BJP and Modi have been at the helm of political power in India with an absolute majority in Parliament for over a month now.  While Modi and his media-savvy cohorts talked incessantly of development and a new India in the run-up to the election, all indications are that it is the old India of RSS with its communal polarization and anti-Muslim rhetoric that is thriving.


The most egregious event was the killing of a young Muslim IT professional, Mohsin Shaikh, in Pune by a violent Hindu Rashtra Sena mob, merely because of his “Muslim-looking” beard.  The Prime Minister has paid little attention to this horrific act.  He was busy handing out major Ministerial appointments to members of the BJP’s top echelon, even those who lost elections like Arun Jaitley, as well as giving a junior ministerial berth to someone implicated in the ghastly killings of Muslims in Muzaffarnagar, which helped to polarize the UP electorate on a communal basis.


Although most of the enlightened English speaking intelligentsia of India did not think that RSS and its political and cultural family would attain the pinnacle of political power in the 2014 elections because the Indian people disdained events like the Gujarat pogrom engineered by Narendra Modi, it is undeniable that a certain strain of Hindu culturalism has been in the political arena for a long time and not only among those who advocate Hindu Rashtra.  Even the Indian National Congress, which spearheaded the independence movement, had amongst its leadership champions of Hindutva or, at the very least, many sympathetic to Hindutva. Within the Congress, there were strains of both those who subscribed to Vande Matram (Hail Motherland, the explicitly Hindu nationalist song composed by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya) and those who sang the more secular Sare Jahan Se Acchha Hindustan Hamara (composed by the poet Mohammad Iqbal in his earlier secular phase).. What the country ended up choosing under the leadership of the Congress was essentially a marriage of the two.


Important Congress leaders did not dine with Muslims or Dalits. Gandhi, who was most vocal about the rights of Dalits was at odds with Babasaheb Ambedkar who wanted the abolition of the caste system.  Muslims were assured but not guaranteed equality. Muslim fear that when Congress talks about equality and secularism, it really means Hindu supremacy has largely proven correct.  Caste discrimination was banned in law and an affirmative action program was begun but Congress never led a mass movement against the caste system and no one was ever punished for discrimination based on caste. What Congress did was to co-opt selected followers of Ambedkar in the organization he founded, the Republican Party of India, whenever it was politically advantageous or expedient to do so, a stratagem that has profitably been adopted by other parties, including the BJP.


Gandhi’s day started with a Hindu religious prayer “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram” that, nonetheless, offered some accommodating gestures to Muslims in its second stanza “Ishwar Allah tero naam.” On the other hand, there were also more hardline Hindu Congress leaders like Sardar Patel, who Modi now wants to commemorate or celebrate by building the world’s tallest statue. With the passing of some of the more stalwart leaders like Nehru and Azad, Indian nationalism has fallen prey more and more to adopting symbols of cultural nationalism based on or derived from Hindutva such as “Mera Bharat Mahan.”


Although formally wedded to democratic practices like periodic elections, the deep economic, social, and ethnic inequalities in India have not allowed a democratic culture to emerge where the civil rights of minorities, whether political or social, are respected.  No doubt workers, peasants, adivasis, tribals, and other marginalized groups, have raised issues of concern to them and led movements based on local demands but not on national issues, like the struggles in Kashmir or the peoples of the north-east; there is a kind of mainstream consensus that has stifled debate for a long time.


This kind of consensus has created a fertile opening for redefining what India means, which has been seized on adroitly by RSS, who promoted Modi, for invoking a Hindutva fascism based on alliance of big capital with a unitary religious nationalism under a Supreme Leader.  Big business supplied the thousands of crores that were needed to submerge the entire media in the NaMo swamp.  It will now look for its return in the overturning of the meager regulations protecting people and the environment as shown by the recently leaked Intelligence Bureau (IB) report, the opening salvo in steamrollering all opposition to the plans of Big Business.


Since the end of the Telangana movement, communists have not raised the issue of secularism and democracy as a central need of India.  In the last few years, the parliamentary communist parties were busy trying to build an anti-Congress, anti-BJP front, which in essence meant anti-Congress front.  It is about time, as Praful Bidwai points out in a companion article in this issue, that a mass movement for a secular democratic culture be raised as a national program.  All left forces have to unite on this issue, which is the only way that a Hindu Rashtra can be avoided.

Top - Home