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Whom Will You Choose?

Whom Will You Choose?

In 2002, during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat, Prime Minister Vajpayee reminded Chief Minister Narendra Modi of his “Raj Dharma,” righteous governance...to treat all people in equal fairness, not on the basis of “birth, caste and community”   (Shades of Saffron, Saba Naqvi, Westland Publications, 2018, pg. 143).  Modiji was quick in replying “I am following it.” Vajpayee did not pursue the matter further. But human rights activists claimed they had abundant evidence to the contrary. But Modi had a way of dismissing major accusations as mere trifles, calling his critics “five-star activists” from Delhi and Bombay, as he also dubbed human rights lawyers, NGOs, and a section of civil society who challenged his displacement of tribals in the Narmada valley. Amazingly, Modi grew under criticism (Naqvi 226).

Modiji Acclaimed an ‘Avatar’ of Shiva

There are reasons why Modiji was made into an avatar of Shankar Bhagwan in Varanasi (Ibid 252). At every stage he knew how to play the game. He won the confidence of Advani, who proposed him for Chief Minister in Gujarat (Ibid 217). It was at a moment of polarisation within the BJP that Arun Shourie suggested Modi for Prime Minister and the RSS to take control of the party (Ibid 214). It took some time for the Sangh Parivar to be convinced that Modi was a “real go-getter” in the cause of Hindutva (Ibid 125). Ultimately, his performance won them over. Hardly anyone could catch up with the volume of work he was putting in. 

From 6.00 am to 11.00 pm he is at his duty. He lives frugally, eats alone. His life is simple. Yoga keeps him fit. He used to have just one cook and two peons. He preserves a certain amount of mental balance; he is not excessively sentimental, rarely does he show himself emotional (Ibid 232). It is true, he is not easily accessible to people; at the same time, to his credit, it must be admitted that he never wastes money on retainers, never holds durbars (Ibid 233). In fact, remaining unapproachable has worked in his favour (Ibid 227). Though he was an ardent RSS pracharak and kept promoting its “ideological agenda efficiently,” he maintained a distance from RSS mavericks like Pravin Togadia. But his greatest strength before his ardent supporters was that he was the biggest fund-raiser for the BJP (Ibid 228).

Promotion of a ‘Cult Figure’

The RSS election-strategists were deeply impressed by the way Modi used modern technology to reach voters. They fully cooperated. They saw his performance at mass rallies (Ibid 244). The BJP as a party that used to criticize the Congress fad for ‘personality cult’ gradually went in for the very thing they condemned (Ibid 231). They admired Modiji’s ability to take ‘Hindu’ identity to a fever pitch during elections (Ibid 223). What else could be expected of an RSS pracharak?

Watching him carefully, they could see Gujarat gradually developing into a ‘Hindutva fortress.’ The state had seen the birth of Bajrang Dal in 1986 that would keep the unemployed youth busy with Hindutva activities. The movement served as a tool to counter the initiatives of human rights promoters.  With so many things in his favour, Naqvi still puts it to Modi’s credit that a “backward caste” person like him could capture the leadership of the BJP (Ibid 123), that the RSS-kingmakers took note of the stuff of which he was made. They saw that their cause was best served by this man of humble origins. Gradually, Hindutva was fast turning into Moditva (Ibid 230).

Careful Cultivation of ‘Gujarati Pride’

Modi also knew how to play with Gujarati sub-nationalism (Ibid 225).  He often took the posture as though the ‘Republic of Gujarat’ had declared war on what he called the “Delhi sultanate” led by the Congress. (Take note of the anti-Islamic connotation!)  His regional patriotism thrilled the urban middle-class Gujaratis. He would roar, “Let there be a contest between Delhi and Gujarat” (Ibid 229). If the people of Kashmir or Northeast were to adopt such attitudes they would be declared “anti-nationals.” Modiji knew how to skilfully combine Gujarati pride with Hindu pride, and the gift of bijli, sadak, paani (Ibid 239). He gave full attention to providing electricity and spreading irrigation (Ibid 229). Not that he was not without enemies.  Somabhai Patel, his earlier colleague, called him a “fake Hindu” (Ibid 230). Nitish Kumar said if Modi became PM, he would walk out of the alliance (Ibid 236). The fact that Nitish would later bend to Modi is another story. Controversial persons bowing to controversial persons is considered normal. The ‘Law of Contradiction’ yields to the ‘Law of Convenience’, especially before elections!

The Right Wing’s “Invisible Hand” in the Anna Hazare Movement

For all the later achievements of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the Congress was unseated in Delhi by neither of them, but by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. The Anna Hazare movement from 2011 and Aam Admi drive from 2013 seriously undermined the moral authority of the Congress. The RSS fully participated in the movement. Baba Ramdev brought crowds to the rallies (Ibid 241). Many see the ‘invisible hand’ of the Right-Wing in the entire process. In any case, the strategy against the Congress was perfect. The business community was led to see that their fortune was no more with the Grand Old Party. They were persuaded that the AAP party was a disruptionist and anarchic force (Ibid 241). The Big Money concluded that their future was with the BJP. Shifting of loyalties of the Corporates made a decisive difference. For the 2014 elections the BJP alone spent 700 crores, a fabulous sum in those days (Ibid 242).

Today the income of 1% Indians who take away 73% of the nation’s economic growth is at their disposal. From the remaining 99% they can extort what they wish through taxes and price rise. No wonder Amit Shah could boast of having built for the BJP the biggest office of any party in the world (Ibid 255). Pramod Mahajan frankly admitted that  90% of the BJP money came from the corporates (Ibid 189). In 2016-17 the BJP income was 1,034 crores, two thirds of what all the parties together owned (Ibid 256). However, the perception is of greater accountability than in the Congress and of more effective use (Ibid 257).

The Gradual Rise of the ‘Right-Wing Forces’

Saba Naqvi traces the rise of the Right-Wing forces to Jan Sangh established in 1951 by Shyam Prasad Mukherjee as the “political arm of the RSS” (Ibid 9). Coming ahead further, when in the 1980s the Mandal report had divided the Gangetic valley along caste lines, Lal Krishna Advani sought to unite Hindus across caste divisions through his Ram Janmabhoomi movement, Ram Temple Movement (Ibid 15). In this way, he was to emerge as the real “architect of the BJP’s ascent to power” (Ibid 1). His rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya left behind “a divisive trail of riots and disturbances”; however, it roused a “new consciousness” of the “political Hindu” (Ibid 16).

Naqvi also refers to ‘amiable Atal Bihari Vajpayee’ who made the Hindutva movement mainstream, acceptable, and respectable. He softened its “sharp corners” (Ibid 19). An RSS agent like Govindacharya considered him only a “mask” to win acceptability, a remark that Vajpayee resented (Ibid 22). Noble-minded as Atal was, he was not really religious nor superstitious (Ibid 38). In this respect he differs a great deal from Modi-admirers who exalt astrology, puranic science, mantras, yogas, surya namaksakars, cow worship. Atal would concentrate on health, education, and security (Naqvi 24). After the Pokhran nuclear test, he began to exalt ‘scientific temper’ even more.  Unlike Modi, he was easily accessible to the press (Ibid 48).

“The Winners Boast, the Losers Remember” Wolfgang Schivelbusch

Vajpayee’s relationship with Pakistan was characterised by an eagerness to dialogue. His Lahore trip thrilled millions (Ibid 56). On the contrary, Modi’s pride is about surgical strikes and “cartloads of dead bodies.” His joy is that he made the enemy “cry,” and Amit Shah’s that over 250 were wiped out on the other side. Even the moderate Rajnath Singh gloated: “Go, count the dead!”  Meanwhile A.K.Anthony was pleading that the military be kept out of politics. Such pleas do not work with Modi. He claims the strength of a “lion,” and says it is his nature “to settle scores.” We can see that clearly in his political manoeuvrings. He is evidently a go-getter, promoting unprincipled go-getters in the states.

Rejoicing over the heroism of Indian soldiers is one thing, taking a ‘sadistic pleasure’ in boasting about inflicting pain on neighbours (Muslims, Pakistan) is quite another. Gloating over others’ agony is pathological. Vindictiveness does not contribute anything to social good. Unfortunately, the Indian population is deliberately being dragged in that direction. It is Godse’s India that the BJP is building up, not Gandhiji’s.  If Modiji wins the election through the popularity he gains through Pak-bashing, it is going to affect him adversely in the long run; and it will also do irreparable harm to the Collective Psyche of Indian society. It will inflict a wound on the Indian genius at the deepest level.

History gives any number of examples to show that a “humiliated” enemy is the greatest danger in the neighbourhood. The French forces under Napoleon, giddy with French nationalism and revolutionary enthusiasm, pressed Eastwards against the Germans and Italians. The hurt nationalistic sentiments of those communities brought two new energetic nations into existence in Europe: Germany and Italy. They gave birth to ultra-nationalistic philosophies, super-fascist social theories, and most radical movements. They led to two World Wars and crushed the national pride of France on two occasions. The ‘humiliating performance’ returned home to roost.

Irrationalities did not stop there. The German ultra-nationalism under Hitler that moved against Russia in full force awakened dormant Russia into new life, making it emerge (after prolonged struggle) as a Superpower. Europe learned a hard lesson only after two or more centuries of internal conflicts and after being reduced to a very humble position. The newly emerging nations of Asia like India, China, and Pakistan seem to be far from learning lessons from history and are eager to destroy themselves even before they rise.

On India’s first nuclear test, Bhutto swore that Pakistan was ready to go hungry for a thousand years, eat grass, but was determined to produce the atom bomb, which in fact they did in a few days. Every anti-Pakistani gesture drew a response. The production of the missile called ‘Prithviraj’ invited the creation of the missile ‘Ghori.’  Nawaz Sharif himself admitted that the Bombay blast was a punishment for Babri demolition and riots (Naqvi 137). In the immediate context, are we being dragged into a repetition of Operation Parakram of 2001-02, which lasted 10 months (Ibid 141), and cost 800 crores ...a misadventure serving no purpose? (Ibid 142)

But the real reason is lamentably clear. The Hindutva Party needs an ‘Enemy’ to keep itself in existence. As a BJP ideologue said, the fear is that “if all the Hindu-Muslim conflicts were to be solved overnight, our entire identity would be threatened” (Ibid 139). Defending ourselves as Indians is our right. Defeating an enemy is our compulsion if we are dragged into a conflict. But ‘humiliating’ a neighbour is not the solution. “Winners boast, losers remember” (Wolfgang Schivelbusch). Every “Humiliated” enemy emerges sturdier, with redoubled determination, through alliances or re-organized energies. India’s future depends on a peaceful neighbourhood.

Extra-Constitutional Role of the RSS

The trouble with the BJP is that it is closely dependent on the RSS. Its real freedom is limited. Kushabhau Thakre frankly confessed to Saba Naqvi that he acted as a backroom operator (Naqvi 29), remaining behind-the-scenes. He claimed to be giving “small instructions” to the BJP (Naqvi 31). The RSS always played a key role in selecting persons for posts (Ibid 3). During 1999 elections their role became more visible, raking up peripheral and emotive issues (Ibid 82).

Of late, Mohan Bhagwat was not afraid to claim that his organization was more disciplined and more effective than the Indian army. Would he order a Balakot-like surgical strike? Well, many political critics have perished during the last five years. No one feels safe. Self-censorship in India has reached a climax. Even ‘Outlook’ was described as a journal just “trying to survive” (Ibid 133). Violence is never ruled out.  After all, we have the letter of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to Golwalker (dated 11.948): “RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death,” Sagarika Ghose. Advani conceded, “The RSS has a moral influence on the Vajpayee regime just as Gandhi had a moral influence on the Nehru regime” (Ibid 111). That was when Vajpayee ruled; presently, they are the extra-constitutional authorities guiding the nation.

When newly elected BJP leaders go fanatic about Vedic science, Islamic atrocities, re-writing of history, cow-fervour, anti-Pakistan fanaticism, we know the ‘Invisible Hand’ that presses such ideas forward. After the first nuclear explosion, the Sangh Parivar hailed Indira Gandhi as Goddess Durga. Some shouted “Jai Shri Bomb.” Giriraj Kishore announced a plan to construct a shrine to Shiva and Durga at Pokhran (Ibid 44). But, of course, Giriraj Kishore’s genius lay in another area: he was sure that cow urine would be the ‘Bharatiya’ solution to the energy crisis! (Ibid 95). As Vajapyee was called ‘half a Congressman,’ as social activists have been dubbed ‘half Maoists,’ there is another group that is more than ‘half’ behind many violent go-getters. Indresh Kumar, a senior RSS leader, asserts that Pakistan will be a part of India by 2025. That is the RSS vocabulary.

The Prize One has to Pay if Insensitive Go-getters Come to Power

But for all these oddities, the RSS are not without practical wisdom. The mentor K.N. Govindacharya stressed the importance of choosing OBCs like Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharati for high posts in the post-Mandal era (Ibid 21); Ram Nath Kovind came later. This is what Naqvi calls the “social engineering project initiated by the RSS” to expand BJP’s base among the OBCs (Naqvi 197). But the moment the Saffron Sovereigns are firmly settled in power, the high castes take over: Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra, Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana (Naqvi 261).  The Jharkhand CM Raghbar Das is not a tribal, Adityanath Yogi is not an OBC (Naqvi 262). Props and masks are discarded, once the power is secure.

The BJP’s professed programme, of course, is fighting corruption. “Main chowkidar hum,” hollers Modiji. Others echo the slogan. The strategy adopted is perfect: to strengthen corruption in one’s own party to fight it more effectively in others. This programme was initiated during BJP’s earlier regime to get Jayalalithaa’s support, which meant shielding her from corruption charges (Ibid 6-7). The present pre-poll stampede to get election-tickets is shocking beyond belief. Hiren Gohain, a highly respected leader in Assam, exclaimed: “Politics is only about the self-preservation of leaders.”  He calls it real treachery. Mamata Banerjee has alleged that VVIPs are using helicopters and chartered flights to carry banknotes for election. Modi used to claim, “We are the masters of booth management” (Naqvi 85). They indeed are, but at what cost? Values are invisible on the national scene.

We will have to get used to another type of corruption: buying of votes, bribing of MLAs and MPs, shifting of loyalties, suppressing of ‘uncomfortable’ data or information; personal attack on opponents, declaring them anti-national and pro-Pakistani; ghar wapsis, freedom of religion bills that take away religious choices, compulsory Yoga classes and Sanskrit lessons, worship of rivers, Kumbh mela in non-traditional places, loss of land to tribals and of livelihood to dalits, Islamophobia combined with cow-philia. We can also expect increased number of cow-related lynchings as they happened in UP, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Haryana, and other BJP states (Ibid 260).

Let us try to look at this cow-philia a little more closely. Ranjan Kumar Padmavati, writing in ‘Assam Tribune’ (13/3/19), calculates that there are about 58.87 lakhs of stray cows in India. In Punjab there were 1000 deaths due to accident caused by them; in addition, cow-dealers are killed regularly.  Human beings must die for cows. Meanwhile cow-killings go on in licensed slaughter-houses. The leading exporters of beef are Hindus, and the export has risen sharply. What hypocrisy is it that business houses can make huge profits exporting beef, but poor cow-dealers must die!! The leather industry alone is Rs. 13,000 crores, employing 35 lakh people. Nutritious food is snatched away from the mouth of 61 million malnourished children (mostly dalits and poor Muslims) so that the dominant community’s profit may skyrocket. And remember, there are 276 million people below poverty line in India.

Ideals Count, Values matter

Kushabhau Takre admitted to Saba Naqvi, “Fifty years ago the Congress was an ideal, even for an RSS man like me” (Naqvi 30). Where are those ideals gone? Do they exist in someone’s heart? We believe they do. It is not enough to be go-getters, Raj Dharma too is important. Politics is Responsibility. It is respectful for everyone. It includes concern for the weak. Even Pakistani intellectuals and civil society appreciate India’s roots in democracy, reports Saba (Ibid 136). All that we need to do is to bring back Indian Raj Dharma, submerged somewhere, into the field of politics.

(Published on 1st April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 14)