Does the triumphant return of Narendra Modi, and the humiliating defeat of the Congress, signify the end of the “idea of India”? The RSS seems to think so, for twice since the result, they have extolled the “idea of Bharat” and contrasted it with the “Idea of India”. The former is said to be indigenous and inclusive, symbolised by the phrase “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, while the latter is described as an alien concept where differences of identity are emphasised.
The exact meaning of the “idea of Bharat” is available in a note by Ramakant Tiwari, co-convenor of the Delhi BJP Intellectual Cell. Titled “Idea of Bharat supercedes idea of India’’, the note explains how the “idea of Bharat” draws on India’s ancient cultural heritage, symbolised by dharma, shakti, the guru-shishya parampara, maya, rebirth, the primacy of Sanskrit and the scriptures, teertha (pilgrimages), and the Kumbh Mela. Bharat was the rashtra chosen by Brahma for his incarnations, including the Buddha, writes Tiwari.
This, then, is the original genius of India. Compare that to the “malevolent” “idea of India”, traced by Tiwari not to our “first PM J L Nehru’’, but to Lord Macaulay. This “malafide” foreign idea replaced our decentralised, dharma-based, democratic civilisation where “honoured visitors” were welcomed and assimilated. What we got instead was centralised planning, invaders, “selfish identities intruding from all corners of the world’’, contrived phrases such as “unity in diversity”, the “conspiracy of secularism” replacing sarva dharma sama bhava, cowardice as ahimsa, subservience as “tolerance” and socialism/communism replacing our own arthashastra.
It is clear that the “idea of Bharat” is not merely an exclusively Hindu view of the country but an “upper caste” one. The British destroyed our ancient gurukuls which guaranteed 100 per cent literacy, says Tiwari. Surely he means 100 per cent “upper caste” literacy?
Today there’s no way this “idea of Bharat” can prevail. And it’s not because of the tukde tukde gang.
The reason this idea is impossible today is because of the politics followed by the political arm of the RSS. From 2014 to 2019, the BJP has gone out of its way to woo every caste, no matter how small, and also to give tickets to candidates based on their caste. Whereas the “idea of Bharat” signifies an “upper caste” utopia, the BJP this time ensured that “lower castes”, who were not expected to vote for it, were the first recipients of its welfare schemes in a crucial state like UP, where the challenge to the BJP was primarily caste-based.
So coloured by caste is the BJP’s electoral worldview that, in the 2017 UP assembly polls, it projected our national icon, Emperor Ashok, as belonging to the Maurya caste. This Lok Sabha election, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath called Hanuman a Dalit, while his own minister for religious affairs said the deity was a Jat.
The BJP has almost dropped the “idea of Bharat” in its policies in the Northeast and Goa, where it has not only allied with parties led by Christians but even refrained from its core belief that beef must be banned.
Now, the “idea of Bharat” is getting even more diluted as BJP leaders with RSS backgrounds don topis and grace iftars. Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis even had an Arab-style gamchha draped around him at his party’s iftar. These events are particularly hated by Hindutva-vadis who see them as political appeasement of a community that forms no part of the Hindu/Bharatiya ethos. Union minister Giriraj Singh was, in fact, expressing the “idea of Bharat” in his tweet against BJP ally Ram Vilas Paswan’s iftar, attended by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and deputy CM Sushil Modi.
As Gujarat CM, Narendra Modi famously refused to wear a topi, and after he became PM, neither did he host an iftar nor did he attend President Pranab Mukherjee’s iftars at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. After President Ramnath Kovind took over, the Rashtrapati Bhavan iftar, and even the singing of Xmas carols there, has stopped. Now that’s the “idea of Bharat”.
Partly in 2014, and much more so in 2019, PM Modi’s campaign, and that of party president Amit Shah, was in keeping with this Hindu-centric idea. His allegiance to this idea came through also in his indifference to the continuous lynchings and Una-like incidents affecting Muslims and Dalits.
Despite that, in his first speech in Parliament, both in 2014 and 2019, the PM-elect made it a point to include minorities while describing his vision of the country. And Amit Shah reprimanded Giriraj Singh for his tweet.
Now if that’s not the victory, however superficial, of the “idea of India” over the “idea of Bharat”, what is? To make it endure is everyone’s job.
The writer is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist