Cover Story

Now, the real agenda

Print edition : December 26, 2014

Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh volunteers in a march on Vijayadasami day, the founding day of the organisation, in Bhopal on October 3. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

Union Minister of State Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti speaking in the Rajya Sabha on December 2. Her apology for the hate speech she made has not pacified the Opposition. Photo: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks in the Rajya Sabha on December 4. His defence of Niranjan Jyoti's jibe citing her inexperience and her rural background has not helped much. Photo: PTI

BJP MP Ramesh Pokhriyal. He has defended Modi's "plastic surgery" comments and claimed that the achievements of science were dwarfed by astrology. Photo: Virender Singh Negi

Having established itself in power at the Centre, the Sangh Parivar has earnestly started pushing its communal projects in various spheres of life in India.

Mahant Ramachandra Paramahans, who was chairman of the Ayodhya Sri Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)-controlled trust that formed a key component of the Ram temple agitation, recounted on several occasions, until his death in 2003, how the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the rest of the Sangh Parivar worked systematically to wrest geographical, social and cultural control of the temple town. He likened this process to the advancement of the larger Hindutva political plank in the country.

The various Sangh Parivar outfits, he used to say, had carried out a sustained campaign employing diverse strategies and manoeuvres to assert the “Hindu identity of and supremacy in Ayodhya”. Talking to this writer in the mid-1990s, the mahant said that the project to assert Ayodhya’s Hindutva identity had achieved a level of success with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. He said: “When the VHP first started focussing on Ayodhya as an important organisational destination in the early 1970s, Ayodhya was projected as a twin town of Faizabad and its hallmark was so-called secularism. But we have changed that in a matter of two decades. Sometimes through the method of step-by-step functioning and sometimes employing a flurry of fast-forward movements. These included enhancing our geographical space in the town by bringing more and more religious institutions under our banner, either by buying their property or by persuading them to ally with us. There were also mobilisations, campaigns, kar sevas, and finally the demolition. But this is work in progress. The identity and supremacy have to be strengthened further and we are working on that. In fact, before reaching this point of success, too, we have gone through several operational levels characterised by success, partial successes, partial failures and major reverses. But the net result is that the project has moved on.”

From time to time, he spoke of this process and said that the ‘Hindutva’ social and political identity would be asserted in the rest of the country, too, through a similar process.

According to several followers of the mahant at Ayodhya’s Digamber Akhara and also observers, the Sangh Parivar’s plan of bringing the geographical, social and cultural spaces under its control involved wide-ranging stratagems. Vibhuti Narain Rai, retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer and renowned Hindi writer, who has kept track of the Ayodhya plan over several decades, said: “Properties were occupied through means as varied as transparent buying out, surreptitious proxy buying, and even coercion. The social and cultural spaces were also built up using means fair and foul. The voices of sants and mahants who tried to uphold the plural traditions in Hindu religious practice and society were literally forced into silence or sidelined. The institutions run by them were overrun by the Hindutva brigade through various tactics. Even the Ayodhya agitation’s slogan had different nuances at different times and different stages of the plan. What started as a rather moderate demand to give greater authority over the Ram Chabuthara platform outside the Babri Masjid later transformed itself into a call to build a grand mandir. With this nomenclature, the mandir-masjid dispute became more and more prominent and finally led to the absolutely criminal and illegal demolition of the masjid.”

Developments over the past six months, particularly in the last three, bear out the late mahant’s “Ayodhya type” Hindutva road map for the country. From Union Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s exhortation to the people of Delhi to choose between “Ramzadon” (children of Ram) and “haramzadon” (illegitimately born) in the forthcoming Assembly elections to the aggressive moral policing in the name of protecting traditional values leading to widespread violence against the youth, including university students, in different parts of the country and to the abusive campaign on “love jehad” and the violence accompanying it—all fit into the late mahant’s perceptions about “flurry of fast-forward movements”.

Several prominent public personalities have also been contributing in their own way to advance the social, political and cultural plank of Hindutva. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new interpretation of Ganesha as evidence of plastic surgery being prevalent in India long before the West discovered it and former Uttarakhand Chief Minister and current Lok Sabha member Ramesh Pokhriyal’s spirited defence of Modi’s “plastic surgery” statement with the addendum that “Jyotish [astrology] is a science that dwarfs all other sciences and needs to be taken forward as the number one in the world” form yet another component of the kind of social and cultural offensives that have gathered momentum in recent times. There have been manoeuvres also at the institutional level, for instance in the education departments of the governments led by the Bharatiya Janata Party at the States and in the Centre, and by private organisations such as those run by the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti.

In the days immediately following Modi’s swearing-in, a large segment of political observers and practitioners, including members of other constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), had sought to draw a distinction between the “development man Modi” eager to enhance all-round progress and the Hindutva extremist fringe in the BJP and the Sangh Parivar who may stymie his efforts by pursuing a regressive, anti-minority, communal and divisive agenda. But recent developments, including the Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti controversy and the manner in which it was addressed by Modi, have belied perceptions of this distinction. Recent events point towards a well-coordinated game plan in which Modi seeks to retain his “development man” image while condoning and protecting the “extremist fringe”.

The operative part of the brief statement (it lasted all of one and a half minutes in the Rajya Sabha) that Modi made in both Houses of Parliament went thus: “When I got to know about the statement [of Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti] there was a meeting of my party and therein I had strongly disapproved the language. I had said even in the heat of elections we shall avoid such comment ... even before the issue was raised in House, I took it up... However, the Minister is new and has come to the Parliament for the first time. We know her background; she is from a village, and she has apologised. When one of our fellow members has apologised in such a big House it is our duty to accept it. It is also a lesson for us, we must follow the dos and don’ts. The House should gracefully accept that and carry forward its business in national interest.”

Evidently, Modi’s effort was to play down the seriousness of the Minister’s act and portray it as a minor oversight of a poor village woman. According to sources in the BJP, all that the Prime Minister wanted was resumption of the proceedings in Parliament. Apparently, he was vexed when the opposition refused to accept his statement and allow the proceedings of Parliament to resume. In the process, Modi totally overlooked the grave constitutional issues involved in Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s statement, which was in violation of the constitutional oath she had taken while being sworn in as a Minister.

The Delhi-based political analyst Sheetal P. Singh pointed out that all Ministers swear faith and allegiance to the Constitution and are thus duty-bound to uphold secularism, which is one of the core principles of the Constitution. “In my view, the violation done by Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti is such that the Speaker can suo motu initiate proceedings to disqualify her as a Member of Parliament. Indian electoral history has recorded the cases and judicial verdicts relating to very many politicians who have lost their legislative positions for making speeches that fan communal hatred. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s Delhi speech falls into the same category. The tendency of the Prime Minister and other BJP leaders holding constitutional offices to overlook this grave fault is not accidental. A similar attitude is shown across the country by other BJP leaders, too, when it comes to addressing the communal conflagrations that the Sangh Parivar has ignited. Even as the Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti controversy was raging, Delhi witnessed the mysterious burning down of a church. Interestingly, the BJP leadership, including the Prime Minister, has maintained a studied silence on the matter. Taken in its totality, the active communal project and the condoning of the same forms part of a larger Sangh Parivar game plan.”

A senior RSS activist based in Lucknow voiced a similar view, though from the Sangh Parivar perspective. He said that the plan for the advancement of the Sangh Parivar’s political strategies after the successful campaign in the Lok Sabha elections had two parts. First, the projection of Modi as a statesman-politician who is virtually a combination of Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, representing noble values, an urge and a vision for development, and who is decisive and resolute. The second part involves the advancement of the original Hindutva ideology and practice through various means.

Among the many facets of this two-faced plan is the appropriation of national symbols such as Mahatma Gandhi and converting them into political instruments of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, divesting the lives of these icons of their true political content. Thus, Gandhi, who was killed by a Hindutva-oriented militant for having opposed communalism, is portrayed as somebody whose biggest contribution to Indian society was the propagation of cleanliness. Ministers and other BJP and Sangh Parivar leaders patronise a so-called World Hindu Conference in Delhi where RSS ideologue Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar's formulation listing communism, Christianity and Islam as the principal enemies of Hindu Rashtra is highlighted.

These bizarre combinations pursued by the government and its leading party involve the interweaving of the two strategic tracts cited by the senior RSS activist. He admitted that these two tracts would not be kept separate and might get interconnected and function as a common plan from time to time. Indeed, the Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti controversy seems to have exposed this intermixing much earlier than expected by the Sangh Parivar.

A direct political fallout of this unravelling is the formation of a widespread issue-based unity among almost all opposition parties. The Congress, the Left parties, the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Janata Dal (United), the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have come together in Parliament. Their joint moves seeking parliamentary censure of the Minister have produced the first ever concerted opposition initiative in the six months of the Modi regime.

Several BJP leaders such as Union Minister Giriraj Singh and Ayodhya MP Lallu Singh continue to blatantly justify the Hindutva combine’s positions on issues ranging from moral policing to interventions in curriculum to “love jehad” to minority bashing. Talking to Frontline, Lallu Singh argued that all the positions being advocated by various Hindutva-oriented organisations and individuals in different segments of society and on different matters were merely a continuation of the perspectives and policies held by the Sangh Parivar. “Now, the BJP is in power and has a majority on its own. So it is natural that the propaganda and action on these perspectives and policies are pursued with greater vigour and enthusiasm,” he said. Giriraj Singh equated Modi to Lord Ram and said that all the developments, including the subjugation of minorities, were in keeping with the precepts of Ram Rajya.

As the historian Tanika Sarkar had pointed out in her article “Historical Pedagogy of the Sangh Parivar” ( Seminar, 2003), the Sangh Parivar and its components, at the levels of both institutions and individuals, construct the past out of the present interests and needs of the Sangh. She pointed out that the past was an instrument in the Sangh Parivar’s present politics and, hence, it needed to be a usable past rather than a real one. Tanika Sarkar also added that in order to make the past usable, the Parivar needed to reorient much of the knowledge of the past as also the epistemological and methodological bases for the construction of knowledge. “The Hindu Rashtra presupposes great excisions in collective memory as well as the production of counterfeit historical memories: experiences of poverty and exploitation to be overwritten by narratives of foreign conquests, military defeats and the ills that rulers of a different faith had allegedly done to Hindu temples, women and cows.” It is in such narratives that Hindutva political and cultural planks have always been mounted. Evidently, the pursuit of this with the “Ayodhya type” strategic and organisational parameters has got into high gear over the past six months, raising the pitch and scale of ominous portents in Indian polity and society.

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