There was a single-column news item tucked away on page 12 of The Hindu’s Delhi edition on May 22. The rather dull headline read: “Under duress, BJP man calls off daughter’s wedding.” The story gave sketchy details of how one Yashpal Rawat, a BJP leader and chairman of the Pauri Garhwal Nagar Palika in Uttarakhand, was forced to “cancel” his daughter’s marriage because the prospective bridegroom is a Muslim.
According to the father, both families had given their blessings to the proposed alliance, a love marriage, across the religious divide. But then all the busybodies of Narendra Modi’s ‘New India’ came into play.
A marriage is no longer a private arrangement between a man and a woman, or a subject of interest to their families. The overseers of New India arrogate to themselves the right to disapprove, discourage and even disrupt a marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man. This is now a familiar trope of religious polarisation but is not the first such case of a cultural vigilantism. And yet, this is perhaps the first time a BJP functionary has found his daughter’s happiness mortgaged to the “love jihad” propagandists – the toxic slogan his party introduced in the public space in 2014 to describe an imaginary plot by Muslims to seduce and convert Hindu girls with a view to making India a Muslim-majority country.
According to reports, a local religious figure, Swami Darshan Bharti, made it his business to ask for a public boycott of the woman’s father, accusing him of promoting “love jihad”. A call for a public boycott of an individual may not exactly be ‘hate speech’, but hatred in defence of the Hindu samaj’s virtues and values is no longer deemed objectionable, leave alone actionable, in the New India. There is no suggestion that the local administration made its presence felt.
It is was therefore no surprise that quickly a large number of assorted, self-styled guardians of ‘Hindu interests’, some NGOs and various fanatical outfits – including one in whose defence the prime minister spoke up so eloquently recently in Karnataka – felt they had a right to assert themselves in this tableau of segregation and exclusion. Despite years of a Hindu-fied governance model – touted as a ‘double-engine’ arrangement – the Hindus in Uttarakhand are still made to feel so insecure and so besieged that a marriage by consent between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man could bring down the whole ancient civilisation; the Shahenshah and Shah regime not only seeks to keep the minorities in their place, the Hindus too are not to be allowed to go off the reservation.
Besides being home to some of the holiest Hindu temples and shrines, the Garhwal region also has a glorious legacy of preservation of its environmental integrity against predatory technological triumphalism and has produced globally respected resistance warriors like Sunderlal Bahuguna and Chandi Prasad Bhatt. This region, once the site of the Chipko movement, has now been nudged regressively into ideas and practices of preserving and protecting ‘Hindu Samaj’ against ‘defilement’. A region that should be mobilising itself against mindless ‘development’ – remember all those stories about Joshimath sinking – has been inundated under an avalanche of “Hinduness”. It was only natural that Yashpal Rawat’s daughter found herself bullied out of her marriage of choice by the Hindutva crowd.
Predictably, Rawat and his family could not escape the intrusive reach of social media, the new instrument of intimidation and harassment available to the defenders of ‘Hindu samaj’. He found himself castigated not just in his small town but, thanks to online bullies, was harangued by busybodies all over the Garhwal region. The fear of social stigma, or worse, made him yield to the tyranny of Hindutva crowd-think.
That was in distant Pauri Garhwal. But the virus of sectarianism of this kind is not confined to the hills. The commissars of Hindu vigilantism can, under instigation, demand answers from one and all, including those who strut around on the national stage. Many Union ministers may not be able to secure the approval of vigilantes for their own marriages or for their children’s lifestyles. All those who write eloquent rejoinders to the State Department or pen passionate critiques of Western observers may find themselves in the same boat as Rawat of Pauri Garwhal once this behaviour of the marauding crowd acquires social legitimacy. After all, as per the prevailing orthodoxy, the ‘Hindu samaj’ is not just under threat from Muslims/Islam but also against the Church/Christians and other assorted ‘outsiders’. Xenophobia has its own relentless logic. It is no secret that the extended ruling elite is seriously contaminated with ‘foreign’ spouses and connections. And that could become the rub. After all, just because someone belongs to the BJP or has chosen to become a spear-carrier for the Modi regime does not guarantee him or her immunity from the cascading purge.
As our governing arrangements get more and more frayed under the overweening demands of the prime minister’s personality cult and his insatiable appetite for megalomania, the ruling clique may not be averse to stoking the passions and prejudices of the Hindu community. In the run up to 2024, Modi’s technocrat and corporate backers will have to yield to the Hindutva commissars. Once the G20 bogusness gets done with in the next few months, the same propaganda machinery will be uncorked around the ‘grand Ram Temple’ in Ayodhya. It will be a perfect event for the perfect event manager. Slogans of good governance and development may appeal to the upper middle classes but the inner coterie at the very top knows that electoral salvation will come only by replicating Pauri Garwhal all over the country.
Harish Khare is a former editor-in-chief of The Tribune.