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Majoritarianism As Nationalism

Majoritarianism As Nationalism

The BJP may or may not win the Gujarat elections now underway. A defeat in the state when the national elections are just two years away will be disastrous for the ruling party. Ideally, the state should have gone to the polls along with Himachal Pradesh, where the voters have to wait for a whole month to know the results of their electoral exercise.

The reason why elections in Gujarat were delayed was not far to seek. The ruling party wanted to make some pre-poll announcements to influence the voters. For the first time, a Prime Minister inaugurated a boat service in the state claiming that it was unique, little knowing that for millennia people have been using boats to cross even the seas. India has a maritime tradition that goes back to thousands of years in history.

When it was pointed out that a similar service in Kerala was inaugurated by a city Mayor, it punctured the big balloon that the BJP had blown up to showcase its “achievement”. Had the Election Commission showed the kind of courage it demonstrated in the past when Modi berated its then chief JM Lyngdoh, both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat would have gone to polls together and new governments would have been in power by now.

A case in the Administrative Tribunal in Guwahati filed by IPS officer Satish Chandra Verma was revelatory. He contested the Gujarat government’s order which asked him to vacate his government accommodation immediately upon his transfer from Gujarat to Meghalaya. Incidentally, he was part of the special investigation team (SIT) that probed the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter which led eventually to the charge-sheeting of several Gujarat police officers. 

He contested the order on the ground that Chief Election Commissioner Achal Kumar Joti had not vacated his government accommodation in the state even after he was appointed first as an election commissioner in 2015. Worse, he sought a favor from the Gujarat government to retain the house. The question that arose was how a CEC could be impartial when he sought and enjoyed undue favors. He should have remembered the dictum that Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion.

The same CEC showed alacrity in taking cognizance of a letter Archbishop of Gandhinagar Thomas Ignatius Macwan had written to fellow bishops about the Gujarat elections. It was a private letter addressed to “Your Eminences, Graces and Lordships”. 

However, it was maliciously and vicariously projected as a direct intervention in the elections by some sections of the BJP, particularly after a television channel, which considers shouting as a virtue, played it up forgetting other subjects of vital concern for the nation.

Nowhere in the letter did the bishop mention any political party by name. Nor did he ask the faithful to vote for or against any political party or candidate. Of course, it asked for prayer so that persons who are “humane” and “remain faithful to the Indian Constitution” are elected.

In other words, the essence of the letter was that it upheld the Constitution. Why should anyone take objection to the letter? The Christians in Gujarat constitute only 0.52 per cent of the total population and are electorally negligible. The Archbishop could not have influenced the elections in any way. Yet, a hue and cry was made over the letter. What they objected to was the reference to “nationalist forces” which they saw as a euphemism for the BJP.

This is what the Archbishop wrote: “The results of this election are significant and they will have their repercussion and reverberation throughout our beloved nation. They will influence the course of our country. We are aware that the secular and democratic fabric of our country is at stake.

“Human rights are being violated. The constitutional rights are being trampled. Not a single day goes without an attack on our churches, faithful or institutions. There is a growing sense of insecurity among the minorities, OBCs, BCs, poor and so on. Nationalist forces are on the verge of taking over the country. The election results of Gujarat State Assembly can make a difference”.

That raises the issue of nationalism. There have always been two types of nationalism, promoted and projected in the country. There was the nationalism that Mahatma Gandhi sought to foster in which every Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi, Upper Caste and Lower Caste, Harijan and Adivasi was an equal partner.

Guruji Golwalkar, who headed the RSS for a long time after the death of its founder Dr Hedgewar, promoted nationalism of a different kind. He maintained that Muslims and Christians must “either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture…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”.

Golwalkar and, earlier, VD Savarkar, who first conceptualised Hindutva modeled their nationalism after European nationalism, as promoted by Adolf Hitler and Mussolini. For the first time those who subscribe to the Golwalkar theory of nationalism have come to power at the Centre on its own steam. It is a different matter that they came to power promising jobs and ending corruption.

Recently I heard a senior RSS leader Premji asserting at a public meeting that by the year 2025, which would mark the centenary of the founding of the RSS, not a single cow would be killed in the whole nation. He also said that by then India would be declared as the world’s “guru”, whatever it meant. He did not say that by 2025, there would no unemployment, no farmer would commit suicide and infant mortality and mother’s mortality rates would fall lower than the rates in Scandinavian countries and every Indian would be able to read and write. In his perception, cow was more important than human beings.

I saw the Delhi state BJP chief virtually touching Premji’s feet. I noticed that he was unassuming and was a model of simplicity and rectitude. But what worried me was his worldview under which cow worship mattered more than anything else. I do not believe that everyone who voted for the BJP subscribes to the view Golwalkar promoted. Someone had jokingly said that the BJP is a party of moderates. AB Vajpayee is a moderate compared to LK Advani, who is a moderate compared to Yogi Adityanath, who is a moderate compared to Vinay Katiyar, who is a moderate compared to Sasikala Teacher, who is a moderate compared to Dr Pravin Togadia.

Take a list of the BJP leaders. A majority of them had defected to the party. Take the case of MJ Akbar and KJ Alphons, who are the minority faces of the BJP and are Union ministers. Akbar had fought and won an election on the Congress ticket from a Muslim-majority district in Bihar during Rajiv Gandhi’s time. Alphons was once elected to the Kerala Assembly with the support of the Marxists. Both of them are not worthy of even “citizen’s rights”, if they have not wholly subordinated themselves to the Hindu nation, to quote Golwalkar.

In the last elections, the BJP did not get even one-third of the votes. It is a different matter that it commands a huge majority in the Lower House of Parliament. That is because of the quirkiness of the first-past-the-post election system that is followed in the country. Even in the BJP, there is a large section which is critical of those who take the law into their own hands in the name of love jihad and cow protection.

They would like the party and the government to concentrate on development, ending poverty and corruption and promoting education, science and technology. In short, the BJP is not a monolithic party as some seem to believe. It is a different matter that there are few like Yeshwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha who are ready to question the leadership for its foolish and thoughtless decisions like demonetization. Since the last election was fought and won by Modi, they are scared of criticizing him in public. Hence there is the silence of the lambs in the BJP.

For the likes of Premji, the ultimate taste of power is when the die-hard Hindutvavadis are able to control power at the Centre and in the states. They never believed in the Constitution as drafted by the Constituent Assembly and the national flag. They never considered Mahatma Gandhi as the father of the nation. They never considered Rabindranath Tagore’s composition worthy of the status of the national anthem. They always wanted the full version of Vande Mataram as the national anthem.

They did not believe in the bicameral legislative system. In their own organization, they did not follow the democratic system of election to choose the RSS Sarsanghchalak. The system is for the top man to write the name of his successor and seal it in an envelope to be opened after his death. The person that bears the name succeeds him.

The RSS did not have a Constituion. It was when Sardar Patel forced them to have a constitution in the wake of the ban on the organization following Gandhi’s assassination that a constitution was hastily drafted. Modi has been forcing Paytm and similar systems down the throats of the people but he has not asked the RSS to subject its accounts to public audit. It still follows the gurudakshina system for collection of money on the Vijay Dashmi Day. There is no transparency as to who contributed what to the RSS coffers. The RSS always stood for a theocratic state. Let there be no mistake, they want India to be declared a Hindu nation.

In the past, a National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC), also known as the Justice Manepalli Narayana Rao Venkatachaliah Commission, was appointed without much success. The hardliners in the BJP think that once the party is able to get a clear two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament, they would be able to declare Hinduism as the state religion.

It is not a fear that the minorities alone nurse. A large section of the Hindus, who have always voted against the divisive nature of politics that the BJP has been espousing, are afraid of the so-called nationalists taking over the country. A large section of Dalits are also scared of such a possibility. In short, a majority of the people fear the possibility of those who subscribe to the Golwalkar theory of nationalism controlling the nation.

If Archbishop Macwan, too, nurses such a fear, what is wrong in it? True, he has written about the growing cult of intolerance in the country. Minister Alphons has claimed that not a single Christian was attacked during the Modi regime. Had he spoken to the bishop, he would certainly have elaborated on his contention. 

If he is ready to travel with a friend of mine to the interiors of Chhattisgarh, he will show him case after case of harassment of Christian pastors and priests. He will also show him in other parts of the country where churches — not necessarily those with bell towers and spears piercing the sky — had been flattened like the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. There are documented cases of harassment of minorities, especially Christians, and they can be brought to his notice. To deny them is to turn a blind eye to realities.

The BJP is a political party like the Congress and the BSP. It has contested elections and has come to power. Nobody is afraid of it because it has to swear its allegiance to the Constitution. But when a section within the BJP, which does not believe in democracy but uses it to achieve its Hindutva agenda, appears to be nearing its goal, it will certainly alarm all those who believe that this country belongs as much to the Hindu as to the smallest, microscopic minority of Parsis, not to mention Muslims and Christians.

All that the Archbishop did was to exhort his people to pray so that “humane leaders” are chosen. Are there no BJP candidates in Gujarat who are “humane” and wedded to the ideals of the Constitution? If there are, the Archbishop’s prayer was for them also. Why then make a mountain out of a molehill of the letter?

The BJP leaders seem to believe that they can win the elections only by espousing religious causes. That is why they claimed that Rahul Gandhi had written that he was a "non-Hindu" while entering the Somnath temple. Does the religious belief of a person matter much, particularly when Hinduism allows atheism as a doctrine of faith. Whoever tried to manipulate the entries in the temple register to defame Gandhi and Ahmed Patel did not know that Rahul Gandhi would never write his name as “Rahul Gandhiji” and Ahmed Patel would never make the mistake of mis-spelling his name!

But, then, what better can be expected when the Prime Minister started his campaign spreading a falsehood. He accused then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of visiting Morbi with her nose covered with a handkerchief. What he did not tell the crowd was that she was there in the wake of a dam-burst that killed thousands of people. 

The  India Today magazine which carried her picture had also reported, "Bloated animal carcasses and dismembered remains of human bodies were being flung on to trucks like logs to be stacked in burning pyres beyond the Harijan bustees… the city was still, engulfed by the stench of putrefying flesh”. 

Forget Morbi, in New Delhi, where Narendra Modi lives when he is not traveling, people are forced to wear masks to protect themselves from pollution. Unlike most mask-wearers, Archbishop Thomas Macwan expressed himself clearly and forthrightly. He is not the only one scared of the Trishul-wielding, minority-bashing Hindutvavadis taking over the country. 

In fact, a large majority of the Indian people are afraid of such an eventuality. If prayers can stop them from enacting their  tandav nritya, they all will be supplicants with prayers on their lips. Let it be clear, the power of prayer is the power of God!

(Published on 04th December 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 49)