Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Is Hindutva phase over?

The RSS remains couched in its middle age thinking which takes pride in the pre-eminence of one religion. RSS chief Sudarshan wants the Buddhists, the Sikhs and Jains to come back to the fold of Hinduism. But he does not say a word about the plight of dalits who are Hindus. They constitute some 20 per cent of the Hindu population and face the same type of discrimination and scorn which they did hundreds of years ago.


I CANNOT make out why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seen to be going back to its Hindutva agenda. The party never departed from it. Whether it was the demolition of the Babri masjid or the massacre in Gujarat, the message was the same: Hindu fanaticism would not allow pluralism to flourish in India.

Liberals like Chandarababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam and George Fernandes of the Samata Party must have been conscious of it. But since they wanted to enjoy power, they had to hug the BJP. One got from New Delhi all the food grains and funds it could for Andhra Pradesh. The other became Defence Minister. Ram Vilas Paswan and Ajit Singh, who cried hoarse in the name of secularism, too joined hands with the ruling BJP because it meant cabinet berths.

The Hindu intelligentsia generally saw with dismay what the BJP was doing to education, information and culture to further parochialism. But the party meant power those days and a source of patronage. Some of the top intellectuals could not resist the temptation. Even Hindutva was rationalised. The media gave all the attention to the BJP's philosophy as if it was an ideology like capitalism and communism. Never was the party's fascist face exposed, not even the pogrom of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who was singled out for attack but not the entire leadership which only shrugged shoulders by describing the carnage as shameful.

By visiting the RSS headquarters, L.K. Advani, soon after becoming the BJP chief, has done nothing new to evoke comments like "the return of Hindutva." The BJP was always in spirit at Nagpur and has been guided from there. RSS pracharaks (preachers) were members of parliament on the BJP ticket. A few were even ministers. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee would take pride in saying abroad that he was a swayamsevak.

Advani may have tried to add a bit of drama by taking along Varun, Sanjay Gandhi's son, to the RSS headquarters. But it does not mean anything. The Nehru dynasty counts, but not if it professes a wrong ideology. Nehru's sway was because of his secular and liberal views.

The RSS remains couched in its middle age thinking which takes pride in the pre-eminence of one religion. RSS chief Sudarshan wants the Buddhists, the Sikhs and Jains to come back to the fold of Hinduism. But he does not say a word about the plight of dalits who are Hindus. They constitute some 20 per cent of the Hindu population and face the same type of discrimination and scorn which they did hundreds of years ago.

In the RSS scheme of things, prejudice against Muslims - 14 per cent of the electorate - does not lessen a bit. Urdu is hated because it is linked with Muslims. The RSS chief is critical of the two-lakh jobs the BJP had promised the Urdu teachers during the Lok Sabha polls. "Did it ever occur to them that Urdu is the language promoting vivisection of the country," says Sudarshan. One thing basic about fanatics is that they live in a world of their own and do not mind derision of the public.

Advani tells all about the BJP's new policy - and thinking - after talking to the RSS chief for an hour and a half. He says the BJP will be back in line with the Sangh ideology. Where did it go in the first instance? It has been through and through the Hindutva standard-bearer. The BJP has not changed. The so-called secular middle class has. First it was aligning with the party. Now it is discarding the saffron cover to be acceptable to the powers that be. It knows how to move with times.

The Congress does not trust it but enjoys the sight of its kowtowing. The party knows that its frontrunners are great fixers. It likes their resourcefulness. What the Congress does not seem to realise is that they are forced to approach the party because there is a renewed faith in secularism throughout the country.

Both the general election and the state polls in Maharashtra have shown that the parivar brand of Hinduism does not sell. On the other hand, the Gujarat happenings have consolidated the Muslim support behind the Congress. The demolition of the Babri masjid intensified the Muslims hatred against the BJP. But they stayed distant from the Congress at that time because its Prime Minister Narasimha Rao looked a conniver in their eyes.

The BJP should know that it got credibility after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination only when Jayaprakash Narayan, a Gandhian, took it under his wings to fight Ms Indira Gandhi's authoritarianism. He had doubts about its credentials but had no option except to trust it because his fight was to save democracy. The old Jan Sangh reaped advantage because it too looked accepting Janata Party's ethos.

The BJP cadre may feel happy that Advani who built the party from scratch in 1979 is again at the helm of the party's affairs. But the scenario was different then. Once the Janata Party disintegrated, the BJP was the only all-India option available in the Hindi belt. The BJP harnessed the discontent over misperformance of the Congress. Regional parties were keen to share power at the centre. The BJP took the initiative something which the Congress refused to do. The BJP also looked cleaner when it was out of power but once in government, its ministers were found as corrupt as ministers in the earlier regimes.

The BJP's problems may not lessen even when it has a youthful head as its president. It is true that the 50 per cent of the one billion population in India is under the age of 25. But it is equally true that young boys and girls are more interested in their career than in the BJP's ideology. Many of them have taken to modern ideas and culture and find Hindutva outmoded. The revival of Ram Mandir movement will disgust the youth.

It is possible that Advani may enforce discipline within the party. Venkaiah Naidu, as BJP president, could not stop Uma Bharti from her tricolour yatra - a farce - nor could he dissuade Pramod Mahajan, one of the general-secretaries, from becoming part and parcel of the Shiv Sena which said that it did not want north Indians and Muslims in Maharashtra.

However, the exit of Naidu may revive the old allegation that the BJP is a north Indian party. Whatever it has built in Karnataka - the only state in the south - is in danger. I wonder if Advani can stop the party's downhill journey. The BJP has to consider its policy de novo. By inducting a Muslim here and a Sikh there, the party cannot become acceptable.

The BJP would have to prove that its nationalism is not a cover for Hindu chauvinism. Advani does not fill the bill, nor does his attack on liberalism help in any way. The new climate in the country suggests that the people are distancing themselves from extremists and fanatics. The country is back on the road to secularism. The BJP will have a hard time to recover from the reverses it has suffered in the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra elections. Advani's claim to come back to power soon seems only wishful thinking or a straw to which his party men can cling in the sea of disappointments.

Source: Deccan Herald, November 3, 2004

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