“One army, a real army, united behind one leader with one purpose. Our purpose died with the Mad King. Now we’ve got as many armies as there are men with gold in their purse, and everybody wants something different.”
– Robert Baratheon, A Game of Thrones
There it is. That’s the secret to nation building: a purpose to unite behind; a story to believe in, along with others; and a leader to keep reminding us of the story. Once it catches momentum, there is no stopping. What one has to be careful of before beginning a story, however, is the long-term consequences of the story.
It is difficult to see how politicians use the same words and sentences to send different messages to different constituencies. For the well-educated, English-speaking, Lutyens’ Delhi, Right-Liberal, Pseudo-Conservatives (the paucity of whom will soon cease) who appear on the Super-Duper-Bumper Prime Time shows on TV, Narendra Modi’s reluctance to speak over increasing frequency of lynching in the country is an indication that he has more important things to do (the more important thing being expressing sadness over a forest fire in Portugal). But for a young Indian who hasn’t even read Rajaji’s Ramayana and Mahabharata but has been brainwashed through repeated FB posts, Whatsapp forwards, and Tweets about the Great Indian Sickular-Islamic-Missionary Conspiracy of destroying the country, Mr. Modi’s silence is a sign of approval of abuse and violence. And this, my friends, is how India and Indians have become instruments of a political party and its ideology, something Arun Shourie called Decentralized Emergency.
To think that the mob lynchings of the recent past are communal is naive. There isn’t any violence recorded against Jains, Sikhs or Buddhists. It is not the difference in religious or philosophical beliefs that triggers these instances of violence. Hinduism itself is plural, with various schools of philosophy and innumerable Gods. What they want is for Hindu culture and its cultural symbols to prevail over individual religious beliefs and philosophies, a phenomenon called culturalism.
Just as racism and sexism mean discriminating people based on their race and sex, culturalism means discriminating people based on their culture. Or, by virtue of culture not being intrinsic like race or sex, trying to assert and impose one’s culture on others, preserve it, and make it the national identity. Whether it is the imposition of Hindi or food habits or resistance to westernisation, the symptoms of the Hindu-right are more of culturalism than those of communalism. And the great Indian liberal intellectuals’ incompetence in understanding and addressing this nuance is appalling.
What is more appalling is the assumption that the Indian culture has been static and purely Hindu. Though it is predominantly Hindu, influences of Muslim presence and Christian propaganda cannot be not assumed. The significance and magnitude of these cultural influences are for anthropologists to determine. But a blatant assumption that the Indian Civilization and its culture have been static right from the Vedic Era doesn’t explain the advent and reign of Buddhism, the advent of various interpretations of Vedas by Sankarabhagavadpada, Madhavacharya and others, the conflict between Vishnavism and Shivism, the Bhakti Movement and how each of these changed the culture of the country significantly.
Civilisations evolve and so does their culture. We cannot control it and should not. The people of the culture contribute to it and decide its direction as a society, not a single organisation and its clout. Culture changes according to the needs of the time, it absorbs what is convenient from the cultures that it interacts with, and adapts to new technologies.
A New Liberal Strategy
So, how did this culturalism grow? Though it is for the social scientists to document the factors yet, I personally feel that it comes out of a feeling that the Hindus in India are being compromised by the differential application of liberal principles to different people based on religion and caste. This quite often happens in media where one thinks twice before bashing Islam while doesn’t do so when it comes to Hinduism. That’s probably because they thought Hindus are not as touchy about their religion as Muslims are. Turns out they are indeed touchy. Turns out that the Nehruvian story of Secularism is falling apart. Turns out emotions and a deep sense of reverence to our past have prevailed over logic, rationality and scientific temper. And it is crude to expect it to not happen.
Of course, it is regressive to attach the identity of the nation to a culture that is assumed to be static. Then, how do you deal with it? My view is that we resort to what Gandhi did. Gandhi was not a staunch Hindu. He was a ‘chatur baniya’ who interpreted the same Bhagwat Gita, which was preached on the battleground encouraging Arjuna to fight, to preach non-violence. If logic and rationality had to prevail, they would have already. It is time we speak scriptures to those who reject the egalitarian ideology of liberalism as un-Indian. It is time we turn the Hindu majoritarian narrative into an anti-Hindu narrative. It is time we change the language of discourse from left-right-centre to Egalitarian Hinduism versus Regressive Hindutva. Because we are not going to change the mind of those in power as they would never let go of the power they wield over the Internet Hindu Mobs. Therefore, we better directly speak to these mobs in their own language and tell them, ‘Not in the name of Hinduism. Not in my name.’