Going by the track record of past four years of Narendra Modi’s government, the only definitive political narrative today is that of the ruling party, characterized by its brand ideological vehemence/ aggression and paralleled by corresponding ideological ennui in the opposition camp. The fact that there is an astronomical rise in hate crimes against Muslims, Dalits, Women and other minorities, silently supported by large numbers of people, underlines the onset of an ideology, conceptualized by the caste Hindus and institutionalized as Rashtriya SwayamSevak Sangh (RSS).
The electoral success of BJP – the political wing of RSS – only points to a reality which is the logical outcome of the political processes, wherein the Hindu right has been handled with the customary albatross of secularism around all of our necks – defying the social reality of India. In a predominantly caste society, secularism tends to obfuscates real social cleavages and gives preeminence to an idea shaped by the literate elites. That is not to say there is something inherently misplaced with the idea of secularism in this country. Certainly not! On the contrary, it is the dishonesty and the utter insincerity of the India’s political class for whom the politics of secularism remains a mere means to claim political power. Nothing wrong with that too, as long as, this means was directed to its logical end of making an India actually secular. Alas, India’s attempt at constructing a sincere secular society have been halfhearted at its best and nonexistent at its worst, regardless of the secular nostalgia that some people – very sincere and honest people – find themselves attached to.
So what went wrong that we as a society are increasingly normalizing the politics of hate and violence? Why is there no ideological resistance – barring few honorable exceptions of course – to this ongoing Hindutva madness? A very learned scholar had once said that once an idea grips the minds of the masses, it becomes a material force. It was never promised, though, that the idea has to be progressive; it just has to be radical. That the fascist dogma peddled by the Hindu right enjoys a vicious political patronage and popular support, flags the reality of its ideological hegemony. This hegemony is palpable for two precise reasons (among many others): a) due to the complete failure of the state in putting a stop to the ongoing hateful violence and b) secondly, and more importantly, the near total absence of an ideological opposition to RSS-BJP’s political ideology. So when Rahul Gandhi nurses his apparently lost brahmanical legacy by visiting scores of temples – whatever objective he and his party may claim otherwise – he ends up succumbing to the ideological hegemony of RSS-BJP. And this truly demonstrates the sheer poverty of politics, which has struck all the significant political parties in the opposition camp today. They are all behaving like that proverbial deer caught in the headlight (of the RSS-BJP ‘juggernaut’). Not even one – again, barring honorable exceptions – has been able to overcome the hegemonic discourse that has gripped the country since the year 2014. While the southern states in India have been successful in resisting the RSS-BJP intellectually and with a coherent political philosophy, political actors and parties in the north India are utterly lacking in a principled politics when it comes to countering the sociopolitical narrative of the Hindu right.
Let us, for instance take a hard look at the whole rigmarole around the ostensible grand alliance against BJP for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. While it’s obvious that the like-minded political forces must come together to defeat the Hindutva madness unleashed by the Modi-Shah duo, the cobbling up of such an alliance requires some kind of political and ideological clarity that such efforts clearly lack at the moment. The only political adhesive that ought to be considered in defeating RSS-BJP must be based on an unequivocal opposition to the latter’s political ideology. And this opposition must stem from a far more comprehensive understanding of the functioning of Brahmanism in India than the Opposition seems to have. If the opposition to BJP lacks such an understanding, and then, when one sees the rising incidences of violence against minorities and holds RSS responsible – and rightly so – one effectively misses the woods for the trees. The presence of social prejudices against Dalits, all religious minorities and women are not just out there hanging innocently by themselves, but they actually drawing support from the deep wells of bigotry and prejudice that one is borne with in this country. However, we must also hand it to RSS that they have been able to successfully channel this ‘everyday Brahmanism’ in to the now nationalist overdose of cultural Hindutva, which gives the unemployed and uneducated youth of the country something to work with and feel pride in. This nationalist frenzy is then spread through the fantastically tamed media and lapped up by the ‘socially ignorant middle class’ – though at one level, this ignorance is deliberate as it protects their privileges. The point being, that one cannot counter hatred caused by the rabid politics of RSS-BJP by merely managing alliance partners without working out the ideological framework with which to confront the hydra faces of the Hindu right today.
It is in this milieu then, we must understand that when Mr. Tharoor writes Why I am a Hindu, perhaps a sincere attempt to cast light on the diverse cultural moorings of the subcontinent – though I don’t necessarily agree with it – it actually ends up strengthening the political and ideological framework of the Hindu right. RSS can proudly claim, let a hundred flowers bloom. No problem! But they all must bloom on one big ‘Hindutva soil’. Both Mr Gandhi’s and Mr Tharoor’s attempts at reclaiming the ground putatively lost to the BJP, they must understand, was always brahmanical – the ideological engine steering RSS since 1925 – and was never their forte to begin with. That is not to say that the Congress party or many other political parties besides BJP have overcome their inherent Brahmanical structures. Certainly not! However, it’s only the BJP which is programmatically committed to rebuilding an India in the image of Brahmanical hegemony. Moreover, staking a political claim to this supposed ‘lost ground’ underlines the poverty of ideology in fighting the RSS-BJP or in other words it marks the near total hegemony of Brahmanism – which although a scary thought, is thankfully not entirely true. For there is a long history of combating Brahmanism in this country that dates back to the philosophy of Lokayata and which reaches us via Buddhism, Janism, Sikhism, and Bhakti traditions and then through the political philosophy of Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar. This, however, is not the space for summarizing the history of that long drawn struggle.
Coming back to the question of firming up a political alliance to counter the RSS-BJP, a comforting prospect is the coming together of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Building on their alliance, they both have claimed crucial electoral victories to the total dismay of BJP in the recent by-elections in the state. In a politically sensitive state of Uttar Pradesh, carving out such a political space through the coming together of the two political parties who represent Dalits and OBCs along with their commitment to the rights of the Muslims is very significant and will certainly yield good electoral dividends in the upcoming elections. However, it must be said and said unequivocally, that the leaders of both the parties have somewhere lost the ideological steam that propelled them forward in the choppy political waters of Uttar Pradesh in the first place. Except, managing the caste permutations and its electoral combinations, both the parties have conspicuously left their core support base with no ideological rigor to take on RSS-BJP’s cultural propaganda. Hence, no surprises if one finds supporters of Mr Modi among the Dalit and OBC youth in UP. Both BSP and SP overlook the fact that the cultural onslaught of the Hindu right cannot be left to the permutations and combinations of electoral alliances alone and there must be an ideological alternative to RSS.
However, there is no significant progress on putting up such an ideological guard. On the contrary, SP’s president Akhilesh Yadav has recently announced a city to be developed in the name of Hindu deity Vishnu – supposedly to counter the Ram Mandir pitch of BJP. Much trouble for BJP? I don’t think so. Furthermore, a dynamic youth leader, Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ of ‘Bhim Sena’ struggling against the caste violence in western UP gets detained – at the time of writing he had been released after more than a year now – at the behest of the current Yogi Adityanath’s government, the then silence from the leaders of BSP and SP is deafening enough to expose their ideological bankruptcy.
Similarly, if one looks at the prospects of RJD in Bihar, it will be difficult for a perceptive observer of the state’s politics to make sense of Tej Pratap Yadav’s theatrics in attempting to outsmart BJP’s religiosity as a political tool. The otherwise impeccable credentials of RJD against communal politics of RSS and BJP, looks rather incredulous after seeing Laloo Yadav’s younger son. Needless to say, that by taking a plunge in the rhetoric of religion as one’s politics, one doesn’t fight the RSS-BJP, but succumbs to the hegemony that they have created over the years. The prospect from West Bengal too doesn’t look bright when it comes to counter RSS-BJP. The communally competitive and frenzied path that TMC has adopted to counter BJP, will only help to embolden the political narrative of the Hindu right and will not place them in any difficulty. The immediate gain in politics have placed an overarching blind to a rather promising political coalition poised to unsettle RSS-BJP and that is the fact which reflects poorly on their political imagination.
This poverty of politics actually is being passed as realpolitik, rather ingeniously. As something tactful and imperative in order to defeat the political opponent. End justifies the means principle, so to say. However, realpolitik remains an art which politics deploys once it has established itself. Much before the onset of realpolitik, lies the road to establish a political society that demands intense ideological struggle. And it this ideological struggle which is lacking when one sees the political rhetoric countering RSS-BJP in the country today. Therefore, the central question which remains to be addressed by the political actors committed to a progressive constitutional democracy in India is: are they totally unfazed by forfeiting the moral and ideological considerations at the altar of realpolitik or are they actually going to do something about this long night of Hindu fascism that has currently engulfed India’s polity?
Moggallan Bharti is Assistant Professor at School of Development Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi.