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Bigotry Leads To Blindness

Bigotry Leads To Blindness

“Yoga is India’s gift to the world,” Narendra Modi proclaimed in Buenos Aires. He was addressing a great assembly gathered for a “Yoga for Peace” event. He is right, Yoga is a great gift. But in the mouth of Modiji “Yoga for Peace” sounds contradictory. One should not forget that India is the biggest arms importer in the world, spending over $3.6 billion a year...more than the import of China and Pakistan put together… entirely for peace!

Apart from that, what is really ironic about his enthusiasm for ‘Yoga for Peace’ is that we have never seen Modi giving a message of peace to his Bajrang Dal supporters, VHP Karyakartas, or the Dharma Yodhas (religious warriors).  Bigotry blinds people. They don’t see the inconsistencies in their conduct. For example, he has never discouraged Yogi from implanting aggressiveness in youth to defend Hindu temples and cows, and to prevent ‘love Jihad.’ That, in spite of the fact that they have developed into a consistent ‘anti-social element’ in society. Even just recently there have been cases of cow-related violence in the UP. Lives have been lost. These Yoga-promoters have not given peace to Indian society.

Such violent teams have only multiplied during Modi’s premiership: Anti-Romeo Squad, Nari Suraksha Bal, Hindu Yuva Vahini, Operation Durga, cow vigilantes, moral police, culture imposers. Has Modiji attempted to give a lesson on ‘Yoga for Peace’ to any of them before or after action?  Most knowledgeable people consider these gangs the foot soldiers of the Saffron Brigade.  Their supreme skill consists in organizing mob action where anonymity can be taken to perfection. No crime can be traced, no assassin identified. Would Modiji consider this as the most original contribution of ‘his New India’ in the cause of peace: untraceable crime?

Rudrangshu Mukherjee, in his ‘Twilight Falls on Liberalism’ (Aleph, New Delhi, 2018), compares these squadrons to the Stormtroopers of the Nazi regime and the Hitler Youth. Their language is muscle power. But not a word of rebuke is heard from Modiji (Mukherjee 115), no exhortation to “Yoga for Peace” for them. The ‘Urban Terrorists’ behind these crimes are at the helm of affairs. Possibly they think that small “doses of violence,” is in keeping with Patanjali’s principles!  There is no clear evidence, of course, that the PM gives them direct instructions for violence. But there is enough indication to show that what his supporters are trying to do is to interpret his mind and his ideological agenda, and go into action. The “velvet glove” of the Congress must become the “mailed fist” (Ibid 117) of the BJP.

Mukherjee’s studied conclusion is that “Bigotry nurtured by a political ideology has made people…blind and intolerant.”  He continues, “Murder in the name of Hindu Rashtra is fast becoming a way of life in democratic India.” The ruling party seeks to impose its views. Dissenters are declared ‘anti-national’, ‘Maoists’, ‘terrorists’, ‘perpetrators of sedition’, ‘beef eaters’ (Ibid 113).

The Truth Spills over from Unexpected Quarters

It is very curious how unperceptive speakers spill over unknown or unrecognised truths at unguarded moments.  For example, Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, claimed that he was heading an organization far superior to the Indian army, in discipline, courage and dedication. The nation stood still for a while, stunned by the assertion. Is there in India an internal legion trained for an unaccountable mission, they asked themselves. Are the many instances of violence in the country, especially communal conflicts, skillfully engineered by these invisible forces, they wondered.

As Malikarjun Kharge of the Congress asserted, the RSS is not merely a cultural and neutral organization as it claims to be, it is the mainstay of the BJP. As Rahul has repeatedly affirmed, the RSS is the invisible power running affairs in India today. Everything in the country has become RSS-dependent: from university-heads to governors, army-chiefs to media barons, men in the CBI to those in the RBI. There are many loyalists in the Congress too. Their unwritten code seems to be: ‘swear loyalty to the RSS-approved beliefs and conduct, or go to Pakistan,’ which means ‘get extinguished.’

This venerable organization serves, not only as an ideological mentor, but also as mob mobilizer, vote-catcher, communal-trouble organizer, policy-prompter, election supervisor, leadership disciplinarian and a lot more. The truth has come from the mouth of the boss himself that it is stronger than the Indian Army. What Mohan Bhagwat has suddenly brought to public consciousness is not what he intended. But he has spilt the beans: he has opened people’s eyes to certain stark realities. Literature on the RSS is beginning to fill library shelves. 

Yogi Represents the Upper Caste Convictions about Dalits and Tribals

Similarly, Yogi had said during the Karnataka election that Hanuman was from their state, and at Alwar during the Rajasthan election that he was a “forest dweller, an underprivileged and a Dalit.” Apart from the Dalit reaction that followed, here we see the upper caste conviction that the humbler communities in the North and the people of the South and Northeast belong to sub-human races, or at least are an inferior set of people.

Scholars can study ancient Indian documents beginning from the Rigveda and the epics and see how the Aryans called the indigenous people whom they conquered Dasyus, Asuras, Vanaras, Rakshasas, Kiratas, Mlecchas. Mahabali was a noble king, but he is an Asura in the Brahminic perception. Raavan is a noble-minded person in Jain records, but in Brahminic memory he belongs to a demonic race. The tragedy is that such prejudices have remained on to our own days, and have been appropriated by the oppressed classes themselves, to their own unperceived humiliation.

Yogi spoke from his personal convictions. However, his view reflects the convictions of millions of the upper castes about the humbler communities. Whether they are called Shudras, Harijans or Dalits, to Yogi’s subconscious they are Vanaras. The elite deal with them accordingly, they can eliminated without any qualms of conscience. No wonder that in UP there are 990 criminal cases against the present and former MPs and MLAs, out of the 4,122 at the national level.   Yogi eliminates them when he thinks it fit in ‘police encounters.’

Of course, there was a strong reaction to Yogiji’s remark.  Udit Raj, BJP MP, the national chairman of the All India Federation of SC and ST organizations, asked Yogi whether Dalits were really monkeys? The Agra based Dalit Utthan Sewa Samiti claimed the local Hanuman temple for themselves. In Lucknow, Dalits marched to the Hanuman temple, demanding that Dalits should be appointed priests at the Hanuman temple.  As though to calm the Dalit crowds, Nand Kumar Sai, chairman of the National commission for the SCs, said Hanuman was not a Dalit, but a Tribal, passing on the affront to someone else. There was a ‘vanar gotra’ among the tribal communities, he explained! Alas, totems have been turned into full scale personalities, degrading and humiliating tribal people! The drama does not end there. Shivpal Yadav of Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party has sought a ‘caste certificate’ for Hanuman!

Then came certain authoritative voices. Swami Swaroopananda Saraswati, the Sankaracharya of Jyotir Math and Dwararka Peeth, termed Yogi’s statement “ignorant and sinful.” Since Hanuman was an incarnation of Rudra, he said, he was a Brahmin. That again is an upper caste perception! Unmistakable! Only the upper caste can lay a claim to a divine status! However, he did not explain how a Brahmin deity came to be depicted as a simian in the Epics.

However, as people distance themselves from the BJP, they seem to be capable of taking an objective point of view. An MLA who quit the BJP admitted that “Lord Hanuman was a Dalit,” but he was made a slave by people who believed in Manu’s caste system. A dissident BJP MLA said, as a divinity, Hanuman belonged to no caste; he belonged to humanity.  Savitri Nath Phule, Bahraich MP, asked, why he was made a monkey at all? She alleged that the upper castes habitually called the lower castes Bandars and Rakshasas. She was merely stating what independent researchers had long believed to be true. But today they are afraid to say that in public under the present regime, due to the Psychological Warfare of ‘fear’ that is going on. The historian Romila Thapar used to receive any number of hate mails. Those who differ from the Hindutva interpretation of India’s past are systematically targeted.

Thus a casual remark of Yogiji has exposed the prejudices still reigning in Indian minds. An objective study of history alone can trace such prejudices to their origins and bring about a healing. That is exactly what the BJP is trying to prevent.  They are dismissing neutral scholarship from the universities and declaring foreign scholarship biased. Ashok Desai says, BJP believes that ‘indigenous ignorance’ is superior to foreign knowledge. Facts appear ‘threatening’ to the Hindutva High Command. In fact, Modiji has accused the Congress for being a University for producing Lies. Congress, of course, has returned the compliment.

Excess Political Power Blinds People

What Mukherjee is anxious about is that “Liberalism in India is vulnerable and fragile...” (Ibid 132). He does not deny the contradictions that liberalism involves. He warns us against inflated individualism on the one hand and the ‘tyranny of the majority” on the other (Ibid 11). While the sublime ideas of the ‘Enlightenment’ are to be admired, they can co-exist with racial prejudices and ethnic hatred (Ibid 131). For instance, as the Rights of Man were being declared in Paris in 1789 an indigenous revolt at San Domingue (Haiti) was being put down mercilessly, as though they had no rights (Ibid 24). While everyone believes in the power of Reason, when combined with unlimited Political Power it can go blind (Ibid 129).

Today’s power-wielders in our country accept no dissent. Dissenters, when arrested, are given no bail.  Cases are brought up against independent voices. The practice of cooking up cases against people only to serve a political purpose, e.g., to block their promotion or selection to an office, or to punish them for their criticism, does not bode well for the future of our democracy. The judiciary is not to be instrumentalized thus by the political masters.

The problem is that a public opinion is consciously being built up that India needs to be a ‘strong state’ like China, that tolerance is not a virtue, that ultra-nationalism is the only attribute that establishes your calibre, that universities should have no autonomy, that Muslims ‘should be taught a lesson.’ Such views are held by the educated elite, intellectuals’ clubs and other prominent men in society (Ibid 114). This reminds one of Friedrich Nietzsche who considered words like ‘liberal’ and ‘equal’ expressions of the ‘mediocre.’  He felt it weakened the ‘Great,’ led to normlessness and nihilism. He believed that values were to be imposed by the ‘Great and the Strong’. Only they could bring meaning to life (Ibid 39). These were the ideas that paved the way for Nazism.

About Hitler’s choice as the Chancellor of Germany, Mukherjee writes, “It is an irony that the path to an authoritarian regime was paved by electoral success” (Ibid 73). As we look forward to the elections of 2019 that is what we are worried about, wondering whether the elected leader will assume the mantle of “infallibility.” Mukherjee quotes Lev Kamenev speaking of Lenin, “I became ever more convinced that Lenin never makes a mistake. In the end, he is always right.” From 1918 Russia was ruled by decree. “Lenin’s word became law.” He became exactly like the Tsar, whom he overthrew. The Rule of Law was despised (Ibid 59). “Violence had become the watchword of the revolution.” In the name of liberty, Lenin suppressed liberties; in the name of a new state, he established absolute power (Ibid 60); as in India, in the name “Freedom of Religion,” freedom of religious choice is suppressed. In the name of the people, every irrationality and every inhumanity became legitimate to Lenin. The call of Mahant Suresh Das of Digambar Akhara  to take the Ram Temple issue to the “court of the people” sounds (and means) exactly the same.

Modiji has set the trend, though some distance remains to the goal. In three respects he is well advanced. 1) He has adopted a “personalized form of governance,” which leaves no space for “collective decision-making.” 2) “The politics of religious hatred at the street level” that is able to paralyze the normal functioning of the social order has left absolute power in the hands of people who control those wayward emotions. Dictatorship of a type already exists. 3)  “Irrationality in the intellectual space” has been deliberately promoted and has been welcomed by interested groups that seek to be associated with the powers that be.

Apart from all these power-struggle aspects, according to Mukherjee what is threatened most of all in India is a “Civilized Existence” (Ibid 117). Who indeed will save us from this monstrous threat?

(Published on 17th December 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 51)