To much public consternation, Haryana CM Manohar Khattar recently asserted that “Muslims can continue to live in India, but they will have to give up eating beef”. He contended that because cow slaughter hurts the sentiments of Hindus, Muslims and Christians must learn to live without it. In defending Khattar’s views, BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj also justified the assault on J&K legislator Sheik Abdul Rashid as a “natural reaction” to his beef party. He went so far as to advocate the death penalty for cow slaughter. In what must have caused considerable heartburn to its core constituency, Venkaiah Naidu has sought to distance the BJP from Khattar’s views arguing that “it is not correct to link eating habits to religion”, and that eating was a personal choice. Meanwhile, BJP’s chief Amit Shah summoned several BJP leaders to reprimand them for their public comments.
A vast majority of Indians voted in the BJP because it gave them hope in its promise of development and freedom from corruption. It promised to take India to soaring heights, so it could march shoulder to shoulder with the superpowers of the day. It is these very supporters who are increasingly feeling disappointed at the numerous crises that engulf India today. To some, all of it is merely circumstantial, to others the responsibility lies solely with “fringe elements”. What unites them is disbelief in their beloved Prime Minister’s complicity in any of it. To them, it’s just a Congress/pseudo-sickular/leftist/intellectual/anti-national/anti-Hindu conspiracy to undermine PM Modi and the visionary development path that he has laid down for India. Is this really the case? Does the BJP and PM Modi have nothing to these so called “fringe elements”? Are these incidents just unnecessary impediments to their development agenda for India?
In trying to understand this, one has to contextualise the BJP’s foundational roots. The BJP draws inspiration from the likes of MS Golwakar, who contentiously argued (“We: Our Nationhood Defined”) that “foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt… Hindu culture and language… must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race; or may stay in the country… claiming nothing, deserving no privileges… not even citizen’s rights”. These views were echoed by VD Savarkar who vehemently endorsed (“Essentials of Hindutva”) a “nation… united… by the bonds of a common blood”, which is the only thing that’ll makes them a “race-jati”. Their arguments are remarkably similar to Wilhelm Stuckart’s (one of the most prominent Nazi legal theorists, who co-authored the Nuremberg laws) who in “Commentary on Racial Legislation”, provided the basis for the racial discrimination, and eventually persecution of Jews.
Various BJP and RSS leaders have consequently blindly endorsed these inherently divisive ideologies, and the NDA government has purposefully spearheaded contentious policies on them. Consider the beef ban which seeks to primarily criminalise the food habits of Muslims and Scheduled Castes. The penultimate reason for this ban has been socio-religious, something Ambedkar debunked masterfully (see “Untouchability, the Dead Cow and the Brahmin”). If cow slaughter does have to be banned because it affects the sentiments of a community (which is what Khattar argued), why not extend the same logic to pork (which is anathema in Islam) or all meat, indeed all root vegetables (which are prohibited in Jainism)? Given that almost all animals are vehicles of some god or goddess in Hinduism, why does the BJP not ban meat altogether?
Consider also Mohan Bhagwat’s views on reimagining affirmative action (contrary to popular perception, the government is well aware that SC/STs are deliberately excluded from both the public and private sectors in India precisely because of their castes). Given the NDA sees itself as ultimately accountable to the RSS (not to the people), it is safe to assume that they’ve apprised the Sangh of this. Bhagwat’s views are made inspite of this knowledge, and are therefore reflective of the inherent casteism in the Sangh Parivar/BJP. Similarly, consider the Minister of Culture Mahesh Sharma’s comments on the freedoms of women (their movement after dark is against Indian culture), or the NDA’s efforts to ‘cleanse’ historical, and cultural institutions to bring them in sync with a Hinduised vision of India. In fact, the drastic cuts the NDA has made in welfare expenditure are also partly motivated by its ideological imperatives.
How is it that the RSS and its agents (who first effected its agenda through stealth) so brazenly scuttle the Constitution? And why is it that people are so unconcerned with the waves of injustice that threaten to engulf India? Are we as a people simply indifferent to it all? Or even more worryingly, do Indians genuinely believe that what’s happening is acceptable and legitimate?
In unravelling this, one must understand that in India, there exist two sets of laws: a law of the land, and the law in the land. The law of the land is the set of secular norms and principles enshrined in the Constitution of India, which every government in India is mandated to uphold (which the NDA has been found wanting in). Resisting and opposing this supra framework exist various associations (the most prominent example being the Sangh Parivar) who religiously adhere to the law in the land (that is diagrammatically opposed to the law of the land).
Essentially, the Sangh overtly and covertly challenges not just the sovereign position of the State, but also the Constitution of India. The Sangh Parivar and the BJP have, and are consciously undermining the rights which the Constitution of India guarantees (be it freedom of religion, of speech, of expression etc.). They first did that by infiltrating the state, and now by capturing it. What most Indians who voted for the BJP don’t realise (or accept) is that they were duped by Prime Minister Modi. The BJP instrumentally sold hope and the idea of development, and now in office, it has embarked on its real project. The reason Amit Shah and Venkaiah Naidu are scrambling to be seen to pull up the most visible of these so called “fringe elements” is because they know that this will cost them electorally (the first impending jolt being Bihar).
But this doesn’t really explain why as a people, we accept their heinous assault on India. To do that, we needn’t look any further than the father of India’s Constitution, who precisely anticipated this organised resistance. Ambedkar argued that “rights are not protected by law but by the social and moral conscience of society. If social conscience is such that it is prepared to recognises the rights which law chooses to enact rights will be safe and secure. But if the fundamental rights are opposed by the community, no Law no Parliament, no judiciary can guarantee them in the real sense of the word”. And therein lies the real problem.
Why people tolerate the Sangh’s divisive agenda is because constitutional principles (which define the idea of India) are not deeply embedded in the “collective consciousness” of India. This has in turn created fertile ground for the instrumental exploitation of communal (Muzzafarnagar, Dadri, Mainpuri etc.), casteist (Dankaur, Hamirpur, Virar etc.), regional and linguistic disunities. This is partly because the Sangh has rigorously engaged with society, hoping to embed radical Hindutva norms in India’s collective consciousness. It is because of their tireless efforts that large sections of India have been socialised to orthodox norms.
In stark contrast, the numerous conscientious individuals and groups of people who oppose the RSS’ talibanised idea of India keep pinning their hopes on the state. They hope against hope that the state will leash the madness that is the RSS. However, it is not adequately recognised that the state’s ability to influence people is very limited (simply because in the Weberian imagination, it can only impose rules and guidelines). And what they also fail to realise is that this particular government doesn’t really subscribe to the constitutional idea of India at all, and that the BJP will always allow the Sangh to run amuck. It is therefore imperative for us to pay heed to Gandhi’s insistence on a bottom up socio-economic and political revolution (which will effect an organic attitudinal transformation in the hearts and minds of people). As Edmund Burke once said that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Let us pray that we find it in ourselves to do something, for what is at stake is the very soul of India.
– The author is an analyst with the Congress party. Views expressed by the author are personal.