By Kshitij Dhyani:
Sixth of December was observed as a day in remembrance of the demolition of a 16th-century structure, namely Babri Masjid, in 1992 by radical Hindu Kar-Sevaks allegedly led by L.K. Advani. While the political reactions ranged from mourning by certain Muslim groups to concern over the destruction of national heritage by historians, and cognizance of the event as a national tragedy by certain liberal think tanks on one hand, members, and affiliates of the Sangh Parivar are said to have celebrated it as annual “Shaurya Divas”. There is no denying the fact that the event and resulting riots set in motion a chain of communal hatred based acts, the effects of which can still be felt in contemporary Indian politics. This extremely polarised public opinion can’t simply be understood in black and white terms as a Hindu-Muslim conflict, but a manifestation of the Sangh’s strategy of identity politics in its full glory. This complex politically motivated communal/cultural supremacist attitude quite alarmingly resonates with what certain Raj-era Muslim leaders like Jinnah expected from the Hindus of an independent India towards Muslims while propagating the two-nation theory. Hence, it is safe to say that quite ironically, despite whatever may be said in an explicit manner through the mouthpieces of the Sangh, they have done the most to prove such leaders right.
To understand the need for an attitude of nuanced thinking towards political issues, let’s take the example of the ISIL or Daesh. Currently, over 60 countries are at war in various capacities with it, and still it continues to survive, planning to expand its mission in other Asian countries as far as India and Myanmar. Every few days since its first attack, we hear of a new country joining in the war against Daesh, and we sit back hoping it to be the end of this monstrosity. But then we hear of events such as Paris attacks and are forced to question whether it is ever possible to kill this savage machine. This perhaps is the time when we should ask ourselves if there is something wrong with our approach towards fighting a war which is essentially ideological.
In my opinion, if the phenomenon of birth, spread, and functioning of Daesh is not recognized as the final failure of a simplistic and reductionist modernist thought, where machines and technology can triumph and lead human nature, then we will never be able to establish peace in the perennially war-struck Middle East. Daesh is not just a geographical-political boundary, but an ideological (with physical implications) response to ages of discourse on various issues (mostly catastrophic human rights blunders). We need to deconstruct the birth and rise of Daesh and arrive at a dense but nuanced, workable grey area, as against black and white, us vs them rhetoric of the western world towards the Middle East. Failing this, even if we eradicate its top leaders, we can expect the rise of another extremist group from, just as ISIL rose after Al Qaeda was considered to have been dealt a blow following the death of Osama Bin Laden.
To understand the need for the rejection of simplistic modernist approach for a nuanced and complex thinking, there can perhaps be no other testing ground, more complicated than the socio-political environment of India. Numerous cultural, regional, linguistic, communal, and gender-related identities crushed into the geopolitical notion of a nation and forced to share space with varying degrees of conflicts and resolutions. Where issues can never be solved but only bargained for more manageable ones, the trade off being negotiated through multiple layers of socio-economic power-relationships between various demographic groups. Thus, India’s politics is a nightmare for a unilaterally thinking modernist.
Let’s talk about the politics around the identities of things that do not exist in their physical form anymore, or are identified by their absence. Though Sangh has been repeatedly compared to the likes of ISIL and Taliban, I think these comparisons are gross exaggerations due to the incomparability of influence they command and put into operation. However, a comparison can be drawn in the cognizance taken by both groups of the contemporary world as incomplete due to the lack of dominance of their favourite ideology over its workings. Another is active participation in the construction of respective identities of a true religious warrior by both, an exploited underdog on a mission to restore the ‘lost’ glory of the historical rule they preach to be ideal.
For example, the construction of identity for a Hindu Nationalist as curated by Sangh for over a century has not only the presence of current geopolitical boundary of India at its core but also the absence of what they project as not only the ‘lost’ but also ‘snatched’. The lost civilization (Sanatan Dharma), the lost land (Akhand Bharat), the lost glory (a la- Sone ki Chidia), the lost dominance (Hindu Rashtra), the lost knowledge (Vedanta) etc. which are not lost forever, but temporarily dislocated from the accessibility zone in the mind-space of a ‘victim Hindu’, into the possession of an ‘invader Muslim’ (or often even a westerner), waiting to be restored to their original ‘rightful’ position by the dishonored Hindu underdog through reestablishment of cultural supremacy.
This sense of loss or absence and an urgent need for their revivalist restoration lies in the foundation of this identity. It is preached that there was something that we owned and that which belonged to us, in the form of heritage and property fundamental to our identity as Indians, which has been unjustly taken away from us. Thus arises, the need to enforce a blanket Hindu narrative on our history, starting from the Indus Valley Civilization, even though most of it doesn’t even lie within the current political boundary of India. For the lack of an actual Hindu dominant history, rulers like Shivaji and Ashoka from past are revised-revamped and re-appropriated through manufactured history to be presented as “Hindu Hridaya Samrats“, a title they then proceed to embellish their contemporary leaders with, evoking the promise of reestablishment of “Ram Rajya” (or a Hindu dominant society). The purpose is to manufacture the identity of a victimized Hindu, through the Indigenous Hindu vs Muslim Mughal Invader narrative, a systematic us vs them approach to “other” non-aligned.
So strong is the need to feel the aggression for re-establishment, that in the absence of pre-independence RSS leaders who dared or cared to fight against the British Raj, Sangh has now started reclaiming the freedom fighters and other leaders who were ideologically their polar opposites. The nuances of actual historical events and phenomenon are thus suppressed, lied about, or ignored, through an army of Hindutva-wadi right-wing ideologues, the likes of Dinanath Batra and P.N. Oak. Even though their research and academic accomplishments are questionable, anyone disagreeing with them is branded and subsequently rejected as a seditionist and threatened to be silenced through violence or exile to Pakistan, a lost land of the treacherous.
It is from observation in recent political events that we can say with reasonable certainty, that the feeling of loss is not easily curable, even if it is borne out of merely renaming exercises, e.g. conflict over renaming of a road in Delhi and nostalgia driven feeling of disassociation of some Mumbaikars from the current name of their beloved city of ‘Bombay‘. Sangh Parivar has quite opportunistically used this feeling of collateral loss to fuel hatred towards Islam, since during British Raj certain leaders of the community spoke for the partition while comfortably ignoring the ones who spoke against it.
This irrepressible pain of the lost land from our emotional-physical mind space is used as a perennial source of emotional political agendas. This pain is however not completely incurable, and thus, the muscle flexing Sangh oriented Indian harbors wet-dreams of a strong leader who takes an aggressively defensive and combative attitude towards border policies, perhaps often even expansive ones, especially towards Pakistan. It is thus that the position of this ‘Lauh Purush‘ or ‘Iron-Man’ is unquestionable, display of any dissent towards whom is equated with sedition.
Anger of such a historically ignorant and emotionally vulnerable average Indian Hindu is directed towards a generation of an otherness towards our own Muslim population, continuously demanding the proof of their patriotism, from standing up for National Anthem to showing support for the national cricket team.
Post 9/11, the world’s political climate started gaining an anti-Islamic orientation, and internet was saturated with this sentiment, and the youth discovering this new exciting tool for communication was suddenly exposed to it. The Sangh quite opportunistically used the phenomenon to draw its parallel with numerous external and internal conflicts, attacks, wars, and communal riots we faced in India, invoking the need in Indian Hindus to teach Muslims a lesson by copying what the USA did in Afghanistan and other Middle-Eastern Muslim majority countries. This tide of hateful attitude, otherness, and us vs them narrative towards our Muslim population, resting on a feeling of self-victimization borne out of an urgency towards the restoration of the ‘lost’, was rebranded as the ‘Modi-wave‘, mixed with a rehashed version of ‘India Shining’ as ‘Vikas-model’, and was quite predictably ridden to a landslide victory for BJP in 2014 elections.