Heckling Asaduddin Owaisi in Parliament with chants of Jai Shri Ram smacks of an age-old idea of muscular, divisive Hindutva

"The objective aims of fascism are largely irrational in so far as they contradict the material interest of a great number of those whom they try to embrace. . . Since it would be impossible for fascism to win the masses through rational arguments, its propaganda must necessarily be deflected from discursive thinking; it must be oriented psychologically and has to mobilize irrational, unconscious, regressive processes."
- Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda. Theodore Adorno.


On Tuesday, Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and other ministers of the Opposition took the oath in the Lok Sabha amidst loud chants of Jai Shri Ram by BJP ministers in the Parliament. In response, Owaisi ended his speech with — "Jai Bhim, Jai Meem, Takbeer Allahu Akbar, Jai Hind", others replied with "Constitution Zindabad", "Hindustan Zindabad", "Jai Maa Kali" and "Jai Hind, Jai Bangla".

This is not the first time Jai Shri Ram was used as a rallying call to assert the idea of a muscular Hindu Rashtra. The chant has long been used to create a divisive politics of hate, starting with the violence in Ayodhya and the destruction of the Babri Masjid. In September 1990, LK Advani, the then BJP president, started the Ram Rath Yatra with VHP and other Sangh cadres dressed as mythological figures, chanting Jai Shri Ram.

The chant embodied the Sangh's construction of an imaginary Hindu nation through myth and propaganda. It employed the narrative of Hindu victimhood, martyrdom, and the need for a political Hindu resurgence through any means possible, even violence. The path of the Ram yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya was marked by hate speech, communal polarisation, and violence. The Yatra was followed by several riots that targeted the Muslim communities throughout the country. In 'Religious Symbols and Political Mobilisation: The Agitation for a Mandir at Ayodhya', KN Panikkar, writes that "from the very beginning the yatra created tension between the Hindus and Muslims, even in localities far removed from its route. Between 1 September and 20 November, communal riots occurred in which 564 people died. The details are as follows:" (excerpted from the essay )

 Heckling Asaduddin Owaisi in Parliament with chants of Jai Shri Ram smacks of an age-old idea of muscular, divisive Hindutva

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi taking oath as Lok Sabha MP. ANI

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi taking oath as Lok Sabha MP. ANI

Just before the Ram Rath Yatra, the Sangh circulated posters and books that refashioned the image of Ram from a "compassionate and benevolent" deity into an angry god ready for battle. Sangh Parivar's new Ram was an angry god with a "trishul, a sword, and an axe", all 'poised to annihilate'. Anuradha Kapur writes about the visual transformation of the 'deity to a crusader' in the book, 'Hindus and Others'.

After the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, Jai Shri Ram became a rallying call for an aggressive Right-wing Hindutva nationalism that drew its strength from communal hatred, bullying, bigotry, and its resulting violence. Here, violence was not an unintended consequence, it was crucial to win elections and consolidate power. Religious polarisation through violence became an important political strategy for the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. BJP did not win seats, despite the use of religious and caste-based violence, they won it because they were willing to deploy it. For instance, in the 1984 elections, BJP won 2 seats; in the 1989 elections 89 seats; and in 1991, 120 seats, making them the largest Opposition party.

Similarly, during the 2002 Gujarat riots, Jai Shri Ram was used by violent Hindu mobs. In Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi's "Pogrom in Gujarat", one of the men speaking about the carnage in Naroda Patiya states, "The police did absolutely nothing. Some policemen actually cheered and shouted Jai Sitaram." In days leading up to the Godhra incident, Bajrang Dal cadre on the Sabarmati Express attacked Muslims and forced them to shout, Jai Shri Ram.

In December that year, the BJP in Gujarat, led by Modi, the then chief minister, won its second term in a landslide victory on a campaign that "fused religion and politics". Fifteen years later, he repeated this 'winning formula'. At a rally in Ayodhya, this May, the prime minister led chants of Jai Shri Ram. Similarly 'Tomaar Naam, Amar Naam, Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Ram' was widely circulated in West Bengal as a part of the election campaigning.

Rhetoric and violence

The BJP has successfully communalised Indian politics by changing the discourse on secularism and pushing an anti-secular agenda into the political, ethical, social and moral life of the nation.

While the BJP is not the first political party to exploit religion and caste-based differences for electoral gain, its mobilisation is fundamentally different. "Each mobilisation program" of the party and the Sangh is "mob-oriented, creating de-individualised, irrational and violent participants."

The Hindutva project is not just authoritarian, it is fascist. It can only survive by homogenising ideas, arguments, gods, rituals, and behaviours through coercion. It demands a nation that is not only Hindu, but it also dictates that there only be one kind of a Hindu, who is defined and constructed by the BJP and the Sangh affiliates. Sangh's ideology is not just a violent attack against the country's minorities, it also lays siege to the diversity of ideas, prayers, worship, and faith within those who consider themselves Hindu.

For the BJP and the Sangh, religion was never a matter of private faith, it also embodies a nation, and therefore the government, its institutions, and its laws. By using Jai Shri Ram to heckle Muslim Members of Parliament like Shafiqur Rahman Barq, Asaduddin Owasi, and taunting member of Trinamool Congress, the BJP MPs took it upon themselves to become a mob that territorialised and marked the secular India Parliament as a religious institution.

They heckled at several members of parliament because of their religious identity, and because they were the opposition. This was an orchestrated act of majoritarian bullying and strategic political messaging. It was not just elected public officials disregarding norms of secular behaviour, it was an overt use of religious symbolism that legitimised hate, as a prelude to genocidal violence, as deployed and witnessed many times over. These political messages need to be countered, not by petitioning the mob of minister for basic decency and etiquette, or hoping that this was an aberration, in an otherwise secular parliament.

We are well past that kind of foolishness and wishful thinking.

When Owais ended his oath by beginning with "Jai Bhim", and Shafiqur Rahman Barq concluded his by saying "Constitution of India Zindabad" what we have is perhaps a blueprint for countering the BJP's many strategies and policies of hate. Owaisi, in a recent interview with HuffPost India, said, "The Muslim community will have to actively participate in making alliances with socially disadvantageous groups whether they are the Dalits or Other Backward Classes...That is the only way forward because we must realize and come out of this comfort zone that the so-called secular parties are there. They are not."

As the country becomes more polarised and divided by hate, Jai Bhim might be the only response to BJP's Jai Shri Ram.

The author is a Barrister and a writer. She is the founder and the executive director of The Polis Project, Inc. She tweets at @suchitrav

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Updated Date: Jun 20, 2019 15:29:58 IST