The fine print in Hindutva


There is a need to acknowledge the project’s appeal and the intricacies of representation in order to counter it

Modern democracies are erected upon the twin pillars of rights and representation. While rights define the minimum due of individuals and communities vis-à-vis the state, representation enables the diverse voices in a polity to be heard. However, most critiques interrogate Hindutva through the limited lens of representation, arguing that it essentially represents interests of upper-caste Hindus. This is a misleading claim.

A case in point is West Bengal, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 18 seats in the last Lok Sabha election and secured 40.3% of votes, including five out of 10 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and both the seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. This is not an exception. Earlier, the BJP registered victories in Tripura and Uttar Pradesh and has continually dominated Madhya Pradesh and Bihar on the back of widespread subaltern support. Even then, academia is in denial about the ideological resonance of Hindutva among the subaltern sections because of a flawed understanding of the Hindutva project and its relationship with the politics of representation.

A tool for mobilisation

The claim that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) aspires to revive an old, ritually sanctioned, caste-based social order is incorrect. Often, examples like the introduction of policies like reservations for Economically Weaker Sections are advanced to bolster this claim, ignoring the fact that parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Janata Dal (United), which were catapulted to power by the Mandal agitation, put up only a tokenistic opposition to it. The ambition of Hindutva is not restricted to pushing a certain policy — it is to convert Hinduism into an ethnic order and reconstitute it as a race, a term repeatedly employed by Savarkar. This entails the process of simultaneous inclusion of the marginalised within Hinduism and the exclusion of the Muslim and Christian ‘other’. As a result, Hindutva has always nurtured a disdain for rituals. They are only a means of political mobilisation and reinforcing the Hindu identity, bereft of any innate sanctity. This is apparent in the party’s duplicitous stance on eating beef, a practice it opposes in the Hindi belt but condones in the northeast.

In India, the imposition of a modern state on a traditional society under colonialism destabilised the Hindu social order and gave rise to the politics of Hindutva and social justice. Modernity provided the hitherto unavailable language of rights and mechanisms of representation. Marginalised communities used these resources for ensuring upward mobility through representation and complemented it with struggles for moral and spiritual self-determination. The latter primarily included demands for inclusion within the Hindu fold via renegotiation of tradition. It was only when these demands of renegotiation remained unfulfilled that a section of subaltern communities rejected Hinduism and embraced Buddhism.

In the post-Independence era, while the JP movement presented an ideological critique of the excesses of the state and foregrounded the safeguarding of the rights of citizens, the parties born out of the movement gradually embraced the politics of ‘impoverished representation’, wherein who was being represented became the sole concern, while what values were being represented ceased to matter. It is this model of ideologically unanchored identity politics, based solely on representation, which paved the way for Hindutva’s rise. The project has cracked the code of such representational politics and successfully mobilised subaltern communities, producing a string of subaltern leaders like Narendra Modi, Uma Bharti, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Keshav Prasad Maurya, Renu Devi, Tarkishore Prasad, Sarbananda Sonowal, Dilip Ghosh, etc. It must be emphasised that while the BJP has left the representational matrix untouched, it has clamped down on the domain of rights, as is evident by wanton invocation of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the introduction of laws against ‘love jihad’, steamrolling Bills through Parliament, enabling opaque political funding through electoral bonds, facilitating the corporate takeover of the economy and destabilising elected State governments. The present model of the politics of representation is incapable of addressing these issues that confront our democracy.

Democratisation has increased the thrust towards ritualistic inclusion within Hinduism, and hence, it seems unlikely that mere representational rejigging will dent Hindutva’s hegemony. A challenge to Hindutva requires a complete reorientation of politics from demographic imperatives to democratic ones, for which the opposition needs to foreground issues of rights and transparency along with representation.

The author is a former PhD Scholar at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU

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