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Nature Of Threat To Indian Democracy

By Ram Puniyani

08 September, 2008

(Book under review, Fascism and Communalism: Considerations-Sandeep Pendse, Center for Education and Documentation, Mumbai and Bangalore,, pages-167, Rs. 240)

Those concerned about the rights of the weaker sections of society, those wanting to preserve the democratic space for the struggles of the exploited sections of society have been burning midnight oil to understand the turn of events from the decade of 1980s. How come the language of rights has been hijacked to the one of identity, how come the social movements have been pushed back and religious identity is ruling the roost? Yes, one is talking of the phenomenon of rise of RSS combine in the social space, the phenomenon, which started coming up by using Ram Temple issue and is currently riding on the chariot of Amarnath shrine and Ram Sethu! There have been multiple contributions trying to understand this RSS combine, what is it, a cultural phenomenon, a religious phenomenon or a political one. And if political, what type of politics does it represent. The book under review is one of this genre, which has been thoroughly researched and presented with
clinical precision. Author's labor, depth of understanding on the issue is remarkable, despite the fact that he does leave out some of the major aspect of the phenomenon unaddressed.

What does the book argue? It takes the RSS combine head on and analyses it as a communal outfit, which had roots of Fascism and now its fascist fangs are trying to stifle the liberal space, and is manipulating the social culture in a retrograde manner to create a modern society with medieval values and social relations. The efforts of this combine has resulted in a social milieu in which, though the "Narendra Modi, Praveen Togadia brand of communalism may be deniable and unpopular but a soft Hindutva has become prevalent in the country. This soft Hindutva could be dangerous as it always harbored the possibility of ultimately being soft towards hard communalism too…" (P.1) One notices that the infiltration of RSS progeny in practically all areas of society and state structure has created a social common sense and orientation which already has the deeper elements of Hindu Nation. The orthodox, conservative social norms have got broad acceptability and this forms the base of the Right Wing Hindutva politics. By eighties the rise of newer middle classes and the accompanying values, created the ground for Rath yatra which was to be the nodal point for the rise of BJP from an obscure party to the major contender of political power in the times to come.

Advani led demolition of Babri mosque, as per him "a symbol of shame for Hindus", was followed by massive violence against Muslims and further culminated in the first major blasts in Mumbai. This also paved the way for BJP's coming to power a few years later. It put forward the concept of cultural nationalism, a form of elite Hindu nationalism, by passing the democratic Indian Nationalism, a product of freedom movement. This Hindu nationalism is a form of ethno- centric nationality based on mythical homogeneity, tilting towards race based nationalism. In fascism the divide is "…between republican democracy and narrow definitions of nationality and nationalism. Take Savarkar's attempt to define Hindu in terms of Pitrabhumi (fatherland) and punyabhumi, (holy land). The struggle is both to include and exclude. The ultimate identity for him is on the basis of 'bonds of blood'." (p13) the idea is to include every one except Muslims and Christians, made sharply clear by RSS ideologue M.S. Golwalkar.

The demonization module developed by RSS and assisted globally by US imperialism is so widespread that today terrorism is supposed to be synonymous with Muslims and after every bomb blast many of them are picked up by police indiscriminately and tortured to no end. The 'success' of RSS type politics can be gauzed by the fact that in the Hindu Rashtra of Gujarat, Muslims have been relegated to the status of second class citizens. This terrorism, whatever be its causes, has come as a great boon to the agenda of RSS as by now every act of terror, irrespective of the culprit, polarizes the community along religious lines. Pendse is on the dot when he points out that "RSS… saw itself as an ideological organization. Its aim always and quiet openly was the total reconstruction of the Indian society and creation of a new man. This aim was to be achieved in line with a Hindu ideal and a Hindu vision so that ultimately a Hindu nation should be created. This should not be confused with the aim of Hindu theocracy or a medieval regime based on Brahminical rituals. It is a dream akin to fascist vision of reconstruction of society. In all its aspects. The governmental power of BJP was for the RSS merely an instrument towards this aim."

RSS combine achieves it 'brilliantly' by a division of labor. RSS does the core planning, BJP is its political chessboard, VHP expresses religiosity in its blunt form and Bajrang dal acts as storm troopers. Pendse does well to include the life and style of party manager Pramod Mhajan, who was killed by his own brother, for reasons which could never be known, contrasting his life with the spartan life of a swayamsevak (RSS volunteer). How this political formation can fit different people and use them for its political agenda becomes clear from this.

The case of Gujarat, which was groomed as the ideal Hindu state, the first Hindu Rashtra, where the middle class, money order economy is paramount, the incident of Godhra while publicized as a pre planned attack by "Muslims" reminds one of the Reichstag fire, the date being the same, 27th Feb, may be just coincidental but it does indicates the methods of fascist politics, irrespective of the country where they come up.

Pendse does a brilliant job in bringing out the similarities and differences between the Delhi massacre of Sikhs in 1984 and the anti Muslim pogrom conducted by RSS combine in Gujarat. The argument proffered by RSS Combine and some others that Congress and BJP are two sides of the same coin, as Congress also massacred Sikhs, is well answered by him. He correctly points out that in case of anti Sikh pogrom, leaders of the government or the party did not justify the call for continuation of violence, administration did not participate in that, the government was surely guilty of confusion and inaction for two full days but Congress did not term the Sikh community as enemy community, and Congress did not initiate or continue any covert and overt communal campaign against this community.

While author tries to examine whether RSS combine is a Hindu communal organization or a fascist one, he totally ignores and bypasses the parameter of fundamentalism, which must be considered while trying to understand this organization. As a matter of fact there are various serious scholars like Achin Vanaik who characterize RSS combine more as a fundamentalist organization. This omission in otherwise sharply formulated arguments in the book is very jarring. He is precise in pointing out that its ideology is that of Hindu primacy and supremacy, its central credo is rejection of the idea of equality of all communities, pluralism and multiculturalism. It is reactionary because it rejects the class identity, sticking only to religious identity. Minority communalism is reactive and defensive and majority communalism is aggressive and has the traits of fascism. This is what Nehru pointed out while saying that while both communalisms are dangerous, the one of majority is more dangerous as it can manifest as nationalism and abolish democracy while minority communalism at worst can sound separatist. He harps more on ethnicity and imagined nationalism; how come RSS combine is fascist while harping mostly on religious identity! More is needed to elaborate his formulation on this.

Pendse's meticulous analysis fails to deal with gender and caste issues involved in the politics of Hindu right. He misspells Rashtra Sevika Samiti as Rashtriya Sevika samiti. It is symbolic. While men are nation themselves, women are mere servants of this Hindu nation. He should have explained why the word swayam is missing in women's organization? Of course he makes a correct point that since male swayamsevaks were expected to remain celibates, to have women amongst their midst would have distracted them from the 'noble goals' for which they were being groomed. As such the major cause of RSS, Muslim League type of formations coming up during freedom movement was that the upholders of feudal values of caste (dalits being the slaves tied to land) and gender inequality (women being property of men) were coming under threat due to the transformation of caste and gender relations which were integral part of the freedom movement. This does require a serious
look in Indian context. If we see the rise of the Hindu right is preceded by the ascendance of dalits and women into the social space during the first three decades of the republic. The articulation of women's movement during the decade of seventies was one of the triggers for elite males to tilt towards this political tendency. The other factor being the dalits coming to occupy some positions in society. The major violence unleashed against Muslims and Christians by RSS combine was preceded by its anti dalit attacks in 1980 and against OBC in 1986, both mainly in Gujarat. It is the change of strategy which led it to use these dalits as their foot soldiers and attack the minorities, killing two (or more) birds with a single stone. Pendse, despite this limitation in his analysis, is at his brilliant best while elaborating the fascist traits of RSS. It is worth having a serious look at this section by all those who should make the strategies to promote human rights and strengthen democracy.

Secularism, its practice in India, had always been wrought with serious flaws, giving the ground to Advani's ilk to coin and popularize the word, pseudo secularism. As Nehru had correctly pointed out that his greatest problem is to walk-on the path of secular values, constitution's values, in a society in the grip of religion. "The state in India did not remain resolutely separate and distant from religion. It only tried to remain 'neutral' in the sense of not playing any favorites and actually doting on all religions." (p.93) Only thing which can be added to this correct diagnosis is that since the society was mainly dominated by Hindu practices and the state machinery started getting infiltrated by communal elements, the Hindu practices started getting the official status, breaking coconut at inaugurations, pictures of Hindu deities in police stations and other official places and organization of Dashra pujas and Satyanaryan pujas in the public
organizations became a norm at most of the places.

Author's observation that secularists are reactive and thus limit themselves, though correct does not give a total picture. Yes, they have failed to project that secularism is a desirable total alternative to the needs of the nation. What also needs to be added is that with the decline of Socialist states, decline of workers movement, and lack of coordination between different social movements, the projection and carrying out of struggle to preserve secular values has become difficult. There is hardly a broad realization about the threats of fascist communal politics, till quiet late. The secular elements have been protesting in the aftermath of the communal violence and then going to slumber as if the problem is over. The systematic outlining of the tasks for secular values in contemporary context, their necessity for the very preservation of human rights has not been realized. The result is that social movements working in different arenas of politicallife are focusing in their own area of specialization and the core aspect of preservation of democracy, secularism has been taken up only by a handful of activists, whose efforts are not more then a drop in the ocean. Spreading awareness about the myths based on history and contemporary issues does have crucial importance, all the same this is just the beginning of the work in this direction and miles more remain to be covered.

The questions raised in the book require broader debate and the need to take on the threats to our democracy is much more urgent than apparent from the efforts of the human rights activists. Whole progressive movement, has to gear up and ensure that warding off of the threat of communal fascism has to be the integral and core part of all the social movements, be they of the one's of dalits, workers, women, adivasis or religious minorities. The book not only meticulously outlines the threat this identity based politics poses but also raises questions; whose answers do have the potential of building a proper secular movement. Needless to say the human rights movements, democratic movement needs to engage with the issues raised in the book which surely is a result of painstaking work and qualifies as a significant contribution on the issue.

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