At a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is completing one year in office, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi made an embarrassing statement. The beef ban, Mr. Naqvi said, “is not a matter of loss or profit; it is an issue of faith and belief.” All those who want to eat beef can “go to Pakistan,” he added.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s rise to power in 2014 with an absolute majority for the first time in the history of independent India was termed by some as a Modi victory. During the election campaign, the Sangh Parivar, to which the BJP belongs, did not seem too pleased with the development and personality-oriented campaign style of the party. But with the BJP’s landslide victory, things took a different turn. Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ashok Singhal called Mr. Modi the “ideal swayamsevak”, and saw his victory as the return of the Hindus to power after Rajput ruler Prithviraj Chauhan’s defeat way back in the 12th century.
An opportunity to seize Over the past year, the manner in which the Parivar has conducted itself shows its enthusiasm in spreading Hindutva in India. As it believes that the BJP government is its own, it also apparently believes that it can stride confidently ahead by injecting vigour into Hindutva programmes. With the BJP’s victory, the Sangh Parivar feels that it has got a mandate and an opportunity to make all possible efforts to Hinduise social spaces, implement its ideology and show the minorities their “rightful place”. However much one disagrees with or feels for Prime Minister Modi’s development agenda, the fact is that the Parivar comes first — before any individual or office. And its list of ‘things to do’ cannot be locked up in cold storage by a few individuals at the helm of power. While Mr. Modi might express unhappiness when forced to, about the outrageous public conduct of his Sangh family members, the latter has been working overtime to communalise social relations and saffronise the polity. We must not forget that Mr. Modi and his development team also belong to this very Sangh family; they have been nurtured and moulded by the Hindutva agenda. The question we need to ask therefore is not whether Mr. Modi is for development or Hindutva, but rather how Hindutva has moved in the last one year.
In August 2014, Yogi Adityanath, BJP MP from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh and also a VHP leader, was seen telling a crowd of about thousand people, “If they take one Hindu girl, we will take [a] 100 Muslims girls”. Holding the minority community responsible for communal violence, he said on a television show, “In places where there are 10 to 20 per cent minorities, stray communal incidents take place. Where there are 20 to 35 per cent of them, serious communal riots take place. And where they are more than 35 per cent, there is no place for non-Muslims”.
In December, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Minister of State for Food Processing, kicked up a storm when she said at a rally in New Delhi that the electorate faced a choice between “a government of ramzadon (followers of Ram) and haramzadon (illegitimate children)”. The former referred to a BJP government; the latter to a Congress or Aam Aadmi Party government. She later withdrew the remark after coming under fire from the opposition, but the damage had been done.
And just a month later, after the Prime Minister advised MPs to exercise caution while making public statements, Sakshi Maharaj, the fiery VHP leader and BJP MP from Unnao, said in Meerut, “The time has come when a Hindu woman must produce at least four children in order to protect Hindu religion”. He added that those involved in conversion and cow slaughter must be punished with death, though ghar vapsi, the process of converting minority communities to Hinduism, is not equivalent to conversion. “Wait for some time,” he said, “a law will be passed in Parliament in which anyone indulging in cow slaughter and conversion will be punished with the death sentence”.
In another reference to conversions, RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat said in February in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, that Mother Teresa’s service to the poor in India had been motivated by a desire to convert them to Christianity. BJP leader Sadhvi Prachi echoed his sentiments in Dehradun while calling for a boycott of films starring the three Khans of Bollywood. “I, for one, would ask the Bajrangis to tear the posters of films of Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan of the walls and burn them in the fire of Holi,” she said. “They spread a culture of violence.”
The Sangh Parivar also intensified conversions to the Hindu fold through their ghar vapsi programme. While conversions of Hindus to other “alien” religions were opposed, conversions to Hinduism were not only encouraged, but actively conducted. It is the economically backward and often destitute people who became targets of these campaigns. Groups situated on the lower rungs of the caste structure agreed to go through shuddhi rituals for material gratification, aspiring for social dignity and equality. What is significant is that ghar vapsi was defended by some members of the ruling party. Even BJP president Amit Shah called for a debate and a legal ban on “forcible” conversions, implying that conversions through ghar vapsi are not forcible and would be exempt from such a ban.
Another issue close to the Sangh Parivar’s heart is cow slaughter. Laws banning cow slaughter already exist in many States, but the blanket ban imposed in Maharashtra and then Haryana further indicate the creeping in of Hindutva in the Indian body politic. The ban extended to bulls and bullocks with utter disregard for the dietary needs of a large section of the impoverished citizenry and the already distressed agrarian economy.
A slow but sure strategy All this has been happening in a context of low intensity violence against minorities. Attacks against Christians and Muslims have gone up, and they have been reported from all across the country. The impact of these skirmishes in terms of the spread of religious intolerance is the same as that of religious riots. The problem of such localised attacks is that Hindutva moves forward, minorities voices are marginalised and social hatred spreads, but the political order escapes the blame for dividing people. Statements can be denounced and there can be exasperation over certain doings, but there has to be acknowledgement that all this is being done to gain control over the nation’s polity and society. The Sangh Parivar is doing this in its own typical way by using the strategy of a death by a thousand cuts. These cuts are, slowly but surely, meant to mark out who belongs to the nation and who does not, by defining what people will eat, who they will marry, where they will live, what they will read and watch. Prime Minister Modi’s first year has seen some great successes in this aspect.
(Manjari Katju teaches Political Science at the University of Hyderabad.)