Explaining the Rise of Rightwing Social Forces in India
C P Bhambri
THE unexpected and unprecedented expansion of the right wing social forces in India in the twenty first century deserves special attention and analysis because Indian rightists and “counter social revolutionary forces” are determined to destroy the idea of pluralist, secular and democratic India and replace it by an anti-people and anti-secularist full-fledged idea of “Hindu Nationhood”. India is witnessing a kind of polarisation of society in which Hindu religious fundamentalists are trying to capture all instruments of State power for creating a social, cultural, religious and politico-economic order which is non-egalitarian and anti-Muslim and anti- Christian. The Hindu right wing is making every effort to reduce the diverse religious minorities as “second class citizens” and establish Hindu religious hegemony over the whole society in which only Hindus are considered as “first class citizens”. This idea of Hindu Rashtra as believed and practised by the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and its ideological affiliates including its political affiliate known as BJP is moving forward to influence the leadership of Hindu upper classes and the labouring lower classes with a class goal of capturing the State power to make India a Hindu state, country, society and culture. Political power is a means to establish ideological hegemony of vedic-Brahmanical Sanskrit brand of Hinduism over the whole society. The goal of RSS is to establish its totalitarian control to create a state system and society which is fundamentally opposed to all the basic values enshrined in the republican, democratic, secular, pluralist, federal and social welfarist Constitutional system of governance which is a product of all tendencies of anti-colonial national liberation movements and struggles. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh established by Dr K B Hedgewar and strengthened by M S Golwalkar was never a part of anti-colonial national struggles and hence it has no commitment to the constitution and its values. How is it that these totalitarian anti-democratic forces have succeeded in replacing and displacing the progressive social and democratic forces from the centre stage of society, politics, economics and culture in India? It deserves to be mentioned that not only in pre-independence India, even in post-independence phase, the center stage of approximately the whole society was occupied by centrist forces represented by the all India Congress and socialists and communists and this fact was substantiated that in the Lok Sabha and state assembly elections of 1951-52. It were the Congress, the socialists and the communists who had occupied the ruling party space as well as the opposition party space and other communalists or rightists were “marginal” in the elected legislatives of 1951-52. It was the bloc of the communist and the socialist MPs which made up for the largest opposition group in the Lok Sabha and in 1959 the first Communist Party government with EMS Namboodiripad as the chief minister was formed in Kerala after the elections of 1957. The undivided Madras Presidency and later on Andhra Pradesh carved out of it had sizeable presence of communist MLA’s in the state assemblies. How was it possible for the marginalised Jan Sangh or Ram Rajya Parishad or Hindu Mahasabha of early 1950s to take such a big leap forward beginning from the 1990, and eventually in the 21st century are in the control of the central and many state governments? First, it can be no one’s case that social, cultural, religious tendencies were non-existent or marginal in the Indian society. On the contrary, religion has always played a dominant and even a controlling role. It is an important factor in the lives of the Indian people and because religious factor has always been crucial in moulding the attitudes of mass of people, the superstructure of politics could be built on the social soil where religion plays a crucial role in shaping the value-systems of the masses. Thus strong presence of religious faith among the majority of Muslim people made it possible for political parties, groups and leaders to build their organisation on the basis of religious mobilisation of people for politics, if such religion-based parties had desired to exercise political power for the defence of their religion. It is not without reason that religion-based socially extremist parties have always been in contestation with the secular democratic parties in the whole of 20th century India.
Religion was available as a formidable force if parties or groups wanted to build their political base on the idea of defence of religion as their goal in politics. The beginning of 1990s witnessed a new political phenomenon, like a break with the past, when the All India Congress Party not only abandoned its economic project of planning for growth and social justice in favour of just growth on the basis of following a new path of liberalistion, privatisation and decrepitation of economy preferring free market competitive economy, along with preference for the free market capitalism it did not see itself as a defence for secularism against the onslaught of RSS-BJP because it did not politically fight out against L K Advani’s so called rath yara knows as Ram Janmabhoomi movement. There was complete failure of the Congress to accept the challenge thrown by Hindu communalists who were openly targeting Muslim community and succeeding on December 6, 1992 with the demolition of Babri Masjid by all the affiliates of RSS under the leadership of swayamsevakes like L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi et al. The RSS with all its Hindu Rashtravadi affiliates celebrated not only the demolition of the Mosque but also the fact that they had achieved their main political goal of decimating the Congress party by projecting it as an opportunist party. The beginning of 1990s was the beginning of the emergence of self-confident and self-assured right wing Hindu Rashtravadis who had succeeded in demolishing the whole structure of secularisation as enshrined in the constitution of India because they had not faced any road block or resistance from so-called divided and fragmented secular parties and RSS and its affiliates found secular Congress as an “empty shell” which failed to stand up and get counted when the moment of trial had come. The politics of Hindutva succeeded not only on the basis of its large scale mobilisation, but also because of the complete collapse of its main opponent, the Congress.
Third, besides the above mentioned explanation for the rising tide of Hindu communalism, the larger explanation of the growth of religion-based rightist forces is that pre-capitalist, feudal religious traditions were never frontally attacked by the secular modernists even during the anti-colonial struggle for independence. The social dialectical process of colonial phase of Indian history can only be understood by identifying the positive and negative forces which were engaged in grappling with the challenges thrown by the colonies. The positive aspect of pre-independence colonial phase was the struggles launched by the various oppressed and exploited strata of society by colonial exploiters and because of these anti-colonial popular people’s struggles, a new India was getting born and freedom is my birth right became the significant part of social and political consciousness of multiple political struggle for freedom from exploitative and oppressive British colonial rule struggle is the mid-life of new social consciousness and the greatest achievement of anti-colonial struggles was mass awakening among peasantry, working class, lower middle classes who had made great sacrifices to win India’s freedom. The negative aspect of this social dialect was that compromises were made with the cultural and religious tradition of pre-capitalist feudal part and post-independence India was an inheritor of all cultural traditions which were integrally linked with religion, rituals. The devout Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs continued with their rituals of worship and temple mosque, Churches, gurudawaras continued to be considered as “sacred” and their custodian, the religious priests, commanded respect and authority and the religious believers were expected to “obey” the priestly class. This religious inheritance has been further solidified because the idea of Indian secularism, ie co-existence of all religions and equal respect for religious beliefs of all communities made people accept religion and challenge to religious beliefs or rituals was considered as “hurting the religious sentiment” of various religious communities. It is not without reason that for political purposes, the Sangh Parivar brings shankaracharyas and other preachers of Brahmanical rituals in public-political debate to win over the Hindu voters.
The social consciousness of the masses is indoctrinated with the values of Hindu religion and the Sangh parivar is successful in playing on religious sentiments of Hindus against the “other” ie Muslims and Christians. It is not only that a Hindu party is able to win over the loyalty of Hindu religious believers with the help of Hindu priests and by projecting Muslims and Christians as the “other”. The ruling or petti-bourgeoisie, or lower middle class or “basic classes” like the labouring class which are in sizable number were also brought under this influence. Even the grip of religion, and in spite of exploitation by the ruling classes in a capitalist system of India, belief in religion cuts across class lines. Thus, the BJP-RSS affiliates have been able to create a solid Hindu constituency for their goal of Hindu nationhood, all other formations are “fragmented” and because of this “fragmentation” united anti-Hindu hegemonic ideological platform of struggling “basic classes” has not become strong enough to throw an effective challenge to Hindu rightwing reactionary forces in India. The recent “trade union strike” at an all India level in the first week of September shows that anti-exploitation struggles can be successfully launched, however, unity among the exploited and oppressed is threatened by otherwise “religious politics” of Hindu Rashtravadis. Hence the agenda and platform of mass struggle can succeed if medieval religious legacies are challenged by combining it with struggles against exploitation.