Political Line | Unity and divisiveness: in the eye of the beholder

April 14, 2024 06:47 pm | Updated April 15, 2024 12:33 pm IST

Representational image.

Representational image. | Photo Credit: Rohit Jain Paras

(This is the latest edition of the Political Line newsletter curated by Varghese K. George. The Political Line newsletter is India’s political landscape explained every week. You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox.)

An alien observer would be confused by the rhetoric of Indian elections. Key rivals — the BJP and the Congress — accuse each other of promoting divisive forces. What is the truth and who is actually being divisive? And what makes the other divisive for these parties?

The BJP says the Congress — particularly its leader Rahul Gandhi — is encouraging divisions because of its demand for a nationwide caste census and the charge that cultural and administrative autonomy of States are under threat due to the centralising drive of the BJP. By raising these issues, the Congress is encouraging divisive forces, according to the BJP. The Congress says ensuring equity for all caste groups and preserving the federal polity are the essence of democracy and justice in India. It, in turn, accuses the BJP of being divisive for excluding and othering Muslims and other religious minorities, allegedly discriminating against subaltern castes, and running roughshod over the rights of States.

The BJP says it is unifying all Hindus, and, in its definition, unification of Hindus is equivalent to the unification of the nation. The BJP model of Hindu unity involves increasing accommodation of subaltern groups in cultural projects and political power. In this sense, the BJP politics is both inclusive and exclusive at the same time — it is far more inclusive of subaltern caste groups compared with the Congress, but it is pointedly exclusive towards religious minorities, particularly Muslims. For instance, in Jharkhand alone, the BJP replaced four of its sitting upper caste MPs with subaltern candidates in this year’s election.

The Congress is facing the challenge of raising the question of caste justice without sounding dismissive of the Hindu identity — which is what Mahatma Gandhi was able to achieve. The BJP’s challenge is managing the revolt of the upper castes that are increasingly upset with the party’s subaltern tilt under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. One can pick up whispers of various types on this count, but let me only point to the outburst in recent weeks of the Rajputs against the BJP in three of its strongholds — Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. In Gujarat, an attempt by BJP leader Parshottam Rupala to praise a Dalit community has so offended the Rajputs that they remain unhappy even after extracting several apologies from the BJP. 

In U.P. and Rajasthan, the Rajputs are protesting against what they see as an insult by the BJP.

Defining who is a Hindu is the most vexed problem, not only of Hindutva but Indian nationalism in general. In fact, V.D. Savarkar’s foundational text is titled Hindutva: Who is A Hindu?

Mr. Modi made an attempt this week by talking about eating meat and fish during the holy month of Shravana. The PM said such acts by Opposition leaders — who were publicising pictures of them eating non-vegetarian food — displayed a “Mughal mindset” of disrespecting the sentiments of people. By implication, those who ate non-veg during Shravana were not real or good Hindus.

That argument did not go unchallenged

India is an overwhelmingly non-vegetarian country

The idea of linking Hindu identity to vegetarian food habits might not be very helpful for BJP mobilisation. But it helps in maintaining the claim of vegetarianism as a higher moral order, which has implications for caste and religious hierarchy. Walking this fine line is the challenge of Hindu politics.

In the run-up to the 1911 Census, the British administration issued a circular (July 1910) suggesting a definition of ‘Hindu’ to “exclude those who were not allowed access to Brahman priests and to high-Hindu gods and temples, and whom the upper castes would refuse to touch or take water from”. A massive uproar followed and the circular was withdrawn. The battle for definition is older than a century.

Federalism Tract: Notes on Indian Diversity

The making and unmaking of Sheikh Abdullah

In a new biography, Sheikh Abdullah: The Caged Lion of Kashmir, Chitralekha Zutshi builds a complex portrait of a key figure of India’s modern history and one of the tallest leaders of the Kashmir Valley. In an interview with the author and historian, she told me about the paradoxes and contradictions that trailed the political life of Sheikh Abdullah, and why the revocation of Article 370 did not come out of the blue.

Caught in the middle

Meitei Muslims, who are also known as Meitei Pangals in Manipur and constitute around 8% of the State’s population, have been caught in the middle of the conflict since it began, both literally and figuratively.

The case of the Muria tribe

The Muria tribe of Chhattisgarh, settled in Andhra Pradesh along the “red corridor”, faces an uncertain future without caste certificates, access to basic facilities, and even political rights. The members of the tribe fled Bastar amid the armed conflict between Maoists and the State-backed Salwa Judum, and settled in the East and West Godawari districts of Andhra Pradesh. Today, the tribals lack access to even clean drinking water. 

SC wonders why so many States are aggrieved against the Centre

Why are States approaching the Supreme Court with petitions against the Centre? The Supreme Court commented that there is a steady stream of States petitioning before the apex court against the Centre. The court was drawing attention to the petitions filed by Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka over the financial relations between the Centre and the States.

Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have petitioned calling for the Centre to release disaster relief funds in the wake of cyclones and drought, respectively. Meanwhile, Kerala has accused the Centre of arbitrarily imposing borrowing limits, making it unable to fulfil the State’s financial commitments.

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