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A Nightmare Materialises In India: Hindutva-capitalism takes power

The Lok Sabha election has produced what was easily the worst conceivable outcome by giving an outright majority to the Bharatiya Janata Party under a man who is widely believed to have been complicit in mass killings of Indian citizens belonging to one faith, and who even 12 years on has not been fully exonerated by the country’s legal system despite its compromised, semi-functional nature, and vulnerability to diabolical manipulation. Make no mistake. Despite a limited (31 percent) national vote, Narendra Modi’s victory is the result of a Rightward shift in society, and the triumph of Hindutva combined with neoliberal capitalism.

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Fusing Hindutva With Corporate Power: The menace that’s Modi

As the momentum of India’s nine-phase Lok Sabha election shifts in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s opponents, a new bunch of writers and social scientists have risen to defend its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Some of them see virtue and talent, indeed even poetic genius, in a man who presided over the mass butchery of Muslims in Gujarat. (One of them compares Mr Modi’s ghastly poetry with Kabir’s!)

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How The Media Whitewashes Modi: BJP’s true colours

When Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in 1975, the vast majority of Indian academics, intellectuals and media commentators protested. Barring a few publications like India Today, most newspapers carried sharply critical comments and truthful, horrifying accounts of the excesses perpetrated in the name of defending India against contrived “threats”—until censorship was imposed, and sometimes defying it.

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Poll Campaign Gets Shriller, Dirtier: Modi plumbs the depths

Many Narendra Modi zealots are acting as if he had already been sworn in as Prime Minister, or as if that were only a matter of time. They have taken their cue from Mr Modi’s March 29 statement in Chandigarh, where he declared himself India’s future PM. He says the people have chosen the government even before voting; the national election is a mere formality to be gone through. Such contrived hype about a “Modi wave”, bankrolled by corporations, and propagated by much of the media, ignores four main trends which have emerged in the last couple of weeks. These suggest the election still remains open-ended. Mr Modi has doubtless established an edge, but it isn’t decisive, and cannot ensure the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s election victory.

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Modi (mis)appropriates Patel

Whatever its other sins and there are many one charge can never be made against the Sangh Parivar: that of having produced a halfway tall intellectual. No star in its firmament, from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s founders, to the present leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Sangh’s 30-odd other affiliates, remotely approaches the description ‘intellectual’.

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RSS Anoints Modi As PM - Candidate: Stooping to a new communal low

The Bharatiya Janata Party has committed a historic blunder by allowing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—a secretive, conspiratorial, unelected body with a deeply sectarian anti-democratic agenda—to dictate the choice of its Prime Ministerial candidate for the next election. It’s no surprise that the candidate is India’s vilest and most hated political figure, who has blood on his hands, pure aggression in his veins, and a slavishly pro-corporate agenda in his heart.

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Winning by polarising the Gangetic plains?

The shortest, if dirtiest, route to victory in the circumstances is to polarise politics along religious lines by engineering communal violence. This is exactly what happened in Muzaffarnagar-Shamli in Western UP. A minor incident—a youth allegedly made lewd remarks to a girl of another community—was converted by RSS-VHP-BJP rumour-mills into “love jihad” (seduction-abduction of Hindu women), triggering Jat-Muslim clashes, in which 40 people were killed and 50,000 displaced.

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Britain’s odious rapprochement with Narendra Modi

About 1,000 Muslims died in the Gujarat riots, under Modi's watch. Without justice, there can be no reconciliation

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New offensive

Having tasted blood through the Anna Hazare campaign, the Sangh Parivar is launching an all-round attack on the Manmohan Singh-led government. The UPA cannot defend itself with weak-kneed Right-leaning policies.

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Right-Wing Gains From The Jan Lokpal Campaign: The politics of Anna’s fast

No government in India has bent over backwards to please a civil society campaign as much as the Manmohan Singh government, in respect of the Jan Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill, drafted by a small group of people, including Anna Hazare, nominated by an NGO called India against Corruption (IAC). And no single individual’s act has recently attracted as much popular support as Mr Hazare’s fast for passing the Bill on terms dictated by him by an impossibly short deadline.

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Bringing Hindutva terrorism to book

The Hindutva terrorist network must be ruthlessly exposed and brought to justice. Its infiltration into the police, civil services and security forces must be thoroughly investigated. This is a precondition for reaffirming the secular character of the state and the rule of law.

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Attacking Writers, Banning Books : Growing fascist intolerance

The attack by Bharatiya Janata Party Mahila Morcha activists on the residence of writer Arundhati Roy in Delhi, accompanied by abusive slogans and breaking of flower-pots, marks a new low in the destructive activities of the forces of bigotry and intolerance in India. It is a hair-raising reminder of the great distance this society has travelled from the concept of a liberal democracy which genuinely respects the freedom of expression and the right to dissent—a concept that’s at the heart of the Constitution.

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Restoring Public Faith In Rule of Law: Justice in Ayodhya

How should India's Supreme Court treat the appeals certain to be filed before it against the Allahabad High Court judgment on the Babri Masjid issue, which dismisses the Sunni Central Waqf Board's title suit and says the site was the birthplace of Lord Ram? Should the Court strive to reconcile the Vishwa Hindu Parishad with the Waqf Board? Or should it overturn the judgment?

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Hindutva politics in disarray and decline

THE Bharatiya Janata Party, once cohesive and disciplined, is now so faction-ridden that it often ends up damaging itself by pandering to particular leaders.

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After The Karnataka Quake: The BJP as political franchise

The Bharatiya Janata Party's national leadership could not have cut a sorrier figure than it did with its abysmally inept handling of the latest political crisis in Karnataka, which very nearly brought down the only government the party heads in all of South India.

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The great capitulation

Indians and Pakistanis have to develop a common, rational understanding of the partition story that is free of nationalist prejudice.

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Religion-India: Secular Fabric Under Threat

Inter Press Service, November 5, 2008

by Praful Bidwai

NEW DELHI, Nov 5 (IPS) - Police in India have unearthed a well-organised terrorist network inspired by intensely Hindu-chauvinist ideas, which they suspect, has been involved in a series of bombings since 2003, primarily targeting mosques and intended to kill Muslims.

The discovery follows investigations into two bomb blasts on Sep. 29 at Malegaon, an industrial town in central Maharashtra, notorious for strained Hindu-Muslim relations and periodic communal (or inter-community) violence. Seven people were killed in the latest explosions.

At the network's centre are various organisations and individuals affiliated to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). They are tied together by adherence to the ideology of Hindutva (Hinduness or Hindu-supremacism), and are collectively called the Sangh Parivar (RSS family or cabal).

Also implicated are three retired officers of the Indian army, and a serving colonel, belonging to the intelligence corps. At least two of them are connected with the Bhonsala Military School, a Hindutva-inspired institution established in 1937 at Nashik in Maharashtra.

The most prominent of the suspects arrested by the police for the bombings is Pragya Singh Thakur, a 38 year-old saffron-clad woman who calls herself a Sadhvi (the feminine for sadhu).

One of the bombs that exploded in Malegaon was planted on a motorcycle owned by Thakur and loaned by her to prime accused Ramji. She has reportedly confessed to this. The police also claim Thakur was unhappy at the relatively low number of fatalities in the blast and wanted to know from Ramji the reason for this.

Thakur has a strong RSS background and was an office-bearer of the BJP-sponsored students' union, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad for nine years, and more important, of the militant women's outfit, Durga Vahini.

The BJP has been badly embarrassed by the disclosures, which have shocked the secular public. But after initial hesitation, the party has decided to brazen things out and take the stand that Parivar activists are being framed.

The police have gathered evidence exposing the myriad connections between the RSS, the BJP, and their front organisations, estimated at more than 100 in number, which are active in fields as diverse as labour unions, indoctrination and education, lawyers' organisations, semi-religious groups, relief and service delivery, and specific targeting of India's religious minorities, which make up 18 percent of its population of a billion plus people.

Among the better known of the Sangh Parivar organisations are the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (world Hindu council) and Bajrang Dal (violent vigilantes named after the monkey warrior-god Hanuman), Vidya Bharati (which runs thousands of Hindutva-oriented schools) and Adivasi Kalyan Ashram (which actively proselytises among indigenous people).

Groups like Durga Vahini, Rashtriya Jagaran Manch, Sanatana Sanstha and Abhinav Bharat are less well-known but often more active in militant ways.

These groups have been involved in a spate of attacks on Indian Christians across seven states, after first erupting in eastern Orissa last Christmas. Affected states include southern Karnataka and Kerala, central Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and western Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The Catholic-Christian Secular Forum (CSF), an influential non-government organisation (NGO) has demanded, in an open petition to the government that the Bajrang Dal- which it holds mainly responsible - be banned for attacks that are ‘’unconstitutional and threaten the secular fabric of the country’’.

According to published CSF estimates, over 50 Christians have been killed, 4,000 houses destroyed and dozens of nuns raped.

‘’The State of India has abdicated its responsibility and duty to protect Indian Christians, by not taking the concerned state governments ruled by the BJP to task and failing to protect the life and personal liberty of Indian citizens,’’ the CSF petition charged.

In the Malegaon bombing case, police say they have irrefutable evidence that three key individuals, Thakur, Abhinav Bharat, Sameer Kulkarni and former army major Ramesh Upadhye, were conspirators. They were also probably responsible, along with other RSS-Bajrang Dal activists, for recent bombings outside mosques in four other towns in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The police are also looking for evidence of their possible involvement in recent mosque bombings, as in Hyderabad in May 2007, in Ajmer in October 2007, and possibly on the Samjhauta Express train to Pakistan in February last year.

Police believe that Hindutva activists have been training themselves in bomb-making and other violent skills for many years with help from former military officers and institutions like the Bhonsala Military School.

In April 2006, two RSS-Bajrang Dal activists were killed during a bomb manufacturing operation at Nanded, also in Maharashtra.

According to the Maharashtra police's Anti-Terrorism Squad, the Nanded operation was part of a larger criminal conspiracy to create the impression that Muslim extremists would not hesitate to kill other Muslims. The motive was to sow disaffection, widen the communal divide and help Hindutva forces blame Muslims for acts of terrorism.

Similar cases of parivar activists' involvement in other bomb-fabrication operations has recently come to light through accidental explosions in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and again in Nanded, Maharashtra (in February 2007).

"This is not the first time that Hindu fundamentalists have been implicated in acts of violence," says Tanika Sarkar, a professor of modern Indian history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and author of several books and scholarly papers on the Sangh Parivar and the Hindutva movement.

"But this is probably the first time that an underground network operating on a large scale across different states, which has actually planted bombs targeted at Muslims, has been unearthed,'' Sarkar told IPS.

Sarkar added: "These Hindutva-inspired terrorists are no less dangerous and indefensible than terrorists inspired by jehadi Islam. But the difference is that the first kind of terrorism has a wider base because the Hindus are a majority in India. It also enjoys official sanction and state patronage, unlike jihadi militancy."

Sarkar argues that majoritarian extremism tries to pass itself off as inspired by nationalism, and that this is a major fallacy. It is as pernicious as minority extremism. The BJP stands isolated on the issues of its links with Sadhvi Thakur. It first denied that she has had anything to do with the BJP, the RSS or ABVP in recent years.

However, Thakur campaigned for the BJP in the last two legislative assembly elections in Gujarat, in 2002 and 2007. She also has close links with high BJP functionaries, including Madhya Pradesh state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan.

The BJP's prime ministerial nominee LK Advani tried to distance the party from Thakur, and said the law should be allowed to take its own course.

But last week, the RSS intervened and demanded that the BJP staunchly defend Thakur and other suspects. Party president Rajnath Singh now says that there can be no such thing as a "Hindu terrorist" and those who believe in Hindutva can never be attracted to extremism because Hinduism is inherently tolerant.

"This is hogwash," holds Sarkar, "because Hindutva is nothing if not a concentrated expression of intolerance, which believes in forcibly asserting and imposing Hindu primacy or supremacy on a society that is deeply plural, multicultural and multireligious."

The BJP claims to be uniquely concerned about and determined to fight terrorism, and makes security a central plank of its politics. Its hypocrisy and double standards on terrorism have shocked secular liberals in India. They are anxiously watching the United Progressive Alliance government's moves.

"The discovery of this network throws up a major challenge to the Indian state," says Zoya Hasan, an eminent political scientist, who is currently a member of the National Commission on Minorities. "The state has been tainted in the past by its perceived softness towards majoritarian and Hindu-communal groups. For instance, a Congress government allowed the Babri mosque to be demolished by the Hindutva forces in 1992.

"If the ruling United Progressive Alliance government rises to the challenge and pursues the investigation and prosecution in the present case through to the end, it will have made a major contribution to the reaffirmation of secularism in India,’’ Hasan said.

(END/2008)

Why Gujarat?

Frontline, January 05-18, 2008

by Praful Bidwai

__The Congress could not have defeated Narendra Modi without grasping why Hindutva is so uniquely powerful in Gujarat and without confronting it at its roots. __

AS the Congress licks its wounds after its mauling in Gujarat, all manner of explanations are being trotted out for its poor electoral showing: divisions in the anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vote in a dozen northern Gujarat constituencies because of Congress “rebels”, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s spoiler role in Kutch and Saurashtra, over-reliance on discredited BJP dissidents, and poor campaigning tactics.

There is doubtless some validity in these explanations. It is also true that the Congress lost about 20 seats by margins as narrow as 2,000 votes. Focussed campaigning and aggressive debunking of Narendra Modi’s extravagant claims about “development” and “good governance”, along with a projection of equitable pro-poor alternatives, would probably have yielded improved results.

However, the sad truth is that these factors could not have countered fully the powerful pull of aggressive Hindutva in Gujarat, strengthened under Gujarat’s ultra-conservative upper-class savarna (upper-caste)-dominated ruling social coalition.

The Congress deluded itself that the election would be a “normal” contest in which the arithmetic of caste, class, ethnicity and region would prevail. It would have to do nothing special to counter the challenges posed by Narendra Modi through his virulent Hindu communalism, appeal to Gujarati hubris via a chauvinistic sub-nationalism masquerading as Gujarati asmita (self-respect), and an authoritarian personality cult.

The Congress refused to counter Modi’s core-agendas and instead caved in by adopting a “soft Hindutva” posture and ducking all issues pertaining to the pogrom of 2002 and after, including the State’s continuing victimisation and exclusion of Muslims. It did not question Modi’s Gujarati-chauvinist orientation. Even on “development” and “governance”, it failed to mount a convincing campaign offering alternatives favourable to working people.

Consider development. Despite high GDP growth, Gujarat’s rank in areas such as health, literacy, education, and hence human development and gender empowerment, has been slipping, according to the official Human Development Report (2004). Nothing bears more eloquent testimony to Gujarat’s unbalanced and warped development than the fact that 74.3 per cent of its women and 46.3 per cent of its children are anaemic.

Gujarat’s indices of patriarchy are frightening. The sex-ratio is an abysmal 487:1000 in the 0-4 age-group and 571 in the 5-9 age-group (national averages, 515 and 632 respectively). Gujarat’s health indices are barely higher than Orissa’s. The proportion of children under age 2 who receive complete vaccination fell from 53 to 45 per cent between 1998-99 and 2005-06. In social sector spending as a proportion of public expenditure, Gujarat ranks a lowly 19 among 21 major States.

Gujarat boasts good-quality highways, including the gleaming Ahmedabad-Baroda expressway. But so high is the toll for using the expressway that the bottom half of the population is forced to use camel- or bullock-carts. The road has cut off villages from one another and caused flooding by blocking natural drainage.

Gujarat is rapidly industrialising. But the industries that have flourished the most are all highly hazardous or polluting: poisonous chemicals (Vapi is among the world’s 10 worst toxic hubs); textile dyeing; ship-breaking; and diamond polishing, which turns people blind in their thirties. Gujarat has not still recovered from the de-industrialisation of the 1980s when its textile mills closed down. Its performance on labour rights is appalling. On minimum wages, it ranks eighth among all States, much below its per capita income rank (fourth).

The Congress did not criticise adequately this deplorable record or demand inclusive, people-centred development. It went along with Modi’s dualistic growth model. Its failure to counter Modi’s core appeal was even more damaging to itself – and to Indian society. It refused to understand or acknowledge the strength of Hindutva in Gujarat, which goes far beyond the BJP’s 17 years in power, including 12 years on its own.

The BJP has won close to, or more than, 50 per cent of the vote in two Assembly elections in Gujarat – unlike in any other State. Its associates are also well entrenched. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has a presence in each village with a population exceeding 500. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) claims to have a branch in every town and village.

Communalism runs deep in Gujarat’s veins. It was the site of modern India’s first recorded communal riot, in 1713. Another landmark was the Hindu-Muslim violence of 1893 at Somnath, whose effects were felt nationally, leading to the famous Hunter Commission. This partially involved the politics of revenge for perceived past “injustices”. (For the complex story, see Romila Thapar, Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History, Viking, 2004). Under the impact of competitive politics, Hindu-Muslim differences over religious identities grew even more sharply.

The ground for this was prepared by the invention of an “Aryan” identity, which attracted the emerging Brahmin-Bania middle class like a magnet. Its principal author was the writer-historian-scholar Narmad, long a social reformer, who turned against reform to embrace indigenism. He defined “Arya” as high-born, noble upper castes “who came first and settled in India”.

Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, was a Gujarati and toured the region in the late 19th century glorifying the Vedic Age and Aryadharma, and opposing it to Paradharma (alien religions). His legacy was carried on by Shraddhanand with his shuddhi (re-conversion of Muslims) campaign.

Even the freedom movement’s mobilisation strategies used religious metaphors: the Non-cooperation Movement was dharmayuddh; and British rule, “Ravan raj”. Hindutva was aggressively propagated through cow protection societies and Ganesh festivals.

Communal violence had become endemic and recurrent in Gujarat by the early 20th century. Major freedom movement events such as the Bardoli Satyagraha and the Dandi March happened to the accompaniment of Hindu-Muslim clashes. The riots of 1969 were remarkable for their ferocity and led to Muslim ghettoisation and disenfranchisement.

Hindutva’s strength is also related to the influence of Right-wing ideas in Gujarat’s business-oriented society, which places a premium on commercialising all human relationships. Politically, the Right’s influence goes back to Gandhi’s withdrawal in 1930 from Gujarat, and the inflated importance of Vallabhbhai Patel. Divisive factors

Three major factors have further shaped Gujarat against this backdrop. The most important is the early consolidation of a powerful alliance between patidar farmers and Brahmins and Banias in the cities. This divided the State between “Bhadra Gujarat” and “Aam Gujarat”, say social scientists Achyut Yagnik and Suchitra Sheth, and authors of The Shaping of Modern Gujarat (Penguin, 2005). “The expanding and modernising middle class of Gujarat has been looking for a new identity to validate its present and protect its future.”

Hindutva furnished this identity and helped the dominant castes thwart demands for power-sharing with the underprivileged majority. Gujarat’s social conservatism is thus an amalgam of Hindutva and upper-caste domination.

It is noteworthy that Gujarat is India’s only major State where there has been no successful Dalit or OBC self-assertion. An attempt was made at this when the Congress put together the KHAM (Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim) social coalition in 1980 and won a record 140 Assembly seats.

The upper-caste elite reacted violently to this and launched a powerful street agitation against reservations for Dalits. “The myth of Gandhi’s Gujarat – peaceful, tolerant and non-violent – exploded,” say Yagnik and Sheth.

The OBCs faced a similar violent savarna agitation in 1985-86 for demanding affirmative action. Remarkably, one of the agitation’s main leaders was Narendra Modi. The personnel who participated in it were mobilised yet again in 2002 in the post-Godhra pogrom.

“While the ideology of Hindutva was gaining ground,” say Yagnik and Sheth, “moderate voices were getting weaker…. By the early 1990s, community leaders… no longer wielded any authority over their youth…. These youngsters… have grown up on a diet of anti-minority invective and the voices of moderation, of liberal thought and tolerance have been missing from their environment.”

A second factor is the influence of conservative ideas through the non-resident Indian (NRI) community. Gujarat has the highest representation of any Indian State among professional NRIs living in North America. Their reactionary “long-distance” nationalism feeds Hindutva. They are more orthodox and backward-looking than their resident Indian counterparts, but provide the role model for young Gujaratis.

The third factor is Gujarat’s weak liberal culture. Gujarat has certainly had a tradition of tolerance, and peaceful co-existence of Hindus, Muslims and Parsis. But tolerance is not the same thing as modernist liberal respect for pluralism. One reason for a lack of this is the weakness of Gujarat’s labour movement. Once militant, this was compromised by the imposition of the pro-employer mazoor-mahajan union based on the romantic notion of “trusteeship”: industrialists as the “trustees” of labour, not its exploiters.

The labour movement’s disarming at an early stage meant that Gujarat’s elite was under little pressure to make human rights and other concessions, or to respect liberal values. As historian E.P. Thompson often said, a liberal culture does not come out of thin air; it arises from the people’s struggles, from fights at the barricades. This did not happen in Gujarat.

Since the early 1990s, the bhadralok’s aggressiveness has increasingly taken the form of xenophobia and crude Hindu chauvinism. It is in Gujarat that textbooks were first severely rewritten to distort history by glorifying everything Hindu and maligning everything non-Hindu. The effects have been aggravated by changes in the social geography of cities like Ahmedabad and the creation of Hindu and Muslim ghettos, resulting in declining social interaction between communities.

Gujarat’s Muslims, probably the most culturally integrated minority in India, have been turned into the bhadralok’s villains. Ironically, this happened although the penetration of Islam in Gujarat was remarkably peaceful. Traditionally, Gujarat’s Muslims were divided into 130 different communities disparate in descent, occupation, lifestyle and customs. For instance, the Bohras and the Khojas were severely persecuted by Sunni Muslims, not Hindus. Hindutva has been as blind to differences among Muslims as to divisions among Hindus. Virulent sub-nationalism

Finally, what explains the virulence of Gujarati sub-nationalism and the Modi personality cult? Gujarat’s middle class has long nurtured a grievance over the “loss” of Mumbai caused by the reorganisation of the old Bombay State in 1960. It also convinced itself that the whole nation was prejudiced against Gujarat because it did not quickly sanction the Narmada dam projects. Parties across the spectrum built a mystique around the dams as the key to limitless progress and prosperity, despite their high economic, human and ecological costs.

When the Narmada Bachao Andolan launched an agitation against the Sardar Sarovar dam for displacing vulnerable people without rehabilitating them, Medha Patkar was vilified as Gujarat’s “enemy”; defence of the underprivileged was demonised; and militant sloganeering about “Gujarat’s glory” took over the public discourse.

Modi cynically constructed the “Gujarat Gaurav” plank from these negative and xenophobic sentiments. During the election campaign, he depicted all those who demanded justice for the victims of 2002 as violators of Gujarat’s self-respect: for his followers, the 2002 anti-Muslim carnage never happened; only Godhra and Akshardham did.

Ultimately, Modi won because he projected, like a true demagogue, an appeal based on militant Hindutva, Gujarati hubris, and a despotic personality that respects no democratic values or norms of decency but is admired for its strong will, determination and decisiveness – although these may be directed to achieve elite objectives and in undemocratic ways, such as coercive land acquisition for special economic zones (SEZs) and gross violations of human rights.

The admiration this ruthless decisiveness evokes among the middle classes testifies to a horrible cult of personality, and of a quasi-fascist personality at that. So, thousands of Modi supporters chose to suppress their own identities by wearing masks imitating his face. The bulk of the middle class does not feel even an iota of remorse for what happened in 2002.

All this speaks of a deep social pathology in a State that has graduated from a Hindutva laboratory into a large-scale Hindutva factory. At any rate, Modi will now seek a larger, national-level role for himself. The Sangh Parivar, always a worshipper of power, will find it hard to contain him.

That task has fallen to all those who believe in secularism, freedom and inclusive growth. We must not fail these ideals.

Back to Hindutva and hatred

(The Daily Star, January 04, 2007)

by Praful Bidwai writes from New Delhi

If there's one organisation in India, which can pretend that it always lays down the agenda, it's the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). At its national council meeting in Lucknow, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee exhorted it to win the coming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections as a prelude to returning to power nationally.

BJP leaders themselves manufactured this pretence and highlighted the issue of who would lead the party in the next general election.

Mr LK Advani set the ball rolling when he told a TV interviewer that he should be the BJP's next prime minister; yet he doesn't expect Mr Vajpayee to nominate him. Soon, Messrs MM Joshi and Rajnath Singh, anointed BJP president for three years, also threw their hats into the ring.

Mr Singh used colorful, semi-rustic imagery, of baratis (the bridegroom's party) only waiting to carry the bride, satta ki sundari (deity of power) to Delhi.

Meanwhile, Mr Narendra Modi strutted around as if he were Mr Vajpayee's successor, being the only senior second-generation leader to wield state power.

However, it's preposterous to regard the issue of BJP leadership in 2009 as relevant. One must be irrationally exuberant to be convinced that the BJP will probably come to power in the next election.

At Lucknow, the BJP returned to hard-line Hindutva, focusing on "Muslim appeasement" via the Sachar Committee report. There were raucous warnings about India's "second partition," appeals for a Ram temple at Ayodhya, and a berating reference to India's Hindus as "second-class citizens." Leaders spewed venom on Muslims and hysterically opposed a Kashmir "sell-out."

The BJP is desperate for an electoral "magic wand." It has been in steep decline since its 2004 defeat. Its performance in several by-elections, loss of power in Jharkhand, and demoralization of state units all point to this -- not to speak of Pramod Mahajan's fratricide, and backward-caste (OBC) leader Uma Bharati's defection. It is only in urban Uttar Pradesh that the BJP has registered (modest) gains. During the recent municipal elections, it won eight of 12 mayoral positions. (It had won six in 2001.) In smaller towns it was defeated by the Samajwadi Party.

This was no triumph. The elections weren't representative because the Bahujan Samaj Party, UP's number two, didn't contest them. It backed select candidates, including many from the BJP, to defeat the SP.

The BJP benefited both from the anti-incumbency against Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the communal polarization triggered by recent events. (For instance, Minister Haji Yakub offered Rs 50 crores to kill the Danish cartoonist who ridiculed Prophet Mohammed).

There's a strange confluence of interests between the BJP and SP. The harder Mr Yadav tries to woo Muslims (who are suspicious of him), the more the upper-caste Hindu shifts towards the BJP. Mr Yadav offered 5-star hospitality in Lucknow to the BJP brass; they accepted it.

Yet, the BJP's moderate gains can, at best, only partially offset its long downslide. Its assembly strength has plummeted from the 1991 peak of 221 (of 419 seats) to just 88 (of 403).

The BJP should know that Sachar isn't Shah Bano (a 1984 Congress attempt to please Muslim religious hardliners.) The Sachar Report is a serious, solidly documented analysis of anti-Muslim discrimination. It pleads for pluralism -not sectarianism.

It's unlikely that the "appeasement" card will work given the present national mood, which favors integration, inclusion and equity. There's widespread support for peace with Pakistan and a border settlement and cooperation with China.

The Ayodhya plank won't sell. As the Sangh Parivar's own countless futile attempts to organize yatras on the issue show, the public isn't interested in it.

The BJP's return to hard-line Hindutva represents a terrible retrogression. It's not in the interest of democracy and pluralism that India's largest opposition party should embrace such a narrow, divisive, communal agenda.

In line with this ideological-political shift, the BJP has also executed an organisational shift. It has amended its constitution so all its secretaries at the national and state levels are pracharaks (full-time RSS propagandists).

Mr Rajnath Singh has further strengthened RSS influence - not least because he lacks a strong independent base. The RSS, in turn, is only too happy that it can revive the three contentious issues -Ram Temple, Uniform Civil Code, and Article 370 - which were put on hold for dishonourable reasons of "expediency."

The Lucknow conclave leaves the BJP's structural crisis unresolved. Ideologically, the party is trapped between orthodox, Islamophobic, Hindutva typical of small-town traders on the one hand, and pro-globalisation Big Business on the other.

Politically, it's divided between Hindutva, and opportunistic electoral alliances. Organisationally, it remains completely dependent on the parivar.

As this column has argued, the BJP's ascendancy from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s was founded on three mutually reinforcing factors. First, the Congress's long-term decline owing to its compromises with communalism and market fundamentalism. This, coupled with the Left's stagnation after the Soviet Union's collapse, shifted India's political spectrum Rightwards.

Second, the Ayodhya mobilisation in the late 1980s allowed Hindutva to percolate, and the BJP to break out of its narrow upper-caste Hindu-Hindi belt confines. And third, the party's "social engineering," of combining "Mandal" with "Kamandal" (Hindutva), won it OBC support.

None of these factors operates today. The Congress has revived itself. The Left has expanded. Regional parties with subaltern agendas have grown. And the centre of gravity of Indian politics has shifted leftwards. Social justice has displaced Ayodhya.

The BJP is disoriented by all this. Until recently, it was in outright denial of its 2004 defeat. It still lacks a political strategy -and leadership.

Its president is a narrow-minded provincial politician, who isn't even remotely acquainted with the India that's outside the Hindi belt.

Lurking behind him is Mr Narendra Milosevic Modi, who, sadly, enjoys a high level of acceptance within the BJP as its de facto number two leader.

The BJP is caught between such appalling aspiring leaders, and geriatrics out-of-sync with reality. This is an unenviable state.

Praful Bidwai is an eminent Indian columnist.

The BJP’s Dual Agenda: The non-‘hidden’ one is bad too

As these lines appear in print, India will have begun evaluating its 600 million electors’ verdict in hard numbers.

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