The Quest for Purity
Another Name for Fascism
(Badri Raina, Modest Proposal & Other Rhymes for the Times, Sahmat pub., Delhi, 2000)
These are confused times for India's political Hinduism.
As the hours go by, the proverbial cunning of its leaderships across its many falanges experiences an exhaustion that surprises most of all the Sangh itself.
Having fooled millions over a century, it is astonished to find that it may at bottom have been the most fooled.
Adroit as it has been at double-speaking its way out of double-speak, the alleged involvement of its scions now in acts of terror renders it the mirror-image of those it never ceases to construct and condemn as its "other."
Worse still, it is abjectly reduced to proffering in defence every single argument routinely proferred by its "opposite" number. And its self-righteous bluster that no Hindu can, by definition, ever be a terrorist rings hollow even among its loyal constituency, rebuke as such bluster does even the lowest form of common intelligence.
How much dent all that will or will not make in its electoral base must depend on some collateral factors, chiefly the further successes of investigative agencies, the fate of the cases in courts of law, and the quality of exertion on behalf of secular civil and political agencies to bring home the facts to the nation at large.
My ruminations here are occasioned by a statement made by the spokesperson of the All India Hindu Mahasabha (that most ontological of theoretical Hindutva over which Savarkar presided as the chief ideologue), Pravin Sharma to Times of India, online on 22nd Nov.,2008.
This statement characterizes the BJP as "an opportunist political party playing politics over terrorism": clearly, neither the Congress nor the Left could have said more.
It then goes on to say: "Please ask the BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal, RSS and Abhinav Bharat as to what contribution they have made for Hindus and Hindutva so far." Fascinating stuff.
Taken together with media reports of confirmation of the truth of the allegation that the Sangh scions now in custody, alongwith an endocrinologist who works at a reputed private hospital in Delhi, were indeed plotting to murder two leaders of the RSS (see The Hindu, 23rd, Nov., p.10), the Congress seems well-placed in saying that there is currently a "civil war" under way within the Sangh Parivar.
But to return to the disillusionment expressed by the Hindu Mahasabha with all other falanges of the Hindutva brigade.
Just within a year of the framing of India's secular-democratic Constitution, the RSS (Vatican of the Parivar) decided that it was not enough merely to engage Hindus in acts of "cultural" transformation towards hard-core Brahminical practices.
Such work needed to be done politically as well through the party-political system and electoral participation.
Thus was floated the Jana Sangh in 1951.
Sadly, the Hindu "purity" of its programmes (read anti-Muslim agenda) failed to yield any more than two seats to the Indian Parliament up until the end of the 1980s.
A declension from "purity" was thus indicated; and with that realization the BJP was born.
The BJP in turn was to discover that it did not have a constituency large enough even among India's Hindus to reward it with an absolute ruling majority in the House of the People.
Indeed, it remains a significant pointer to the secular heart of India that this pro-Hindu party has never yet managed more than some 29% popular vote in any general election. And given that not more than some 3-5% non-Hindu voters are ever attracted to it, the conclusion is that some 65 or more percent of the Hindu electorate do not vote for the BJP.
Despite every species of public and ideological manoeuvre that the BJP and its individual leaders have attempted since the infamous Rath Yatra led by L.K.Advani, an aggressive Hindutva putsch that was to culminate in the watershed demolition of the four-hundred year old Babri mosque in 1992, the BJP has been unable to achieve state power in Delhi except in alliance with a plethora of other parties who hold no allegiance to the Hindutva telos.
Thus, if successful political intervention in transforming the Republic into a saffron hue has entailed a mitigation of its sectarian agenda, it has simultaneously found itself at the receiving end of purist injunctions from the RSS -Vatican in Nagpur, reminding it with frustrating insistence that its existence in the first place was to Hinduise the procedures and genius of the institutions of Indian democracy.
Imagine then the enormity of a situation where a still higher custodian, however self-assumed, of Hindutva "purity," namely the Hindu Mahasabha, now feels impelled to find even the RSS fallen into impurity. And to a point where the alleged culprits now in custody felt warranted to do away with two of its leaders for doing little on behalf of Hindutva.
Another way of conceptualizing the dynamic of this narrative—the ruthless impulse to return to "purity"—is to say that it maps out vividly how democracies are sought to be shrunk from the expanded base of the political pyramid to its fascist point at the top.
And, European history of the last century teaches us how such impulses are sought to be validated by the "self-evident" and "transcedant" claims of some legend/myth of past glory, or some past wrong-doing, or, some self-assumed supremacy of race or religion, even biological purity, all peddled as unimpeachably pure "nationalism." A whole package of "purity" that in turn warrants without proven mandate violent voluntary vigilantism, and triumphalist war once the state is captured.
What matters is that the illusory victimhood of the majority is first established, and then ascribed to the sinister scheming of the "other" who is seen to "pollute" the "purity" of the "real" nation's life at every point.
That history also teaches us that these coercive shrinkages of democracy and the concomitant centralization of political power then go hand in hand with the centralization of Capital into a handful of monopolies.
And as the state and its economic arrangements defeat plurality and competition, the Dionysian "purity" of self-justifying authority is born.
In our time, this package of "purity" has been in evidence as the marriage between the pre-emptive claims of neocon imperialism and neo-liberal market fundamentalism, internationally. Christened "globalization," its beneficiaries have been those at the top of the pyramid, and its victims spread over a base as wide as the world.
How much of that may change now remains to be seen. It is no small tribute to the American people that the consequences of that marriage should have disgusted them decisively enough to have joyfully elected as their President a talented young man from among the "other."
To return to India.
A remarkable dynamic counter to the re-centralizing, purity-oriented turmoil within the Sangh Parivar is currently at work among India's Muslims. A dynamic that I venture bears the promise of defeating the renewed fascistic call of the Parivar more conclusively than anything else in view.
Ever since the Partition of India which still left this country with the world's second largest population of Muslims (and yet a "minority"), India's Muslims—with most of the elite gone over to the new country of Pakistan—bereft largely of secular leadership internally, have been at the receiving end of three sources of oppression: the animosity of the Sangh, the clout of Muslim clerical authorities, and the neglect by the state.
Invariably they have answered these oppressions in two principle ways: one, to band together qua Muslims, and to vote for political parties that could at the least ensure their physical safety.
With the coming to age of a new generation of Indian Muslims unburdened by personally experienced happenings of the Partition, the failure of the state to be wholly secular, especially in the wake of pogroms against them, and the rise of their aspirations as citizens to be equal partners in the productive processes of an improved national economy, the two habitual recourses noted above have come to be seen as wanting, even as the way ahead has seemed unclear and unconvincing.
It was with those contexts in mind that this writer had, as far back as 1990, made the following suggestion:
"Indian Muslims must. . .resist constructing their identities along a trans-Indian Islam. For one thing, it is only when this begins to happen that Hindutva can lose both its twisted rationale and its retrograde mass appeal. Muslims must, instead, join in with whatever democratic forces and movements are in operation in the regions in which they are located as parts of specific civil societies. Just as the critique of and opposition to majority communalist politics come increasingly from within the Hindu community itself, an invigorated Muslim democratic opinion must take on that role, not just in relation to Hindu communalists but Muslim as well."
("Pakistan, Kashmir, and the Democratic Agenda, "The Statesman, 6th May, 1990)
Recent trends have shown that this is increasingly becoming the praxis that Indian Muslims seek now to follow:
--Muslims now seek secular education up to the highest levels;
--Many young Muslim men and women are beginning to question social practices supposedly ordained by one clerical authority or the other;
--Muslims are increasingly and in great numbers part of civil rights activities that seek to deepen the values and stipulations enshrined in the Constitution, and to reinforce the non-discriminatory exercise of the rule of law;
--everyday, one influential Muslim social/cultural organization or the other, including clerical forums, publicly decry the resort to violence in any form, condemning the killing of innocents especially as "un-Islamic";
--a joyful increase of Muslim faces is in evidence in the public arena, in the media, and in inter-community life generally;
--Indian Muslims, most of all, are beginning to recognize that it is in pluralist democracy rather than some loyalty to denominational "purity" that progressive prospects reside both for them and for the nation-state generally.
As should be obvious, all that subverts the fascist construction of Indian Muslims that has through the last six decades so suited the Sangh Parivar.
This particularly so because the new forward-looking, secular orientation among Muslims draws approval from large sections of ordinary Hindus who remain wedded to the principles on which the Indian state bases itself.
Just as the state as well feels impelled to look more honestly at the specific areas of neglect suffered by Muslims and formulates policies to redress them.
Sadly, the response of the Sangh Parivar to these developments seems to be to recede further into "purity" (emulating Muslim instincts up until now), rather than to say "how good that these changes are underway."
Whatever its rhetoric about Muslim exclusivity, the Sangh has never at bottom desired Indian Muslims to be incorporated into the full life of the nation-state.
Indeed such a prospect fills it with the apprehension that its pristine project of transforming India into a "pure" Hindu nation (much like the erstwhile Nepal, now so sadly fallen into secular republicanism) may indeed suffer conclusive rejection. If anything, its private anguish is caused by a sense of betrayal: despite the two-nation theory which led to the Partition of India, why should so many Muslims have chosen to stay back?
The BJP, however, to the extent that it is unlikely now to abandon its participation in Indian electoral democracy, wind up, and return to some cloistered Hindutva "purity," has some far-reaching thinking to do.
Does it have the will to match the paradigmatic shift in Muslim attitudes and resolves?
Does it have the wisdom to finally own the foundational principles of the Indian Republic as much in conviction as it does in tactics, accepting or rejecting its operations only to the extent that these suit or do not suit its sectarian purposes?
In short, does the BJP have the courage to jettison the fascist "purity" enjoined upon it by its mentors, some among them now alleged to be terrorists, and rejoice in the tainted but humane, inventive, and inter-communitarian exertions of democratic creativity?
As things are, it may be idle of the BJP to think that the dynamics of an increasingly secular polity will forever keep a constituency of "purity" ready and available to it.
Consider that this is what was once stipulated in the Katha- Upanishad:
"Hope and expectation, good company and pleasant discourse, the fruits of sacrifices and good deeds, sons and cattle—all are taken away from that person of little understanding in whose home a Brahmin remains without food."
(D.S.Sharma, The Upanishads: An Anthology, Bharti Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1975, p.43)
Today, many foodless Brahmins are happy to be alongside a Dalit Mayawati.