Friday, February 02, 2007

The resurgence of Hindutva

A short aside: Shashi Tharoor's book 'India: From Midnight to Millennium'
I have just finished reading Shashi Tharoor's India: From Midnight to Millennium and he makes significant points on how Hindutva has really born as a response to fundamentalist forces of other religions, notably the Muslims in the last few centuries in India. Tharoor doesn't try to defend the indefensible, and doesn't try to say two wrongs make a right. I loved the entire book, especially his rather frank assessment of the several pre-1997 prime ministers of India (notably Nehru, Indira & Rajiv).
Shashi Tharoor also makes interesting & thought-provoking points on how some NRIs detached from their motherland tend to mix their own confused identities & seclusion (often self-inflicted) from the majority community in their chosen countries with the so-called marginalization of the majority Hindu community in India (Hindu-pride not being adequately assuaged by the 'pseudo-secularists') and support Hindutva organizations overtly or covertly.
The real issues facing India (even in the new millennium)
While there is no denying the fact that there is significant minority-appeasement by some political parties playing votebank politics, countering it with Hindutva will only help lend credence to parties trying to cash in on the minority vote without actually caring for the welfare of the under-privileged sections of the society. Of course, while everybody wants to speak for the poor, there has never been an acknowledgement of the fact that poverty is the country's biggest enemy. Widespread malnutrition, illiteracy, school dropouts, rising health costs & cost of inefficiency & lack of productivity due to ill health in large sections of India's working population are all due to poverty & wretchedness of a large section of the society, which is poor because / in spite of caste, creed & religion. Poor (and often illiterate) always are less discerning voters, and fundamentally, in a democracy, it serves the powerful politicians & the new elite (even those who have risen through the ranks from under-privileged sections of the society) to ignore development (fill their coffers while it lasts) & keep the poor (and hence under-privileged) where they are.
Cause & Effects: Resurgence of the Hindutva campaign
Continued appeasement by the UPA coalition (led by Congress & supported by the self-righteous 'champions of poor' Left) at the national-level and by the SP-led coalition in India's largest state has directly led to the resurgence of Hindutva though it is completely the wrong kind of response. The speeches that have started coming out of BJP, allies such as Shiv Sena & sister organizations such as Bajrang Dal & VHP clearly point to the fact that rabble-rousing of the early 90s will be returned to. Sadly, the Hindutva response is only going to arouse further insecurities among the minorities which may lead to irrational, disproportionate responses from the fringes of our community (such as terrorism) as well as from the mainstream (such as riots).
Needless to say, Hindutva activities border on fundamentalism and almost always lead to bad press in India (further insecurities among the population at large) and outside (slowing of FDI/FII interest, resulting drop in investments & long-term economic development in India if they continue long enough).
That the Hindutva fire is being stoked by politicians & parties desperately out of limelight should not be lost on any discerning reader of the situation. The complete failure of the opposition to raise & derive political mileage out of the government's several policy & administrative failures or ineptness & corruptibility of several of its ministers and the desperation of out-of-favor politicians to be relevant again has led to the revival of the often-malicious Hindutva campaign.
So what is the right response to the Hindutva campaign ?
While ignoring the Hindutva campaign may lead to serious damage (such as the Babri Masjid demolition) of the secular fabric of India, continued minority appeasement would only strengthen & provide credence to the entire campaign. 'Soft Hindutva' has proven to be completely ineffective and even politically counter-productive as in Gujarat. The answer is really not another, opposing campaign, because any single, identifiable campaign against Hindutva is bound to be drowned in the majority cacophony and may even lead to the strengthening of the movement. I suggest a series of smaller, less-visible efforts to effectively tackle the menace -
  1. Acknowledge the problem - To counter the campaign head on, I believe the most important requirement is to first acknowledge the problem and justify to the masses why it is a problem. This might be easier than in the early 90s as we do have horrific precedents of the several riots that have taken place in India since the acute polarization that have taken place since the Mandir movement.
  2. Educate the masses - Begin educating masses at large about the ills of such divisive politics. Who can do it? A strong, charismatic leader such as Indira Gandhi (despite all her ills) could educate the masses on the benefits of good governance as opposed to freedom & individual rights. A leader whose reputation was beyond reproach (such as Nehru) could educate people on the importance of their vote, the importance of dissent in democracy. Do we have such leaders today? Sadly, no. Vajpayee is in the other camp and is too old (and probably too disinterested) to make a fresh beginning (though Ariel Sharon did, and that is why I adore him). Sonia is too much of a foreigner to understand the complexity & sensitivity of the centuries-old problem. Besides, she lacks the charisma to carry it off with the entire nation. Leaders like Rajesh Pilot & Madhavrao Scindia had the charisma to carry it off at least in pockets of India, but they are sadly dead. Sharad Pawar, the other leader of national stature we have in the country, seems to have lost his zeal quite a bit. I have a more profound question, though - Why would anyone want to take the pains to educate the masses rather than attempt to take political advantage of the situation? For all I know, such an effort might be successful but might also end a political career. In this, I just place my hope in innate human goodness that somebody would deem it fit to act sincerely on this. Of course, the educator doesn't need to be a politician, NGOs could do it - but I seriously doubt their effectiveness & reach in a highly political debate that grips India today.
  3. Develop the nation - The other thing to do is to continue on the frenzied pace of development. As more of India's youth (esp. those outside the large cities or in top professional colleges) are weaned away by gainful employment, the less likely they are to be swayed by divisive forces & the resulting violence. Hindutva would cease to be an issue (as would other divisive issues such as reservations, minority appeasement, lack of integration in some parts of India such as the north-east and J&K which really are all inter-connected) if the much touted trickle-down effect happens faster. This is not a quick-fix solution, and development doesn't necessarily eliminate fundamentalism, but over the long-term, it is our best bet for long-term peace. The question I asked earlier comes back to haunt me - why would politicians convert their easy votes to more difficult ones by educating them or enabling them to feed themselves better? Again, I can only take refuge in the innate human goodness and that there will be somebody who will put in effort.
  4. Deal strongly with terrorism - At least some part of the Hindutva movement is because of a feeling that India is turning into a soft state that is not ready to protect its citizens from Islamic fundamentalism & terror. Events like Pokhran & Kargil tend to unite India, though the impact on foreign-relations will have to closely evaluated from a cost/benefit perspective. Strong responses to terrorists infiltrating from Pakistan / Bangladesh (hot pursuit, bombing terror camps across borders), believe it or not, can increase unity & brotherhood even with the Muslim community. Just as development is not a quick-fix solution and needs to keep happening, strong actions such as these must be sparingly used to maintain efficacy.
  5. Regulate Education - Just as christian missionary schools all over the nation have become famous for their quality of education, it is important that Hindu schools (RSS-run as well as government schools in some cases to prevent ruling party bias from seeping in) as well as madrasas are regulated to encourage high-quality content as well as to prevent religious fundamentalism from being ingrained into the impressionable minds of young students.
Can judiciary prevent politicians of both sides from making inflammatory speeches? How can they do it? By punishing past offenders. Though recent instances of judicial activism warm my heart, I think the judiciary has been largely ineffective in preventing the spread of communal hatred. The fundamental right to practice one's faith or celebrate religious festivals is often misused by the scheming politicians to drive home communal messages. That not one of the politicians involved in the Babri Masjid demolition or the several riots that followed is proof that the law is on a weak wicket here.


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