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A Secular Offensive?

by Mukul Dube, 5 November 2013

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To appear in Mainstream Weekly.

05 November 2013

One reality that is clear to all is that the secular forces in India do not act: we only react. The other side lights fires and we rush to douse the flames. We leave the embers glowing, which makes it easy for the next fire to be lit. Having done what we can to repair the damage caused by the fire, we retreat to our seminar rooms and our writing desks: and there we stay until the next fire forces us off our backsides. We let loose torrents of words but accomplish little or nothing.

To put it more exactly, the communalist camps are continuously active, planning and laying the ground, gathering personnel and materials: while we secularists move only sporadically and as a reaction to what the other side does. They carry out a sequence of actions that fit together into a larger scheme, while each of our actions is fresh, hurried and unrelated to the past and certainly not part of a coherent whole.

Another reality is that the Hindu Right (of which alone I speak in this piece of writing) has been in existence, in much the same form, for 88 years now. I take the birth of the RSS as the crucial point, for the RSS survives and thrives while the other groups and organisations either died or became moribund. The fact that there were precursors to the RSS — that it was born to forebears and not in a vacuum — only means that the Hindu Right has been growing and consolidating for an even longer time than I said.

That there are dozens of Parishads and Dals and Senas and Samitis and Kendras, all working towards a “Hindu Rashtra” or “Akhanda Bharat”, shows how successful the RSS has been in spreading its tentacles, in building a web which now enmeshes all areas of life in India. It has been demonstrated that, for all their nominal autonomy, these outfits cannot even dream of going against the dictates of the RSS. They are parts of the larger organism, for which the expression “Hydra-headed” is used with good reason. What appear to be disagreements among them are simply orchestrated play-acting.

Secularists have, until now, been on the defensive. How, then, do we mount a secular offensive to even the odds? That we cannot do nothing has become clear, from Gujarat 2002 and Muzaffarnagar 2013 in particular. We ignored the warning signs: so, when the explosions occurred, we needed time to find our feet and then pick ineffectually at this or that tiny part of the devastation.

More and more have been saying that silence and inaction are not an option. Badri Raina, for example, at http://www.zcommunications.org/no-time-to-turn-in-by-badri-raina.html, writes: "A seductive menace slouches towards the seat of high office, ... [The] constitution of equal parts stands to be sundered into pure and polluted, legitimate and illegitimate, marauding and the marauded, triumphalist killers and their hapless victims.... [T]here is work to do. And the best of that work must be to do the noble and democratic thing to reach fact and reason to whoever will listen."

While I agree with Dr. Raina that the solution to the many problems created by communalism is, if we are to look at the long term, the dissemination of “fact and reason”, I wonder if it is not already too late to go about our work in a civilised way.

The crucial thing to remember is that we are set against an organised and disciplined body of people, well funded, who have placed their operatives and sympathisers in key positions in every area of life. In most of the country they have the support, tacit or active, of the police and the administration. In several places they run governments, which has the advantage that they can manufacture poisons safely in their bastions and then export them as needed. Finally, as has been proved repeatedly across the land, they are armed with effective weapons of different kinds. Their weapons can do little against a military force, but when they are used against ordinary people they are lethal.

M.K. Gandhi is widely held to have used passivity, ahimsa or non-violence, to counter the armed might of the British Raj, which it ultimately defeated. I do not know if such a reliance on moral force will do any good against the Hindu Right, whose generals and foot soldiers are too far removed from morality to care. Did not one of them butcher a pregnant woman and remove the foetus from her womb to hold it up on the point of a sword?

I was part of a group of people who met on 20 October 2013 to discuss the situation and possible action. At the end of our meeting we issued an appeal which ended thus: “The gathering decided to continue the campaign of resistance to communal politics of all kinds and work together with persons, groups and organizations throughout the country who share these concerns.”

The appeal is daily being endorsed by more and more people; but it is, as many have said, a tame affair. In the circumstances, modest plans were all that we could make. All that we have is hope and idealism. Realists know that fire breathing demands a damn sight more than small fires in a few bellies, not a few of them ageing.