India has a rich cultural and historical heritage, and this plank is often a refuge for both the scandalous and the sacred. The Hindu Right appropriates the ‘symbols’ of our Hindu heritage to form the canvas for its political picture. It is not a lone example in the world. Embedding religious symbols in the political narrative has been seen to be used often to heckle emotions in the political discourse. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has used the idea of a Political Islam since its inception in 1928 to further its ideology of reinstating the Caliphate. This had ceased to exist with the fall of the Ottoman Empire as the First World War came to an end. The Muslim Brotherhood finally came to power in 2012 in a democratic election after the Arab Spring currents swept the Middle East.
One of the original proponents of a religious-ethnicity based political franchises is the the United Malay’s National Organization (UMNO). UMNO managed to create a non alcoholic mocktail (pun intended) of race and religion to fuel its political ambitions since ‘Merdeka Day’ on 30th May 1957. This was partly a reaction to the racial riots of 1969, which deepened the roots of the biased Bumiputera policy. This is still being pursued at the cost of alienating an overwhelming majority of non Malay ethnicities from the economic mainstream, apart from a few Nanyang Chinese Business Families. Moving barat or westwards in Bahasa Melayu, our discussion steers back to the Indian context, the focus of this post. .
The Author of this article believes in the Idea of an Inclusive and Plural India. But the ‘Secular Fundamentalism’ of Ataturk’s Turkey or Manishanker Aiyer’s 2004 ideological diatribe ‘The Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist’ is certainly playing with fire. It may be scripture for staunch secularists, but it is flawed in its fundamental argument, as it calls for the complete censure of the majority (religious or ethnic) and its fundamental concerns in the poitical discourse of the nation, which leads to dangerous consequences. The genesis of success of the political right is more serendipitous than calculated as my case is expatiated in the following paragraph. History is witness to momentous events and economic depressions that have often been the seed germinating the political right, propelling them into the corridors of power. A Tahrir Square was catalytic for the Brotherhood in Cairo, as was the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement in the 1980’s, both of which transformed a fringe force to a potent political movement with a majoritarian domestic view.
The presence of a right wing dispensation also brings in many positives. The deeply entrenched sense of a cultural history drives the movement to work towards a ‘national’ cause, often reflected in times of cross-territorial conflict. This understanding of a belonging to a culture is often amiss in the left leaning liberal, for whom a foreigner Marx is dearer and more conceptually correct than a nationalist icon such as Swami Vivekananda. His call for the resurrection of the ‘Hindu Identity’ as a reformer and nationalist made him one of the earliest Hindu icons who inspired millions of ‘suppressed’, ‘culturally wounded’ Indians to look beyond drudgery and self pity, and reclaim their glorious identity of the ancient past. A recent trip to Vadodara was quite revealing, with banners of Swamiji at every corner, creating a sense of pride in the Hindus, who saw in the appropriation of an Icon attempts to evoke pride in our culture. I also passed through Naroda Patiya on my way to Amdavad Airport, where the one of the most gruesome episodes of the 2002 violence occurred. A decade has passed, and the recent Gujarat mandate clearly showed thatthe populace of a State preferred the Hindu Right. That this choice has remained constant for most part of the past quarter of a century is something which our media fails to grasp. Justice and Reconciliation takes time, as the South African episode has shown, and we cannot afford to mortgage our future for the sake of our past.
It is within this socio-cultural context that the right wing political groupings often are able to push forward economic reforms. For them, it fits perfectly into the picture of reclaiming the glory of the ancient past of the nation, under the auspices of the ‘spiritual and cultural’ guidance of the times of yore. A perfect example of this has been the tenure of NDA between 1998 and 2004. The NDA regime had a terrific track record on Infrastructure, whether bit is the Golden Quadrilateral Project or opening up the Telecom Sector, these are the foundational elements of our economic growth. The disinvestment agenda under the NDA regime was aggressive and economy was certainly on a growth trajectory during Atalji’s era. On the National Security agenda, any border deal which is sealed by a Right Wing dispensation will be far more acceptable by the majority community in opposition to a sell-out to the enemy as a hypothetical Bangladesh Nationalist Party Government deal with the Indian Government on the Teesta river sharing accord, albeit highly unlikely.
The Hindu Right has been absent from the seat of power at the Federal level since a decade, although it has been in control of major states such as Madhya Pradesh , Chattisgarh and Karnataka with relative success. Governance has been a trump card in the arsenal of the Right. Congress’s trump card of an Inclusive governance platform has fallen much short of the initial euphoria of its overvelming mandate in 2009. The dynastic politics of the Congress does not buy any favors from the electorate any more given the demographic transitions in the nation. The constellation of leadership alternatives offered by the BJP and the NDA is a strength that can be leveraged thirteen months from now.
Thus, secularism as an ideology is spent force as far as the 2014 polls or even earlier is concerned, as it is equated with crony capitalism, corruption and casteism. Liberalism as a political project has to grow muscles of economic rationale to attract a rapidly urbanizing electorate. And conversely The Hindu Right has to tone down the volume of marginalization of the religious minorities. The Modi-esque Hindutva + Development model for the nation, perhaps?
Special Thanks for inputs to Mr. Rohit Pathania