The Last Nail
By John Dayal
There is, in a way, poetic revenge in the Bharatiya Janata Party, the political wing of the Hindu nationalism crusader Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, choosing Mr. Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu as its candidate to succeed career diplomat, M. Hamid Ansari, as Vice President of India, and therefore, Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament. It was loyal RSS worker Mr. Naidu’s destiny to defeat Gopal Gandhi, diplomat, writer, and humanist, and a grandson of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma. This a mere sixty-seven years after a Hindutva fanatic, Godse, fired three bullets to fell Gandhi, holding him guilty of helping create an India which was secular, and not the Hindu Rashtra some had led themselves to expect after a Muslim homeland was carved out and named Pakistan.
The dream did not die. It lived on. The RSS, banned for a short while in the wake of the assassination of Gandhi, has grown, and as it approaches its own centennial, on September 27, 2025, it can justly claim it has a presence in every block of every district in the country, barring perhaps the valley of Kashmir, which has its own religious gun-toting groups. In many areas, the Sangh has the brick and mortar welfare projects, schools, dispensaries, shelters to replicate and improve upon those provided by the government, which were once such a hallmark of Christian work in the country. In many ways, it is the country’s largest non-governmental provider of education at the village level through its Ekal Schools and Siksha Bharatis, manned by dedicated and well trained cadres.
By 2014, when its cadres propelled Narendra Modi to the prime minister’s chair, the Sangh had 40,000 shakhas, or branches. As of 2016, Delhi had 1,898 shakhas, with more than 8,000 shakhas in UP, 5,000 in Kerala, 4,000 in Maharashtra, and around 1,000 in Gujarat. In northeast India, there are more than 1,000 shakhas, including 903 in Assam, 107 in Manipur, 36 in Arunachal, and 4 in Nagaland, 900 in Sikh dominated Punjab, 1,421 in Bihar 4,870 in Rajasthan 1,252 in Uttarakhand, 1,492 in Bengal, 130 in Tripura, 46 in Meghalaya, and close to 500 in the region of Jammu.
The party has kept pace, growing steadily after the Rath Yatra of 1990 and the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. In 2017, it controls directly, in coalition or through friendly parties, every state, barring Kerala, Karnataka, Punjab, the tiny Pondicherry, Tripura, and West Bengal. Bengal is under threat. Karnataka, too. At its best, the Congress could not retain its freedom struggle hold over the states much beyond the life of Jawaharlal Nehru.
The growth of the RSS, and the BJP that rides in its wake as often as it facilitates the way for the Sangh with its political and administrative clout, in both the southern states and in the north east, which is ethnically very different, is itself of tectonic implications. It has radically changed the political landscape, of course, but it has also changed the Sangh strategy from a purely brahmanically inspired racist agenda to a diabolically more inclusive formula in which it creates little pockets or ideological enclaves where it dilutes its well-established rules till such time as circumstances change. Its policies against beef are given a holiday in the north east and in Goa, but not elsewhere in the country.
But this creation of enclaves where different cultures are accepted, tolerated to an extent, while the campaign to wean them and bring them into the Hindu fold continues, is a very important move by the Sangh to achieve the goal it set for itself more than 90 years ago. It then sought a Hindu Rashtra, perhaps even a Vrihata or greater India that extended from the Kushan Empire’s limits in Afghanistan down to Burma which the British annexed to India. This was the land of the Hindus as celebrated in the holy texts, the folk lore, and the racial memory. There was to be purity, a seal against intellectual and blood pollution. There was to be no place for anyone else, other than as second-class residents, without the rights given to those for whom Bharata, India, was the Fatherland-Motherland, the Land of their Labour, and the land of their Gods, Pitrabhoomi, Karmabhoomi, Punyabhoomi.
Wrote the patriarch Madhavrao Sadasivrao Golwalkar in his 1938 book, We, our Nationhood Defined: “German race pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole – a good lesson for us in Hindusthan (i.e., the land of Hindus) to learn and profit by. From this standpoint sanctioned by the experience of shrewd old nations, the non-Hindu peoples in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ungratefulness towards this land and its age-old traditions, but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead; in one word, they must cease to be foreigners or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen’s rights.” “Veer” Savarkar, complicit in the Mahatma’s murder, had made it clear to the meanest intelligence what this meant. “If we Hindus grow stronger in time Moslem friends …will have to play the part of German Jews.”
This, of course, requires a junking of the Constitution, a rule book rooted in the freedom struggle in which the Sangh played no part, and a law book they had ideologically opposed but had so far been forced to accept for want of numbers in Parliament. Even after major victories under Atal Behari Vajpayee at the turn of the century, and under Narendra Modi in the campaign of hate and fire of 2014, they had been blocked, stopped in their track on most legislative innovations they wanted, including a new education policy. Vajpayee had indicated he wanted the Constitution changed, and set up a judicial commission to explore the possibility. That he failed is another story.
The BJP will be able to attain an absolute majority in the Rajya Sabha in the 2019 general elections, in which by current calculations, it is also likely to improve its already massive strength in the Lok Sabha, the operative lower house of Parliament. That means it will be constitutionally equipped to consider if it wants any change in the Statutes, or in the Republic itself. There are international precedents. France has had more than one Republic. Pakistan and Bangladesh have changed their status from democracies to theocracies, if perhaps not quite like Iran. Sri Lanka and Pakistan have alternated between presidential and prime ministerial systems, both alas making a mockery of the system of council of ministers, which ought to have been supreme.
By all accounts, it has been a remarkable journey for the Sangh, a growth that has few parallels in history. Its thesis of religious nationalism, a restoration of historical, mythological, and purely imagined glories of the Motherland-Fatherland, is not unique. Others, most notably the National Socialist Nazis of Hitler’s Germany had such dreams. And possibly the people they persecuted in a satanic way, the Jews, who fought and negotiated a homeland for themselves in Palestine, expanding it in constant military action. It had hoped that Partition of India in 1947 would automatically ensure a total transfer of populations, with just about a handful of Christians as the only remnants left of foreign rule or Abrahamic philosophic and cultural origin. The Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, even Baha’is and Parsees it had either absorbed in legal definitions, or had seen as allies and partners in the challenge to keep Islam out. The exchange of populations did not happen, and India remains the world’s third largest Muslim population country after Indonesia and Pakistan. The demographic reality has scared the Sangh, and has made it concoct a thesis of demographic threat from the Muslim population in ten, twenty or fifty years, when Hindus will become a minority faith group in their ancient, in fact only, homeland. A frightening thought, deserving of a frightfully powerful response.
That is at the root of the current crisis. The BJP and its cadres are not reconciled to the Muslim presence as equals, asserting their democratic rights, seeking political voice. Despite their public pronouncements occasionally, and by Modi during his now justly celebrated frequent travels to the United States and Western Europe, of a united people and a united constitutional guarantee of peace, justice and development, every development project has been seen by the Sangh and the party as Muslim appeasement.
The demonization of Muslims is quite a part of the defence doctrine of the Sangh, wherein the border tensions with Pakistan, the internal political turmoil in the valley of Kashmir since the early 1990s, the rise of the Islamic state in the Middle East are nearly packaged in one matrix. Civil society may be branded as anti-nationals and traitors, but everyone knows that the target is the Muslim community in the country, specially their young, who are as aspirational as any other citizen, and competing for jobs and other resources with their counterparts from other religions.
The New Education Policy that has been mooted in the past twelve months is itself a clever ploy to change not pedagogy as much as to change the content and the objective of the education system, taking it away from a pursuit of knowledge in an equal opportunity ecosphere to a hierarchically structured system where only some will be able to pursue high education and the rest will be fractionalized at various stages into vocational studies, paralleling the caste system. The pedagogy and content would restore pride in the “Golden Age” when India ruled the intellectual world and much of the military and economic arena, too. Israel’s revival of Hebrew after two millennia of neglect offers a tantalizing example for cultural revival, and its ability to subdue its Islamic neighbours a modern example from which to learn.
A new generation of politicians, bureaucrats, police, judicial officers, and teachers will grow up in this education system. As a Pakistani intellectual once told me, children who read altered history become soldiers in the war where hate and suspicion of the ‘other’ is the ammunition and a demolition of democracy is the objective.
The new policy on cattle and beef, cherry picking one sentence from the Directive Principles of the Constitution on the preservation of cattle has been twisted and targeted into a slew of regulations that range from a strict ban on the killing of cows and the trade in beef in almost all parts of the country, barring tiny enclaves in Goa and the North east. If ever there was a doubt, the laws banning trade in cattle for slaughter, and the inclusion of camels in the definition of cattle, makes it clear that it is directed against Muslims. Like Christians, Dalits, and Tribals, who consume beef or trade in the byproducts derived from the dead cow – skin, tallow, bones, sinew, and horn – will be hit hard by the move. A perhaps unintentional result is the aggravation of the rural economy where the farmer depends on a constant refreshing of his livestock – selling the old for slaughter and buying young heifers for milk and bullocks for farming. Sales banned, the cows are being abandoned. The state has had to step in, spending precious national resources on the religious duty of keeping old cattle till they die a natural death. The cattle, however, seem to be dying more of starvation and disease in these government and private havens.
The most brutal manifestation of the new cow laws is the sharp increase in lynching by gangs of Gau rakshaks, or cow protectors who roam the countryside scanning the highways for traders transporting cattle across district and state lines. The protection racket often draws blood, when Muslim or Dalit youth are lynched if they protest, or fail to pay the protection money. With an estimated 50 lynching incidents in 2016-17, it has generated a wave of nausea in the small civil society. The #NotInMyName campaign, which saw about two dozen protests in major cities in India and even in London and the US, was an important, though feeble, indication of a resistance to the Sangh.
There has been no response yet from the United Nations Human rights mechanism, or the international capitals where heads of state so warmly welcome Narendra Modi as an ally in the war against the Islamic State, and more importantly, as an important customer of their war machines.
The international media has noticed the lynching incidents. The New York Times, in an editorial in July 2017, said: “Narendra Modi’s landslide victory as prime minister of India in 2014 was borne on his promises to unleash his country’s economic potential and build a bright future while he played down the Hindu nationalist roots of his Bharatiya Janata Party. But, under Mr. Modi’s leadership, growth has slowed, jobs have not materialized, and what has actually been unleashed is virulent intolerance that threatens the foundation of the secular nation envisioned by its founders.”
New Leader in an article in a special edition had noted that the failure of the development promise would make the Sangh and the Government work to divert attention through communalism and rhetoric of war, which is now apparent.
The top three democratic positions in the land – President, Vice President, and Prime Minister – are manned by men [Ram Kovind, Venkaiah Naidu, Narendra Modi], who have spent all their adult life as foot soldiers of the Sangh. They have chosen chiefs of the armed forces who would work with them in tandem, beyond the call of duty. The media, now a big business itself, is a handmaiden as a part of the bigger corporate world. The judiciary, in its much-faulted collegium system, remains a bulwark against the early creation of a Rashtra. But as jurists know, the Supreme Court is as good as the judges who constitute its many benches. There are indications of ideological differences in the senior judiciary. Several important issues, including the Dalit-Christian one and Aadhar, have been sent to larger Constitutional benches of five, seven, and more judges. The rulings can have an impact on millions of people, some on each one of us in our personal rights, including the right to life, freedom of faith and expression, and the right to privacy.
Narendra Modi feels empowered and now has the support system in place. The election of his men as President and Vice President may well be the last nails in the series of planks that have gone into making the structure of the Rashtra of their dreams.
John Dayal, 70, is a former newspaper editor, political columnist, occasional documentary film-maker, and civil society activist. He has been Member of the National Integration Council, and Monitoring Committee for Minority Education. He can be contacted at email@example.com and www.johndayal.com
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