When in the 80s, Ashish Bose used the word BIMARU to refer to the abysmal socio-economic indicators of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, it had no communal connotations, as also when some social observers described India’s economic development as the ‘Hindu rate of growth’. They were merely describing things as they were. However, there was a measure of cynicism on the one side and of stoic acceptance on the other. In any case, facts remain facts. For example, UP has 52 of the dirtiest cities of India; of clean city, just one. There is no public embarrassment when such reports come up in the papers! If there was some disconcertment, there would be motivation to change.
The woes of UP undoubtedly are many: road conditions poor, electricity short, education and health in an awful state, business climate totally absent, employment possibilities low, crime level high (“The Monk Who Became Chief Minister,” by Shantanu Gupta, Bloomsbury, New Delhi, 2017, pgs. 10-11). Add to this list a few more much reported weaknesses: kidnapping, mass copying, power theft, harassment of women, business men having to pay gunda tax, misrule and nepotism. The situation described would be much the same in the rest of the BIMARU states, with a shared ethos as well. That is what has made other parts of India stay cautious against catching the BIMARU virus.
A “Firebrand Cleric” as CM
It was in this context that the choice of Adityanath Yogi as the Chief Minister of UP in 2017 raised high expectations. Subramanian Swamy called it the “best answer to UP people’s prayers”. David Frawley exclaimed, “India needs more saffron, less of red, more of its dharmic values. Yogi Adityanath offers new hope”. Not all were equally enthusiastic. New York Times reported of the election of a “militant Hindu,” which later they changed into a “firebrand Hindu cleric”. Firebrand he remained until the actual experience of public office mellowed him.
It took Yogiji time to realize that the anti-Muslim sabre rattling that made him a hero among his devotees made him appear a pathetic Quixote before the wider civil society. To international observers Yogi in his saffron attire looked like a feeble version of Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the Hindu context, bringing his hermitic oddities into political life. One of his BJP colleagues from Lucknow delineated his image thus, “He wears the natural anger of a sadhu on his face and it generates curiosity in people”. Not very flattering!
Admirers mobbed round him as he took office. The reality of today’s India is this: as critics like Gauri Lankesh are dying, applauders are taking their place to cheer the new hierarchs. Sycophants are “crawling” in to please the winning stalwarts even without being asked. Gupta speaks of the amazing schedule of Yogiji who is at his duty from 3.00 am to 11.00 pm. The new CM reduced the number of public holidays, banned smoking and the use of kaini in office, imposed strict discipline expecting every file to be cleared within three days, and asked that two hours a week be set aside to ensure cleanliness. Further, he made himself available to people at regular Janata darbars. He and his staff would make unannounced visits to the offices to see that things kept going. Yogi was manifesting his Yogic vigour.
Rahul Gandhi complimented him for his impressive energy, but asked him whether he would be able to demand such extra hours of work from his bureaucracy for long. The Monk’s reply was evasive. A retort came in addition after some time, which alleged that Rahul belonged to a family that had not worn the ‘sacred thread’ for 4 generations. This curious comment of the sanyasin did not make much political sense.
Finally, Yogiji came into his own. What he really wanted to do as a monastic was to launch ‘Gau Raksha and Dharma Yudha’. That was his mission. Had he not grown up among cow herds, and was not his personal devotion feeding the cows every morning? Did he not suggest that India would reach near-nirvana if every family kept a cow? Was he not spending more on cow-welfare (erecting cow-shelters) than on child-welfare, even though UP has the highest infant-mortality in India, and one of the highest in the world? He vowed to train over two lakhs religious warriors to defend cows, protect women, and uphold Hindu interests, whatever these would have meant. His religious warriors were educated and motivated to take Law into their own hands.
The other day, Sarbananda Sonowal, the CM of Assam, denounced superstitions that led to violence. He was referring to the killing of two Assamese youths whom Karbi tribals had mistaken for child-lifters. The tragedy today is that lynching incidents are multiplying in states where BJP is tightening its hold, whether it be in Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, or Maharashtra... or now, Tripura... whether it be in the name of action against child-lifters, kidney traffickers, love jihadists, cow smugglers, beef eaters, church goers, or carol singers. When anti-social elements are allowed (and encouraged) to take the Law into their hands, more and more people will discover that is the best way of settling their own usual problems as well!
Mob-lynching by Kar Sevaks Has Become Normal
Where does the Hindu Yuva Vahini stand with reference to the Law, a fighting force that Yogi brought into existence in 2002? If they are in defence of Hindu interests, Hindu culture, does it include elements that others consider as ‘superstition?’ Do the superstitions, prejudices and fads of the dominant community belong to a higher culture, while the weaknesses of tribal, dalit, and minority communities alone are punishable? Where is Dharma gone when law-makers organize law-breaking teams on design (gau rakshaks, dharma yodhs, kar sevaks, bajarang dals, Ram senas, Ranvir Senas, Shiv senas, Hindu Yuva Vahinis), when their attacks on weaker sections are considered ‘normal’, and when any resistance to them is considered ‘anti-Hindu’? What is the meaning of Good Governance? Are police-encounters directed only against minorities?
If mob-lynching of the “out-group,” “the other” (dalits, tribal, minority, social critic) has become widely spread in India today, sadhus, sadhvis, mahants, who act as the “high priests of the invisible hand” (Mukul Kesavan) and their kar sevaks must take their responsibility. A brief spell of collective insanity is stirred up by neo-Nazi propagandists through the ‘de-individualization’ of harmless devotees to reshape them into a ‘dehumanized’ mob. When Yogiji shouts “If you kill one Hindu, there will be a hundred that we will...” the devotees shout back, “...KILL,” evidently meaning Muslims (Gupta 87).
Communal riots follow such rabble-rousing, as Babri Masjid came down at the end of Advani’s Yatra. Delirious crowds can be led to do anything. Prof. Thomas Homer-Dixon of the University of Waterloo, Canada, says “It is unfortunately true that not all of us but most of us have the capacity to behave in horrific ways if circumstances are appropriately created. Dehumanizing happens when someone deindividuates and caricatures members of the out-group and does not regard them as participants of his or her moral community.”
After a major clash, the poor, illiterate, brain-washed, front-line activists are traced out and punished; but the policy-makers, the chintan-providers, the mind-shapers are lauded for their sobriety. Of late, it even happens, as it happened recently in Jharkhand, victims and their associates are detained, while the criminals go scot free. Here is where some ‘manan-chintan’ is required before the elections. Modiji proclaimed at Dehra Dun while addressing some 50,000 participants on Yoga Day, “When disintegrating forces gain prominence, it is Yoga that unites, creates amity in society...It has become a powerful unifying force.” But actual Indian experience today is pointing in the opposite direction. Statistics show that 97% of the hate crimes that happened in India since 2010, have happened after 2014.
The Imposition of Hindu Cultural Symbols
Not all are happy with the way Hindu cultural symbols are pressed hard on minorities as a form of hegemonic invasion into the world of their autonomy. Many liberal-minded members of minority communities would have no objection to Surya-namaskar, Saraswati Vandana, Gayatri Mantra, the study of Mahabharata, Ramayana or Gita, or the practice of Yoga, which they are able to look at in cultural terms. But the moment these things are imposed, the entire image changes. Certain Muslim bodies stressed that Yoga should not be used as a majoritarian political tool.
It is a great pity that a whole stock of shared wisdom, poetic symbolisms, songs, story, imagery, and mathematical and scientific tradition which is the fruit of centuries old common endeavour of ALL South Asia is being appropriated by the dominant section of the majority community as though it is their private property and turned into a Goliath’s Sword to humiliate and exclude their junior partners. As a result, unfortunately a spontaneous aversion to this proud common heritage is sinking into the collective subconscious of the weaker sections of our society in their eagerness to preserve their identity.
Nor is it that self-criticism has been totally absent among the minority communities. They have asked themselves: have we been exaggerating? Were many of the reports of harassments of Christians for example mere fake news? Is not Modi a well-meaning hero with a clear vision for India’s economy? Yes, indeed, we need to verify our news and draw only from reliable newspapers and news agencies. But if we insist that nothing untoward happened in the Dang district of Modi’s Gujarat, or Ujjain or Vidisha, or nothing painful is happening in today’s Jharkhand, we may be living in an unreal world. And take note, Modiji has never apologized once. When Minister Alphonse offered 70 crores for the renovation of churches in Meghalaya, the people asked him to use that money for rebuilding the churches that were destroyed in Odisha.
Rewriting the Constitution Within Manu’s Frame of Varna-Ashrama-Dharma
One thing we have to give Modiji and his agenda setters credit for: they have a great sense of timing. They do not strike until they are in a strong position; but when they do, it is fast and fatal. Land acquisition acts were passed in a hurry, even before parties concerned were aware of what they were losing. The Freedom of Religion Bill in Jharkhand was passed even without discussion. But what they are intent on doing most of all is to rewrite our Constitution according to Manu’s norms. That will be Godse’s bullet for Mahatma Gandhi’s India. The Damocles sword hangs over our destinies, depending on the 2019 elections.
However, Hindutva Strategies are Working Out
In any case, the Sub-continent is moving in the Hindutva direction. The Brahmin share in higher offices has risen out of proportion. Universities are subservient, the Judiciary is in the process, the Army is more a defender of Hindutva than of India. The media has gone mute on crucial political issues; it concentrates mainly on crime, sports, actors/actresses, curiosities, oddities, stunners...not evaluations, projections, visions. No one likes to be called a “half-Maoist,” the title that Arun Jaitley has kindly bestowed on social critics.
Meantime the strategy is to hit the economy of the weaker sections (dalits, tribals, minorities): the beef of the Muslims, the rubber of the Christians, the spices of the tribals. However, beef export from licensed cow-slaughter centres owned by big business houses has gone up beyond calculation. The plan to place mighty projects in the areas of vulnerable communities continues, so as to take away the little land that remains in their hands: Narmada, Tuticorin, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha. Their natural resources are being tapped to their least advantage. Enormous sums of the tax-payer’s money are being spent on the building of temples in the name of religious tourism.
However, these things are not helping the nation. It is calculated that India will soon be facing immense ‘talent crunch’ for reason of poor quality education. China will find it much easier to get the right person for the right job. Our caste system weighs heavily on us: neglected people, neglected education, neglected skills. Vacancies are increasing in all departments and corporate offices. Mohandas Pai, the Chairman of Manipal Global Education, has estimated that India has 10 crore people in the age group 21-35 with skills unsuited for the economy. He feels that in this way India is going to lose its ‘demographic dividend.’ Meanwhile our external debt has risen to over $529 billion; the value of Rupee is falling (Rs. 68.46 to a dollar); Indian money is taking flight (a 50% increase of Indian deposit in Swiss banks amounting to Rs. 7000 crores).
In spite of all this, Hindutva marches ahead. From the time it was announced that Pranab Mukherjee was going to address the RSS recruits, requests for membership has gone up to about 378 a day, on some occasions rising up to 1,779 requests...40% from Bengal. BIMARU may spread Eastwards, then. And if senas, vahinis, and kar sevaks get more active, Southwards as well. This will happen all the more easily if the Opposition Alliance is lost over plum posts, and if the weaker sections and minorities are divided among themselves over sectarian interests and privileges, personalities and leadership, character-assassination, immediate advantages and long term illusions. Let us be warned!(Published on 09th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 28)