The harrowing prospects of soft Hindutva
With a clutch of followers, Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat was about to storm in Kolkata when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee cancelled the use of the hall which the RSS hired to address a meeting, is quite right when he criticised the cancellation as undemocratic. But the record of RSS in polluting the Hindu-Muslim equation is so long that the precaution is quite in order. True, Mamata Banerjee looks dictatorial. But her act can be rationalised. Still I wish that she had allowed another voice, however, critical to be raised.
Other steps like including Muslims in Other Backward Classes (OBC) and giving stipend to selecteds Mullahs and Moulvis do not go well with the democratic India we are trying to build. Appealing to the sentiments of a particular community is obviously meant to get their vote. This is worse than what RSS does.
With a small temple, which came up overnight on the site where the Babri Masjid stood once, the chapter had been closed for the time being at least. But that does not seem to satisfy the Muslims, nor is it in their interest, as they perceive. The BJP, guided by the RSS is trying to create the same atmosphere. The equivocal stand by the government on pluralism has only helped the Hindutva elements.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi could have done something positive to clear the vitiated atmosphere. But his party does not appear to do so because it's getting dividends in keeping the society polarised. No outsider could interfere because the then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh, did little to follow the Supreme Court's judgment, which said that the status quo should be maintained.
By "Hinduising" a secular society, the integrity of the country is in danger. Religion can never integrate a nation as the example of Bangladesh cutting itself asunder from Pakistan shows. The attempt to impose Urdu forced the same Muslim East Pakistan to become independent, sovereign republic of Bangladesh.
India has stayed as one country because the various cultural entities have not been disturbed. True, the Hindus are 80 percent of the population. But the minority, the Muslims, have not been threatened except by a lunatic fringe.
If the RSS is really interested in Hindutva, it should be agitating for the rights of dalits who, despite discrimination have remained in the fold of Hinduism. True, some have sought freedom through conversions to other religions. But they have only adversely affected the Muslim and Christian societies. The converts from among the dalits face more or less the same discrimination in the religious society they join.
The RSS chief, claiming to be championing the cause of Hindus, did not react to the recent burning of a dalit because his goat strayed into the land of an upper caste member. Now that Modi has caught the imagination of the country, he should help the dalits and ask the upper castes to give up discrimination against them.
I have not seen even a mild criticism by Modi or his ardent followers, who claim that they would build a future India which will know of no discrepancy. At least the burning of dalits, if not the daily prejudice, should have been covered by the widely-watched Doordarshan network. But it seems that the government itself doesn't want to raise the pitch on this issue because it is dominated by the upper castes. Even otherwise, there seems to be an unwritten law which dictates that such stories should not be printed. Surely, this does not constitute the freedom of the press.
Consequently, the institutions in the country are languishing. Had the media, an important institution, been free from pressure, the RSS would not have dared to challenge the basic structure of the constitution, which includes secularism. The RSS chief should realise that the core of Hinduism is a sense of accommodation and spirit of tolerance, not the division of the society.
The spread of the BJP is a point of concern because it ignores the aspirations of Muslims. Modi's slogan of development has gone down well because it gives the hope of reducing, if not ousting, poverty. He has done well not to deviate from that path. Unfortunately, his regular contacts with the RSS and that of his Man Friday Amit Shah, effaces even the wishful thinking that Modi would build the society without any prejudice or bias.
Things would have been different if the demand by some liberal BJP men to severe all connections with the RSS had been implemented. This possibility was on the anvil when the Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan was able to convince the top Jan Sangh leaders to dissolve the outfit and join the Janata Party. However, the old Jan Sangh members stayed constantly in touch with the RSS and this negated the very purpose.
Not long ago, the liberal Atal Behari Vajpayee tried his best to terminate the relationship between the RSS and the Jan Sangh. He, however, succeeded only on paper. He could not dilute the loyalty of the old members. L K Advani too was the one who had founded the BJP. He thought that the old Jan Sangh members were not trusted any longer in the Janata Party. He was successful in building the party because the Gandhian Jaya Prakash Narayan had given credibility to the Jan Sangh members when he brought them into the Janata fold. Obviously, he did not succeed in his mission. But the situation today is worse. The Congress is no more relevant and there is no other opposition in the horizon.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar can stop the BJP onslaught if he brings all the non-BJP parties on one platform to fight against the BJP. Even this combination would be late if it is not brought into being immediately. The soft Hindutava which has spread in the country will thicken and push the idea of India—secular and democratic—to the background. This is a harrowing prospect.
Kuldip Nayar is an eminent Indian columnist.