Cracks in Hindutva brotherhood

STRAINS IN RELATIONS: It is competitive chauvinism that is at the heart of the quarrel between the Shiv Sena and the BJP-RSS. Photo: Vivek Bendre

STRAINS IN RELATIONS: It is competitive chauvinism that is at the heart of the quarrel between the Shiv Sena and the BJP-RSS. Photo: Vivek Bendre  

Just when one thought it could not get any worse, it has. Uddhav Thackeray’s “Italian mummy-Italian Rajputra” tirade against Rahul Gandhi and his unceasing threats to Shah Rukh Khan mark a new low in the conduct of a party that has practised violence as if it was a sacred credo.

While the Shiv Sena’s young leader bellows and thunders, his cousin, Raj Thackeray, dangerously teeters on the brink. At a public rally in Dombivili in Mumbai, he wondered aloud at the irony of Samajwadi Party MP Abu Azmi not being able to speak Marathi when terrorist Ajmal Kasab could.

The Thackeray cousins’ words and action offend by the yardstick of civility and even more by the yardstick of Constitutional law and morality. But recognising this is not enough. Raj Thackeray is playing with fire because the Shiv Sena showed the way. The Shiv Sena showed the way because successive regimes have tolerated its violence and because its partners, the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have successfully walked the path of intolerance. In a theoretically pluralist, multicultural and composite India, the parivar’s affiliates have been practically able to uphold the notion of an exclusivist India.

The degree of fanaticism has increased exponentially with each mutation — from the BJP to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to the Bajrang Dal on the one hand, and from the Shiv Sena to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena on the other. But because the Sena and the MNS are rivals, there is less certainty about who will beat the other in the race to be more provocative.

The Sena and the MNS are unashamedly crude while the parivar gives the impression of being more sophisticated. Most BJP-RSS leaders will not directly attack Muslims and Christians, much less say that they should go to Pakistan or some other place. Yet “cultural nationalism”, the parivar’s foundational philosophy, explicitly dictates that religious minorities must own up their Hindu origins and agree to fall within the rubric of Hindutva or suffer injuries to their identity, dignity and their persons.

The BJP’s slogan for all times, “justice for all, appeasement of none,” seems the epitome of reasonableness. But the real meaning of this is known to the party rank and file, which explains why the anthem invariably translates on the ground as aggression against minorities. Even at the level of the leadership, the mask slips, as it did when, during the 2002 Gujarat election campaign, Narendra Modi invoked images of “mian Musharaff” and mounted lowbrow attacks on “Italian” Sonia Gandhi. Mr. Modi has since had an image makeover and today inhabits a perfectly respectable world peopled by top-notch industrialists and Bollywood icons. By contrast, the Thackerays are currently under attack from all quarters, including the RSS and the BJP, their fellow travellers in the battle for the Hindu mind.

The last bit is a real puzzle — as much for the fire-spewing Mr. Uddhav Thackeray as for BJP-RSS watchers familiar with the Sena-BJP’s cosy relationship of the past 25 years. Naturally, Thackeray junior got into a lather when, of all people, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat denounced his Marathi manoos project. In an editorial in Samna he said: “RSS should not comment on any issue that is to do with Mumbai… If RSS wants to talk of protecting Hindi they should do it in South India first.”

Since then the Sena’s relationship with the BJP-RSS has gone for a further toss. Over the past week, Parivar spokespersons have quoted copiously from the Constitution to dispute the Sena’s exclusive claim over Mumbai. Mr. Shah Rukh Khan, never a beloved of the Parivar, has overnight turned into a friend, with the BJP defending to the hilt his twin rights — to exhibit his film, “My name is Khan”, as well as to lament the exclusion of Pakistani cricketers from the IPL tournament.

In Delhi, Vinay Katiyar, the founder president of the disruptive Bajrang Dal, disparaged the Marathi Manoos campaign and called for an end to the BJP-Sena alliance. Not long ago, Mr. Katiyar and the Shiv Sainiks had unitedly sworn to do all they could to despatch the Babri Masjid, erupting in a paroxysm of joy when the symbol of their hatred finally met its brutal end.

The RSS-BJP’s seeming change of heart and the strains in the saffron brotherhood defy the common understanding of Hindutva politics. After all, the Sena’s “anti-outsiders” campaign is hardly any different from the Sangh’s (and the Sena’s) own anti-minorities agenda. The “alien”, or the “other” is the diametric opposite that defines and legitimises Hindutva. Having zealously pursued this divisive goal for three quarters of a century, and having assiduously instilled the concept of the “enemy” in its affiliates, how can the Sangh today preach the reverse to the Sena, the BJP’oldest and most faithful partner? For the Sena, divisiveness is like breathing and it is understandably appalled that one of its own kind should be asking it to liquidate itself.

Objectives undermine each other

The conflict between the Sena factions and the RSS-BJP arises from the complexities of the latter’s politics. The Sena and the MNS have an almost unidimensional view of the world, a world inhabited by the Marathi people and no one else. The BJP and the RSS have multiple constituencies to address. And though it has been the Sangh’s endeavour to see these constituencies subsumed under the overarching umbrella of Hindutva, in reality their separate objectives have undermined each other as well as the common goal.

OBC (Other Backward Classes) leaders Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti are one face of this persisting tension. Mr. Kalyan Singh and Ms Bharti were both in the forefront of the Ayodhya agitation. The former watched over as the Babri Masjid came down brick by brick, and went to jail to prove his Hindutva credentials. Ms Bharti’s ecstatic response to the fall of the Masjid has been captured for posterity by photographers. Between them they symbolised Hindutva as no one else did and could. Yet when it came to deciding between their OBC and Hindutva identities, they chose the former.

It is to address the OBC constituency that the BJP propounded “social engineering” and co-opted the likes of Mr. Kalyan Singh and Ms Bharti. But it failed to retain them because it remained ‘upper caste’ at heart.

The BJP’s Hindi fetish is another impediment in the way of its acquiring a pan-India face and following. Just how complicating this factor can be was revealed during President Bill Clinton’s 2000 visit to India. Mr. Clinton addressed MPs from both Houses in the Central Hall of Parliament following which . Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee also spoke. But in Hindi. This despite Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief M. Karunanidhi’s pleas to him speak in English as Hindi was not understood in large parts of India.

But Mr. Vajpayee, with his proud record of having addressed the United Nations General Assembly in Hindi, refused to budge. The upshot was a sharp rebuke from Mr. Karunanidhi. The “agonising spectacle” of Mr. Vajpayee speaking in Hindi before a world audience was reminiscent of the “Hindi fanaticism” of the past, the DMK chief noted.

Significantly, Mr. Vajpayee overrode Mr. Karunanidhi’s objections and spoke in Hindi because had he not done so, he would have earned the wrath of the Hindi-speaking Mulayam Singh. It is this constituency that the RSS and the BJP are focused on today. With Assembly elections to Bihar looming large, and its largest partner, the Janata Dal(U) aggressively standing up for Hindi-speaking migrants, the BJP could not afford to be left behind, especially given that it relates to Hindi the way the Sena relates to Marathi. In a sense, it is competitive chauvinism — one for Marathi and the other for Hindi — that is at the heart of the quarrel between the Sena and the BJP-RSS.


The second paragraph of an article “Cracks in Hindutva brotherhood” (Op-Ed, February 6, 2010) said that Abu Azmi is a Samajwadi Party (SP) MP. He is an SP MLA (Maharashtra). He represented Uttar Pradesh in the Rajya Sabha from November 2002 to November 2008.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2020 5:19:54 PM |

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