Cherry-picking only Hindu icons: BJP’s cultural nationalism threatens idea of pluralistic India

The BJP-RSS plan to celebrate Hindu icons who participated in India’s freedom struggle along with its own ideologues such as Deendayal Upadhyaya to mark the completion of one year of the Narendra Modi government is yet another instance of historical revisionism aimed at religious and political polarisation of people.

G Pramod Kumar May 18, 2015 18:45:06 IST
Cherry-picking only Hindu icons: BJP’s cultural nationalism threatens idea of pluralistic India

The BJP-RSS plan to celebrate Hindu icons who participated in India’s freedom struggle along with its own ideologues such as Deendayal Upadhyaya to mark the completion of one year of the Narendra Modi government is yet another instance of historical revisionism aimed at religious and political polarisation of people.

By cherry-picking leaders such as Mangal Pandey, Nana Sahib and Rani Lakshmi Bhai, and the places where they fought their battles against the British to organise commemorative programmes, both the BJP and the Sangh are clear in their intent – amplify the roles of Hindu icons in Indian history that will obfuscate the roles of others, notably the household names that generations of Indians are familiar with such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Also obscured will be names such as Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Maulana Mohammed Ali, Ghan Abdul Gaffar Khan and Mohammed Ramazan Khan. While they sing paeans to Mangal Pandey, unsung will be Bahadur Shah Safar.

This Times of India report quotes a BJP spokesperson who does admit that the places selected for the celebration do denote “cultural nationalism”. This is a regressive proposition because cultural nationalism doesn’t acknowledge religions and customs that originated in other geographical areas. Culture is never static and what is denoted as Indian culture has been a work in progress that has assimilated philosophies, religious beliefs, socio-economic thoughts and customs from outside its geographic boundaries. By amplifying the Hindu icons and stating that its strategy is to promote cultural nationalism, the BJP unabashedly admits that its ideology is exclusivist and reactionary.

Cherrypicking only Hindu icons BJPs cultural nationalism threatens idea of pluralistic India

PTI

And this is not new. Every time BJP comes to power, mythology gets packaged as science and pseudo-sciences such as astrology and vasthu-shastra get re-discovered as either our cultural heritage or science itself. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, quantum mechanics and even space technology suddenly get traced to Ancient Indian wisdom and religious texts. And school textbooks and research institutions, particularly those in history and culture, come under enormous stress.

During the BJP’s rule in 1998, the then director of National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), J.S Rajput had justified the controversial revision of school textbooks on similar lines: "Every country should write its history from its own point of view. Our history books have been written from a Euro-centric view because we were a colony for so long. History books should instil a sense of pride in the young mind and should be rooted in our culture." This was clearly historic revisionism.

Justifying their revisionism, the BJP and the Sangh always accuse the Congress and the Leftists of misrepresenting history. But as historian Romila Thapar noted, the confrontation is not between the Leftist and Rightist historians, but “between professional historians and politicians sympathetic to the Hindutva persuasion”.

This is the problem with BJP’s cultural nationalism, which by definition itself is not progressive. It’s skewed, loaded and is laden with exclusivist ideology. This is historic revisionism that’s aimed at marginalising certain sections of society, polarising people based on their “cultural” (read religious) beliefs and strengthening a polarised vote-bank. More than the perpetuation of political power through faith-based ideologies, the obvious danger is their embedment in our cultural and social practices and the consciousness of ordinary people. They change, sometimes irreversibly, the real history of India, including the narrative of its freedom struggle, and the idea of India itself.

In its 2014 election manifesto, the BJP doesn’t hide an interesting double speak. It says that the party “believes in India being one country, one people and one nation.” In the next sentence it contradicts itself by saying that it also “recognizes the importance of diversity in Indian society, and the strength and vibrancy it adds to the nation. The party believes in the principle of unity in diversity.” One country, one people and one nation is against heterogeneity and diversity. And that exactly is the threat of its cultural nationalism.

That the party chose it as a plank to celebrate its one year in government doesn’t augur well for the idea of a multicultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic India.

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