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Democracy Or Theocracy

Democracy Or Theocracy

It may come as a shock to many to be told that India is well advanced on the way to becoming a Theocracy, leaving behind the greatly esteemed democratic traditions of intelligent discussions and collective search for the common good. “Democratic values” that had been already weakened by our inclination to hero-worship (of regional heroes like Bal Thackeray and Jayalalitha, supermen and film-stars) are weakening further with the new turn in politics. Our inborn ‘democratic instincts’ stand in danger of gradually vanishing from the political ethos of Indian society, giving way to medieval ideals and a feudal power-structure.  The proximate elections will decide whether this trend will become irreversible, or India will continue to remain the India of the Constitution-makers. Forms of course will survive: lifeless structures of democracy, sham representatives of constituencies, elections that function like ‘fixed matches.’

A New Avatar: Yogi

The main weakness that Francis Fukuyama saw in India was corruption. He was writing, of course, before the rise of Saffron Sovereignty. He little thought that India would opt overnight for obscurantist medievalism and a blind surrender to clerical leadership. This new trend has gathered strength with the choice of Mahant Adityanath Yogi of Gorakhnath temple as the Chief Minister of UP. His supporters feel that he is the man to shape the future of India. In Indian popular belief a new Incarnation takes place every time the ‘social order’ is upset and a new Avatar comes to restore the Dharmic order. This time, Yogi.

Yogiji came to power with the conviction that minorities were being appeased and that they ought to be taught a lesson; that dalits were growing pretentious and needed to be put in their own place. That is exactly what Yogi did, just as Modi had done earlier in Gujarat. If any Muslim challenged Yogi, cow-defence forces would go into action. With him in power, ‘minority-appeasement’ turned ‘minority-bashing.’  If any dalit dared to lift his voice, a series of cases would be filed against him till he grew silent. After every communal clash, the victims would be pursued by the police and put in jail. Every riot turned out to be an anti-minority jihad with the collusion of the Administration. Yogi’s supporters would cry, “if you wish to live in UP you must chant the name of Yogi and shout Jai Shri Ram.” Here you have the Avatar in action, Theocracy imposed in the streets.

Yogi’s concern, after he took over leadership was not people’s problems: under-weight children, infant deaths, filth accumulation (beginning from the temples), water shortage, farmers’ suicide, railway accidents, fall in educational standards. His mission is more spiritual: to glorify Gita, to teach Ramayana, impose yoga, Sanskrit, Ayurveda; to ban beef-eating, prevent love jihad, avoid the use of Urdu, rename roads, downgrade the Mughals, propagate Vandemataram.

Warriors for Community Honour

Yogi organized a team of unemployed youth to serve as vigilantes in the defence of cows and of “community honour.” The vague definition given to the defence of ‘community honour’ authorizes them to be irresponsible intruders into every situation: to act as anti-Romeo squads, cow protectors, conversion-preventers, patriotism-imposers, ransackers of business houses and theatres. A culture of witch-hunting and moral policing has been made acceptable. How far do these Hindutva brigades differ from the Taliban or ISIS?  People have called this form of religiosity “violent piety.”  Thus, Theocracy is imposed.

In fact, religion-based threats are not empty words in today’s India. They are effectively carried out as in keeping with a Theocratic State. The other day the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat claimed to be heading an army far more disciplined than the Indian army. There is no denying that. They command the streets, they carry out orders. Things are done in such a manner that the ‘brains’ behind events remain untraceable. Political opponents are wiped out and critics are silenced for all time (Gauri Lankesh, Ranjan Raideo, MM Kalburgi, Jagendra Singh, Govind Pansare). Pol Pot had exterminated all intellectuals in Cambodia whom he dubbed ‘bourgeois exploiters,’ so much so that a post-Revolutionary Cambodia experienced a great shortage of talent to re-organize their state. Similarly, it would seem, India will soon run terribly short of independent thinkers.

A Theocracy has many faces. Other religions must be controlled. Yogiji has put madrasas under scan (photographs, videofootings). One wonders why he does not put mandirs, ashrams and RSS shakhas under scan. After all, today’s Bajrang Dals are wielding swords and guns On the 25th anniversary of the Babri Masjid destruction two lakh Bajrang Dals became “Dharam Yodhas” (religious warriors) in UP by being given a trishul diksha. Their mission is to defend temples, cows, prevent love Jihad,  and fight for Hindu interests. Anything can be done under this programme of action.

In a majoritarian social order, the majority community can never be wrong. Pogroms in their cause is always legitimate. The members of their community are “more equal” than others. In “majoritarian discourse” Muslims and Dalits are stereotyped.  It is forgotten that it was a Chandala (a Dalit) who taught Adi Shankara that all beings in the world are one and the same.  Every discontent of the weaker society is addressed by the police in a ‘fake encounter.’  Over 900 encounters have taken place since Yogiji has come to power, with over three dozens killed.

India Occupies the 42nd Position in Democratic Index

No wonder, India has sunk to the 42nd place in Democratic Index. This evaluation points to the “rise of conservative religious ideologies” and increase in vigilantism and violence against minorities and dissenting voices. Last year India was at the 32nd position. There has been a further fall.

UP itself has fallen to the lowest position for health according to the Health Index of Niti Aayog, while Yogiji goes round giving health tips to voters in Kerala, Karnataka and Tripura. He is blissfully unaware that he heads the biggest “BIMARU” state and has to take major responsibility if India falls far behind other nations in ‘human development.’ His state acts as a drag on the entire country in economic growth, social harmony, education and health facilities, and women’s empowerment.

All that Counts Today: Hindutva Loyalty

Then, how does it happen that Yogiji rides high in the political field in spite of low performance in human growth and social wellbeing? Such questions are not even asked in a Theocracy. All that counts is absolute loyalty to Hinduva causes. The other day, the name of Rajashekarananda of Vajradehi Mutt in Mangalore was proposed for a top political position in Karnataka. The BJP argument in his favour was that he supports Bajrang Dal, cow-vigilantism, Sri Ram Sene, and Ghar Wapsi. His incompetence in other fields was not an issue for them. 

The ‘Gujarat model’ of “for Hindus-Only” is catching up. For Amit Shah, anyone who is not vocal in being a Hindu is anti-Hindu. The Union Minister Anantkumar Hegde insists that one should identify oneself by religion. “What is your ancestry?” he asks, “Have you no parentage?” In context it amounts to saying, ‘admit that you are a Hindu; if not, accept your inferior position.’ Even Rahul had to admit under pressure that his family were Shiva bhaktas in order to be accepted, even just tolerated. He had to make sure that he visited temples during the Gujarat and Karnataka campaigns. Presenting himself as an Indian citizen was not enough. People are vying with each other trying to present their Hindutva credentials to be recognized as someone who belongs, someone who counts. Shashi Taroor has presented himself recently as a Ganesh devotee.

Others say the same thing in symbols. Foreign visitors are taken to temples first.  University events begin with a sacred invocation. Modi joins ‘yoga programmes’ in Lucknow, releases ‘Rama stamps’ in Varanasi. Yogi launches his election campaign in Tripura with a Puja. No one questions why the representatives of a secular state act like functionaries in a Theocracy.

The competition sharpens. The Taj Mahotsav this year will begin with a dance drama on Rama. Even the Judiciary falls in line in many places: the Madras court decides to impose Vande Mataram. The freedom to differ seems to be vanishing.  No wonder, people feel that they are under an “Undeclared Emergency,” worse than that of Indira Gandhi.

Individuals eager for self-promotion are hastening to establish their zeal for Hindutva goals and ideals. Gyan Dev Ahuja, a Rajasthan MLA threatens to kill all cow smugglers. Baba Ramdev swears, “If the country didn’t have laws, I would have beheaded them (Muslims who would not repeat ‘Bharata Mata ki Jai’”).  That statement alone should have landed him in jail…but not in Modi’s India. Surya Kumar Shukla, an IPS Officer in UP, takes an oath along with others to build a Ram temple as soon as possible. Ramesh Saxena former BJP MlLA asks farmers to recite the ‘Hanuman chalisa’ to protect crops from natural calamities. Balkrishna Patidar the Minister of state for agriculture says that it will boost the “inner strength” of the farmers. A BJP MP in Punjab Avinash Rai Khanna organizes the wedding feast for his son in a cow-shelter at Kandhi, and begins the event with cow worship.

From Majoritarian Discourse to New Constitution

Even common parlance is in transformation. A ‘majoritarian discourse’ is displacing the respectful diversity discourse that was typical of India. A Class VI textbook shows a mosque as the cause of noise pollution. In debates, the references are no more to the Constitution, Indian Penal Code, or classical texts, it is rather to the Vedas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Gita and others. The former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi expresses displeasure that the Judiciary has gone beyond the “Lakshman rekha” during the last three decades. The conduct and remarks of Arjuna, Abhimanyu, Yudhishthira, Karna, and Lakshmana are the measuring rods of ethical behavior. Discussions in parliament have moved from political logic to scriptural fidelity.

What is unthinkable in a secular polity is that “guru-power over politics” has become institutionalized in exchange for patronage. Spiritual cronyism replaces business cronyism. Political parties even outsource vote base to cult leaders , who consequently become kingmakers, and remain above the law. We have suffered in consequence in Haryana of late (Ram Rahim). But what is most worrying is the fact that our Constitution is under threat.  Hindutva ideologues want a New Constitution with one language, one culture, one religion, and one Hindu rashtra ideology!!

From Soft Hindutva to Hard Hindutva

The mistake is to think that we have come to this point unexpectedly overnight. We forget the long road we trod and the struggles we had with “Soft Hindutva” and “Freedom of Religion Bills;” burning of Bibles and destruction of churches; cow-related lynchings and violence to Muslim places of worship; the closing of foreign contribution accounts and visa-refusals to religious dignitaries…stretching over decades. Whenever a complaint is taken to Amit Shah he is quick in claiming that these things happened “also” in the time of Congress. It is difficult to argue that he is wrong.

If the “Soft Hinudtva” advocates do not examine their consciences to see how they lost the confidence of the people, group by group, region by region, they are fighting a losing battle. Do they believe in Genuine Democracy, or in a “Majority-Appeasement Democracy?” Are they willing to work for the “restoration of a culture” that will live by the true values of democracy? Or are they too getting ready to accept a mild form of Theocracy?

Some would even contend that “Soft Hindutva” was not always so soft, that a good proportion of the bureaucrats then as now believed in a form of Hindutva that was ‘less than soft,’ that within the ranks of all Indian parties there is a proportion who believe in Hindutva of various degrees of ‘hardness’ and who will not yield an inch of the privileged position of the higher castes… that, in fact, ‘Soft Hindutva’ prepared the ground for ‘Hard Hindutva.”

It is they who insist that what used to happen before the BJP took over was not a case of ‘minority appeasement,’  but ‘Majority-Appeasement’… e. g. bending to the point of servility to the Majority Community’s whims  during the elections. The BJP is imitating them in a self-demeaning manner in Meghalaya and Nagaland offering local minorities grants for renovating churches and free trips to Jerusalem. These are the very forces that destroyed churches in Gujarat and Odisha and took away from Muslims assistance for pilgrimages to their holy places. What low levels of credibility they have reached! They forget that money does not remain a persuasive power for all time.

The Choice is between Indic Heritage and Majority-Worship

In any case, it is clear that hard days are ahead for the minorities. It will not anymore be a tussle between two parties, but two mentalities: those who stand by the Constitution and the ‘Indic heritage’ of open-mindedness in spirit and in practice…. and those who do not.

It is not true that minorities reject India’s proud past.  We accept with utmost enthusiasm the wise teachings of the ancients, spiritual traditions of the subcontinent, and the cultural heritage of our common civilization, if these are interpreted and used in a non-partisan way. We are proud of them. Our collective personality is built on that shared patrimony. Arnold Toynbee would describe it as the ‘Indic legacy.’

Individual communities within India are free to interpret them and practice them according to their own convictions. But if a dominant group seeks to impose its own interpretation on the others with an exclusive spirit in a manner which we call ‘Hindutva fashion,’ then, there is bound to be some trouble. That is the trouble we are facing today. A ‘culture of compulsion’ is not in the Indian tradition. Today ‘Hard Hindutva’ is hitting hard, and resistance is mounting. An insensitive form of Theocracy is coming down heavily upon India’s Secular Democracy. Will the latter survive?

It is not as though there are no solutions in view. Our Constitution is our reference, the spirit of our Founding Fathers is our inspiration. The attitude of “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam” is our Indic heritage, to which Modiji referred while laying foundation for a temple at Abu Dhabi. This value is not an export item to be sold to West Asia, it is a treasure to be brought back home for our common sharing. May he have the ability to build it up on this side of the Arabian Sea and under shadow of the Himalayas.

The other day, Rajnath Singh, launching a Rath Yathra from India Gate, said he prayed that India would become the ‘guru of the nations.’ His election-related initiative was a power-capturing programme. But a tribal youth from Eastern India who renounced ‘power’ became truly a “guru of the nations.” His name was Gautama Buddha. Another person from the banks of the Ganges renounced ‘violence,’ and gained a similar status.

(Published on 26th February 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 09)