In a shift in strategy, the Sangh Parivar resorts to multiple offensives on the social and cultural fronts.
THE design of the array of political, social and religious outfits in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar is such that they can jointly and severally advance their collective ideological and organisational objectives using diverse tactics and stratagems. Multi-speak is an important component of the strategies employed by the Hindutva combine. At times these organisations adopt seemingly contradictory views on a variety of issues.
Sometimes they even put their fundamentalist slogans on the back burner in the interest of political or organisational expediency. But, even while doing so, the Parivar affiliates take forward the various facets of the central ideological theme of Hindutva, particularly at the social and cultural levels.
This aspect of the right wing has once again come to the fore through a number of initiatives taken by a clutch of Hindutva organisations, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political arm of the Sangh Parivar, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), its self-professed ideological sword arm.
Central to this new focus on the social and cultural manoeuvres by the Hindutva combine is the passage of a number of amendments to strengthen the Madhya Pradesh Gauvansh Pratishedh Adhiniyam (Madhya Pradesh Bovine Prohibition Act, 2004). The amendments passed by the Shivraj Singh Chauhan-led BJP government have added a new dimension to the cow protection laws existing in many States. The amendments have clauses that make even the consumption of beef illegal. It also stipulates that a person found guilty of cow slaughter will be liable to face up to seven years of imprisonment instead of the earlier provision of three years.
This renewed aggressive pursuit of the long-standing Hindutva agenda of cow protection has assumed significance at various levels. The slogan has been a key component of the pan-Hindu identity politics that the proponents of Hindutva have sought to advance for over eight decades. Since its inception in 1925, the RSS has formed a widespread network of Gau Raksha Samitis (cow protection societies) that maintain gaushalas (cowsheds), particularly in north India. These societies have a history of instigating riots over the issue of cow protection. They had apparently played a divisive role even during the freedom struggle. At the political level, cow protection has been a key theme of the BJP since the 1950s when it went by the name of Jan Sangh. The slogans on this issue promoted a divisive agenda. One oft-repeated slogan of the cow protection societies is: Cow is holy for Hindus, Muslims eat it to insult the Hindu faith. The Chauhan government’s preparations for introducing the Gau-Vansh Vadh Pratishedh (Sanshodhan) Vidheyak, 2010 (Prohibition of Slaughter of Cow Progeny (Amendment) Bill), were apparently triggered by a massive signature campaign undertaken by the VHP through its Vishwa Mangala Gou Grama Yatra, which travelled through different parts of the country in early 2010.
It is also significant that the aggressive revival of the cow protection agenda comes at a time when the BJP has apparently put its core ideological agenda, consisting of the construction of a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370, and the imposition of a uniform civil code, on the back burner. The BJP has not launched any aggressive campaign on these three issues for more than half a decade, since the shock defeat it suffered in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Clearly, political expediency has dictated this withdrawal because many of the BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), such as the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), have expressed reservations about advancing these issues. This context has also led to some debate within the BJP, with sections arguing that the Hindutva element of the party needs to be diluted and replaced with a laissez faire, free market-oriented political thrust.
However, the Chauhan government’s move shows that while the BJP and its central leadership may not be as vocal as they used to be on the three proclaimed core ideological issues and may even discuss alternative ideas in pursuing right-wing politics, the party’s State units would continue to advance Hindutva causes, which have pronounced anti-minority dimensions, in manifold ways. It is not Madhya Pradesh alone that has traversed this path. All the States that have come under the political and organisational influence of the Sangh Parivar have shown this tendency in varying degrees. Before Chauhan’s cow protection initiative, Gujarat had come up with amendments to an Act that dealt with the prohibition of transfer of immovable property and stipulated provisions for the protection of tenants from eviction from premises in disturbed areas. The amendment gave the government the right to decide how the transaction of property in disturbed areas should take place. Given Gujarat’s track record of the past 10 years, as also the prevailing administrative climate in the State, this was obviously heavily loaded against the Muslim minority. The Chhattisgarh government’s anti-conversion Bill of 2006 had similar characteristics.
A closer look at this phenomenon has revealed that the trend of promoting Hindutva-oriented legislative and administrative action as well as the discrimination of minorities is all the more pronounced in States where the BJP had been in power for relatively long periods. A look at the functioning of the BJP-ruled governments underscores the point that numerous aspects of governance, including the drafting of legislation, policy orientation, issuance of executive orders, maintenance of law and order and routine day-to-day administrative functioning, are exploited for this purpose (see separate stories). Almost all BJP-ruled States have, at some point or the other, witnessed attempts to promote the Hindutva world view through revision of textbooks. This is in tune with the view of the Sangh Parivar leadership that education is a crucial tool in promoting its visions about society and the world. In Madhya Pradesh, even the nomenclature of teachers has been revised as part of this exercise. The Chauhan government’s preferred title for teachers is rishi.
A variety of Sangh Parivar constituents such as the Bajrang Dal, the VHP and the Seva Bharati supplement this Hindutva thrust using methods ranging from social service to propaganda to threats to downright oppression. While the Seva Bharati and Ekal Vidyalayas have a record of sustained work in the realm of education and promotion of literacy, outfits such as the Bajrang Dal seek to dominate local communities by imposing Hindutva-oriented social mores and religious practices. The efforts in education and social sectors are facilitated in numerous ways by a number of Hindutva organisations, including those based abroad. Here too, there is a range of outfits that the Sangh Parivar can choose from at different times for different tasks. The VHP of America openly embraces Hindutva while organisations such as the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) are camouflaged under the constitutional format of a charity group. The IDRF has provided huge financial support (running into millions of dollars) to organisations in the education sector.
The social impact of these manoeuvres is undoubtedly far-reaching. Reports from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP has been in power since 1998 and 2003 respectively, point to increasing ghettoisation of minority communities, particularly the Muslim community. These reports also underscore the systematic attempts to subvert the secular character of the education system (see separate story). The Independent People’s Tribunal on Communalism, which consisted of eminent citizens like the historian K.N. Panikkar, Justice S.N. Bhargava, the sociologist Dr Asghar Ali Engineer, and Planning Commission member Syeeda Hameed, studied issues relating to this in detail five years ago by getting depositions from people in 16 States, including Gujarat, Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka.
The tribunal pointed out methodical attempts to marginalise the minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians. Specifically, it also noted that there were attempts at systematic clearing or dispossession of lands belonging to members of minority communities. The subtle and not-so-subtle communalisation of the bureaucracy, especially lower-level officials, the police and the district administration, facilitated these discriminatory processes. The tribunal noted that the criminal justice system in several States appears to be under the influence of Hindutva force and consequently there are instances of false cases being foisted against innocent Muslims. Other trends pointed out by the tribunal included denial of education to members of minority communities as well as attempts at their social and economic boycott.
The BJP-ruled States present any number of instances of the practice of the trends identified by the tribunal. The circular issued by the Chauhan government last year to all police stations directing them to collect information about Christians, including data on the number of priests, bishops, schools and institutions, is a case in point. The circular directed the police stations to find out what sort of political patronage the community received and what their economic sources were and to identify Christians with criminal antecedents.
Conclaves of purification
While these initiatives of the BJP governments and the Sangh Parivar affiliates continue apace in diverse areas, the VHP has been quietly organising shudhi melas (conclaves of purification) with the objective of making people embrace Hinduism. One such mela was organised in December 2011 at Shajahanpur in Uttar Pradesh. According to VHP activists, 1,200 people embraced Hinduism at the mela.
Such melas were organised in Haryana and Jharkhand too last year, an Uttar Pradesh-based VHP activist told Frontline. He said this initiative of the Sangh Parivar was a not-so-open challenge to the prosleytisation being carried out by Christian missionaries. Cumulatively, all these activities, from amending or drafting pieces of legislation to issuing administrative orders by BJP governments to the shudhi melas, signify that the Sangh Parivar is continuing on the Hindutva path using different means. At another level, the silence at the national level on the controversial core Hindutva issues combined with the pursuit of other aspects of the Hindutva agenda points to the political and organisational felicity of the Sangh Parivar. In fact, it has displayed this felicity repeatedly in the past four and a half decades.
In the 1970s, before the imposition of the Emergency in 1975, it aligned with the Jayaprakash Narayan-led Total Revolution, suggesting that it would play second fiddle to the Socialist leader. Post-Emergency and following the defeat of the Congress in 1977, the RSS even took the boldest decision to merge the Jan Sangh with the Janata Party, which consisted of diverse groups ranging from the Socialist Party to the free market-oriented Swatantra Party. However, when the dual membership in the RSS became an issue in the Janata Party, it displayed the skill to reinvent itself as the BJP, with professed values of Gandhian socialism. By the mid-1980s, this adherence to Gandhian socialism was given up in favour of an aggressive Hindutva and the campaign for a Ram temple at the spot where the Babri Masjid stood in Ayodhya. The demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 took the emotive content out of the Ayodhya campaign, and the Sangh Parivar once again nuanced the aggressive pursuit of Hindutva. At the peak of the Ayodhya movement in 1990-92, large sections of the Sangh Parivar had seen visions of the rise of a pan-Hindu political identity, but the demolition of the Babri Masjid alienated sizable segments of secular Hindu society, even those who had regard for some leaders in the BJP.
Sailing in many political boats
Consequently, the BJP was forced to tone down the rhetoric on Ayodhya. This led to the strengthening of the BJP-led NDA in the mid-1990s, leading to its six-year stint in power at the Centre between 1998 and 2004. This period witnessed several subtle and not-so-subtle attempts at pursuing the Hindutva social and cultural agenda, especially in the area of education. The fall of the NDA government in 2004 once again signified the reduction of the Hindutva quotient even while taking it forward in the States. Clearly, these stratagems have involved sailing in many political boats. An overall assessment would have it that the Sangh Parivar has carried all this out adeptly.
It is not as though these processes and the multi-boat sailing have been carried out without a hitch. The tumbling down from the Ayodhya high does contain the message that majoritarianism and its political manifestations are not effective tools to attain power in a country like India, where Hindu society has been historically divided for centuries on the basis of oppressive caste discrimination. The period after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which signified the alienation of sections of Hindu society also had caste dimensions. It was the lower strata of society that effectively stopped the rise of the pan-Hindu political identity. At the same time, the leadership of the Sangh Parivar is driven by the realisation that its attempts to develop a pan-Hindu political identity can go forward only with extraordinarily assertive Hindu identity politics, characterised by slogans such as Ayodhya Ram mandir and cow protection. The Sangh Parivar hopes that such assertion will ultimately lead to the creation of a pan-Hindu political identity.
The combination of multiple public postures and the periodic stints in power have indeed resulted in many problems for the Sangh Parivar, including ideological confusion and clashes between the different outfits in the Hindutva combine. One significant clash in the last decade and a half has been between the VHP and the BJP, following the VHP’s accusations about the dilution of the Hindutva agenda by the BJP. This climate, which was marked by stints in power at the Centre and in the States, also gave rise to a culture of personality cult in the BJP and tussles within its leadership. So much so that, at a conclave in 2004, the RSS leadership even contemplated propping up another political arm for the Sangh Parivar. The RSS top brass’ contention at that meeting was that the BJP no longer fulfilled the primary objective that the Sangh Parivar had envisioned for it: that of developing a pan-Hindu political identity.
A number of meetings of the Sangh Parivar constituents grappled with these issues between 2004 and 2009 even as one-time Hindutva stars such as former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati caused one organisational problem after another. While issues relating to Advani sprang from his controversial positive assessment of Pakistan founder Mahammad Ali Jinnah and his reluctance to demit office as party president, Uma Bharati was perceived as one prone to get into personality tussles with other leaders. She even went out of the BJP during this turbulent period. According to Sangh Parivar insiders, it cannot be said that the issues have been settled, although the BJP has more or less fallen in line.
At present, politically and organisationally the Sangh leadership is asserting itself, at least more steadily than in the 2000-04 period. The Hindutva-oriented initiatives that one has seen in different States recently are also a reflection of this assertion, an RSS functionary based in Lucknow said.
According to Sangh Parivar insiders, the appointment of Nitin Gadkari as BJP president was an important step in this consolidation. The periodic meetings, both formal and informal, organised by the RSS to bring all major Hindutva outfits together have facilitated the multitasking by the national and State units of the BJP and other Sangh Parivar organisations.
The last major formal Samanwaya Baithak (togetherness meeting) of the Sangh Parivar took place in Ujjain in August 2011. At this meeting, it was decided that the strategy for the BJP central leadership would be to raise an anti-corruption campaign along with civil society organisations and their leaders such as Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, while the State governments would focus on Hindutva-oriented good governance.
Assessments in the Sangh Parivar on the success of this good governance are divided. Sections of the RSS and the VHP still consider that the Hindutva quotient of many BJP State governments is not up to the mark, while those running the governments aver that they are doing their best. Whatever the final evaluation on this debate, there is little doubt that the impact of the Hindutva-oriented good governance on the minority communities is a painful one.