Countless people are arguing incessantly about whether Narendra Modi will come back to power – many have assumed that it is a foregone conclusion.
It may be time to take a realistic look, which means that it does not matter which political party or parties form the next government. Only the naive refuse to believe that India is what it was between 1947 and 2014 – largely tolerant, secular and wedded to democratic norms.
The issue is that even if a coalition that is opposed to the BJP wins, it can hardly reverse the beliefs and behavioural patterns that have been injected and nourished over the last five years. The needle has moved a lot, not only towards Hindutva but also towards the right (the two are not necessarily coterminous) and it is unrealistic to expect that this will change with a new ruling party or by external intervention, however vigorous.
Hate is now legitimate and a large section of Hindus that support the overpowering of Muslims, Christians and Dalits are not expected to cringe and convert to pluralism anytime in the near future. Obligations under the constitution and the political culture of tolerance and centrism had been embraced by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the only other BJP prime minister, but they are now gone.
Let us admit that Hindu aggression is more than just respectable – it is often the desired posture. Victimhood and valorisation are the twin pillars of a fascist ideology and these have now been injected into the blood of too many Hindus to be just wished away. As Viktor Frankyl discovered, there is a latent fascist streak in all of us – someone just stoked it, rather successfully.
What we have learnt from the eerie silence in India that followed repeated lynchings over cows and beef, the immediate but ineffective protests from a vocal minority of liberals notwithstanding, is that a vast section of Hindus are totally uncompromising on this one issue. Neither the fact that all Muslims certainly do not consume beef nor that a person’s diet is a constitutionally protected right, cut any ice.
Even the Congress has to placate these millions whose stand on this issue brooks no compromising attitude and hence it stands charged with peddling ‘soft Hindutva’. The whole business disguises, ever so thinly, a growing disgust at meat-eating or non-vegetarianism per se, even where the Hindu diet is concerned. Vaishnav vegetarianism is sure to be foisted, more so over the next few years, as India’s preference.
India’s historic equilibrium between the three major Hindu belief systems, Vaishnav, Shaiva and Shakta, that took centuries and millennia to arrive at, is now quite inconsequential. It was but natural for the largely-vegetarian Gangetic plains to graduate from just Hindi-Hindu-Hindutva (HHH) to using diet as its vanguard as it expands its hegemonic desires. In a way, this arises from the cumulative failure of decades of a liberal rule that could not induce the Hindi heartland to try to learn at least one other Indian language, to broaden their world view at least.
All of India that lies beyond this belt struggles with three, or at least two, languages (and cultures), while the votaries of HHH revel in myopia, while their representatives Blythe, quite unabashedly, every central government institution and office in India, in the name of propagating the ‘official language’.
All said and done, much of the hatred for liberals arises from what is perceived as the privileged English educated (often foreign schooled) class by the Hindi-bred, even those brought up in the vernacular languages. Now that this class conflict has found an ideology that legitimises desi pride, often with dollops of conjured history, it is not likely to recede after the elections and concede space to the erstwhile dominant narrative of refined Nehruvian liberals.
India has always prided itself as the only third world country that had successfully confined its army within barracks and cantonments. But one is not sure how long. A dozen or so retired generals have reportedly joined the BJP, which is ominous, and thousands of other members of the armed forces, retired or in service, appear convinced that only one party is finally giving them their dues — even when it shies away from taking a call on the vexatious ‘One Rank One Pension’ issue.
After all, what began as genetically-propelled pulsations of ultra-nationalism, that all rightist parties indulge in, in lieu of a proper political ideology, is now an integral part of state policy and propaganda, ably supported by a rabid social media.
Again, it does not matter that history tells us that this particular political stream stayed away, rather determinedly, from the national struggle during its most critical hour and that it does not have a single nationalist leader in its pantheon, in spite of repeated attempts to poach them from the Indian National Congress movement.
It boasts of crushing terror with an iron hand, though statistics tell us otherwise – that between 2014 and 2018, India suffered 388 major acts of terrorism. Kashmir is as good as ‘gone’ – history will tell us where – and whoever comes to power will have to contend with the situation that has been created with so much effort. Ultra-nationalism is here to stay and will continue to dominate Indian politics, irrespective of who rules.
Liberals ruled for decades on end but not one government or educational system had either the courage or foresight to openly tell Hindus certain home truths about their religion – like the persecution of Buddhists and Jains during the ancient period of Indian history. Not all Buddhist centres were destroyed by Muslim invaders only and the Bengali term for ‘ruins’, dhangsa-stupa or the ‘destroyed (not decayed) stupa’ says a lot, indeed.
Let us be logical: could large parts of Southeast Asia ever became Hindu, without some proselytisation? The relentless Brahmanisation, that M.N. Srinivas explained as Sanskritisation, was only a trifle different from the sanctioned (and often valorised) conversion undertaken by the Semitic religions. History tells us that no religion has ever been really faultless and if all facts were placed up front at least some Hindus would rethink their ‘victimhood’ under Muslim rule.
This uncontrollable Frankenstein that will surely haunt us well after Modi is gone may never have been manufactured. In all honesty, we need also to admit that the liberal’s inexplicable silence every time Muslim terror strikes anywhere certainly exacerbates the disgust of anti-liberals and swells their numbers.
As Viktor Uhlrich reveals in his recent biography Hitler: Ascent, the dictator’s foul-mouthed speeches and opinions were not spontaneous, but came out after careful preparation, precisely designed to gain maximum attention from the media and maximum reaction from the crowds.
But coming to the positive side, one must admit this new-fascist wave drew the best out of a section of liberals – not all – who rose to the occasion, as never before. This group finally got its act together and launched a relentless, tireless struggle against every authoritarian measure, each public lynching and all that went against India’s basic plural structure.
A vindictive leader, party, organisation and state spared no effort to cow them down, from indulging in the vilest of abuses to organising tax and other raids and threatening or instituting fearsome legal proceedings, but that only strengthened their resolve to carry on the struggle.
It also brought out a new breed that prided itself as ‘neutrals’ whose stings and perennial arguments are often more vicious than the neo-fascists. They cover their lack of courage by engaging in exasperating arguments and criticising with puerile logic those brave-hearts who take on the dreaded establishment at great personal risks and also suffer financial losses.
We cannot also but mention that New Delhi has, like most national capitals the world over, its own crop of ‘sunflowers’ that is genetically programmed to turn towards whichever sun rules the sky, as they constitute the interesting core of the Delhi’s chatterati, who, of course, are privy to whispered secrets.
William Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism, a 1933 classic, holds good even today. Nations have paid a heavy price earlier for this choice of politics and have gone through a painful historic scourge of Armageddon – which was dreadful. To expect the poll results in India to change it all is quite unrealistic as the virus is now too well entrenched to be wished away.
The Bengali version of this article was published in the Ananda Bazar Patrika.
Jawhar Sircar is a retired civil servant.