The Sangh and the Betrayal of the Cosmopolitan Secular Nation

Archana Prasad

IN his recent Sardar Patel Memorial Lecture Dream India 2030: Avoiding the Pitfalls, Ajit Doval, the national security advisor, forcefully argued that there “are plenty of forces more within than outside, who probably are bent upon eroding the will of the nation.” He stated that criticism and “false narratives” would lead to “communal riots” and social disharmony” and that a “strong and stable government” was needed for the next ten years. He also argued that the nation would suffer if there was political fragmentation and a coalition government. Doval’s lecture was not a befitting tribute to one of the stalwarts of the freedom movement, rather it was a launch of a political campaign in intellectual and middle class circles to justify the unconstitutional and illegitimate acts of the Sangh Parivar and its government in the name of a “strong and stable government”. That the speech given by NSA Doval is part of a larger Sangh Parivar strategy at creating a polarisation between patriotic Hindu ‘nationalists’ and the ‘anti-national’ other is evident when it is contextualised in contemporary political developments.

An analysis of the political situation in the post 1990 era also shows that the Sangh has been active in seriously challenging the concept of secular and cosmopolitan nationalism which formed the basis of consensus between different classes and social groups at the threshold of independence. As has been pointed out by significant studies, it is obvious that the Sangh and its associated organisations did not play a significant role in the freedom struggle and therefore expressed their disagreement with this idea of ‘nationhood’. In the process they lost considerable political legitimacy and were forced to rethink their strategies. The 1950s and 1960s saw the first direct attack on rights of women with the Sangh’s full opposition to the Hindu Code Bill and a push for banning of Christian missions in tribal areas. Of course they were backed in their endeavour by conservative and upper caste Congressmen, but the opposition fitted in well with the conception of a Hindu Rashtra. The emergency gave an opportunity for the revival of the Sangh and thereafter it began to broaden its social base especially amongst the dalits and adivasis with its constructive work in health and education through the setting up of NGOs, many of whom received aid to run government programmes under successive regimes. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram was one of the biggest recognised NGOs by successive governments and received great amount of government funds for its operations. In the name of education it silently worked at the polarisation of tribal identities widening the base of the RSS, but without reforming its ideology. Hence the ‘Hindu tribal’ and ‘Hindu dalit’ identities became a significant part of the Sangh ideology even though its conception of nationhood remained patriarchal, upper caste and majoritarian in character. This was seen in the way in which the Sangh tried to sanskritise the non-brahmanical castes and adivasis. They also tried to appropriate the culture of some of these social groups into their hierarchical structure.

This majoritarian idea of exclusive cultural nationalism still forms a core of the Sangh ideology and is being used to violate the constitutional values and the spirit of cosmopolitanism. This has been especially evident in the last four years of the Modi government when the State apparatus and State supported fringe and Sangh organisations have used physical violence, fake cases and ideological targeting for polarising opinion in favour of their own brand of nationalism. This tendency is made more lethal when it is combined with crony capitalism and the privatisation of public services. A case in point is the campaign against higher educational institutions like JNU which lay the foundations for critical thinking and cosmopolitan secular values. Typically these universities are becoming subjected to baseless charges of spreading ‘anti-national’ ideologies and supporting banned ‘Maoist’ organisations and are being used to target individuals and organisations opposing privatisation and adverse structural changes within the democratic structure. Such a campaign is closely tied up with the mindless military conflict between the State and the ‘Maoists’, both of whom strengthen each other and have huge negative impacts on the ordinary adivasis. However, such conflict is not even handed in character and the State, instead of targeting ‘Maoists’ ends up targeting ordinary adivasis and their advocates who are agitating for their basic rights of which they are historically bereft. The campaign against so called ‘Maoist’ sympathisers is not only misinformed but also rooted in the strong anti-democratic character of Hindutva patriotism and nationalism. This is reflected in the recent incarceration of some intellectuals and activists who have been fighting against State atrocities and the unconstitutional acts of fringe Hindutva organisations in the name of ‘anti Maoist’ operations’.

Another instance of the blatant creation of space for majoritarianism was seen in the 2002 Gujarat riots where chief minister Narendra Modi gave an open hand to Sangh organisations and their lumpens to carry out mass genocide of minority communities and their supporters. The premeditated design behind the riots was explained in detail by the judgment in the Naroda Patiya riots. The complicity of the state government has been elucidated by Lt General Zamiruddin Shah in his book The Sarkari Mussalman who recounts his experience as the commander of operation Parakram during the riots. Shah shows that the Modi government was not responsive to his calls to take action and that the police had been totally communalised during the riots. This was borne out by the ways in which investigations were handled by the police. This indictment further strengthens the conclusion that Gujarat 2002 was seen as a site of experimentation for Hindutva forces, and their success further strengthened their resolve to attack the constitutional fabric once they came into power within the country.

The most recent attempt at polarisation is the protest against Sabarimala judgment and the statements made by the BJP president against the Supreme Court. It is well known that the petitioners in the case were not leftists rather some of them were close to the Rashtriya Sewika Sangh. However once the state government declared its intent to abide by the judgment, the ugly head of the Sangh reared against once again. The threats to dismiss government in the name of protecting ‘tradition’ became commonplace and an explosive situation was created where lumpen elements gained the upper hand under the umbrella of Sanghi ‘Ayyappa devotees’. It is questionable whether this move has a genuine ‘religious’ element at all, as its main aim is to dismantle a democratically elected government. In other words the BJP and Sangh are using Sabarimala and the Sangh to destablise a progressive harmonious society and polity. In the light of the above discussion, it is obvious that Doval’s comments on the enemy within do not apply to anyone else, but the Sangh Parivar and its union government. It is one more attempt at the creation of the ideological foundations for undoing the conception of a modern nation state that was established through many sacrifices of workers and peasants.


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