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Published in the 1-15 December 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

A new mask for the BJP

By Ram Puniyani

The humiliating defeat of BJP in the parliamentary elections followed by Maharashtra Assembly elections has created a crisis in the party. One of the measures taken to offset this demoralization and despondency has been to appoint, once again, Mr. L. K. Advani as the president of the party. Since so far the party has been operating on the plank of Hindutva and it seems this slogan has lost its sheen along with the issues which have been identified with it: Ram Temple, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code. This Hindutva has got politically and socially manifested in a rabid anti-minoritism as seen in the burning of Pastor Graham Staines and the state-sponsored carnage in Gujarat. The party which catapulted itself to power by using these issues is at the receiving end. These emotive issues have failed to get them sufficient number of votes to come to power. Along with the organizational modifications, the political agenda is being recast under new slogans. The new words, which the new President Advani has put forward are Bharatiyata or Nationalism, and Integral Humanism from the ideology of Deendayal Upadhayay, who has been a hindutva ideologue.

What is new about Bharatiyata or Nationalism? Essentially it is an attempt to bring back a notion of Hindu Nationalism with a new label, old wine in a new bottle. BJPs Hindutva was an alternative to Indian Nationalism, the one based on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity (Community), the founding principles of Indias freedom movement and the basic premise of Independent India. BJP necessarily has to bypass the values that have made the modern India. In a way the Nationalism in the name of religion began in the nineteenth century, in opposition to the evolving concept of India as a Nation in the making, meaning that the new nation is coming into being through a mass movement and this nation opposes the caste and gender hierarchies, then prevalent. The Hindu Nationalism threw up Punjab Hindu Sabha, Hindu Mahsabha, and RSS at different points of time. What was common among these formations was the concept of Hindu Rashtra, opposition to changes of caste and gender equations and hostility to Muslims. These were matching exactly with the principles of Muslim League. What they shared in common was their opposition to freedom movement, and the accompanying social changes.

The other word was cultural nationalism, which again is apparently appealing but essentially derives itself from Brahminical values of Ram, Gita and authority of Hindu clergy. So with the failure of Hindutva in the popular perceptions, the opposition to the principles of Indian Nation has to be expressed in some other form. The closest word which can give the hidden message is being searched and it seems the waters are being tested by using the word Bharatiyata. The basic point is to avoid the word Indian Nationalism. As that word gives the potential of the values which got identified with freedom struggle. So this exercise is for the search of a new bottle, which can contain the Hindutva agenda, and also appeal to the people at large. The aim is to avoid using the discredited word Hindutva but at the same time to give the political message of RSS politics.

Since it is likely that Bhartiyata may not convey the message and RSS agenda fully, the dust from the books of Deendayal Upadhayay is being removed to bring forward a new supplementary word, which sounds appealing enough while giving the message of RSS Hindu Rashtra.

Another word which has been put forward by Mr. Advani as the agenda of BJP is Integral Humanism. Sounds appealing! What does it really mean? Mr. Upadhyay is essentially talking against the process of social change, the social transformation of caste and gender. According to him the communities are self-born organic entities, having an equilibrium which should not be disturbed to preserve the culture and values of those societies as they are. In this case it means that changes in caste and gender equations will be against the Hindu culture as being promoted, imposed by RSS. This is also the hidden message of cultural nationalism. Upadhayay also rejects Social contract theory, the basis of modern democracies, the basis of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. He writes, "In our concept of four castes [varna], they are thought of as analogous to different limbs of Virat Purush (Primeval man). These limbs are not only complimentary to one another but even further there is individuality, unity. There is complete identity of interest, identity of belonging [S] if this idea is not kept alive, the castes instead of being complimentary, can produce conflict." (D. Upadhyaya, Integral Humanism, New Delhi Bharatiya Jan Sangh 1965, p. 4)

The real intent of this humanism is more than clear the way Mr. Upadhayay defines it. It is the ideology of RSS to preserve the status quo, to give sops and crumbs to the downtrodden while preserving the caste hierarchy. It stands for agreeing to cosmetic reforms while preserving the core inequality. This should not be surprising. One can see the whole RSS onslaught as a response to the deeper societal changes, the changes which eroded the caste-gender hierarchy, and the changes which threatened status quo. The rise of RSS can definitely be traced to the societal changes where the Shudras and women started asserting, where the privileged position of the entrenched caste elite felt threatened, where the authority of male over the female got questioned. RSS did begin as a response to non-Brahman movement, which was aiming to challenge the authority of Brahminical system and thereby the hierarchies inherent in those values.

The Gujarat riots of earlier decades were targeted against dalits around reservations for admissions to engineering colleges, around their promotions in jobs. After the riots of 80s, the RSS did change its strategy, instead of targeting dalits it aimed its guns more against minorities. At the same time, it undertook the process of social engineering to co-opt dalits and adivasis through Samajik Samrasta Manch and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, respectively. The RSS changed the line of attack, unleashed a section of dalits and adivisis to beat up the outer enemy, the Muslims, the Christians. Instead of directly suppressing the upcoming dalit-adivasi assertion, the section of this group is made to focus on the non-issues around Hindu identity. The trick worked for some time. Mandal and post-Mandal changes showed the ascendancy of BJP and it also came to fill a social space which was left by the dwindling Congress. As for these deprived sections, how far they can go with the engineered status is yet to be seen.

One is not sure whether the same old Hindutva agenda repacked in the new bottle of Bharatiyata and Integral Humanism will work. One must realize that despite the apparent debacle the vote share of BJP is quiet substantial. The RSS cadres, committed to its agenda are scattered all around, working under different guises and different banners and spreading the hate ideology in a ceaseless manner. The myths and biases against minorities will not vanish just because BJP has lost power. You scratch a liberal-looking person, the anti-minority biases will be exposed. The global situation is not making the matters any better. The U. S. crusade against the jehadis, against Islam, particularly in the Middle East, is worsening the matters.

The hate mines laid all around by RSS and its progeny, the social common sense which has been drilled through different mechanism is creating ghettoes in city after city. It is also the fertile ground for the violence as and when it erupts to assume a communal colour. One has to wait and watch the strategy to be adopted by BJP. It has to be something based on raw emotions. Whether Ram temple will work or whether Godhra will be re-enacted only time will tell. But one must compliment Mr. Advanis ingenuity in locating new bottles from Hindutva store.

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