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A Well Knit Parivar?
By Mukul Dube

It came to me with something of a shock, while watching a news programme on television, that we have fallen lower than we ever were before. Our attention is now centred firmly on what are scarcely better than worms. The antics of those to whom we would ordinarily pay no attention have come to occupy the centre of the stage. And this has happened almost without our noticing it. Much like the ravages of diabetes mellitus.

Vaidya Togadia rants and it is reported. Guru Giriraj hisses and that is reported. The action of neither is possessed of reason, each is no more than a variant of mindless poison, but always they become the flavour of the day. And then the nation awaits, with bated breath, the response of Pradhananeta Advani. When it comes, calm and measured, and usually quite devoid of meaning, it is reported by all. It is the signal for editorials to seek hidden meanings in garbled words which never had any meaning.

What has brought India to this pass? What have we done to deserve this? Is there nothing better for us to do than speculate and theorise over the shenanigans of a bunch of hoodlums who have neither ideals nor ideology? Dolled-up louts in their angavastrams and buttoned-up coats and rimless glasses and war paint on the forehead who for the time being are spewing venom at one another instead of at their enemy, i.e., everyone but themselves? Why are we so devoted to this bitchiness among scum whose grade goes well beyond the end of any known alphabet?

Louts and ruffians have become the centre of the country’s attention. Even now I am writing about them, when I would not care to drink a cup of tea with one or shake his hand. All the countless important questions that face the country are pushed aside because, through a combination of lack of foresight and the absence of a credible and strong alternative, these masters of trivia have political power and their unlikely fellow travellers keep the edifice from tottering.

In 1977 and before, I thought that Jayaprakash Narayan was muddled or worse, and I have had no reason to change that view. It was JP who, in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, brought the Sangh Parivar out of the dark hole in which it belonged. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh was transformed all of a sudden into a respectable outfit. In the years after, it worked assiduously on that toe-hold. It could be argued that the other options before the electorate had nothing to commend them, and for that reason the BJP rose to be able to head the government in Delhi. Thinking itself to be the phoenix, the one-winged crow had risen.

A great deal of air time and much newsprint are nowadays devoted to analysing the relations between the different branches of the Sangh Parivar. They are easily seen to be supportive of one another. Where the BJP cannot take to the streets, it deputes this task to the VHP. Where the VHP finds itself short of muscle, it calls in the Bajrang Dal. Where the VHP falls short of respectability, it is helped out by the BJP. And so on. All this is under the watchful and mostly silent RSS, and in furtherance of the pitifully specious "cause" of Hindutva.

This division of responsibilities leads to great efficiencies. On account of the order of the Election Commission, there are certain things which the BJP cannot do in its campaign in Gujarat. The VHP, however, can display at its functions garishly horrifying pictorial representations of the Godhra carriage burning. It is a religious-cultural organisation, after all, and everyone knows that a dharma sabha has nothing to do with a political election. Should legitimate religious activity be suppressed just because an election happens to come along? Those who speak of circumventing the law are mistaken: the law simply does not apply in such matters. This is what the pettifogging jokers say who have no notion what is the spirit of the law and who are adept at fine hair-splitting when it helps them to get away with murder.

I am one of those who believe that what may seem like different voices are all orchestrated. There is a larger structure of notes within which all these artistes croon their separate parts. The apparently critical statement which one limb makes about another is not spontaneous: it is pre-planned and part of a larger plan. Thus, when Togadia’s bravado in threatening a Godhra yatra turns out to have been a damp squib, it is also pre-arranged that he will be arrested only after he and others have gathered – despite prohibitory orders – and performed their ceremony. The government of Gujarat can say that it has respected a constitutional injunction, and the conquering hero gains lustre in the eyes of his followers.

James Michael L., the known Italian Christian, who whispers with Sonia Maino in dark church interiors, has been responsible for preventing one more glorious activity in the service of the Cause. Why must it be so? Because until we win our Hindu Rashtra we have to make token obeisance to this damned pseudo-secular Constitution thing. But, never fear. It is only a matter of time. As soon as we have re-enacted Gujarat all across the country....

Therefore I do not look at the Sangh Parivar as the royal family, struggles within which are to be watched avidly, every sneeze being faithfully reported and extensively speculated upon. The members of this family sneeze to plan. There is no struggle within.

The anthropologist Jack Goody’s The Developmental Cycle of Domestic Groups (1957) was a systematic statement of what happens to familial units over time. They grow, either just downwards or sideways as well, up to a point. Then they split, with the fragments forming new units which begin the cycle again. As can be imagined, several factors are at work, simultaneously and at successive stages; and the process is not the same in all societies.

I am reminded of this when I think of the Sangh Parivar. The "family" analogy should not be carried far, of course, because neither kinship nor descent nor living together is involved.

There is the view that maybe the Parivar is getting too big and too diverse to hold together. Its organisation has historically been based on chains of personal loyalty, all leading up to the dictator at the summit. But with members getting into positions of power outside the organisation and gaining access to resources which are not doled out only by the man above, there is scope for rumblings of personal ambition and individual aggrandisement. Multiple centres of power become a possibility.

The very growth of the "family" brings with it its own problems. Specially since entering the political arena in a big way, the Parivar has recruited people of a kind who were not earlier its members. The widened "catchment area" means that many can get in who have not been conditioned since childhood, who are not properly indoctrinated. While such people are necessary to the organisation in its new roles, their less than absolute loyalty also poses a risk.

I find myself hoping that there may be some truth in this line of thinking. Therefore I rejoice when I see reports which play up, deliberately or otherwise, the differences between Parivar members. My hope is that growing personal animosities will join with inherent confusions to eventually cause the noisome creature to self-destruct.

Much as we may wish to treat these people as the buffoons they resemble, we cannot do this: for their very lack of coherent ideology and the great deal of violence that is literally bred into them give them a distinctly sinister quality. They respect nothing civilised and do not value even human life. Gujarat after 28 February 2002 is an eminently clear statement of their destructive abilities.

The conclusion of this would seem to be that we should be fearful of them. But to fear people who thrive on inducing fear would be a recipe for defeat. Better, I suggest, to think of them as scorpions. Decades ago, having been stung, I became particular about looking in my shoes before putting them on. When needed, the shoes had other uses.

Thus the recipe: abundant caution and swift action.

(Nov. 30, 2002) q

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