RABID BUT NORMAL

Modi’s party is finally confident enough to reveal its most venomous religious agenda to India

Quartz india
Quartz india

The best thing about Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Yogi Adityanath becoming the chief executive of India’s most populous and politically sensitive state is the plain honesty of the messaging.

In choosing him, the BJP has finally given up subtlety and sugarcoating. There is no embarrassment, let alone guilt. The party’s message is clear: “Now that we’ve won handsomely, let’s play our crudest card and see if we get away with it.”

It chose the 44-year-old parliamentarian to be sworn in as the 21st chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP) on March 19, despite having swept the assembly election and with 325 members of the state legislative assembly to choose from.

Clearly, Adityanath wasn’t chosen for any visionary credentials, administrative acumen, economic expertise, or intellectual ability. His pretensions aside, the saffron-clad monk is not even among India’s top-line spiritualists.

He was chosen for his famed talent for rabble-rousing—the man has won elections from eastern UP’s Gorakhpur constituency five times in a row. He was chosen for his well-documented ability to use the worst kind of rhetoric to whip up a frenzy. “Now that we’ve won handsomely, let’s play our crudest card and see if we get away with it.”  One of his recent, and milder, assertions was to install the idols of lord Ganesh, given a chance, in all mosques. At another time, for every Hindu woman marrying a Muslim, he asked each Hindu man to marry 100 Muslim women and force them to convert to Hinduism. In another undated video, in Adityanath’s presence, his supporters are seen asking Hindu men to pull out the corpses of Muslim women from their graves and rape them.

Adityanath, in other words, is simply the rock bottom even among the bigoted.

And he’s the wildcard that the BJP has dangled before India. If the country takes the bait, long years of a slow and steady battle by the BJP and its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), would have finally fructified. If it doesn’t, and the country still offers resistance to wholesale bigotry, then a re-calibration may be in order.

For now, though, Hindutva is playing poker-faced.

Distilled hatred

The BJP’s core ideology, Hindutva, is primarily about Hindu supremacy.

One of its revered icons, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, wrote in his book We or our nationhood defined: “…the foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen’s rights.”

While the RSS, which Golwalkar once headed, claimed in 2006 to have disowned his book, it is well known as a key source of the RSS family’s, or the Sangh Parivar’s, political outlook.

However, at various stages of its existence, Hindutva has been camouflaged in relatively agreeable and often esoteric terms, such as “integral humanism,” “Swadeshi,” (economic nationalism) and “nationalism.” The BJP itself officially espouses “Gandhian socialism.”

The BJP’s leaders, on their part, have evolved, too.

Till 2004, their tallest leader was Atal Bihari Vajpayee, an old-school politician who mostly avoided rabble-rousing and, instead, employed his eloquence to killer effect. However, he was often considered a mask for the BJP’s larger designs.

Vajpayee’s more vitriolic colleague, Lal Krishna Advani, spearheaded the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s that resulted in wanton bloodshed and turmoil in the country. Advani, who introduced the term Hindutva into popular lexicon, now stands sidelined by his protege Narendra Modi, a master of the dog-whistle.

During his term as the Gujarat chief minister till 2014, particularly during the period following the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots, Modi made several outrageously provocative speeches, mostly avoiding specifics or naming names. During the election campaign in UP just a few weeks ago, he muddied the waters by referring to “burial grounds” and “crematoriums,” shorthand for Muslims and Hindus. Of course, his speech was well within legal limits, in letter if not in spirit.

Adityanath, however, represents a generation that actively shuns such niceties. Not for him the need to play safe or sound conciliatory. So acerbic is he that even an ardent BJP backer and Modi fanboy like Bollywood actor Anupam Kher recently demanded that the monk be jailed for his utterances.

However, all this misses the point that Adityanath embodies sublime Hindutva, the reason he now heads UP.

The experiment till now

For decades, including under Modi’s chief ministership between 2001 and 2014, the BJP did not field Muslim candidates to contest for the BJP from Gujarat, either for the state assembly elections or the general elections. For the first time in independent India’s history, the 2014 general election threw up a winning party that did not have a single Muslim member—seven of those the BJP fielded failed to win despite the Modi wave. In the 2017 UP election, too, the BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate though they form close to 20% of the state’s 200 million people.

The perceived bias is often justified under the rubric of merit by party men. “Can only Muslim leaders fulfill the Muslim community’s needs,” they ask. The democratic ideal of power sharing, and being seen doing so, forgotten, the absence of a huge segment of Indians from the BJP’s representative politics suggests an active move to render them irrelevant by consolidating the majority votes. Clearly, that is euphemism for majoritarianism, something India’s founding fathers had warned against.

But it paid off beautifully for the BJP in 2014 and in 2017.

For all the talk of development that Modi used during his prime ministerial campaign, he peppered it with a generous dose of communal sparks, taking care not to unleash large-scale violence or fears, yet just enough to keep the embers alive. In the 2017 UP polls, again, the emphasis seemed to be on the anodyne sabka saath, sabka vikas (“With everyone and everyone’s progress”) and demonetisation, but leaders from Modi to Adityanath never missed a chance to ratchet up inter-religious animosity. Already attempts are on in media circles to normalise Adityanath. 

The massive win in UP proved that the strategy has worked again, and has now opened the floodgates for an all-out Hindutva excursion.

And who better than Adityanath could fit the bill?

“The list of criminal charges against him is pretty long—some of the cases where cognisance has been taken are: three charges related to rioting (IPC section-147); one charge related to attempt to murder (IPC section-307); two charges related to rioting, armed with deadly weapon (IPC section-148); one charge related to act endangering life or personal safety of others (IPC section-336); one charge related to every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object (IPC section-149); two charges related to trespassing on burial places, etc. (IPC section-297); one charges related to criminal intimidation (IPC section-506),” Firstpost reported.

Already attempts are on in media circles to normalise Adityanath.

Far from stupid. If anything, the next phase of their long and complex experiment has only begun. In many senses, Adityanath, head of the Goraknath math (a Hindu religious institute), may be the closest to theocracy any part of India has come under. And that’s also the closest to long-term political success that Hindutva has come.

When the US elected a foul-mouthed Donald Trump, we wrote: “So on Nov. 8, when the US voted for Trump, Indians who had looked to America for democratic solace found themselves deeply disappointed. Yes, we have our Modi. But, come on, you chose an Adityanath?

Turns out we puffed up over America’s failure a bit too early.

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