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Hindutva Culture And
Electoral Alliances

By Nalini Taneja

People's Democracy
25 February, 2004

We seem to be witness to a rather contradictory phenomenon these days. The attacks on education and secular cultural expression have become more frequent, far more sectarian, and reflect anything but a desire to accommodate. On the other hand, at the level of electoral politics the BJP is going around appealing to all and sundry to join its already quite broad NDA alliance. How does it manage this apparently quite contradictory feat? How does it get away with it? Even parties who it seems would stand to lose their mass base, should the BJP succeed in its Hindutva agenda, are ready to join an electoral alliance that includes them, and to fall in line with a cultural agenda that excludes them.

Despite the recent victories in the assembly elections one can say that in electoral terms the BJP remains just where it was in the last round of national elections. It is in no position to win the coming elections and form a government on its own. Yet it gets away with attacks on culture and educational institutions, both matters of direct concern to people. In ideological terms it is much stronger than it was in the last round, primarily because its social and political vision finds favour with and reflects the prerogatives of the ruling classes better than any other party.


The BJP it has achieved almost a monopoly of support from the ruling classes. This support becomes a big factor in pressurising other bourgeois parties, the Congress and the regional groupings, to accommodate the Sangh Parivar cultural agenda. They are after all competing for and reflecting the same ruling class interests. The leaders of these other parties may question whether India is really shining, but for most of them, their vision of a shining India is not much different from that of the BJP.

All said and done, there was never so much dissatisfaction against the ruling classes, and never so much domination of popular imagination by ruling class ideas. While it is possible today to have great trade union actions on issues of service conditions, livelihood and the right to strike, and there is widespread opposition to fee hikes, denial of access to water, increasing costs of power and the erosion of the PDS, this does not necessarily translate into opposition to the Sangh Parivar’s cultural agenda.


The BJP on its part is willing to concede as little in terms of its cultural agenda, as it is in terms of its economic agenda. The erosion of the Nehruvian, Liberal paradigm in economy has meant a weakening of the politics of the centre and the collapse of the liberal political alternative. The parliamentary representative institutions assiduously built by the early nationalist leadership are being twisted and manipulated to serve right wing economic and political agendas. The great flexibility and fluidity of electoral political alliances is but a manifestation of this erosion of liberal politics and the ascendancy of the right wing, and a situation where apart from the Left there is no political party that takes an uncompromising stand against communalism.

Institutions, both cultural and educational, are today being captured not from those branded as Left or ‘pseudo secularists’, but from those who represent a conservative stance in ideological terms. The agendas being undermined in the more recent spate of attacks (barring those on Habib Tanvir) are not those of the Left, who have already been sidelined in all institutions that matter over these last four and a half years, but those who stood with the right wing through the Nehruvian years. Left leaning journalists in most sectors of media are under extreme pressure and have little independence. It is only in the universities and colleges that they still have a presence as teachers and trade unionists.

A lot of those under attack now are individuals and institutions that have contributed to the notion of an eternal India primarily Hindu in ‘soul’. In fact it would not be out of place to state here that while Nehru was busy building his temples of learning—the IITs and Centres of Science and Technology—and public sector units of heavy industry with the help of socialist USSR, cultural institutions remained permeated and dominated by people of soft Hindutva persuasion and little secular concern. Institutions like Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, Sangeet Natak Academies and Sahitya Academies have never fostered or promoted democratic cultural expression. Those at the helm of affairs in cultural fields have tended to be patronising towards popular culture, and crafts and dances and have showcased them in festivals, but their cultural expression has never been seen as intrinsic to the making of India as a civilisation even, leave alone to the making of its political personality.


That even these institutions and individuals are now under attack by the radical right is an indication of the narrowness and exclusivity of the cultural vision of the Sangh Parivar and the government that represents them. It reflects and parallels the narrowness and exclusivity of the pro-ruling class economic policies of the Sangh Parivar and the government that represents them. It is this parallel, which necessitates suppression of all dissent and democratic expression that also makes attacks on cultural expression tolerable to those political parties who claim to be secular and concerned about minorities, dalits and women. It is not simple opportunism. It can be seen in the media coverage of these events which reduce these attacks to madnesses indulged in by the [lunatic] ‘right wing fringe’, without holding the right wing government responsible. We have this fringe, as ministers in our government is something the corporate owned media seems not to have noticed, despite the routine and continuous appearances of these ministers on the platforms of this ‘right wing fringe’.

The trend was perhaps set by the takeover of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, which despite being built up by the Congress regime was always dominated by those who are soft on Brahminism in culture and whose critique of modernity has always been from a conservative right-wing point of view. They have now been usurped by the radical right—the independent radical right intellectual and the Sangh Parivar variety, for both of which they helped do intellectual spadework (to borrow Lukacs’ phrase).

Bharat Bhavan has a similar history. Established during the Arjun Singh era in Madhya Pradesh by his ‘right hand man’ (right in several senses) and the culture Czar, Ashok Vajpeyi, it has traversed diverse territories in the last few decades from being a den of avowedly anti-communist and anti-left intellectuals and artists and Cold-War think tank in culture to a right-of-the-centre cultural institution with some semblance of liberal outlook to a culturally cosmopolitan forum of artistic exchange. Despite its overt and covert support to the political right and blatant anti-left prejudice it was always in hot waters whenever a BJP government came to power in Madhya Pradesh because of the tussle over control.

Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) of Pune has not exactly been known for being a centre of enlightenment—it has often been seen as a place of Brahmanical dominance and reactionary leanings of its establishment. In fact, it is people associated with it who have initiated chauvinist historiography on Maharashtra, and there are many among them who initiated also the demand for ban on Laine’s Shivaji book. It is a different matter that the situation is now out of their control.

Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal is now being attacked by Bajrang Dal for sponsoring a campaign on brest feeding which uses pictures of Gods and Godesses to make the point. It is an indication of today’s situation that we are today forced to defend this parochial form of promoting something, which can equally well be promoted on a scientific ground.


But perhaps the two most blatant examples of the narrowness and sectarianism of the Parivar’s vision is reflected in the removal of MGS Narayanan as Chairman of ICHR, and the call for removing the name of Allauddin Khan from the Madhya Pradesh Sangeet Academy. MGS Narayanan, we may remember, aided the removal of secular and left historians from the ICHR boards, and was made Chairman by Murli Manohar Joshi himself. Alauddin Khan, the great doyen of Indian music, who made the village of Maihar in Madhya Pradesh his home and started the renowned Maihar Band by organising the orphaned Dalit children of the area and teaching them music. He incidentally was also the father of Ali Akbar Khan, Annapurna and guru and father-in-law of Ravi Shankar. Several other illustrious names in Indian music have been his disciples, such as Nikhil Bannerjee. He has been called by the loutish and ignorant minister of culture from BJP as a ‘Bangladeshi singer’, notwithstanding the fact that the Ustad was born in an undivided in India—in 1872! Of course Advani was also born in Sindh, which is now Pakistan.

We must recognise that these are efforts to intimidate people, and to show what can happen to those who do not fall in line. It is today necessary to defend all those under attack by the Hindutva forces, to recognise their extreme sectarianism and make the broadest possible front with those who oppose the Hindutva forces. It is also necessary, however to recognise the nature of the attacks and the character of those who are being attacked, for they may go along with us only some part of the way, and not very far.