BJP is a party with a difference in more ways than one. It is the major electoral formation which contrary to the values of Indian Constitution of secular, democratic nation, holds that India is a Hindu nation. It is the only party which is the electoral wing of RSS, the organization formed and pursuing Hindu Nationalism. BJP also has the distinction of gaining electoral strength parallel to the rise of sectarian violence. It is also the one which has kept emotive, divisive issues and issues related to its own brand of nationalism at the core of its politics. Its massive victory in 2014 elections and then in 2019 General elections, gave the impression that it is invincible.  Its President Amit Shah did declare that BJP will rule the country for next fifty years. So when its projection, backed up by the commercial media, that it will walk away with massive victories in Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly elections of 2019, bit the dust, some new thinking about its electoral prospects is in order.

As the results unfolded, it fell short of simple majority in Haryana and had to ally with JJP of Dushyabt Chautala to form the Government. In Maharashtra, while it emerged as the single largest party, on its own it was nowhere close to the simple majority and so it’s electoral ally of years, is trying for a bargain hard this time. The usual boasting which has followed earlier victories of BJP is nowhere in sight and some commentators have termed it as a moral defeat for this party. The claim of its invincibility is lying shattered and the opposition parties which were feeling demoralized seem to have been infused with hope yet again.

As such BJP was formed by the elements of Bharatiya Jansangh with the proclamation of Gandhian Socialism in 1980s. Soon it changed the track and took up the issue of Ram Temple. The whole agitation around temple, the rath yatras led to communal violence and polarization of society. This is what gave fillip to BJP which then went from strength to strength. Mostly it kept taking up issues related to identity.

Having tasted power in 1996 for thirteen days and then for thirteen months in 1998, it floated National Democratic Alliance, with the power hungry leaders falling to the bait of minimum common program, which remained on paper as BJP asserted the Hindutva agenda through and through. Hindutva agenda is constituted by demand for Uniform Civil Code, abolition of Article 370 and construction of Ram Temple. The major strength of BJP so far was the solid support of RSS volunteers, which trained in the ideology of Hindu Rashtra were seeing political power as another means to enhance their agenda. Post Gujarat carnage another solid support for BJP emerged from the corporate sector. Modi in the aftermath of Gujarat carnage; encouraged the Corporate, giving them all facilities in the name of Vikas (development) The Corporate sector also came to acquire total control on the large section of Media. The third aspect which enhanced the power of BJP was its shrewd support to Jan Lok Pal Bill. Propping up Anna Hazare and riding on the popular sentiments against corruption it succeeded in defaming Congress to the hilt. Its use of Nirbhaya case to further defame Congress paid rich electoral dividends. At the same time BJP perfected its electoral machinery and now it claims to be the largest party in the World.

Modi’s promises of Rs 15 lakhs, crores of jobs, reducing prices were cleverly advertised, and Modi won 2014 elections with 31% of vote share. Anti incumbency, corruption, RSS support and corporate funding gave it comfortable victory in 2014 elections. During this period no efforts were made to fulfill these promises, BJP kept igniting the polarization through Cow beef issue. The supplementary issues like Love Jihad, Ghar Wapasi kept strengthening the electoral position of BJP, as it succeeded in projecting that the religious minorities are a threat to the majority Hindus. Back on the emotive issues it added up its brand of Nationalism. BJP nationalism means creating hysteria against Pakistan. Its nationalism seemed to be paying dividends with some sections of society. In 2019 elections all these factors played their role. Adding on to this Pulwama-Balakot and EVM machines seem to have aided the victory of BJP despite worsening economic scenario. And this gave the impression that a party adept at using emotive-divisive issues, converting nationalism into another emotive issue may take the cake for good.

So what went wrong with the Modi-Shah duo in Maharashtra-Haryana elections? Can people keep consuming emotions and nationalism to survive?  The bread butter issues are surfacing and can no more remain undermined by hysteria created around nationalism or communalism. In these elections, role of EVM machines notwithstanding, the biggest lesson to learn is that even the most powerful electoral machine cannot trample on the issues related to basic needs of society. The lesson is that hunger cannot be quenched by the boasts of abolishing article 370 or by harping on triple talaq, by creating a fear of Pakistan.

While RSS has seeped into most sections of our social life, education, media, social work, the BJP-RSS agenda cannot fill the hungry stomachs or give employment to youth or prevent farmer’s suicides. Surely this election result of two states will boost the secular values and agenda which talks of right to food, employment, health and livelihood will come to the fore. Can the opposition parties committed to issues of people pick up the gauntlet and come forward as a united force to put the national agenda back on the rails of Indian Constitution? Can social movements pick up from here and articulate people’s issues with greater vigor and zest? The limits of Communal agenda and nationalist agenda lies exposed, now the ball is in the court of those who believe in pluralism, diversity and humanism to bring back the people’s issues and counter the Hate and divisiveness which has filled the social space?   

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

The media is full of articles and videos on the occasion of 150th birth anniversary of the ‘father of the nation’, Mahatma Gandhi. While there is a genuine attempt by most to recapture the teachings and path of Gandhi as relevant to contemporary India, there are those also those who are using the occasion to increase their own legitimacy. This is done be a clever maneuver of picking bits and pieces from his writing or incidences and also by quoting him partly leaving out the part critical to those quotes.

This is true about Hindu nationalists; the RSS combine in particular. While on one hand in a clever move they have picked up Gandhi as the symbol of cleanliness drive, leaving out his core message of communal amity, on the other now attempts are on to show that Gandhi was impressed by the discipline and lack of divisiveness in RSS. RSS Supreme leader, Mohan Bhagwat, writing on the RSS website says, “Gandhiji... visited a shakha near his place of residence in Delhi during the tragic days of Partition. He spoke to the swayamsevaks in the shakha. Its report was published in the Harijan, dated September 27, 1947. Gandhiji expressed his joy over the discipline of the Sangh swayamsevaks and complete absence of divisive feelings of caste and creed in them." To begin with the Harijan issue mentioned here is dated 28th September and not 27. Then while the quote is correct it leaves out the background and the further caution which gives the real portent of the quote.

Here Gandhi is recounting his visit to RSS in Wardha along with Jamanalal Bajaj, saying that these were his impressions in 1936. Since then the organization has grown. Then he adds, “But in order to be truly useful, self-sacrifice had to be combined with purity of motive and true knowledge. Sacrifice without these two had been known to prove ruinous to society.” Gandhi had visited the RSS shakha on 16th September, in the backdrop of many complaints from Muslims.

The meaning of the quote in the background of those complaints and the sentence following the part quoted by Bhagwat, gives the true picture of what Gandhi meant to convey to the volunteers of RSS Shakha.

This was not the first time that he had talked about RSS. In Harijan on 9th August 1942, Gandhi writes, “I had heard of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its activities; and also know that it was a communal organization”, this was in response to the slogans and some speech against ‘other’ community, about which a complaint was made. In this Gandhi is referring to the drill of RSS volunteers, who shouted that this Nation belongs to Hindus alone and once the British leave we will subjugate the non-Hindus. In response to the rowdyism indulged by communal organizations he writes, “I hear many things about RSS. I have heard it said the Sangh is at the root of all this mischief.” (Gandhi, xcviii, 320-32)

Rajmohan Gandhi in his book Mohandas (page 642) points out that “After independence, in the context of Delhi violence, Gandhi confronted the RSS chief Golwalkar, with reports of the RSS hand in Delhi violence, Denying the allegations Golwalkar also said that RSS did not stand for killing the Muslims. Gandhi asked him to say so publicly. Golwalkar said Gandhi could quote him on this. Gandhi did this in his prayer talk that evening, but he told Golwalkar that statement ought to come from him. Later he told Nehru that he did not find Golwalkar convincing’

The most accurate perception of Gandhi on RSS is brought forward by Pyarelal, his secretary. He narrates an event in the wake of 1946 riots. A member of Gandhi’s entourage had praised the efficiency, discipline, courage and capacity for hard work shown by the RSS cadres at Wagah, a major transit camp for Punjab refugees: “Gandhi quipped back, ‘…but don’t forget, so had Hitler’s Nazis and the Fascists under Mussolini’. Gandhi characterized RSS as a communal body with a totalitarian outlook.” (Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase)

The need for RSS to show that they were on the right side of Mahatma is cosmetic. RSS combine propounds ‘exclusive Hindu nationalism’, in contrast to Gandhi’s ‘all-inclusive Indian Nationalism’. Still they need to get the legitimacy from the greatest Hindus of his times, Gandhi. Gandhi is also the figure most well known in India and globally. As impact of RSS is on the rise, it wants to draw further strength by associating with names whose ideology was at cross purposes with their own. Sardar Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose are the major figures with whom RSS is trying identify, despite core differences in the type of nationalism propounded by them and the likes of Patel and Bose. Gandhi the tallest figure of freedom movement, was killed by one of the Pracharak’s (propagators) of RSS, Nathuram Godse. Godse’s was a well-planned ideological assault of Hindu nationalism on Indian nationalism

The major attempts of RSS have been to recreate a historical narrative of nationalism. In this they began with presenting medieval history as the period of oppression of Hindus by Muslim invaders, by trying to project that Hinduism is native religion and Islam and Christianity are foreign religions. The attempts to do all the ideological acrobatics to prove that Aryans were the natives has been another of the forceful exercises in operation. To cap it all the achievements of science and technology are also presented to be having their roots in this land. The crux of the matter boils down to glorify the so-called Hindu past along with the values of caste and gender hierarchies prevalent that time. To identify with Gandhi is yet another step in this direction.

These ideological manipulations have picked up with greater intensity during last few years. We do need to save Gandhi from the distorted forms in which he is being presented. We do need to focus on his struggles against injustice, and inclusive humane approach to problems of the nation and society.    

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED