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India: Umbrella politics of Hindutva

by Apoorvanand, 24 April

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Aprasangik

India is changing in significant ways. Marginalisation of Muslims, the largest minority in the country has often been discussed. It is getting more and more pronounced with successive elections.

The resounding victory of the Bharatiya Janta party, the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an organization committed to turn India into a Hindu nation, in the recently concluded assembly election of Uttar Pradesh is only the latest evidence of the ascendance of this politics. But now it has taken the form of more vicious, open attacks on Muslims with rising frequency by marauding mobs formed in the name of cow protection in different parts of northern India. It has resulted in deaths of Muslims but failed to arouse disgust in the larger political class, while the general Hindu population remains in callous apathy.

Indignation over beef eating is cited as a rationale to understand the Hindu insensitivity in such cases. But Muslims being attacked while praying in Mosques or killing of an Imam in a mosque while he was sleeping also fail to move the police or the political class. Attack on Christians in the name of opposing conversion has also now stopped to make news. It is a tiny minority and shrinking in its shell.

The politics of Hindu domination over Muslims and Christians is being achieved by hegemonising all Hindu spaces cutting across languages and cultures and smothering hitherto strong regional and cultural variances. Bengalis, Malayalis, Assamese and others have their own new years with distinct names like Vishu, Bihu, Bangla Nobovarsha, etc. But for the last three years attempts are being made to gradually erase these names . Instead of mentioning these different names, people are being congratulated on the advent of the new Hindu year. Also, the traditional festivals are now being given nationalist slogans. This year Gudi Parva , the Maharashtrian festival to mark new year was militantly Hindu accompanied by slogans to make India a Hindu nation.

Each cultural region also has its own supreme God or Goddess. In Kerala it is Bali, a mythical figure who is venerated by Malayalis. But last year the BJP tried to replace him by another mythical figure Vamana, an incarnation of Vishnu who is said to have, as legend has it, cunningly dethroned Bali. It asked the Malayalis to celebrate the birth day of Vamana. This audacious move by the BJP drew angry response from the people but it remained unfazed.

Similarly this year it was observed that Ram Navami, a festival to celebrate the birth of Rama, another revered mythical figure among Hindus, was celebrated aggressively even in regions where Ram is not counted as a major figure. For example, in Bengal it is Durga the Goddess who dominates all other gods and goddesses. Ram Navami has never been a major festival in Bengal. But this year , the BJP organized and took out aggressive processions in more than twenty towns of Bengal. In the state capital Kolkata alone twenty two Ram Navami processions were organized. For the first time the Bengalis saw boys and girls brandishing swords and other traditional weapons in these processions. In Kerala too, Ram Navami celebrations were organized with zeal and fervor never seen before.

The colour of the flag of Hanuman, another popular mythical figure, himself a devotee of Ram, is red. But this year it was seen in Patna that the red of the Hanuman morphed into saffron silently. Saffron as a colour is seen as representing the pan-Hindu identity .

The BJP is also attempting to fuse Hinduism with nationalism in very creative ways. In the rainy season, devotees of Shiva carry holy waters of the Ganga as an offering to Shiva, one of most powerful Gods of Hindus. They cover the distance on foot. Last year it was seen that most of them were also carrying the Triclour, Indian national flags with them. The trucks accompanying them were draped in the tricolor. It was a clever ploy to merge nationalism with Hinduism. People did note it but there was no adverse reaction to it among the Hindus. Why a this worldly notion of nationalism was being foisted on a religious pilgrimage aimed to attain spiritual peace ?

Appropriation of national symbols and infusing in them a Hindu content has long been a strategy of the BJP and the RSS. For the last ten years or so, it started using the national flag of India as a symbol of its brand of Hindu nationalism. It has organized Tiranga yatras, Tricolour marches several times. It gives an impression of some army marching to capture an area for the nation.It also introduces an element of aggression in the nationalist discourse.

Nationalism has been a theme BJP is harping on relentlessly for quite some time. It has shifted from its platform of ‘Hindu religion in peril’ to ‘Nation in peril’. It has succeeded with the help of Hindi and language media to portray universities as places where leftists are creating and spreading anti-national ideas and conspiring to break India into pieces. Sympathy with the struggle of Kashmiri people for autonomy is being dubbed as an anti-national act. Presence of Kashmiri students in the Indian campuses is also used to spread the notion that they are using Indian tax payers’ money for anti-national ends.

The strategy of the BJP and the RSS is twofold. It is trying to hegemonise diverse,little, regional and cultural spaces and paint them with a broad Hindu brush. Slowly and gradually it is trying to gain control over institutions, religious and cultural, by putting its people there. It makes the path of Hindu nationalism smooth. It is trying to create a Hindu umbrella, which would shelter all these diverse traditions and give them a feeling of being part of a unified whole called Hinduism. It is also eyeing the tribal traditions. Its entry into their holy and cultural spaces is now conspicuous. A double seamlessness, between different cultural traditions and Hinduism and simultaneously between Hinduism and nationalism has given birth to nationalist Hinduism or Hindu nationalism. That this is being done at the cost of Muslims and Christians seems, at least at this point of time, of little concern for the large Hindu population of India.

Published earlier in ALJAZEERA, April, 2017

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