Given Hindutva’s fascist threat, a distinction must be made between the pragmatic communalism of the Congress and the programmatic communalism of the BJP
The electoral arena in the 90s has taken a qualitative turn for the worse. The earlier electoral equation, Congress vs. the Janata Dal/Janata Party and its allies, has been replaced by a triangle with first the BJP and now the BJP and its allies as the base of the triangle. Of the two other arms of the triangle, one is the Congress and other is the declining Third Front.
Progressive groups and individuals are faced with a serious dilemma as far as voting in various constituencies and campaigning is concerned. Barring the Left parties — whose secular and democratic credentials are strong — and the other earlier constituents of Third Front — though they had earlier stood on secular and democratic ground, many of them now seem to be wavering — both the major combatants in the electoral battle field are tainted with communalism of different varieties. It is in this context that the stance of the Left in singling out the BJP as THE communal force, to be isolated and dumped on a priority basis, has come for criticism from certain friends and groups from the liberal, progressive and left spectrum. Bringing to our attention the gory deeds of Congress in subtly tolerating communalism, these radical elements are advocating equi–distance from the BJP and the Congress. I would like to examine the pitfalls of this equi–distance thesis in this article. Congress and Communalism: Right since its inception, the main thrust of the Indian National Congress has been to struggle for a democratic, secular India at the formal level. At the same time, there has always been a weakness to accommodate and tolerate communal elements, more so Hindu communal elements. Some of the major leaders of the Congress had strong streaks of Hindu nationalism. The important ones in this category include Lala Lajpat Rai, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Dr. Munje (one of the founders of RSS). Many leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha were also the members of the Congress. Dr. K. B. Hedgewar, the first Sarsanghchalak (supremo) of the RSS founded in 1927 was formally in the Congress till 1934. In the pre-Independence era, the Congress acted merely as a platform, the dominant part of it being secular and democratic as represented by the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru.
Undoubtedly, Hindu communal elements within the Congress put pressure from within to supplement the agenda of the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS, to act as the opposite and parallel of Muslim communalism represented mainly by the Muslim League. With Partition, formation of Pakistan and the migration of theMuslim elite from different parts of the country to Pakistan, Muslim communalism in a way got deflated.But it did survive in the Indian polity, assuming strident postures at crucial times like the Shah Bano case etc, to provide much needed prop to Hindu communalism.
The Congress underwent major transformation in the mid–sixties. Though it continued to pay lip service to secular rhetoric, apart from appeasing the fundamentalist sections of Muslim community, it did little to ameliorate the conditions of minorities. Also, the state apparatus started getting infiltrated by the Hindu communal elements — RSS trainees — who at the grass root level started giving a Hindu slant to the policies of a formally secular state. It is due to these factors that Muslims started getting discriminated against in jobs and social opportunities. They also became victims of anti–Muslim violence led by Hindu communal organisations, supported and abetted by a ommunally infected State. The Congress was not principled enough to oppose and curtail this as a section of its leadership was either ‘soft communal’ or had no qualms in compromising with and promoting Hindu communalism.
During these years the principal project of the Congress was to build a strong Indian State. In this process it started suppressing ethnic and regional aspirations and imposed the Indian identity and laws on many
ethnic groups and regions by force. The Congress pursued the policy of relentless centralisation and intervened in state affairs at every minor pretext. This led to situations of insurgency in the Northeast, Kashmir and Punjab. In Punjab and Kashmir, the worsening situation was allowed to take a communal turn. The anti–Sikh pogrom led by the Congress in 1984 can be said to belong to this category of repression of ethnic aspirations of Sikhs.
But as Aijaz Ahmed pointed out some years ago, Congress communalism is a pragmatic one that has been used by it time and again to ‘solve’ some other problem, for example, suppressing thno–regional aspirations (Economic and Political Weekly, June 1,1996, Pg. 1329). They have to be contrasted with the systematic and sustained anti–Muslim violence whose ideological roots lie in the very concept of Hindu Rashtra.
Hindu Communal Politics: The basic premise of the RSS is to work towards the goal of Hindu Rashtra and as its political arm, the BJP, is committed to help in the realisation of that goal. Since 1986, the BJP has pursued the aggressive agenda of Hindu Rashtra through the Ramjanambhoomi campaign leading to the demolition of Babri Mosque, post–demolition communal violence etc. Most of the inquiry commission reports on communal violence (Jagmohan Reddy, Justice Madon, Vithayathil, Srikrishna and Venugopal) have proved without any shadow of doubt that the various constituents of the sangh parivar have been the major actors in anti–Muslim communal violence. More recently, the National Human Rights Commission, National Minorities Commission and independent human rights groups have highlighted the role of most of the progenies of the RSS in anti–Christian violence. Lately, after realising that it cannot grab power at the Centre on its own on a communal, the BJP has ‘cleverly’ been talking of the need for a ‘National Agenda of Governance’ and a ‘National Democratic Alliance’ to woo the regional parties whose narrow regional interests and tubular vision does not permit them to see the core communal project of BJP. This temporary democratic posture of the BJP is merely for the sake of gradually increasing its vote bank/social base to be able to come to power at Centre on its own so that the agenda of Hindu Rashtra ‘in toto’ can be imposed on society. Till then the decent looking agenda will remain sprinkled with hidden agendas.
In the long term this elite, middle class party will freeze society in the existent social dynamics, taking away the rights of exploited, oppressed and those on lower rungs of hierarchy to struggle for social, economic and gender justice. The communalism of BJP is a cover for a gradually evolving fascism, with the aim of foisting Brahminical Hindu politics on the country. In the words of Aijaz Ahmed, the sangh parivar’s and the BJP’s is a programmatic communalism.
Equi–distance and comparisons: It is not to say that the other parties are desirable, ideal and capable of sustaining the secular democratic programme. We have seen that the Congress could impose Emergency with ease and pass various anti–democratic legislation time and again. It has often compromised with and aided Hindu communalism. The other parties have also shown manifest inadequacies as far as perusal of democratic principles is concerned.
But all said and done, none of them is driven by the engine of RSS, a fascist organisation wedded to the concept of Hindu Rashtra — a Brahminical–Hinduism based nationalism akin to race based nationalism or Muslim nationalism. This is what makes the BJP a different cup of tea – nay, poison. Historical Precedents: As I have argued elsewhere(Fascism of Sangh Parivar, EKTA, Mumbai, 1999), the sangh parivar is a fascist variant with a number of similarities to European fascism which got strengthened, post–Mandal, in reaction to Dalit, OBC assertion in 1990s.
In Germany, Hitler rapidly increased his social and electoral base by projecting the fear of a strong workers movement. The triangle there was: communists, Hitler’s National Socialists (fascists) and the Centrists – Social Democrats, akin to the Congress in India. In spite of seeing the methods and dangerous potential of Hitler, communists, who were a substantial force, in a way followed the electoral policy of
equi–distance from Social Democrats (whom they called social fascists) and the National Socialists (Hitler’s party). Though Hitler did not have majority he was able to come to power through negotiations as the opponents had shifting and divided aims and were unable to focus on the real essentials of power while Nazis had unwavering aims and had a firm grasp on ‘real politics’.
The Imminent Dangers: In view of what I have argued above, the BJP should totally be out of reckoning as far as electoral choice is concerned. Just because there is a vacuum of parties with decent secular and democratic credentials does not mean that one lands up supporting a party whose fascist potential is there without any shadow of doubt? What if the Congress, which time and again has used communalism to fulfil its political ambition, benefits from it? Surely, it is an evil whose magnitude is ‘n’ times lower than thedangers of BJP being in power.
The equi—distance position stance holds no water. The BJP cannot be equated with any other party; it has to be an ‘untouchable’ for us — Historical revenge of the untouchables!
Archived from Communalism Combat, July 1999, Year 6 No. 51, Debate