Out of my mind: Binary battles

Even the most organised political parties cannot be micro-managed by the top leadership.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: September 7, 2014 10:02:21 am


modi-medThe fashion of measuring performance by the first 100 days was set by President Franklin D Roosevelt. As the US was in the shadow of the Great Depression, action was urgent in March 1933. Narendra Modi did not face a Depression, but just a demoralised nation panting for change. Expectations were high even though he had promised no 100-day agenda.

So far so good. On the front of normal politics — economic and foreign policy, judicial reform and energy or environment fronts — the government has delivered, although its tone has been consensual, not confrontational. The stock market has been happy and hopefully the growth rate in the coming quarter will keep up at the higher rate set in the first quarter. The next 100 days may be even more interesting than the last 100.

But while the apex-level performance has been consensual, and the bread and butter, or perhaps the dal chaawal, issues are fine, there is commotion at the bottom on issues of culture and identity. Before the election, the scare story was that Modi would unleash a communal agenda from above. While he has been talking of  inclusion, there is no mood for moderation at the BJP grassroots. For many activists, this is the moment they have been waiting for. It is score settling time. A number of small conflagrations have broken out on the Hindu-Muslim front. While many people feel Modi should immediately disown these actions, he has been too busy and too far from the fray to intervene except on big occasions — such as the Independence Day speech.

Even the most organised political parties cannot be micro-managed by the top leadership. Just look at the problems David Cameron faces. Indian political parties are like old Royal Indian armies used to be — a loose collection of local leaders each with his own force. In UP, there has been an ongoing communal war ever since Mayawati lost power. The Samajwadi Party realised the fragility of the Muslim-Yadav vote bank and began wooing the Jats of Ajit Singh’s RLD. The BJP fought on the same turf and the result has been seen in Muzaffarnagar and many other places. As it is, UP is a lawless state as its women can testify. Add to that the imminence of by-elections, this saga will run and run.

A very different front has been opened up by the auxiliary troops of the RSS and VHP, which is separate from the communal agenda, but very often confused with it. This is the cultural identity agenda of the Parivar. Here again there are two strands. One is the reiteration of Veer Savarkar’s argument that a nation has to be defined in ethnic terms. This is a European notion he picked up, where he believed a nation could not be multi-ethnic. Hence Hindutva, for him, was not a religious identity, but a territorial one. The word Hinduism was the 1871 Census classificatory term for the adherents of the Sanatana Dharma. In his essay on Hindutva, Savarkar goes to great lengths to explain that the word Hindu is not Persian, as that would give it a Muslim origin. It may be Persian, derived from Sindhu. Muslim chroniclers called the country Al-Hind. The Portuguese in the 17th century referred to the inhabitants of the subcontinent as ‘gentoo’, ‘g’ having the ‘h’ sound in Iberian languages.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat was playing on this turf when he said that Hindustan was the land of Hindus. While everyone, even the Left, reacted and said India was Bharat, not Hindustan, I remember how in the Fifties, the Left used to say that Bharat was added to India as a concession to the right-wing Congress members such as Purushottam Das Tandon and Rajendra Prasad. The preferred word of the Left was Hindustan not just because of Iqbal’s moving anthem, but because they preferred Hindustani over Hindi as the national language.
It is too late to reclaim that ground. But the secularists ought to take the history battles more seriously now. They had the monopoly of research resources all these years to build their idea of India. The Parivar ideologues need to produce a scholarly history of India which can match the  secularist histories. This will not be done by the naive revivalism of Dinanath Batra alone. Serious history writing requires years of hard work. There is a worthy cause here for historians belonging to the Parivar.

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