The agenda of Hindu nationalism is to polarize the communities along religious lines and to subjugate the lower castes within its gambit.
The first major target of this politics was to demonize the Muslim kings as foreigners, aggressors, who tried to convert the non-Muslims, and due to whom the caste differences came up.
Their second obsession has been to glorify Aryans and uphold Hindu mythology as history. Lately newer forays are being made to promote Brahmanical values through their icons as well as to instil new icons to co-opt Dalits and OBCs.
One recalls that to instil Brahmanical norms BJP President Amit Shah greeted the people with a tweet on the occasion of Onam saying that this festival marks the birth of Vaman, the fifth avatar of Vishnu (September 2016). At the same time RSS mouth piece Kesari carried an article which said that there is no reference or description in mythology books which can support the story that Mahabali was pushed to the netherworld by Vamana. According to their version there is no mention of Mahabali’s annual homecoming in the Malayalam month of Chingam.
This is very much in contrast to the common understanding that Onam, a harvest festival is celebrated to mark the popular King Mahabali’s visit. Pongal has assumed a syncretic dimension in Kerala while the RSS effort is to give it an upper caste tilt by revoking Vishnu Avatar Vaman, who tried to push Mahabali into netherworld.
There is yet another dimension to the use of history in contemporary times by the RSS combine. In their newly renovated BJP office in UP there is a portrait resembling the Rajput king Maha Rana Pratap, but in reality the portrait is that of an eleventh century king Suhel Dev. Maharaja Suheldev, is a little-known king, whom both Pasi and Bhar communities own. Over a period of time how has Suhel Dev come to find a place amongst BJP icons? In Baharaich in UP Amit Shah had unveiled a statue of Suheldev and launched a book about him. He is being presented as a National hero who fought for independence. A train has also been started in his name, Suheldev Express.
To add to this UP Chief Minister Adiyanath Yogi, has announced (June 2017) that Suhel Dev’s statues will be installed in the Ambedkar Park along with existing statutes of Chatrapati Shahu, Jyotirao Phule, Ambedkar, Kanshiram and Mayawati. The park built by the Mayawati Government will now have the statues of icons of other castes as well. While Mayawati had overdone the installing of statues, still this was an attempt to give Dalit identity an honourable place in public memory. The present move comes with propagating a version of History which suits Hindu nationalism. For instance it is being propagated that Suhel Dev took on Salar Mahmood (Ghazi Miyan), a nephew of Mahmood Ghazni, who had come to the region to settle, seeing its beautiful environment.
As per Prof Badri Narayan (Fascinating Hindutva, Sage) the popular narrative is that Suhel Dev, was tyrannical against Muslims and Dalits. On insistence from the local people Salar Mahmood took on Suhel Dev and in the battle both the kings died. The dargah of Ghazi Miyan is visited by both communities as it is believed that prayers here will help the afflicted get rid of disease, with a bath in the lake a cure for leprosy!
In contrast, the story being popularized by RSS affiliates is that Ghazi Miyan was a foreign aggressor and Suhel Dev, to protect the Hindu religion, engaged with him in a battle, losing his life in defence of the Hindu religion. There was a mention of this king in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech (August 2016). He hailed Suhel Dev as a king who protected cows and also used cattle in warfare by placing these in front of his army.
Here again the popular narrative that spoke of communal amity and harmony arising from the popularity of Ghazi Miyan’s tomb for all has been shifted to a pro-Hindutva angle in the framework of Hindu versus Muslim.
In case of Suhel Dev there is a twofold strategy, on the one hand to present him as a Hindu icon against Islam and secondly, to add on him to the icon of Pasi-Rajbhar communities for electoral and social goals. The goal is to create icons from each sub caste from among Dalits, irrespective of whether they contributed to Dalit uplift or not. This is to divide Dalit unity. This also adds a king to the number of icons they are trying to bring up.
We need to remember that kings presided over a system of society based on hierarchy, in contrast to the icons whose statues have been placed in Ambedkar Park. These icons had done something to liberate the Dalit community from caste slavery, to add to their struggles for equality in society. Kings are being brought forward mainly for identity politics.
Since history is so important to this nationalism, they will go to any extent to glorify the Hindu kings. The political system of kingdoms is not something which we can uphold today. Still for sectarian nationalism the political structure and values of feudal times, the period of kingdoms is what they want to restore To take matters forward Rajasthan’s education minister Vasudev Devnani states that in the Haldighati battle, it was Rana Pratap who won. So far what was happening was giving an interpretation of events; now with likes of Devnani even the events can be moulded to suit subjective political goals!
Eric Hobsbawm correctly stated that ‘history is to nationalism what poppy is to an opium addict!’(Published on 19th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 25)