Sunday, December 06, 1998
SECTION: Features

Hindutva and Multi-Culturalism

Date: 06-12-1998 :: Pg: 25 :: Col: a

The Nineties have seen the BJP and its ideological partners systematically try and capture power by implementing a policy of " one nation, one culture." Election results in 1993,1996 and more recently, have shown that in a pluralistic society, divisive polities will not pay. C.P.BHAMBRI on the need to stem the rise of religion-based politics.

The Sangh Parivar has launched a very powerful politico-religious offensive against socio-cultural and socio-political forces and groups, which firmly believe that the Indian civilisation is historically constituted by many cultural streams and the unity of India has been achieved by the intermingling of diverse and multiple cultural belief systems. The forces of Hindutva as represented by the BJP, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, the RSS, the ABVP, the Shiv Sainiks believe that India is "one nation based on one culture'' and its heritage is linked with Hindu religion.

The real meanings of "one nation and one culture'' are that the Hindus have a special privileged position and the various multiple minority groups have to accept the so-called Hindu way of life. The believers in the socalled superiority of Hindu majority culture have launched many socio-cultural and political movements in the whole of twentieth century and in the Nineties they intensified their struggle to capture State power to implement their programme of establishing a Hindu Raj in the country. Since the believers of ``one nation and one culture'' have to practise the politics of targetting and confronting other cultural groups, they launched a powerful movement against Babri Mosque at Ayodhya and forcibly demolished it on December 6, 1992. Kalyan Singh, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, himself participated in this activity of the Sangh Parivar and the President dismissed the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh for its acts of omission and commission while dealing with the ongoing agitation of the Sangh Parivar against Babri mosque. Along with the Uttar Pradesh Government the BJP-led Governments in Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan were also dismissed under Article 356 of the Constitution for their involvement in encouraging and patronising the forces of Hindutva.

The Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the four State Governments saying that ``secularism was a basic structure'' of the Constitution. Not only this. The voters were called upon to give their verdict on the BJP's ideology of exercising political power in the States in defence of the Hindus and against other religions and cultural minorities. In the 1993 State Assembly elections, the voter punished the BJP and Sangh Parivar by defeating them in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and in Rajasthan, it succeeded with great difficulty. The message given by the voters was loud and clear that the BJP definition of Hindu Raj was not acceptable in a multi-cultural plural society. Similarly, the BJP could not electorally cash its ideology of Hindutva in the Lok Sabha elections of 1996 and 1998. In March 1998, the BJP formed a coalition government at the Centre and in November 1998, the ``mini-general elections'' were held in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and in Delhi. The November 1998 State Assembly elections were contested between the BJP and the other political parties, under the protective umbrella of the BJP-led Central Government. The BJP has been politically humiliated in Delhi and Rajasthan and in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress Party has successfully defended its majority against the challenge of the BJP. The upshot of the above narration is that militant Hindu mobilisation of the 1990s has not brought great political dividends to the forces of Hindutva. It has been clearly and repeatedly established that the socalled Hindu voter is not enarmoured of the self-appointed guardians of Hindus and this `mythical' Hindu voter does not hesitate to punish the champions of Hindutva.

Any party, in a democracy, examines the adequacy and authenticity of its political agenda if the voters are repeatedly exercising their verdict against its public programme. The Conservative Party in the U.K. under Mrs. Margaret Thatcher and Mr. John Major won successive electoral battles against the Labour Party in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties. The Labour Party set its house in order and under Mr. Tony Blair's leadership, the party prepared a programme called The New Labour and it abandoned many of its old doctrines regarding public sector. The Labour Party won the elections because it revised its ideology and presented a new programme before the voters. Similarly, after the disintegration of Soviet Union and other East European socialist State systems, the Italian Communist Party along with many other European Communist parties transformed themselves into Social Democracies and they are in reckoning because their newly revised public programme is acceptable to the voters.

Are the BJP and the Sangh Parivar rethinking about their ideological position of ``one nation and one culture''? The BJP is not getting rewards in politics by patronising the so-called Hindu majority. If the Hindu voter is not obliging the so-called Hindu Party, the implication is that the political and cultural forces of Hindutva are living in an illusory world of their own self-created Hinduism. But political illusions do not bring electoral successes in democracy. Since the BJP and its other partners of the Sangh Parivar have a clear ideological agenda of establishing a Hindu State, it has not deviated from its ideology of Hindutva.

A few will substantiate the statement that the BJP Governments exercise their power to spread the message of Hindutva and create a social situation where Hindus occupy a special position in society. First, Babri Mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992 when Kalyan Singh was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. In 1998, Kalyan Singh is again the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and the U.P. State Police have harassed a respected Muslim Leader Ali Mian. If Ali Mian can be targetted, the ordinary Muslims of U.P. cannot expect any fair play from the BJP State Government.

Second, under the direct control of the BJP Government in Gujarat, Christian places of worship and schools are under attack by the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The forces of Hindutva have targetted the Christian minority in Gujarat because the protective umbrella is provided by the State Government. Third, the Shiv Sena supremo in Maharashtra has targetted the cricket team from Pakistan and the message to Muslims of Maharashtra is that the Shiv Sena-BJP government does not respect their sentiments.

Fourth, the Education and Culture Minister, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, created a big controversy at an official meeting of the State Ministers of Education by starting the meeting with a prayer on Saraswati Vandana. Not only did many of the Ministers protest against the place of this Hindu ritual in a public function, K. C. Sundaresan, a Joint General-Secretary of the RSS, stated that ``anyone who is opposed to Saraswati Vandana is not an Indian''. It was a repeat story of the VHP and Bajrang Dal activists proclaiming during the anti-Babri Mosque agitation that people should ``learn to live as Hindus if they wanted to live in India.'' Hindu cultural symbols are protected and promoted by the governments run by the BJP and the minority cultural ethos are at the receiving end under the BJP-led governments. A BJP Minister of the Delhi State Government hurt the feelings of the Christian community by making a ridiculous public statement, that ``wine was served in churches''.

Fifth, believers of the ideology of Hindutva are finding places of pride in public institutions dealing with the writing of history and culture. The BJP-led government at the Centre and in the states have shown their full determination to use political power for the promotion of the ideology and historiography of Hindutva which is directed against all cultural minority groups. Since educational and research institutions are the main intellectual sources of interpretation of history and culture, the BJP governments have nominated and appointed RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal activists in such organisations. Sixth, Arun Shourie, the BJP Member of Rajya Sabha, has launched a bitter attack against historians who interpret India as a multicultural and multilingual plural society.

The Sangh Parivar on the basis of its present political presence in the central government has launched a three-fold strategy to promote the ideology of Hindutva. First, a project for the re- writing of history and culture has been launched at an intellectual level by using State power. State patronage has been extended to intellectuals to launch an attack against interpretations of Indian history, which do not promote the concept of ``one nation and one culture.'' Second, minorities have been given a political message that the BJP led governments at the Centre or the states will openly pursue discriminatory and anti-minority policies. Third, minorities should not expect protection of life and property from State functionaries under the BJP governments. Justice Srikrishna's report on the Bombay riots of December 1992 and January 1993 clearly identifies police officials who were practitioners of Hinduism and anti-Muslim. The U.P. Chief Minister is not making public the findings of a judicial enquiry on riots in Meerut.

Politics of multi-culturalism has to confront the politics of Hindutva at many levels. It is not absent mindedness of Atal Behari Vajpayee, who appointed three stalwarts of Hindutva as Ministers of Home, Education and Information and Broadcasting. While the Vajpayee coalition government does not have any success story, L. K. Advani, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma Swaraj actively, and aggressively, pursued the Hindu agenda in these ministries.

Advani targetted Bangladeshis and wanted an identity card for every Indian as his priority, Joshi and Sushma Swaraj exercised their power to aggressively promote Hindu educational and cultural agenda. Saraswati Vandana, Vande Mataram, teaching of Sanskrit and recitation of Hindu mantras and bhajans have suddenly emerged in the Centre stage of public discourse because these ministers attach great importance to the propagation and promotion of Hindu ritualistic symbols. Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi himself wears a tilak on his forehead as a symbol of Brahmanical Hinduism. If on the one hand, the BJP-led government at the Centre has been plagued with serious inter-coalitional conflicts, on the other, the agenda of Hindutva has been on the march and Ms. Uma Bharti wants to organise Hindu youth with State patronage.

Whatever may be the election results from 1993 to 1998, the BJP governments pursue their core Hindutva agenda with great determination. The forces of Hindutva are not shy of pursuing their goals with the help of political power irrespective of the fact that the Indian voters keep them punishing in election after election. The cultural agenda of the forces of Hindutva not only has a primacy for all members of the Sangh Parivar, it is also the sole commitment of the BJP government. Social and political forces representing multi-cultural, pluralist and accommodative tradition of Indian civilisation, which is based on composite culture, should understand that the BJP exercises power for its ideology and electoral setbacks do not make any difference to the leadership of the Hindutva forces. A section of intellectuals believed, though erroneously, that the BJP will become a moderate rightist party in power but the open targetting of Christians in Gujarat under BJP government or Muslims in Maharashtra under Shiv-Sena-BJP government or promotion of Hindu ritualism by the Vajpayee Government should alert wavering intellectuals that without the purist ideology of Hindutva, the BJP will collapse. The BJP has nothing else to offer to the masses of India except the promotion of inter-community hatreds and violence.

Without polarising communities of India, the BJP cannot rule over the country and if it comes to power, it accelerates the processes of inter-community polarisation. This is the reality and essence of the politics of Hindutva. The forces of Hindutva represented by Hindu Mahasabha, Veer Savarkar, RSS, Jan Sangh, Bhartiya Janata Party have been active throughout the twentieth century in opposition to secular, democratic and pluralist forces in India and ordinary political setbacks do not make them abandon their real Agenda. The results of the elections to the State Assemblies should not make secular forces complacent because there is no evidence in the twentieth century history of India that the behaviour of religion-based politics abandon their path because sometimes masses go against them.

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Dr. Alexander Harris
Last Days Harvest Ministries