 370 to Sikkim instead of gobbling it up? Why didn’t we give it to Nagaland, rather than go in for 30 years of bloodshed which has made a whole generation bitter? If there is a worry that it is a border state, why not innovate and come up with Article 370 (a) – which defines more and less rights, with a clause put in for renegotiation at a later date? This would have increased the maneuverability of the Indian state immensely.

Savarkar’s novel Kala Pani covets exactly what the middle-class is today: insipid, boring, uniform

As Gandhi intuited, we are uniquely well-equipped to design our own version of a nation state. By pure default, we have gone in for some innovations — Indian secularism is one example. Both secularists and communalists complain about its compromises. But we will last as a society only as long as we compromise. The moment we try to harden it into something too defined, things collapse.

The current upheaval could be a creative moment both for the BJP and the RSS. Unlike the RSS heads that have gone before him, Mohanrao Bhagwat is not a very conspicuous ideologue. Nobody expects anything out of him. Because of this, he has the opportunity to be truly creative. But westernised Brahmins and modernity can be a lethal combination. It cuts you off from your native Indian genius. So will they be able to spot the moment?

 
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 25, Dated Jun 27, 2009

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One Response to “DEFEAT OF AN IDEA – HAS THE BJP LOST OUT TO HINDUISM – BY ASHISH NANDY AND SHOMA CHAUDHRY – TEHELKA”

  1. sanjay Says:

    hinduism is the way of life it,s nothing to do with death.

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