The xenophobic potion of cultural nationalism, or the ideology of "one people, one nation, one culture", is being administered in small doses.
The first phase of the Bharatiya Janata politics was marked by the targeting of mosques and churches. After the advent of Narendra Modi, the scene has become quieter. In fact, the Ram temple issue has been put on hold and even the fulminations against “love jihad”, the supposedly sinister plan of Muslim youths to marry Hindu girls, have faded away, at least for the time being.
But that doesn’t mean that the votaries of Hindutva have taken a back seat. Instead, the xenophobic potion of cultural nationalism, or the ideology of “one people, one nation, one culture”, is being administered in small doses. The latest ploy is “ghar wapsi” or inducing Muslims and Christians to “return home”, i.e., to their original religion of Hinduism, even if some of them are untouchables in the eyes of upper caste Hindus.
It is no secret, however, that religious fervour has little to do with these exercises of offering prayers over sacred flames in a purification ceremony for cleansing the non-Hindus. These are blatantly provocative acts of political gamesmanship in line with the decades-old majoritarian philosophy of creating tension with the aim of making political gains by targeting the minorities.
It is evident from these divisive endeavours by organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and others at the behest of their mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), that the militants in the saffron camp are paying no heed to the prime minister’s call for observing a 10-year moratorium on sectarianism. Instead, they have become more intent than before to push forward their agenda of establishing their cherished Hindu ‘rashtra’ (nation) where the minorities will be second class citizens.
A hint of this objective is discernible from External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s call for making the Bhagavad Gita, the philosophical treatise for Hindus, the “national scripture”. What the minister has ignored is that a step of this nature will mean relegating the holy books of other religions such as the Quran or the Bible or the Guru Granth Sahib or the Avesta of the Parsis to a secondary status in a constitutionally mandated secular nation.
If this possibility did not bother the minister, the reason is that in the fascistic worldview of the saffron brotherhood, the minorities cannot be equated with the “master race” of the Hindus.
No one emphasized this distinction between the master and the rest more vigorously than BJP minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti when she distinguished between Ramzadas, or the children of Ram, the Hindu god, and haramzadon or the off-springs of illicit unions.
Even after she apologized to parliament, another former minister belonging to the BJP, Swami Chinmayananda, supported the sadhvi by saying that such appellations are in order as long as these illegitimate children remain in the country (aise haramzade desh main hain).
There is little doubt that these vicious prejudices are far too strongly embedded in the minds of the saffronities that they brook no sane advice, as from Modi.
In keeping with this concept of the innate superiority of the Hindus and Hinduism, the VHP has been insisting on the installation of the idols of Hindus gods and goddesses in churches and Christian missionary schools. Clearly, an insidious campaign is being carried on by the aggressive followers of Hindutva to create an atmosphere where the minorities will be browbeaten to accept Hindu customs at the expenses of their own cultural and religious distinctiveness.
It goes without saying that a part of this campaign is the attempt being made by Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani (who has read only up to Class 12) to impose Sanskrit on the school curriculum. Like the tenuous link between the ‘ghar wapsi’ drama and religion, the focus on Sanskrit has nothing to do with a thirst for higher education. Instead, it is motivated by the belief in the RSS cabals that the teaching of the ancient language will wean the English-speaking middle classes from their Westernized ways.
However, the advocates of Sanskrit will be appalled if a deep knowledge of the language makes the students aware of its links with Latin and enables them to peruse texts which show that the ancient Hindus ate beef, as is claimed by D.N. Jha in his book, “The Myth of the Holy Cow”.
Arguably, the difficulty of the Hindutva brigade is that unlike the 1990s when they succeeded in drumming up a wave in their favour by demolishing the Babri Masjid and targeting the Mathura and Varanasi mosques for destruction, their present antics are unlikely to yield political dividends when most people have become aware of their unholy objectives.
Moreover, the senior BJP leaders are seemingly concerned about the adverse fallout, both nationally and internationally, from the tactics of the saffron hotheads not only on the reforms but also on Modi’s personal image. As it is, he is seen to be dithering on the economic front. If he also fails to control the Taliban-type fundamentalists in his camp, few inside and outside India will believe in his ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ (development for all) pledge.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)