Communalism

Since Babri Demolition, the Right's 'Hindu Rashtra' Project Has Only Gained Strength

Excerpts from 'Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags: A Critique of the Hindu Right' underline the continuity and strengthening of cultural nationalism.

The following excerpts from Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags: A Critique of the Hindu Right attempt to emphasise how the very ideological impulses that led to the destruction of the Babri mosque more than two decades ago are still firmly in place. Laying down the basic ideological principles guiding the Sangh parivar, the passages underline the continuity and strengthening of cultural nationalism, the tendency to vilify Muslims and continued expansion of different RSS affiliates, particularly the VHP.

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The Hindutva of today constitutes a major departure from previous phases of Hindu communal mobilisation in one crucial respect. Unlike earlier periods of acute communal tension (in the 1890s, the 1920s, the 40s, or the 60s), it is inseparably identified with the concrete organisational complex. Earlier communalisation did depend on organisational inspiration as well but the VHP (and the larger institutional structure that it is tied to) has made itself co-extensive with the phenomenon of mass communalism.

This is done through staking out a new and very large claim. The movement it leads is supposed not only to represent the vanguard, the politically aware elite within 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 period and the boundaries of an admittedly varied, pluralistic, differentiated Hindu world.

An important means taking this claim is to assert an identity of interest with a broad range of Hindu organisations that are officially distinct from itself. The VHP does not claim oneness with very different and historically distinct bodies to simply demonstrate its leadership over them. It makes these diverse institutions stand in for a pluralistic Hindu society. Claims of identity with them gets easily translated into claims of full powers of representation over the entire Hindu world.

Tapan Basu, Pradip Datta, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar and Sambuddha Sen
Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags: A Critique of the Hindu Right
Orient Blackswan, 1993

The claim has important practical implication. Having asserted it often and forcefully enough, the VHP can then present its own commands and injunctions as Hindu collective will. Each Hindu can be told authoritatively that all Hindus feel the need to arm themselves against Muslims, not because the VHP tells them to do so, but because the whole community so desires. Not only is the relationship with the Muslims altered, but Hindus are then made to look at their own religion in very different ways. The centrality given to Ram worship, for instance, crucially raptures, devotional patterns in non-Hindi belt regions.

In Bengal, while a particular version of the Ramayana is a familiar and cherished epic, there is no tradition of Ram temple or Ram worship as such, the chief deities being Durga-Kali and Krishna in different forms. By making the devotional traditions of North Indian Hindus obligatory upon all, Hindus everywhere, regional and local patterns of belief are being arbitrarily violated. The claim of today’s Hindutva to an immediate identity with the entire Hindu world thus conceals and legitimises the operations of an intrusive, authoritarian political formation which defines not only the Muslim, but also the Hindu solely in its own terms.

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Given the centrality of the ideal model of Hindu values, it is curious to find a persistent inability to see it in terms of different historical periods. ‘Hindu history’ is always pushed back into the mythic world. History… really begins with Muslim invasions. Everything that went before is taken to be an undifferentiated, unchanging continuation of Ram Rajya.

While the historically unspecified ‘Hindu period’ acts as a repository of stable symbols, within ancient History as a whole, a sort of a break is introduced through the notion of Buddhist ‘states’ and their supposed neglect of Hindu temples and martial valour … even though rhetorically, Buddhism is made a part of Hinduism, in practice the interpretation of Buddhist historical experience present as a disaster that emasculated the ancient ‘Hindu nation’.

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All departures from an animal slaughter centred Brahmanism and imperial ambitions are thereby implicitly condemned and a justification is provided for the extermination of the Buddhism within its birthplace. At the same time, an aggressive warrior ethos is made into an immutable, absolute ‘Hindu’ value, from which any change would be undesirable. So while the core of ‘Hindu’ philosophy is made out to be peace and tolerance (and, a contrast is made with other world religions which supposedly lack these qualities), the ideal value of the historical Hindu is taken to be military glory.

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… Already we are on the way to an invisible slide which insidiously takes us to a very different plane. The very love and tolerance that is associated here with Hinduism must place it above other religions which are then consequently relegated to a lower-order existence. Since these are defined by the absence of love, so the argument goes, they are made intrinsically intolerant, expansionist and violent.

A whole range of characterisations grow from this point, spelling out danger that needs to be resisted. Hindu tolerance is always counterposed against supposed Muslim intolerance and fanaticism, relying on the unstated and unproved assumption that the philosophical postulates of a particular religion (which are in this case arbitrarily taken for granted) constitutes the exclusive, unchanging organisational principles for an entire people across all kinds of spaces, times and historical changes. If Hinduism is more tolerant (which is stated as an axiom and is nowhere really expounded) then all Hindus at all times will be peace-loving.

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Whatever the provocation, since Islam is a proselytising religion, all Muslims are unnecessarily intolerant, so the argument goes, whereas a Hindu Rashtra is a safe repose for all creeds and sects. A Muslim-majority India, or a secular state which takes Muslim support into account, must be dedicated to the conversion of Hindus and to turning India ultimately into a fanatic Islamic state which will root out all other beliefs.

In our investigations at Nizamuddin, the VHP, Arya Samajist as well as Sanatan Dharmist, insisted that this was going to happen in three distinct ways: Muslims, being irrepressibly and aggressively lustful by nature rape Hindu women and force Hindu wombs into producing Muslim progeny; their legalised polygamy enables them to breed at a great pace, so that the existing Hindu demographic majority is a fragile and vanishing reality and Muslims will soon outnumber Hindus.

The project will be aided by the influx of Muslim money from the Islamic countries and invasions from Pakistan. All three arguments have been extensively developed by VHP journals and pamphlets. In fact, they have become the received wisdom even among a large set of middle-class, urban, educated people who do not otherwise subscribe to VHP programmes. The corollaries to these assertions (each is made without concrete reference to historical or demographic evidence, or when this is done, the source of information is conveniently missing) are significant. The secular state, which is part of the conspiracy, must be replaced by a Hindu Rashtra to ensure real toleration.

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… All persons outside these boundaries are not Hindus, i.e., not Indians, and can therefore only function as potential or actual traitors. There are, however, ways of separating out ‘bad’ from ‘good’ Muslims. After all, even Rithambara had made a distinction between ‘Babur ka aulad’ (children of Babur) and ‘Rahim ka aulad’. Vaman Das Agarwal, (retired Professor) elaborated this point in a VHP publication entitled Hindu Rashtra. ‘Those people are also included in the Hindu society who were forced to become Muslims and Christians, i.e., those who see their faith as a mark of conquest, not as a genuine conviction.’ The VHP does take some pains to present us with evidence of their presence.

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The bulk of the hate-filled Angry Hindu, for instance, is written by Sikandar Bakht. One of the ‘charioteers’ of Advani’s rath was a Muslim. The moral drawn from these instances is that those who do not share this opinion are simply perverse. Uma Bharati gave a very literal expression to this moral in her speech at the Delhi Sant Sammelan in April 1991: ‘Muslims always do the opposite of what Hindus do. If the east is sacred to the Hindu, then the Muslim will worship the West.’

Within the imagined Hindu Rashtra, the Muslim is first declared a free and equal citizen and then his survival is made conditional upon a number of criteria imposed by Hindus alone. This seems to be so far the most substantive content of the notion of Hindu Rashtra. The rashtra (nation) is conceptually separated from the state and is defined as a cultural idea which embraces a community that resides upon a piece of land with which it shares an organic as well as an emotional relationship.

Excerpted with permission of Orient Blackswan from Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags: A Critique of the Hindu Right, Orient Blackswan.

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