Those who pull the cultural strings

A good number of people who voted for Narendra Modi at the Centre did so in the hope and on the promise of “better days”. But there must also have been a good proportion who voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party and its promise of Hindu rights above all. Whether Modi has delivered anything at all or even will deliver is still open to question but one thing is for certain — the Hindu rightwing has jumped right in to take centre stage.

Modi, in his core, is an RSS man and always has been. Mohan Bhagwat (left) is just making that clear. File pic
Modi, in his core, is an RSS man and always has been. Mohan Bhagwat (left) is just making that clear. File pic

There’ve been a series of comments from members of the BJP and their allies across the nation in the past three months, all guiding us towards the idea of a Great Hindu Nation. The prime minister himself has said nothing and apparently, his ministers have been asked to say nothing. And now the Big Man himself has made his sentiments clear — Mohan Bhagwat, the Sarsanghchalak or head of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh had said, “The cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva and the present inhabitants of the country are descendants of this great culture.”

He went on to say that all Indians are Hindus regardless of which god they worship. Atheists have been redefined to mean people who do not have faith in themselves. The first is a reference to all those who follow other religions in India and the same old advice that they better toe the line. The second lot know who they are too.

The word Hindutva though was coined by Veer Savarkar in 1923. Bhagwat’s statement therefore requires enormous leaps along the time space continuum since, even by a conservative estimate, Hinduism existed before 1923. To be a descendant of something that is younger than you is a feat worthy of a whole textbook by the new Hindu rightwing guru, Dinanath Batra.

But of course, it’s not about that at all. This is just a reminder by the RSS to the people who did not vote for the BJP of what they have to look forward to. It is also a reminder to the Narendra Modi government about who pulls the “cultural” strings of this new government. Whether Modi defanged all RSS activists in Gujarat and silenced the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Praveen Togadia is immaterial. Modi, in his core, is an RSS man and always has been. Bhagwat is just making that clear.

Because all Indians are so young — or so we are constantly told — many of them actually believe that that Congress has been in power non-stop since 1947. It is unfortunate in the extreme (for their own self-esteem if not for history) that these followers of the BJP and Modi forget that the BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee had two little terms and one full term as prime minister of India. And Modi himself has been chief minister of Gujarat since 1902, sorry 2002. Not to mention innumerable BJP state governments and national coalitions. So for the few remaining Indians who have been around long enough, we have seen the BJP in power and the Sangh Parivar in full flow before. The signs are the same. But this time, the chest-thumping is in accordance with the larger majority.

There is also an attempt to get “sickulars, liberals and Leftists” (these words are often interchangeable) to change the discourse from religious majoritarianism towards the economy and foreign affairs and all the other wonderful things the Modi government is going to do. Of course, no one really has any clue what the Modi government is going to do. The fans of Modi hope that these are things that Modi is going to do and from Columbia University professors to British lords of the realm to popular writers to former veteran journalists, they have all offered their advice to the new prime minister. The day after this Independence Day, the BJP Modi celebrates three months of electoral victory. So far, none of these worthies have found a toehold in the administration.

Meanwhile, the rest of us can only go by what we can see. The evidence suggests that some foreign trips have been made, a lacklustre budget has been presented, prices are still rising, Parliament is as chaotic as ever and yes, the Hindutva forces have been having a field day.

Good days indeed... but for whom?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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