Saffron brotherhood in disarray | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, September 08, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, September 08, 2009

Saffron brotherhood in disarray

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THE saffron's road to the top was mapped mainly by those who believe in Hindu revivalism as they apprehended that Hinduism was endangered. This conclusion has been drawn basing on the perception that "the political assertiveness of minority groups like the Sikhs and Muslims, efforts to convert the Hindus to other faith, suspicion that the political authorities are 'pandering' to minority groups and the belief that foreign political and religious ideologies undermine Hindu community bonds."
Rashtriya Swayamsebak Sangh (RSS), which is considered as the steel frame behind the recent fillip that Hindutva got in India, is feeling restive at the sight of the insularity that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- an amalgam of the pro Hindutva political forces -- has plunged itself into. The current murky situation, which stems from the severe blow that it received in the last national election, has shattered the confidence of the leadership, and a feeling of being rudderless is prevailing among the rank and file of the party.
We have observed in India a spate in the growth of religious revivalism in the last few decades, which is also noticeable in the other countries of the South Asian subcontinent. This religious revivalism is not only spreading its wings in the political domain, the countdown of the spread of its influence began in other sectors of national life as well since the '80s of the last century -- reflections of which can also be felt in the social and cultural fields. Religion is being used as a bargaining chip to make political gains.
Some of the revivalist groups speak of defending the traditional religious orthodoxy while some others are favouring an integration of fundamental religious tenets with more adoptable and time and space friendly revisions. Thankfully, so far, no report of discord between the revivalists traditional orthodoxy and the revisionists' passionate liberalism has come about to cause major concern. To many, both the groups have much more to do to gain political mileage.
The recent national election in India gave the verdict against the BJP-RSS nexus. One might be inclined to blame the BJP's hyped emphasis on promoting Hindutva for this appalling performance in the election. The massive mandate in favour of the Congress stemmed from BJP's clinging to traditionalist politicians, who refused to budge from playing Hindutva card, which they played deftly in 1999, by whipping up religious feeling of the majority Hindus through RathYarta from Shomnath Temple to Ayodha. This culminated in the demolition of the Babri Mosque, which they think was built on a site where there was a Ram Temple.
Although the RathYarta gave them the dividend of ruling the largest democratic country in the world, it alienated the second largest religious community who felt unsafe at the government's patronisation of Hindutva. Muslims were constrained to face a massacre in Gujrat -- the home of a few stalwarts of BJP including L.K. Advani -- during BJP rule. Religious intolerance in Mahatma Gandhi's -- the prophet of non-violence -- country of took heavy toll and tore apart the fabric of communal harmony, which was not much savoured by many across the communities.
This made the opposition Congress draw up the strategy of territorial nationalism as a compromise, and it was able to woo the regions that did not have a predominance of Hindus, or places where minorities lived hand-in-glove with the majority community that believe in liberal religious bias. Insofar as political outlook is concerned, the non-BJP parties, unitedly or singly, ruled the roost despite intense efforts of BJP to win the majority community faction of the region.
The other reason for the failure attributed to the BJP is the upsurge of militancy among the Hindu following the much-publicised conversion of low caste Hindus to Islam or Christianity in the poorer regions of India. Deep regional, linguistic and social division among Hindus, as well as inability to enliven their religious institutions because of local opposition, has acted as an impediment in catching up with majority voters. The regions largely populated by the low caste Hindu found the BJP-RSS combine intensely "aggressive and tended to reflect Kshatriya (warrior) world view."
The Congress, which had carefully crafted its political agenda, made sure that it did not hurt the renegades of Tilak (regarded as BJP's spearhead) who thought that Gandhi's ahimsa (non-violence) "nearly uprooted the very principal of Hinduism and Aryan philosophy, which is against the Hindu ethics, and proposed that the sacred canon made self-protection (probably of religious faith) a higher duty than ahimsa.
BJP's past guru Kurtkoti Shankaracharya was of the view that ahimsa, as employed by Gandhi, undermined Hindu self-respect and encouraged the Muslims to dominate the Hindus. The national election of 2009 has revealed to BJP how serious is its lack of understanding of modern India, which is a partner in the globalisation program that gives primacy to economic development and partnership among the global family -- where faith alone should not be the guiding agenda for political culture.
The recent infighting within the BJP leadership exposes its weakness in handling the views that contradict its traditional orthodox outlook. "The Hindu Mahashava, formed as a forum for protecting the variety of Hindu interests (e.g. cow protection, Hindi, Devangri script, caste reforms etc), which renamed itself as BJP and amalgamated itself with Bishwa Hindu Parishad and its youth outfit RSS could not divorce itself from the orthodox tradition.
Although it rose like a rocket in the late '80s and in the early '90s, it fell like a hot brick in recent years. As a consequence of the remarks of India's former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh about Mr. M.A. Jinnah of Pakistan, BJP got embroiled in a bitter debate, which led to the expulsion of one of the prominent members of the BJP hierarchy. It has created shock waves in both the hierarchy and the lower echelon, and brought to fore its embedded weakness.
Mr. Rajnath, Mr. Advani, Mr. Naidu, Mr. Narendra Modi and the likes of them are known to be hardliners who favour pursuance of Hindutva despite the negative verdict that it received in the last election, but are on the wane at the national level. Volleys of flak from all round have targeted them, and it is just a matter of time before they are dispatched to oblivion.
The upcoming leadership of BJP does not promise much to lead the party to its past glory. The sliding BJP is now sniffing to find new leadership to match its arch-rival, the Congress. The disarrayed BJP hopes that further shocks may not come to crumble its Hindutva edifice built over the years, much to the dislike of secular segments of India. If leaders like Varun Gandhi are entrusted to lead the party, it may peg the last nail on its coffin before long.
Only now have people realised that BJP's image as the party of "holier than thou" people is a facade and a mere build up. The expulsion of Singh and banning of his book in Narendra Modi's Gujrat state are but indicators of BJP's scepticism about its future. Its outlook about the freedom of expression proved negative because of the expulsion, which is destined to be despised in fiercely democratic India.

Z.A. Khan is a former Director General of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies.

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