Nation-building and the Majoritarian Project

VHP leader Pravin Togadia wants Muslims to be evicted from all Hindu neighborhoods. BJP candidate from Nawada Giriraj Singh wants all Modi critics to be shipped off to Pakistan, where they apparently take their cues from. Modi’s right hand man Amit Shah wants Jats to avenge the killings of their community members in last years riots in Muzaffarnagar. BJP’s manifesto promises to explore all possibilities to construct the Ram temple where the Babri Masjid used to once stand while also promoting Hindu culture and traditions such as cow protection.

Alarming as these developments are, each of the above ideas are structurally integral to the kind of majoritarian politics and nation-building the BJP and its affiliated organisations have been practicing for decades. The only difference is that recently, this kind of rewriting of Hindu nationalist history and politics has come to the very center of our national politics, having become the party’s electoral agenda. Though one might argue about the real essence and character of Indian secularism, the fact is that BJP in its current avatar challenges the very existence of a nation that at least claims to be secular. For at the very heart of the party’s politics is to allow only one kind of history to exist — one that allows it to access and recreate its former glorious past, while also avenging the imagined humiliation suffered at the hands of a ‘foreign’ minority community sometime in the past. As a student of history, this is a particularly frightening prospect, for the past when reduced to a singular linear story, can only result in violence and intolerance. The future, our future, is currently at the mercy of how one community remembers its past — real or imagined.

It would perhaps then be prudent to understand how this memory understands and remembers the one minority community it defines itself against. The ‘other’ of the Hindus — Muslims. Listening to election speeches recently, it becomes clear that one important factor here is that of appearances and symbols. While Modi toured the country, donning the local attire of every state and community he visited, he categorically refused to put on a skull cap that Muslims are known to wear. “He wore all kinds of outlandish head-gears including one with a dead bird of an endangered specie. He wore the headgear of Nagaland, a turban and a saafa. The skull cap is the only headgear he refuses to wear,” Congress spokesperson Shashi Tharoor said on Saturday. Of course whether or not a politician wears a skull cap does not matter in the least to the Muslim community itself. But since the politician in question had overseen the worst genocide of Muslims in recent history, his adamant nay saying sends out a very clear message.

His refusal to don the skull cap could imply his prejudice against and mistrust of the Muslim community but it also signals his aversion towards a certain kind of Muslim — one who carries markers of his identity on his person. It is a typical RSS argument, to ask why Muslims insist on wearing caps or growing long beards. Why do they insist on marking themselves out? Why can’t they look like the rest of us? In other words, if Muslims are to survive in Hindu India they must acknowledge what is considered normal (read Hindu) and abandon all symbols of faith, even though your local shakha-going thug has no requirement to shed his teeka and saffron scarf. A minority must thus accept the hegemony of the majority and pose no challenges to its supremacy by carving out its independent religious space. If you are recognizably different, recognizably Muslim, you are not a part of this Hindu rashtra.

This goes hand in hand with the sentiment Togadia articulated so brazenly this week, that of segregation and ghettoization. We have already seen this process underway in Muzaffarnagar where countless Muslim families are refusing to go back to their villages for fear of further violence. Ghettoization of Muslim families in Gujarat is already widely known where ‘borders’ exist between Hindu and Muslim colonies (also known as mini Pakistan at different places), residents careful not to breach it.

And it is this that stands out in the BJP’s project of Hindu nationalism — all minorities become threatening, dangerous and intrusive. “The fragments of Indian society — the smaller religious and caste communities, tribal sections, industrial workers, activist women’s groups, all of which might be said to represent “minority” cultures and practices — have been expected to fall in line with the “mainstream” (Brahmanical Hindu, consumerist) national culture,” wrote historian Gyanendra Pandey in his seminal paper In Defense of the Fragment. (And here he wasn’t even talking about the BJP in particular but the nature of Indian state in general which speaks volumes about how little a ‘secular’ Congress is different from a communal BJP) Any opposition to this project of Hindu nationalism is treated as anti-national, as we have seen time and again in the Hindu right’s response to criticism of the BJP and particularly of PM aspirant, Narendra Modi. The kind of abuse and vitriol unleashed at those who question Modi’s role in the massacre of innocent Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, is unmatched by its intensity and vulgarity. Critics are called “Paki”, “Commie”, “Congressi” among other far more horrid abuses.

This is therefore not simply a question of political opportunism, as is the case with the Congress, for the BJP’s claim to power is legitimized by its insistence on fashioning itself in opposition to those that they believe belong across the border. The kind of atrocities that have been inflicted on Muslims in riot after riot since the eighties cannot simply be explained away as something orchestrated by high level party officials. There is now a widespread belief, encouraged most certainly by Hindu right wing organisations that “the Muslim community is taking orders from Pakistan”, or that “they have a sinister plan to become the majority by breeding many children”, or that “they indulge in love jihad to steal Hindu women away” and that they “had done the Hindu community wrong sometime in the past”. Is it possible to have debunk each of these arguments with historical facts? Yes. Will the Hindu right listen? No.

I end by listing here some truly fascinating questions from a Hindu propagandist leaflet from 1989–1990 which I find to be relevant still, titled Hindu Brothers Consider and Be Warned, that I found in the same article by Pandey mentioned above.

1. Is it not true that the Muslim population is increasing, while that of the Hindus is decreasing?

2. Is it not true that the Muslims are fully organized, while the Hindus are fully disorganized?

3. Is it not true that the Muslims have an endless supply of weapons while the Hindus are completely unarmed?

4. Is it not true that within 12–15 years the Muslims will become the rulers of this country?

5. Is it not true that after the conceding of Pakistan the land mass that remained was manifestly that of the Hindus?

6. Is it not true that while Hindus are in power, Muslims can live safely, but as soon as the Muslims come to power, life will become difficult for the Hindus- that is, they will be destroyed?

7. Is it not true that as soon as as they gain power, they will destroy the Hindus root-and-branch, as they have done in Pakistan?

If you think we are beyond these questions today in 2014, you only need to look carefully at the electoral propaganda, posters and pamphlets around you today. The same fears and anxieties regarding minority communities continue to define electoral agendas. Only difference is, in addition to ‘Babar ki santaan’ all the dissenting journalists and activists too are being told “jao Pakistan ya kabristan.

The article was first published in Newsyaps in April 2014. The website has since shut down.

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