Pankaj Mishra, in Age of Anger, writes about the rise of populist governments around the world. While this phenomenon has much in common, especially the foregrounding of a right-wing perspective, there is also much that separates these nationalist strands.
What makes the Hindutva project unique in India is its ambition to bring about an ideological churn in an organically diverse country of a billion-plus. At the foundation of Hindutva, going back to Savarkar, lies its animosity towards Muslims.
Take Donald Trump for instance. He panders to and attracts the white supremacist vote. He is in favour of Confederacy flags flying atop government buildings in the American South. But he doesn’t really belong to white supremacist ideology. On the contrary, he is best friends with Kanye West and, under his and Kim Kardashian’s influence, has been using his presidential powers to help out blacks stewing in the judicial system.
Let’s move to Boris Johnson, the elitist-populist, who studied in Eton and Oxford’s Balliol College, which enjoys a left-wing reputation. Boris stood against outsiders of two kinds: the EU and Brussels, and the immigrant in Britain, the Polish plumber who was stealing jobs. But even in his short-lived first term, he appointed Indians to prominent posts. His recent victory owes a debt to the Indian immigrant community favouring him.
Which brings us to Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindutva. Since Hindutva is premised on an anti-Muslim fundamental, it works differently. The BJP denied electoral tickets to Muslims, rendering them politically irrelevant. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is the lone Muslim in Narendra Modi’s cabinet. Muslim appeasement, you see, had to stop with immediate effect.
The goal of the Hindu Right, from the very outset, is to show the Muslim the writing on the wall. Political irrelevance was the first step. In Ahmedabad, they are put in ghettos. Follow this up with anti-Muslim rhetoric on WhatsApp University — also meant for Muslim consumption, to show him his place — and giving lynching a free rein. The Muslim, day after day, watches gruesome videos of crimes committed, aggressors acquitted. He watches as a Hindu fanatic kills a poor Muslim labourer in a sword attack, while his nephew makes a video for national celebratory consumption. He watches as a Muslim man in Guwahati is made to sit in mush, eat pork and chant ‘Jai Shri Ram'.
The Indian Muslim watches silently as another election goes by. More poisonous fiery electoral speeches. Kashmir happens, Ram Temple happens, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) come as the last straw that breaks the cow’s back. Note that the Indian Muslim also has to deal with the daily glee and slighting at the hands of the majoritarian resurgent Hindu lad. The weak Muslim rises in protest. In Uttar Pradesh, in town after town, in Delhi, in Daryaganj, in Jamia, the Muslim is pulped by the power of the state. Tortured and beaten, at times killed, the squealing puppy retreats to lick his wounds.
In response, the Prime Minister blames educated urban intellectuals whom he calls ‘urban Naxals’. The Muslim, he’d like us to believe, has been misled by them. So the Muslim, who has been deliberately sidelined by the state, as part of its Hindutva project, is supposed to simply get on with his miserable life.
There’s another metaphor, popular amongst bhakts when Kashmir was on the boil. It’s not the puppy but the child being spanked. If Kashmiris don’t behave, they deserve to be spanked. It’s in their interest. The Muslim is the unwanted child from another family, who is thrown some scraps to eat. If he dares protest, he will be spanked even more mercilessly and disproportionately. There’s a third angle to this. The Hindu Right actually seems to derive pleasure from spanking the stepchild. It’s an end in itself. When the helpless stepchild feebly throws a toy at you in self-defence, you tell him: ‘Beta, the urban Naxal is doing this to you. Throw the toy at him.’ Then you go back to spanking the Muslim.
Let’s go back to Trump for a brief moment. Trump did not use his mandate to screw poor African Americans further, which is what the BJP did. The BJP took an already impoverished community and pushed it to the ground. For the BJP they are not individuals but guinea pigs that will be used to correct the wrongs of the past – essentially they are ideological fodder to make Hindus feel better about themselves.
At the moment, the BJP has slipped into denial mode. The imagined glue of Hindutva hasn’t worked on the ground. In Assam, for example, Assamese Hindus rejected Bangladeshi Hindus. The Muslim, who was supposed to surrender meekly, has not done so. He has been punished. The BJP has already lost Maharashtra and looks likely to lose Jharkhand. Since the BJP is in denial and refuses to acknowledge that its ideology is at fault – it can never be — it blames an invented term, the Urban Naxal. It will do well to face the fact that the chickens of Hindutva hatred have come home to roost.
The writer is the author of The Butterfly Generation & the editor of House Spirit: Drinking in India.
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Updated Date: Dec 26, 2019 10:25:28 IST