The Legacy of Pramod Mahajan

Pramod Mahajan, the poster boy of the Indian Right that emerged in the 1990s, is dead. As homilies pile up, Kumar Ketkar, as insightful as ever, reminds us that Mahajan’s style came closest to that of the late Sanjay Gandhi. He sums it up well:

Mahajan was emerging as a leader of the economic and political right, but without the conservative contours of Hindutva. There is nobody who is able to take that line further. Mahajan has left behind a line but not a legacy.

To me, Mahajan, the “Lakshman” of the BJP’s masquerade, represented the legacy that India is going to live with for decades, he represented exactly the kind of politics that was exemplified in the manner of his death- the violent assault on one’s own brother- a social and political homicide of India.

The mainstream Indian press, dominated by the same strata that the BJP leadership comes from and appeals to is busy eulogizing the “poor Brahmin” who went on to become a leading politician.

The ideology and actions based on the pernicious ideology of Hindutva that he advocated have been disembodied from the person. In this, Mr Mahajan was as deft as the Janus- faced Vajpayee.

In terms of style, he was brash to the point of being uncouth, once comparing Mrs Sonia Gandhi with Monica Lewinsky.

Mahajan may have gone, but the political party that he helped bring to power, continues its assault.

May his soul rest in peace.

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Ghosts of December 1992

A foot soldier of the Ayodhya movement, Ramnarayan Das, 65, who had alleged a threat to his life from a section of BJP leaders, was murdered yesterday.The priest was mobbed by at least 12 assailants who rained blows on him with lathis and rifle butts till he collapsed, bleeding. He died later in hospital.

Ramnarayan feared for his life because he had admitted to police that he, along with others, had brought down the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, at the behest of senior BJP leaders.

The priest was also alleged to be involved in the removal of Ram Lalla’s idol from the disputed site. A case is pending against him and four others. The idol of Ram Lalla installed in 1949 had been removed a few days before the demolition.

The original chief priest, Lal Das, had been ousted in the late eighties because he was against the hysteria kicked up by the Sangh parivar for demolition of the Babri Masjid. He was replaced by two priests — Satyendra Das and Ramnarayan.

Full story here.

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Advani as Ram and Pramod Mahajan as Lakshman: the BJP Masquerade

Shorn of political power, ignoble in defeat, here goes Vajpayee-the most eloquent, even if Janus- faced, leader that the BJP and the Hindutva Right could produce in decades: comparing Advani and Pramod Mahajan (Vajpayee’s protege) to Ram and Lakshman. Advani had likened himself to Arjuna during the Jinnah fracas- when cornered the BJP leaders now compare themselves to the gods and borrow figures from mythology! One is reminded of one of the most eloquent and oft quoted pasages where Marx states:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.

(In France) From 1848 to 1851, only the ghost of the old revolution circulated …Now they have not only a caricature of the old Napoleon, but the old Napoleon himself, caricatured as he would have to be in the middle of the nineteenth century.

The BJP and its Hindutva family has caricatured Hinduism for years using Lord Ram’s name as a battle cry for carrying out a counter- revolution against the achievements of the nationalist struggle for freedom and the secular constitution and polity. The movement for the destruction of the Babri Masjid is no longer something that its own cadre can claim to be a movement for the construction of a Ram Temple, let alone for rejuvenating the Hindu society.

It would be preposterous to even associate the BJP leaders with Lord Rama and others from the Ramayana. If at all they are caricaturing anyone, it is themselves. Picking up names from the mythological past and trying to don the masks on themselves shows the party as what it is: little more than a masquerade. And a dangerous one in its deliberate ignorance.

In an interesting aside, Uma Bharati has compared herself to Eklavya and the RSS to Dronacharya !

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No sobs for Mr Advani

While court columnists like Swapan Dasgupta may sob and their ‘eyes turn moist’ as Mr. L.K. Advani steps down as the President of the Bhartiya Janata Party, it may not be out of place to reflect on the BJP’s version of the contemporary Sardar Patel, the Iron Man of India.

Advani was in a way the BJP’s man of destiny- he rose from being an almost unknown person to become the President of the BJP in 1986. The BJP technically had just 2 MPs in the Parliament at that time. Advani was still not the well known political leader that he was to become during the infamous “Rath Yatra” that he carried out on a DCM Toyota LCV. Even the rath- yatra was not his invention, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had launched rath yatra’s much earlier during the early eighties, the first of them having been inaugurated by Mrs Indira Gandhi during the last phase of her life when she looked for support from the “religion based” communal forces (Bhinderanwale in the Punjab and the VHP in the Hindi heartland).

Advani had joined the RSS in 1942, when the cry for Pakistan was just starting to gather momentum but the nationalist sentiment still overwhelmingly dominated the national political life- the Quit India movement happened in that year. Much before it became a fashion for English educated middle class, upper caste men and women to become supporters of the BJP (even if some of them wished it to become a reformed version like the Christian Democrats in some countries), Advani, a former student of St Patricks in Karachi had joined the Sangh. This was unusual- for the RSS was and still remains an outfit that has appealed to the urban lower middle classes.

It was still more unusual that a man from the province of Sindh educated in a Christian school should espouse such violent hatred for the Muslims and Christians. Islam came to Sindh as a religious and cultural influence much before it came as the religion of the conquerors from the North- west. Sufism has been a big influence on Sindhi Hindus till recent times. Even now, Sindhi associations in India publish newsletters and magazines in both scripts- one based on the Persian and the other on the Devanagri. It is very common for Sindhis to visit gurudwaras and keep a picture of Guru Nanak in their homes.

It was this indigenously syncretic tradition that Advani and his ilk would spend a lifetime to destroy and overwrite. Till about a year ago, it seemed that they had almost succeeded.

But over the last few months, Mr Advani’s “stature” fell as quickly as it had risen during the “Rath Yatra” and subsequently during his tenure as the Home Minister. In that Advani has been both lucky and unlucky- lucky to have seen his lifelong political struggle reach a crescendo within his lifetime and unlucky to see it fall in the last few months- when he has been hounded by the RSS itself, and left forlorn by his own protégés even as one of them- Uma Bharati- has slammed him publicly.

The Shiv Sena and its aging leader Balasaheb Thackeray- a ultra- Hindu ‘nationalist’ whose last name comes from a British writer (William Thackeray) also is in the throes of internal strife.

If anything illustrates the contradictions in India, the case of Advani and Thackeray does that very well.

Mr Advani’s life can be seen as four stages- the first as a relatively low key RSS/ BJP functionary till 1986- he wrote mundane film reviews of popular Hindi films for the RSS mouthpiece ‘Organiser’ for some of those years of political wilderness, the second between 1986 to 1998 when the BJP under his leadership rose as a powerful, if mistaken, voice of Hindutva, the third was his subsequent tenure from 1998- 2004 as the Home Minister when he was sought to be propped up as a living Sardar Patel and the fourth was finally the last year and half, when shorn of political power, the BJP looks like a house of cards and its leaders a pack of squabbling careerists- so much for “the party with a difference”.

As the Home Minister of the country in 2002 when orgy was let loose in the state of Gujarat, Christian missionaries attacked and burnt alive in Orissa, Mr Advani presided over the country’s Home Ministry, supporting and lauding Narendra Modi. If Mr Vajpayee was Janus- faced, Advani was the hawk.

Advani himself represented a constituency from that state, Gandhinagar of all places- history sometimes displays cruel if not mocking irony. Next to Jawaharlal, it is Mahatma Gandhi that the RSS has hated and poured scorn and venom on- one just has to pick up a copy of the “Organiser” or a book by Hedgewar or Golwalkar to understand the extent of their hatred.

Advani’s political downfall after the BJP’s “Shining India” campaign fell flat on its face was much more steep than his rise had been. He has been quickly shoved aside by the RSS and the “nextgen” of the BJP.

His rise was certainly spectacular- but let it not been forgotten that it happened in the backdrop of certain social and political developments that “created” the L.K. Advani that we came to know for the next decade and half (since 1989).

Foremost among these developments was the economic emergence of the backward castes through the seventies and eighties and their political assertion during the late eighties when V.P. Singh started liberalizing the economy and at the same time via the Mandal Commission Report paved the way for a political resurgence of the backward castes.

The Mandal Commission Report threw the upper castes into turmoil and into the welcoming arms of the BJP. That the RSS and the BJP have been the organs of the minority upper (“Brahmin- Bania”) castes especially in North India where they draw their strength, has long been noticed (see, for example, Sumit Sarkar et al, “Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags”). The plank of anti- Muslim and the creation of its “opposite” or the “Other”- the virile Hindu- camouflage the real casteist nature of these organizations. A VHP slogan was more than a giveaway: “Jis Hindu ka khoon na khola, woh Hindu nanin bhangi hai” (quoted in the book mentioned above).

Advani, with his loud rhetoric of Hindu “nationalism” stepped into this void vacated by the “secular” upper caste leaders, V.P. Singh included. That an entire generation of well- educated, even if generally upper caste, young men and women would look upon him and later (post 1998) to Vajpayee, is both understandable and ironic. This generation that grew up and was educated under Nehru’s shadow and the colleges and universities that he hoped would lead the country out of sectarianism clawed back at his legacy with a vengeance. Nehru and other leaders of the freedom movement were proven wrong.

The BJP, under Vajpaye and Advani was to reach the shrill notes of a Wagnerian dis- symphony during the six years between 1998- 2004- the night that was the long shadow of the mushroom cloud that hung over the nuclear explosions of May 1998 and among whose nightmares included the hounding of the liberal and the left, the secular and the minority missionaries and whose gravest days and nights were the days of organized orgy and violence in Gujarat.

It is good for the country that these days are past- and the men -Vajpayee and Advani-who envisioned and allowed the nightmare to linger and to gnaw at its soul have been pushed aside.

There is no reason for eyes to be moist- not for those for whom the politics represented by Advani has wrought despair and death.

An excerpt from this post here

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related posts (book reviews of some books on Hindutva):

Ruminations on December 6, 1992

December 6, 1992 happened in the backdrop of the anti- Mandal Commission upper caste upsurge,the liberalization of Indian economy and the fall of ‘existing’ socialism in Eastern Europe. It was followed by the capture of the Indian political center stage by the Right wing Hindutva family.The Bombay blasts, formation of the BJP led NDA government, nuclearization of the sub- continent and the Gujarat pogrom are some of the other major events that impromptu come to mind.

Thirteen years after that day of ignominy, the rising graph of the Hindutva’s political arm the BJP, has been brought to a grinding halt. The backward caste mobilization is subdued but still strong in the Hindi heartland and the Left is back in the Parliament with its highest ever number of MPs. Internationally, the wiping out of ‘existing’ socialism is complete for all practical purpose, China’s swing to state led capitalism accelerating and only Castro miraculously continuing to survive. The rise of the ‘New Socialism’ represented by Hugo Chavez is exciting for those who wear a patch of the red in their hearts.

The Indian Left parties, despite the derision of the neo- rich and the middle class that is increasingly benefiting from the FDI inflow and the flight of the manufacturing and the services industry to India, is probably the only consistent and conscious voice of the poor. The Dalit and various OBC formations are clearly personality based and open to hijack, the “Samajwadi” Party’s leading light being Amar Singh for example.

December 06, 1992 represented the raw revolt of the emerging middle classes as well as the broad spectrum of the Hindu youth against an imagined enemy. 13 years later, and one year after the BJP- NDA lost elections- less because of its anti- secular stand and more because of its economic policies, the perceived threat of Islam seems to have subsided. But then as Pramod Dasgupta it was I think who commented that scratch the skin of a middle class Hindu, and he will turn out to be an RSS sympathiser.

December 6 continues to be alive though not roaring at the moment. With the Congress- Left alliance at the Center continuing with its right wing slant the situation is not any less despairing than it has been in the intervening years. The Left is not able to shift the priorities of the government to where it matters- the poor. Their anger may yet bring the BJP and the Hindutva parties back to power, despite the recent stirrings in both the BJP and the Shiv Sena.

The Left has to manage the contradictions inherent in the current coalition and direct the policies to where the Left gets support from- the poor and the deprived. It continues to be more articulate as a defender of the salaried classes rather that the poor. Socialist theory too has not been able to come to terms with the notion of FDI and export led growth.

A Desi Christopher Hitchens

The news about Sudheendra Kulkarni’s resignation as National Secretary of the BJP and Political Secretary to Party President LK Advani, surprised me as The Tribune story indicates that he made a move from the Left to the Right.This seems to be borne out by a Rediff story couple of years ago.

He was a BTech from IIT, Bombay. The year 1980. It reminded me of another IIT graduate from the same batch- Tejinder Sandhu, who joined the IPF and whom I met when he had left the IPF. He had taken to drinking, and then I heard that he joined a college in a small town in Amritsar district as a college lecturer. I liked him a lot, and he gave me his copy of the 5th volume of the Selected Works of Mao.

About him, perhaps sometimes else. But Sudheendra Kulkarni’s about turn has of course, kind of saddended me. I was not aware of his Left roots.

Advani in his Labyrinth

As more or less predicted by this Reader, Mr Advani is back in the saddle, though not as firmly as he would have liked to be. His well calculated move to manufacture a moderate mask as it were, has boomeranged, and he has for the time being failed to metamorphose into a Janus faced Atal.

This places the BJP in a dilemma, if not a downward spiral. With the more diehard elements in the Hindutva family now calling the shots and the need for the Party to broadbase its acceptablity for other parties in the NDA, there is evidently a headlong conflict. There are few options left.

To expect the other NDA parties to turn right wing in the BJP’s mould is difficult to believe but not an impossibility. The former socialist, George Fernandes is a case in point and there may not be a dearth of similar turncoats. In other words, the BJP’s numerical strength despite its decline in Uttar Pradesh, may make many a one- man party in the NDA turn a blind eye to a hawkish BJP leadership. Another aspect to be seen is how the second rung leadership can succesfully carry out Operation Janus Face- which this Reader feels is imperative for the BJP for its ‘being’.

Unless, the schisms within the Hindutva family turn out to be too irreconciliable and the party breaks into warring camps. Or develops a split personality. One still feels that things have not yet come to such a state and the contradictions are reconciliable. Because to have a split personality assumes the existence of diametrically opposite characteristics, which the BJP and the rest of the family does not carry at the leadership level, howsoever intrinsic these contradictions may be at the level of their social basis.

But the BJP continues to be a long term threat to the nation- and the decisive role for the BJP’s resurgence may now be played by the Congresss Party itself- its continued pursuance of globaliztion that adversely affects the poor, its lack of a long term social perspective (including its weak kneed secularism) and lack of a charishmatic leader that can appeal to a cross section of people. These remain its critical weaknesses, and the presence of the Left may help to make up at least for the first two. To what extent is another question.

The Third Front idea has been floated as an alternative again most recently by Prakash Karat the CPM general secretary. Little needs to be said of this at this time, except that it is an idea. However, one whose time has not yet come. The CPM’s dogmatism with a neo- Stalinist at the helm is evident, unfortunately it is the former die hards like Surjeet and Jyoti Basu who are more flexible and pragmatic than the newer generation of the CPM leadersip (Karat and Yechury). A case not dissimilar to the BJP’s in some ways.

Jinnah, Advani and the RSS

The Indian Express has a quick analysis of the Advani act, post- Karachi visit: Act of courage, it was Advani the intellectual

I am quite amused by Advani’s statements and more so by his action in resigning as President of the BJP. I have little to add to what the Indian Express has to say, except that, beyond the ideological veneer to the recent RSS-BJP flak lies the fact that the different heads of the Hindutva family represent different and conflicting social basis, with the RSS relying on its traditional lower middle class, urban petite bourgeoise and trading classes with an aging leadership, the VHP a strange admixture of the first world immigrant and the sants, the Bajrang Dal with the motley urban lumpen youth and the tribal frontal organizations that have been much more active in the last two decades than previously. The BJP itself hijacked by the middle class noveau- rich basking in the sunshine of globalization and outsourcing.

It has been the heady tonic of power that made this crowd seem like an invincible ‘family’ barely a year back, when the Congress seemed to be almost dumped into history.

I am not sure at this point whether Advani will really resign or do an Uma Bharathi and come back with renewed support of the currently very much divided Hindutava family. Though the media reports are already propping up Rajnath Singh as the alternative leader, I wont be surprised if Advani is back in a week or so.

And in case Rajnath Singh does come in as the next chief, the most interesting aspect would be that the BJP would be lead by a non- Brahmin (I suppose that Rajnath Singh is a Thakur- hence very much from the ‘reliable’ upper caste stratum that the RSS may trust more than a backward caste or a Dalit).

However, I am quite convinced that it is not the ‘intellectual’ in Advani but the political strategist in action. The debate on Jinnah is and will be a non- starter. Nothing that Advani has spoken is factually incorrect or pathbreaking. If the RSS has been kicked out of its reverie and is reacting in a knee- jerk fashion, it is more than likely that its mercurial reaction may well turn into its opposite as soon as it flared up, while it continues to ignore what Advani has spoken of. Mr. Advani may have amnesia as well. It is a matter of time.

After all, the conflicting social bases do need to be clobbered together at least at the leadership level for any hopes of return to power. At this moment in the BJP’s history, this clobbering can be achieved only by a Janus faced leader, it does not matter whether it is a veteran Vajpayee or an ascending Advani or even someone else.

Review of: The Sena Story by Vaibhav Purandare

Authorised Biography of the Shiv Sena
The Sena Story
By Vaibhav Purandare
Business Publications Inc, Mumbai 1999 Pages 462, Price Rs. 250

The Shiv Sena’s emergence is a specific instance of a worldwide trend- the swamping and infringing of the metropolitan core by people from outside and the organised resistance to the immigrants. In case of the Shiv Sena, especially during its formative years, its championing of the Marathi manoos was rooted in the fact that most of the white- collar and even blue- collar jobs were denied to the local populace.

This is the focus of the early part of the book where the author has relied on two rigorously academic studies done by Mary Katzenstein (1979) and Dipankar Gupta (1982). Besides there are a number of interviews with aging socialist and communist leaders who once strode the city and who provide a number of incisive though critical insights into the early years of the Shiv Sena.

The Shiv Sena filled the vacuum created by the dismantling of the Left- led Samyukta Maharashtra movement after the main demands were met and a separate state of Maharashtra with Bombay as the capital was created and nobody was left to speak for the Marathi manoos. Later, according to the author, the city centric Sena struck a responsive chord in rural Maharashtra because of Sharad Pawar’s joining the Congress in 1986. Pawar’s co- option into the Congress left the traditionally anti- Congress backward castes with no choice but to support the Sena, which had been trying to make inroads under Chaggan Bhujbal.

Mrinal Gore, the veteran socialist leader from Bombay, however contends that the Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray have, despite their aggressive advocacy of jobs for the Maharashtrians, actually restricted their vision and have duped the working class Marathi youth.

She observes: “(Thackeray’s) appeal was to youngsters whose reasoning faculty wasn’t fully developed. He told them outsiders were taking away their jobs and suggested quick fix solution…another reason he caught the fancy of youngsters was that he told them not to read and increase their corpus of knowledge. He pooh- poohed all social, political and economic theories and told the youth these were useless. Thus, he kept the vision of the youngsters confined to the Marathi issue…he stunted the intellectual and cultural growth of Marathi youth”.

As the book progresses, the author chooses to increasingly rely on newspaper reports and journalistic flamboyance that he possesses in abundance.

The result is a book that, after the first few chapters, reads something between a racy potboiler and an American corporate success story. It could have been a good study of the Shiv Sena. That it is not so is indeed regrettable since there have been few studies of the Sena in recent years unlike that of the Sangh Parivar. Purandare has missed a chance to step into this void, since at a number of places he is incisive and there are flashes of serious journalism. Instead he has turned it into what is at best a narrative of the rise of the Sena (as the word “story” in the title indicates) and at worst into a hagiographic account of the Sena and its supremo Bal Thackeray.

He asserts: “The Left wing critics of the Sena always maintained that class exploitation and not ethnic competition deprived the Maharashtrians of economic strength, but the middle class Maharashtrian found the Sena’s position more convincing.” And what was the Sena’ position? Its position was to drive out the non- Maharashtrians by advocating reservation for the local Marathi speaking populace- so far, so good.

But it went beyond that. It resorted to strong- arm tactics and street smart justice. It resorted to intimidation, murder and outright terror, first against the South Indians, then the Communists, then Muslims and, by way of variety, against liberal individuals like AK Hangal and Dilip Kumar. Purandare recounts a number of such incidents, yet, all this does not diminish his enthusiasm either for the Sena or for Raman Fielding (as Rushdie characterized Bal Thackeray in The Moor’s Last Sigh).

The author’s celebration of what should actually have been a lament for the de- cosmopolitanization of Bombay is misplaced. That indeed is sad and a cause for concern.

Published: The Tribune 10 Oct 1999

Review of: The Concerned Indian’s Guide to Communalism Edited by K.N. Panikkar

The Concerned Indian’s Guide to Communalism
Edited By K.N. Panikkar
Viking Penguin India, New Delhi
Price Rs. 395/- (HB) Pages 252 + xxxvii

The volume under review is a collection of 6 essays by well- known academics and writers. It seeks to understand and rebut the communal offensive that has taken a new dimension after the installation of the BJP government last year. The BJP has faced a slight handicap of having to work within a coalition of 18 parties. However, the communalist drive has been marked by the unwarranted explosion of nuclear bombs, the offensive against the minority Christian community, attempts to replace the school syllabi in BJP ruled states and the jingoistic hype accompanying the Kargil intrusions.

Sumit Sarkar provides a historical backdrop to the attacks on the Christian community and points out that conversions are generally not a one step jump. Historically, these have often taken long periods of interaction between communities before conversions actually take place. There are different reasons for conversions, including the advocacy of social and economic demands of the people by missionaries.

During the Indigo revolt in the last century in Bengal, Christian missionaries took up demands of Hindu planters and even went to jail. This particular event, interestingly, has been well recorded in a Bengali folk song that recounts the efforts of a Rev Long during the revolt.

He also points out the close association of the Church with Liberation Theology during the last few decades especially in the Third World countries where the Church has identified itself with the aspirations of the downtrodden. That the Hindutva attacks on Christians have been concentrated in Orissa and Gujrat, where the Christian population consists primarily of tribals and the poor, is indicative of the Sangh Parivar’s real intentions.

Similar movements from the Right are active all over the world. Jayati Ghosh looks at the global economic situation and links the current social unrest to the changes in the distribution of economic growth that are increasingly loaded against those who are already poor and deprived. Between 1960 and 1991, the income share of 85 percent of the world’s population actually fell, as the income share of the richest 20 percent rose from 70 percent to 85 percent, while that of the poorest 20 percent fell from 2.3 percent to 1.4 percent.

In India, from 1993-94 to 1997, the percent share of the population below the poverty line increased from 37.3 percent to 38.5 percent in the rural sector and 32.4 to 34 percent in the urban sector. Employment in the total organized sector increased by less than 1 percent between 1990-97.

These increasing disparities provide the objective conditions for the growth of ethnic and religion based unrest. Why and how such movements originate, however, are specific to the history and political conditions in each country.

In a scintillating essay on the attempts by communalists to use history, Romilla Thapar critiques the viewing of Indian history in terms of two monolithic communities identified by religion. Historical works before the 19th century, including those in Sanskrit and local languages, used a variety of terms like Turushka, Tajika, Yavana, Shaka and mleccha to refer to those who today would be referred to by the blanket term of Muslims.

It was in the 19th century that the two communities were described as not only monolithic but were also projected as static over many centuries. That people in India have multiple identities (like those of caste, language, religion etc) was completely ignored. This well served the British colonial interests.

The anti- Babri Masjid movement in the eighties threw up a host of women leaders like Uma Bharati and Ritambra. This was really surprising since the RSS, fountainhead of the Parivar, has been a typically patriarchal organization known for its conservatism. Tanika Sarkar has written earlier on the gender dimension of the movement. The essay included in this volume updates her studies on the same theme in the late nineties.

She finds that there has been a shift in the role of the women’s organizations linked to the Parivar. These have now been relegated into the background after the attainment of state power. Women’s issues per se had never been important for these organizations, but now not only the membership has plummetted, these organizations have withdrawn from active politics and even reduced their meetings and the social space that they occupied at the height of the movement.

Sarkar points out that while mainstream Left movement has been either stagnant or declining, Leftist women’s organizations have continued to grow and have strongly implanted bases among working class and poor sections. These have a combined strength of over 50 lakhs, while the Sangh related organizations have barely crossed thousands, besides having been confined to the upper class, upper caste sections.

Siddharth Vardarajan, senior editor with a Delhi newspaper, writes on the use of the media in general and that of the newspapers in particular in propagating communalism. Modern media have contributed in fostering communal hysteria and the construction of the “Other” in the enemy image (the Sikhs in the eighties, then Muslims and finally the Christians in the last one year). He points out that most of the media is controlled by large businesses. Most of the editorial staff comes from the same social base that has also been at the forefront of Hindu communalism. The Sangh Parivar has proved to be an expert in handling “pseudo- events” in the media and raking up emotive non- issues.

In one of the finest essays in the collection, Rajeev Dhawan focuses not so much on communalism as on secularism with respect to the Indian constitution. He points out that it will be near impossible to come up with a document like this in our times. The constitution adopted in 1950, even though in the immediate aftermath of one of the bloodiest events in the sub- continent (the Partition) is full of compromises and adjustments on part of all the parties.

He points out, however, that a number of desirable progressive measures were relegated to the Directive Principles instead of Fundamental Rights. Overall, he feels that the Indian Constitution provides the bedrock for Indian secularism, ambiguous though it is in many senses. He also points out that communalism can no longer be attributed to the colonial condition, it is also a condition of post- colonialism.

The title of the book is well thought of, and so are Ram Rehman’s photographs on the cover. The work comes as a most welcome addition to existing literature on the one of the most acute problems of our times, and one which is going to be around for a long time to come. The incisive academic analysis of the contributors, buttressed with their deep social concern is evident in each of the essays. That is an assurance against the prophets of doom as well as ammunition in the intellectual armoury against communalism.

10 August 1999
Published: The Tribune 22 Aug 1999

Review of Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags

KHAKI SHORTS AND SAFFRON FLAGS: A Critique of the Hindu Right

By Tapan Basu,Pradip Datta, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarcar, Sambuddha Sen
Orient Longman. 1993. Rs:35/-

1991 marked a turning point in setting the agenda for political debate in the country. The Left was completely paralysed following the dismantling of the socialist bloc resulting in the unprecedented crisis in socialist theory. The Congress too backtracked its steps from its Left linkages, in the process dumping Nehruism, and despite the switchover to the fashionable “free -market” economy, it failed to project a new vision.

The vacuum that was subsequently generated was sought to be filled up by the backward caste based Mandal movement and the upper caste, Right wing Hindutva movement. For the first time after partition, mainstream Indian politics came to be focussed around previously peripheral ideologies

The book under review is a penetrating analysis of the Hindutva movement, its origins from a local RSS unit to a multi- headed hydra of menacing dimensions and the organisational and ideological structures within which it functions.

The book bears the stamp of two prominent historians Sumit and Tanika Sarkar and is distinguished by a meticulous exploration of the history of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). With the historical insight it offers, it becomes easier to understand a massive movement of our times, which promises to lead us into the Hindu Rashtra, even though the whole movement has been built around a hoary, imagined past fed by myths.

“At the heart of Hindutva lies the myth of a continuous thousand year old struggle of Hindus against Muslims as the structuring principle of Indian society and, point out the authors, “the myth of the Muslim invader and Hindu resistance has also been employed to prove that Hindutva represents the true, native nationalism”. The usurpation of the term “nationalism” is quite understandable as it is but natural for majority communalism to pass off as nationalism; more so since there has been an overlapping of nationalist and communal politics in the country.

The authors, however, have chosen to study not communalism as attempted in other works (like Bipan Chandra’s Communalism in Modern India and Gyan Pandey’s Construction of Communalism in Colonial India) but to study the ideological and organisational aspect of the Hindutva movement, which comes into its own with V.D.Savarkar’s definition of the Hindu in 1923 as a person who regards the land of Bharatvarsha from Indus to the seas as his Fatherland as well as his Holy land -that is, the cradle of land of his religion. By implication religions like Islam and Christianity are always suspect, and Golwalkar in his book Bunch of Thoughts added communism to the list.

The other implication is that only those who ascribe to the Hindutva concept have a right to comment and debate on what “rightfully” belongs only to the self styled Hindutva “nationalists.”

Sketch of RSS History

The RSS originated and continues to have its headquarters in Poona, the bastion of the Chitpavana Brahmins. “The centrally of Maharashtra In the formation of the ideology and organisation of Hindutva in the mid -1920’s might appear rather surprising, as Muslims were a small minority and hardly active, and there had been no major riots in the region during the early 1920’8. But Maharashtra had witnessed a powerful anti -Brahmin movement of backward castes from the 1870:8 onwards when Jyotiba Phule had founded his Satyashodhak Samaj.

By the 1920’8, the Dalits too had star1ed organising themselves under Ambedkar. Hindutva in 1925 and in 1990-91; was an upper caste bid to restore a slipping hegemony: RSS’s self -image of its own history makes this abundantly clear. There was, in addition, the distrust felt for the new Gandhlan C.ongress on the part of a section of the predominantly Chitpavan Brahmin Tilakites. It is symptomatic that B.S.Monje, an old associate of Tilak, was one of the five who founded what became the RSS on Vijaya Dashami day, 1925″ {pg 10-11).

The upper caste character of the Hindutva movement, perhaps explains why the Samajwadi Party- Bahujan Samaj Party (a backward caste- lower caste front), has taken a hard anti -Hindutva stance.

The RSS remained a local affair till 1927 when it shot into prominence following the role it played in the Nagpur riot in 1927. The riot was followed by a rapid spread of RSS organisation in and around Nagpur. 1927 was also the year when the national movement was being revived but the RSS remained completely aloof from it. The Civil Disobedience Movement which followed it and by far remains the greatest single movement within the Indian nationalist struggle, marking a new highpoint in its radicalisation as well as spread, too saw the RSS not only out of step with the mainstream but also completely isolated.

But the RSS as yet did not want to make “a demonstrative break with the nationalist mainstream”. Therefore, Hedgewar invited Gandhi to his camp at Wardha in 1934 as a symbolic gesture, but the latter remained ever suspicious of the organisation. “In the wake of the 1946 riots a member of Gandhiji’s entourage praised the efficiency, discipline, courage and capacity for hard work shown by the RSS workers at Wagah, a major refugee transit camp in Punjab.

“…But don’t forget”, answered Gandhiji, “even so had Hitler’s Nazis and the Fascists under Mussolini”. He went on to characterise the RSS as a ‘communal body with a totalitarian outlook’ and categorically declared that ‘the way to national independence does not lie through akhadas… if they are meant as a preparation for self -defence in Hindu -Muslim conflicts, they are foredoomed to failure. Muslims can play the same game, and such preparations, overt or covert, do cause suspicion and irritation. They can provide no remedy:’

By the end of the thirties communalisation had already reached its peak and while the Muslim League began clamouring for Pakistan and the Hindu Right within the Congress was asserting itself, the RSS aligned with the North Indian based Hindu Mahasabha and started penetrating the Hindi heartland and the Punjab. The relations between the two however remained fickle especially after Golwalkar took over from Hedgewar. The RSS continued to remain primarily a “cultural” organisation, which frustrated more politically inclined elements like Godse who finally joined the Mahasabha. Between 1937 -40, the RSS grew rapidly from a cadre strength of 40,oob to 1lakh. The recruiting ground remained the same upper caste, middle class trading and services strata.

In Punjab the once militantly reformist Arya Samaj had prepared a fertile ground for the dissemination of the RSS version of Hinduisation. Still the spreading out of Maharashtra necessitated changes in the rituals of the RSS, for instance Hedgewar abandoned the worship of Hanuman, changed the language of prayer to Sanskrit, and generally toned down the insistence on rituals.

“In the 1940’s, the RSS had gone through a particularly aggressive phase in theoretical formulations and activities alike; demonstratively aloof from the 1942 quit India upsurge, violently active during the 1946-47 communal riots, suspected by many of complicity in the murder of Gandhi. “Golwalkar, who succeeded Hedgewar as the supreme leader of the RSS in 1940, enunciated his thoughts in We, or Our Nationhood Defined and A Bunch of Thoughts, brought out the fascist inspiration behind the RSS. Besides expressing his fascination for the Nazis, he makes no bones about his sinister conception of nationalism. He elaborates, “…Being anti -British was equated with nationalism. This reactionary view has had disastrous effects upon the entire course of independence struggle, its leaders and the common people”.

No wonder, therefore, that the RSS neither participated in the genuine strugg le for independence nor did it ever have to face the British onslaught, to which the Congress, and specially the Communists, had to face repeatedly.

After the assassination of Gandhi in 1948, there was a widespread revulsion against the RSS and the organisation was banned 5 days after the assassination. Its immediate response was to plead for revoking the ban. This was to be repeated in 1975 when it was banned again. In contrast to this, the CPI opened up jail fronts to continue its struggle, even though misdirected, against the State, when it was banned after the Telengana movement.

The organisational structure of the RSS has always remained totalitarian with the leader nominating his successor, both at the local as well as the national level. A strongly patriarchal set-up regulates the militant complex, with suppression of debate and the imposition of a simplistic, typically RSS, world- view imposed on the cadres who are normally recruited at the tender age of 12-14 years. By its own admission and in the words of its important ideologue K.R. Malkani, the RSS does not encourage “doubting Thomases”. It remains one of the few exclusively male organisations.

It was only later that the RSS grew its other faces (much like the Ravana!) -the BJS, BJP, V HP, BMS and the ABVP with first the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) and then the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) being its political mouthpieces, even though it did not fight shy of playing hide and seek with the Congress specially during the 1984 elections. In 1981 , however, it entered the extra -parliamentary phase of numerous yatras with the emergence of the VHP as the spearhead.

Emergence of the VHP

The V HP stage marks a qualitatively higher stage in the development of the Hindutva movement, cashing in on the new high- tech means of mass mobillsation. “Unlike earlier periods of acute communal tension (in the 1890’s, the 1920’s, the 40’s, or the 60’s) it (the Hindutva) is inseparably identified with a concrete organisational complex. Earlier, communalisation did depend on organisational inspiration as well, but the VHP has made itself co -extensive with the phenomenon of mass communalism.

This is done through staking out a new and a very large claim. The movement it leads is supposed not only to represent the vanguard, the politically aware elite within the Hindu society (this would have been, roughly, the earlier RSS claim); it asserts that it already includes the whole of Hindu society as it stands here and now, and that an exact correspondence exists between its own field and the boundaries of an admittedly varied, pluralistic, differentiated Hindu world.”

While earlier Hindu communal revivalist movements like those in the late 19th century set out for transformation both within the religion as well as society, the VHP movement rules out the need for any such reform within either itself or the Hindu society at large.

As an RSS pamphlet proclaims “Sangh samaj me sanghatan nahin, samaj ka sanghatan hai” (the Sangh is not an organisation in society, it is the organisation of society). Thus, no internal transformation is required. This “already acquired” unity in the Hindu society is sought to be suggested by invoking prominent Hindu personalities and hiding their differences and diversities. For instance Tagore, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar- all distant and even antagonistic individuals are presented as belonging to one great lineage, standing in opposition to the absence of any comparable “nationalist” Muslims.

The VHP movement being a mass movement has its own paradoxes and contradictions for instance in the perception of the movement by a sophisticated central leadership and the local activists, which the authors have brought out very well. Similarly, the unprecedented mobilisation of young women in the movement has its own fallout -leading to the emergence of a new phenomenon.

‘Within an as yet limited social and geographical scope, then, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement seems to have effected major breakthroughs in women’s self activisation… So far, the fetishised sacred or love object to be recuperated had been a feminine figure- the cow, the abducted Hindu woman, the motherland. Here, however, the occupied Janmabhoomi belongs specifically to a male deity, and women are being pressed into action to liberate and restore it to him, to bring back honour to Ram’s army… The reversal of roles equips the communal woman with a new self powering image. She has stepped out of a purely iconic status to take up an active position as a militant.”

Caste remains by far the biggest obstacle for the Hindutva movement. The sophisticated jugglery of the leadership notwithstanding, a slogan that came up at a VHP rally is illustrative of the anti- lower caste bias; “Jis Hindu ka khoon na khola, woh Hindu nanin bhangi hai”.

However, “The BJP has several ways of tackling this social dilemma. Once the militant moment of its movement was over, and the anti-Mandal storm subsided, it reverts to its ritual gestures towards Harijan welfare -notably in U.P It also preserves its ascendancy over lower castes without undertaking any meaningful reforms in their status through a monopoly over ground -level intellectual leadership.

Even where it has no direct bases among lower castes, it exerts an ideological influence through teachers and priests. Mitra Sen Yadav, the CPI ex -MP from Faizabad, made to us the important observation that harijans and OBC’s have not so far thrown up their own intellectual leaders”. Perhaps, the measures Laloo Yadav has taken in Bihar by installing Harijan priests is a reflection of the need for such a leadership desired by the emergent backward caste- lower caste movement in the UP- Bihar belt.

Having dwelt on the upper caste/ class composition of Hindutva, the authors do not overlook the fact observe that there has been a considerable change in its character over the years. “In the 50’s there was a tremendous boom in both the numbers and prosperity of this upper caste/class formation which was bred in great part by the upsurge in consumerism, fuelled by imported screwdriver technology and facilitated by soft bank loans and government aided small scale industrial projects. Predictably, this has led to a widespread and rapid social mobility.

Simultaneously, the base for a huge civil and military bureaucracy has grown, spanning urban as well as semi -rural areas in north India. It was (and remains) a class that was committed to an unfettered growth of consumer capitalism and to a strong state that could manage the political crisis of the country and the economic discontents arising from the boom in private enterprise.

For a time, this class found its representative, indeed its self-image, in the person and politics of Rajiv Gandhi. His political ineptitude, in addition to the internal crisis within the Congress paved the way for Hindutva- with its aggressive right wing world -view embodied in a seemingly coherent ideology, its emphasis on a strong organisation together with the projection of itself as an untried party to acquire the allegiance of this class”.

Emphatic words these, but the authors make no bones about the danger that the movement portends for the nation. It indeed is time for hard secularism to speak out.

01-Feb- 1994

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Edited By S.GOPAL Penguin (India); Rs 75/-

The Babri-Masjid- Ramjanmabhumi issue, like so many others, has invited two opposite view points -one for the masjid and the other against it. Unfortunately , even enlightened secular opinion has tended to jump to conclusions with preconceived notions and subjective prejudices rather than trying to understand the problem and then make an effective intervention. The result has been that despite the strength of secularism in the country, communalism has made a definite and consolidated advance since Independence.

The book under review is a refreshing effort in comprehending the problem. The contributors to the book make it sufficiently clear that, not only are they trying to interpret the world in order to change it, but also trying to change it by interpreting it. The galaxy of contributors includes Prof. Romilla Thaper, Asgar Ali Engineer, Prof. Mushir-ul -Hasan, A.K. Bagchi and others. The book has been edited by S.Gopal, well known as the biographer of Jawaharlal Nehru and S.RadhaKrishnan.

The book, rather the collection of essays, begins with an introduction by S. Gopal who introduces the rest of the essays and then goes on to trace the rise of communalism immediately before and after 1947 He points out the serious lapses on the part of the Indian national leadership in meeting the challenge of communalism. As he points out Nehru himself, unequalled though he was in his commitment to secularism, was responsible for giving ground to communal forces.

Weaknesses on his own part helped to defeat the objective of various legislative and constitutional provisions enacted to confront communalism. In 1948 he committed the resolve of the government in banning communal parties, but never actually implemented it.

Were it so, it would have been much difficult for communal ‘groups like the Jana Sangh(BJP), Akali Dal and the Muslim League to gain credibility. Then again, he allowed cow-protection to be included in the Directive Principles of state policy while ensuring that nothing of the sort was actually put into practice. Further in order to assuage the wounds of Indian Muslims, he refrained from promulgating a common civil law despite the resulting inequality of Muslim women before law. Nehru erred in making a distinction between majority and minority communalisms.

Prof. K.N. Pannikar in his essay ‘A Historical Overview’ offers a critique of the RSS-VHP stance on the issue, noting that the glorious accounts of Ayodhya being a highly developed historical place is refuted by archaeological facts according to which Ayodhya began to be inhabited only around 7th century B.C. and it was much later that it developed into an urban settlement. Probably what happened, he argues, is that King Vikramaditya renamed the more developed town of Saket in order to gain prestige by drawing upon the Suryavanshi line. This also explains the local myth of Ayodhya having been re-discovered by the King, after it had been lost.

Panikkar draws attention to the claims that a Rama temple, that too his birthplace, was destroyed by Babur in 1528. It is interesting, he notes, that such a “major event” was not recorded either by contemporary Persian literature nor even by a Ramabhakt like Goswami Tulsidas. It was much later that such a claim went on record (1870) -that too by an English writer. The claim was related to the confrontation over the nearfy Hanumangarhi temple in 1855. Under the liberal Shia rulers of Awadh a large number of temples was constructed by powerful Hindu ministers This enraged orthodox Muslims who, under one Shah Ghulam Hussain, claimed that the temple of Hanumangarhi had supplanted an earlier mosque. The Bairagi occupants of the temple fought a pitched battle with the Muslims and defeated them. They even occupied the Babri Masjid, but after their victory they withdraw to their abode.

During the course of the subsequent legal enquiry, no Hindu even mentioned the existence of a temple at the Babri masjid. The claim originated later, probably ”as an attempt to check mate the Muslim claims”.

Sushil Srivastva traces the evolution of the ruling British viewpoint over the issue and concludes that under the pretext of lawlessness and misgovernment they could force the Nawab to relinquish his authority and increasingly give the British a greater say in internal matters of the state. Hence they were interested in keeping the pot simmering. A.G. Noorani throws on light the ‘Legal Aspects to the Issue”.

Prof. Mushir-ul-Hasan writes about “Shared codes and competing Symbols” between the Hindus and the Muslims and repeats the old cliche about communalism being a modern phenomenon. Aditya Mukherjee too writes on the critical role of the colonial state in giving birth to and legitimising communal parties. Amiya Bagchi makes a comprehensive study of “Predatory Commercialisation and Communalism in India” and shows how the phenomenon of Communalism, specially communal rioting, is intimately related to local socio-economic hierarchies. His explanation of riots like the first communal riot of 1893 (in Calcutta) is particularly invigorating.

The best pieces of the book are, however, contributed by Neeladri BhattaCharya, Romilla Thapar and Asgar Ali Engineer.

Popular conceptions of the past,” Bhattacharya points out, “are often informed and structured by myths. In these conceptions, myths are true histories, we cannot dismiss such myths, we cannot counterpoise history to myth. These are different modes of knowledge…if fabulous stories circulate and light up the popular imagination, we cannot merely demonstrate the fabulous character of such stories, we must know why they circulate, why they play on popular imagination.”

This is a most crucial question of our times Even if there is no real historical basis for communal ideology “myths” do refer to reality .They do provide an insight into the mode of living and thinking of the people who originate and believe in those myths. The mixture of history and myths is typified by the RSS- VHP propaganda -it satisfies both the modernist as well as the more backward sections. As the writer points out, “it is a strategy necessary in the modem age when all types of minds have to be united”.

This strange admixture of history and myth is not all. Also central to the RSS-VHP propaganda is the theme of the so called ‘weaknesses’ of the Hindus Among the ‘weaknesses’ cited are disunity, unmanliness, patience, generosity and tolerance These virtues are identified as the cause of present ills.

This framework idealises masculinity -a specific form of masculinity Anger and aggression are identified as the qualities of man-hood, tolerance and patience are feminine, manliness symbolises strength and femininity weakness. To overcome their weaknesses Hindus had to give up their femininity and assert masculinity”. This also finds reflection in Rama being increasingly portrayed as an aggressive god, but since even then he cannot provide the personit;cation of the aggressive, fiery Hindu -Shiva is increasingly looked upto (‘Angry Hindu, why Not?’ and other pamphlets).

In her fascinating study on’ A Historical Perspective on the story of Rama, ‘ Romilla Thaper delves into the plethora of the versions of Rama’s story the variations in the different versions “are for specific reasons and constitute a defate whose parameters change with historical change.” Each major version reflects a substantial change in both how the role of the story was perceived and in the acceptance of each of these versions by their audience as the authentic one Unlike sacred religious texts, Rama’s story was refashioned time and again sometimes to convert it into a religious text and sometimes for other purposes.

Prof. Thapar goes on to summarise the different versions of Ramayana It is indeed surprising to find the variations -contrast the role of Sita as Rama’s sister In one and as the incarnation of Shakti in another -confronting Ravana instead of being a passive hostage. In another she turns out to be Ravana’s daughter. According to one version Ayodhya lies in North Vietnam and the Kingdom of Ravana in South Vietnam. The recent attempts to force down one version of the Ramayana is doing injustice to these versions -but ‘Syndicated’ Hinduism is doing precisely that.

Besides the use of Rama’s story later on in the ideological conflicts between various Indian schools of thought, it has been used for popular mobilisation of peasants. Prof. Thapar illustrates this point by referring to the Baba Ram Chander -led struggle in UP early this century (Nehru refers to this movement in his Autobiography) in which Rama and Sita symbolised the peasants Interestingly, Baba Rama Chander did not indulge in nostalgia by idealising a past ‘Ram- rajya’.

Published: NTC, 01- Feb- 1992 Edited by the late Mohit Sen