The Crisis of Hindutva
Hindutva has achieved a substantial momentum in India’s polity. The impending danger of an authoritarian communal regime is looming large over the horizon. But the way ahead is not as easy as it seems, for the hindutva forces. And the very strategies which have been successful in expanding their organizational strength, culminating in the political coronation at the centre, are going to create a paradoxical hindrance in furthering their subsequent movement.
Hindutva Logic and Its Unintended Consequences
Hindutva way of doing politics is essentially a communal one. It is a very effective way of doing politics in India, given the socio economic and cultural context.
There is a rampant inequality in resource allocation in our country. Job opportunities are less. One has to face severe competition to attain upward social mobility. Such a state of affairs provides a fertile objective ground for any sort of divisive and sectarian intervention in society. Hindutva has been playing it well for a long time. With their massive propaganda machine and the intricate network of organizational tentacles, they had created a lively narrative in which Muslims had been assigned a causal role in creating and perpetuating the existing material impoverishment of the people, especially the Hindus .They have been embellishing this narrative with culturally sensitive subtle subtexts-(the story of a Hindu golden age in its innumerable locally appealing forms, the story of a Muslim invader that too locally sensitive-from Ghazni, Babur and Aurangzeb to Tippu ,atrocities happened during partition)- and incredibly effective and ingeniously fabricated periodic top up plots like ayodhya movement, love jihad, problem of Bangladeshi immigrants etc. This narrative is so powerful that it can accommodate almost any event happening around.
This is acting as the cornerstone of hindutva’s political abstraction. Take any event. Identify the role of Muslims or immigrants or any other possible communal element in it. Add the appropriate locally sensitive cultural or historical ingredient to it and create a daughter narrative with a life of its own in its particular spatio-temporal coordinates. Every such individual local daughter narrative, in spite of having a life of its own, has been necessarily reinforcing the original sangh project and its narrative. One should admit that a substantial population has assimilated this communal divisive logic as the point of departure for their political abstraction. For any future material disadvantage or impoverishment ( both the actual and the imagined ones),they can easily employ this logic or the divisive principle where they can identify one or other group among themselves are responsible and can launch a political strategy and offensive in that line.
But this strategy is turning problematic in two senses.
a) It has started moving beyond the limits and into a direction which hindutva forces do not desire- as we are witnessing a strengthening of caste politics and the emergence of newer identity based movements.
b) the vitality of the hindutva narrative has started waning due to multiple reasons
Strengthening of Caste Politics and the Emergence of Newer Identity Based Movements.
The efficacy of an ideological narrative like that of hindutva’s lies in its ability to mask the reality and to alter that reality with abstractions derived from its ideological premises. But the untamed edges of objective reality will be constantly emerging into the surface over the ideological capping as long as there are real social conflicts and divergent interests in the society. hindutva project envisages a reified Hindu community which is a cohesive monolith anchoring around sangh’s version of dharmic tradition and sanatan hindutva. But the real Hindu society is highly non egalitarian and diverse. Caste discrimination is perverse. Caste continues to remain as a strong variable determining the ability and opportunity for material entitlements like land, money and job. This harsh reality has started transcending the ideological veil of hindutva and started replacing the communally divisive thinking based on religion into a sectarian thinking based on caste, in a systematic way.
Indian polity has witnessed a gradual consolidation of caste politics in its various parts. Other identity centered tendencies like regionalist and even parochial (Telangana ,ghoorkha land ,naga, Tamil, Maratha etc) are also prominent at some parts. Such movements have a more powerful appeal among the individual constituencies than the Hindutva logic provided by the Sangh, as such micro movements are capable of addressing the exclusive demands and disadvantages of the identity group. They need not temper their demands to reconcile with a broader national level interests against which they are keeping some arguments. Essentially there is a competition among various identity groups on multiple issues. And their interests can turn mutually exclusive and antagonistic at times. So as an organization based on Hindu unity and as it has been involved in central administration, Sangh has to face difficulty in reconciling the sectarian demands of such groups. Doing a favor to one group on some matter to accommodate them will necessarily alienate the other for the exactly same reason. And we should take note of the fact that Hindutva logic has no primacy among the common people to keep them under the sky of Sangh when more appealing micro narratives and logic are available. The regional and caste narratives are much stronger as they have embedded in the real life situation of the people. Sangh has a difficulty in consolidating its strength in situations where such regional options are existing.(Tamil Nadu, areas of Sivasena influence in Maharashtra ,North East India).
Instead of identifying the inherent problems in development process for this sad predicament, people start employing the very divisive logic they had learned to use against Muslims under hindutva ideological instructions. They started talking against reservations and have been building political agitations on it. They identified the backward castes who have access to reservations in government jobs as the cause of their problem. They accuse lower castes of stealing their opportunity.
BJP had managed to get 7 lok sabha seats in Assam in the previous election. But this does not indicate a strong organizational presence or acceptance of hindutva project. But it had been the brilliant tactics devised by the BJP to ride on the strong anti immigrant sentiment prevalent in Assam since 1980s, that made them victorious. But a more virulent local political formation which can manage to invest on this anti immigration sentiment can easily shift the existing situation to their favor. Once there is a competition, the more ruthless and the absolutist identity player will win, provided the same sectarian logic prevails.
There are two aspects to be considered in the emergence of this particular turn in political thinking and practice. One is related to the practices adopted by backward castes in consolidating their constituency and the other is the emergence of upper caste political activism based on a claim to reservation.
For the downtrodden, backward castes who have been toiling under the hierarchical caste system for a prolonged period, the time has wrought for an emphatic affirmation of their rights. They have their own group of intelligentsia and academics who are coming up with the theoretical and conceptual tools of resistance and have politicians who are acutely aware of the ground realities and are sufficiently graduated into political maturity after a couple of decades of jerky involvement in Indian politics. Dalits and other similar groups do not even require an artificially created ideological backing for their political project. A realistic appreciation of the very reality of their disadvantages, impoverishment and discriminations will necessarily make their interests and politics in sharp antagonism to the dominant caste interests. In that sense their politics cannot be seen as a divisive one in a derogatory sense. Instead it is a partisan politics demanding for at just and fair society. But there is a possibility of this divisive logic and the resultant political abstraction impeding a wider unity of oppressed castes, as an incessant iteration of this logic can be disastrous and put people into competing microcosms of proliferating identities. We cannot predict the ways in which the identity politics will proceed in its historical course. They may forge a larger unity of oppressed castes and may ally with the other socially and economically disadvantaged sections of the society and religious minorities or can they run amok in to an excessively sectarian terrain where the possibility of doing any sort of meaningful politics ceases to exist. But all of these possibilities are extremely dangerous to the hindutva project. Naturally sangh has been very much hostile to the affirmation of dalit politics in Indian polity as is illustrated by numerous incidents in the recent times There is a nationwide dissatisfaction among upper castes especially among the economically backward sections. Current course of economic development process is not generating sufficient employment opportunities for the youth who are educated. Embarking upon an entrepreneurial career is risky and often unsuccessful. Start ups getting successful is an exception than rule. The middle class youth’s euphoric adoration of innovation and creative destruction a la Steve Jobs and Elon Musk have not taken off from the business strategy literature. There is a stiff competition for the already shrinking public sector jobs. Private sector jobs are largely underpaid and are having precarious working conditions. A pall of precarity starts glooming over their life. A precariat has become a real presence among the Indian upper castes.
Instead of identifying the inherent problems in development process for this sad predicament, people start employing the very divisive logic they had learned to use against Muslims under hindutva ideological instructions. They started talking against reservations and have been building political agitations on it. They identified the backward castes who have access to reservations in government jobs as the cause of their problem. They accuse lower castes of stealing their opportunity. The anti reservation sentiment had been there among upper classes for long. But the current conjuncture is marked by the struggles of upper castes demanding reservation for them. And these upper castes constitute a traditional strong constituency of sangh and they can effortlessly elaborate the divisive communal logic to the caste question about which they feel discontented and unfair. The patidar agitation can be considered as a decisive moment in caste based mobilizations in India. The huge popularity received by an unknown political figure like Hardik Patel indicates the gravity of the problem at hand. The bjp government has not been able to settle the issue till date and Hardik Patel continues to be in detention. A struggle for release of patidar leaders including Hardik patel was bathed in blood by the government repression. The ground is getting ready for newer forms of struggles and resistance. The Jat agitation for reservation points towards an infectious nature of this pattern of struggles. The issue may turn extremely complicated once the idea has attained a critical level of acceptance among other upper classes throughout India.
Sangh’s Stand on Caste Based Reservation
As long as the caste based reservation continues along with the current pattern of economic growth, the conflict of interests between forward and backward castes will go on aggravating. Any sort of a pan Hindu unity will be completely impossible. Caste based reservation as determinant of entitlement to job opportunity will certainly act as a strong factor in reproducing the caste identity through subsequent generations. The ambedkarite notion of annihilation of caste cannot be seen anywhere in the ideological horizon nor is the objective condition including the existing social structure, economic growth and state intervention, conducive to effect such a change in the foreseeable future. As backward castes starts affirming their caste identity in a positive way and the caste based pride remains unaffected among the upper castes, along with the economic deprivation among both the sections ,constructing a pan hindu unity will be a difficult task.
So caste based reservation will act as a strong force which prevents a hindu unity which the sangh wants to create. In this sense, Mohan Bhagwat's stand on reservation is very much understandable.
Weakening of Hindutva Narrative
Hindutva politics had been very careful in creating and maintaining an ideological climate conducive to their project. They had created several narratives over Indian partition and related communal events. Ayodhya movement was a similar effective strategy which had become a turning point in the hindutva project.
The generation who had an emotional engagement with partition and related atrocities is slowly receding. It is unlikely that such a narrative gain a substantial currency among the present generation, however strong may be the indoctrination and historical reasoning related to it. Nobody is now talking about ayodhya in any practically meaningful terms. Other temple movements like Mathura and Kashi did not receive a similar response as that of ayodhya. The agitations on “Ramsethu” also did not bring a desired result. Instead it became counterproductive in tamil nadu where karunanidhi had invoked an assault on Dravidian identity , nor the tamil people keep as an intense sentiment on rama as north indian ones do. In the context of ram sethu agitation, Christophe Jaffrelot has made an observation about the difficulty of sangh to mobilize followers on issues where the culprits are not Muslims.1 Sangh insiders like Sanjeev Kelkar agrees on the inevitable and eventual inefficacy of the religious card in forwarding the hindutva project. Instead he proposes a deep endorsement of globalization and liberalization to the fullest sense.2 Also the recent campaign on anti cow slaughter movement and the attempts at creating a sangh version of nationalist narrative have not reaped the desired results. Moreover there were adverse consequences too.Ghar vapasi campaign was also not successful as a mobilization strategy.The campaign of love jihad has some takers among the common people and it can be considered a partially successful strategy. Even though these strategies devised by the sangh may appear ineffective and innocuous on retrospective examination,they could have been highly effective if they had gained currency among people at their moments of significance.
There is a growing anger brewing in the hearts of rural poor. Along with the existing agrarian setbacks the intense drought is making a living almost impossible. Beef ban had created further problems in certain areas. The neoliberal economic prescription to restrict the fiscal deficit to the magical number will not allow a government spending to a scale That is necessary to ease the situation.There are signs of these popular discontents getting an organisational dimension and mobility at some places.
Swadeshi movements and ideas which were an integral part of the original sangh project have to recede as the bjp govt has out rightly endorsed the neoliberal developmental model. The extensive work done by theoreticians like Dattopand Thengadi on hindu way of socioeconomic organization and growth has not been considered in any meaningful way . A clash between the traditional and the neoliberal world view will necessarily create confusion among the cadres who are inspired with the swadeshi ideas. Sanghs deliberate exercises devised with a vision to appear inclusive have created confusion among the cadres and ideologues. Creating organizations like minority morchas and Muslim Rashtriya Manch has attracted criticisms within their hindu constituency. Nor are the minorities felt comfortable with this approach. R. Jagannathan, a sympathetic commentator had candidly pointed out this danger in his recent article in swarajya magazine.3
Kashmir has been a key issue around sangh’s propaganda. It has been so powerful a narrative that even a lower level cadre from southernmost parts of India used to show moral indignation about it. But the government formation with PDP whose relationship with the controversial forces is no secret is putting sangh in to a credibility crisis in the issue.
Business Class and the Sangh
The relationship with sangh and Indian business class appears very cordial at the present moment. Business class had whole heartedly tried to put current regime in place during previous election through financial and other supports. BJP government has returned its favors. But it was not possible to do what are actually offered and expected to do. Two major proposals which could have helped the business class and the rich to gain access to huge profits had failed to take off. Land bill had faced stiff resistance from farmers and common people and from parivar affiliates themselves. Then came the free internet campaign. It did not seem to be a proposal initiated and actively endorsed by the government. Nor the government was completely antagonistic to the proposal. Restriction of access to internet services beyond some basic things was the crux of the proposal, but the campaign masqueraded itself under the benevolent philanthropy of providing free internet services to rural areas by the concerned people of business class. If the campaign had succeeded ,it would have been a tectonic shift in internet service related business. The virtual real estate where the people had free access would have been kept beyond the paywall fencing. The scale of the profitability of this particular proposal could be unimaginably huge, but the government could not take a stand to facilitate this aspiration of the business class, and there was a good amount of resistance from the Indian middle class and youth who had contributed significantly to the astonishing electoral victory of the current regime.
Revamping of the labor law at the interests of entrepreneurial class has also not materialized as BMS and other trade unions had expressed their disagreements and concerns. So it is evident that the electoral pressures have prevented the government in allocating resources to the business class. In spite of being branded as extremely corporate friendly, government has not been able to proceed in that line as was expected by the corporates and the critics alike. Arun shourie’s acerbic comment which compares NDA dispensation with a congress plus cow attests to the desperation of the elite class in India. If that is the case, business can even prefer a government without the inconvenience that the things like cow would bring in. Narayana Murthi of Infosys had made an explicit acknowledgement of the adverse impact that the communal tension had been making on the chances of economic growth. The New York based analytics firm Moody had also warned the government of similar problems.
It should be remembered that UPA government had never acted against the corporate interests in any significant way. The economic growth in the neoclassical terms was also relatively satisfactory even after the financial crisis. In this condition the corporates had shifted their support in favor of BJP due to the frustration of losing control over the mechanisms of rule under the UPA4. what was meant by this ‘losing control ‘ was the government’s inability to push pro corporate reforms irrespective of the wider popular discontents that they would bring about and which in turn could jeopardize the ruling party's’ electoral fortunes.Arvind Panagaria made it explicitly clear in his prescription of economic reforms for the new regime after it had assumed power in new delhi5. Panagariya had stressed on the labour reforms,infrastructural facilitation and deregulation of “stringent” environmental restrictions which he thinks were the major factors which should be modified to overcome the underperformance of economy. Entrepreneurial class also shared the same concerns. And interestingly these are the exact domains in which the current dispensation is faltering to proceed. The emerging anti Sangh politics is not at all antagonistic towards business. Congress party has a pro reform policy. Dalit politics has a stream which openly advocates for a neo liberal kind of development strategy. Chandra Bhan Prasad, a leading dalit intellectual has been arguing for free market oriented and capitalist mode of development which can disrupt the age old caste system of India and can emancipate the lower classes from their backwardness6. Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), co founded by Chandra Bhan Prasad has been providing support for the entrepreneurial ventures of dalit people. The left parties which is supposed to take a position jeopardizing the business interests do not show any sign of emerging as a substantial alternative. So it is not imperative that a Sangh government to be there to advance the business interests. Regional parties are also more prone for lobbying and corporate manipulation as had happened in 2G scam.
There is a growing anger brewing in the hearts of rural poor. Along with the existing agrarian setbacks the intense drought is making a living almost impossible. Beef ban had created further problems in certain areas. The neoliberal economic prescription to restrict the fiscal deficit to the magical number will not allow a government spending to a scale That is necessary to ease the situation.There are signs of these popular discontents getting an organisational dimension and mobility at some places. The Kisan Sabha agitations had seen an unprecedentedly huge participation in many places. Even though these struggles have not achieved a systematic character to influence the government,they will certainly act as a deterrent to enact the excessively corporate friendly policies which in turn make the business class less confident about the government commitment to their interests.
Rapid Growth in Organisation and the Emergence of Extremist Fringe Elements
Sangh has attained an astonishing growth in last three years. It certainly is an asset on which Sangh can expand its constituency. But many of the new recruits must be the opportunist elements with their own vested interests. They can contaminate the organizational and ideological positions of sangh in long run. Even if the sangh can contain their influence, it is not easy to overcome the confusion and chaos that the new recruits can bring into the movement. This is especially significant for a rigid organization with semi militaristic character. It is interesting to observe how the sangh will temper this newer elements and enthusiasts in to its ideological and organizational discipline without making them leave the organization during the process.
Hindutva ecosystem is known for its ability to generate non state organizations to exercise a violent intervention if it is absolutely necessary for forwarding its cause. It has been more protean than the proteus himself to assume the appropriate context dependent forms to execute the specific targets. We are witnessing an emergence of non state actors of hindutva nature under current regime. But their relation to the original sangh ecosystem seems to be ambiguous. Many of them do not show the precise and clearly orchestrated nature of a sangh product. Their use of violence and conflicts with laws do not show the signs of an organizationally determined and precisely formulated strategic control in their execution.They need not necessarily have an any organizational link with sangh. Some of them have their own motives and utilizes the hindu fanatic form which has a currency and an immunity under current dispensation. But the extreme actions of these groups are putting sangh in the dock. They are not accountable. But sangh is... The moral policing crusade by such groups has started alienating a large chunk of middle class youth from sangh stable. In an analysis of Dadri killing, Shekar Gupta had warned against the possibility of these fringe elements to morph, expand and subsume the mainstream7. He was pointing out the emergence of of bajrang dal as a sister organization of sangh in the past. The extent of the disequilibrium that these forces would bring into the hindutva ecosystem cannot be predicted at this moment.
Politics is the art of possibilities. Sangh with its mighty organizational resources and seasoned ideological strategies may be able to overcome this crisis. Simultaneously the anti sangh forces can cleverly utilize these crises and the contingencies emerging out of them.