Soft Hindutva

It’s Cultural Aggression

Irfan Engineer

The theme of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government seems to be—lavish spending on cultural events, tax cuts for the corporate India and massive cuts in budgets on social welfare touching the poor, peasants, women and other weaker sections. In the process, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and those who shower their blessings on this Govt—the Hindu Nationalists  push the oppressed, exploited and the most deprived sections of society further into cycle of hunger, debt and suicide. They enable the corporate houses and a few families to enrich themselves further. Both soft Hindutva and hard Hindutva are tools to create "cultural pride" in the hearts of the people getting further marginalized and deprived and feel good as a result of NDA's policies. But the "India Shining" and the "feel good factor" campaign of the BJP in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections was rejected by the people of India and yet they are trying the same strategy with a difference—trying to involve people in taking selfie with their daughter and feeling proud, doing yoga, cleaning and sweeping the streets and such other sundry activities otherwise not related to basic issues.

The total social sector allocation in the budget has come down from 16.3 percent in 2014-15 (budget estimates) and 15.06 percent in revised estimates, 2014-15 to 13.7 percent of the central budget outlay in 2015-16. Within this overall decrease the percentage of allocation for women and child development remains stagnant at 0.01 percent of the total budget (A1DWA, 2015). For gender budget, the budgetary allocations decreased from 4.19 percent of the estimated total budgetary expenditure in 2014-15 to 3.71 percent of the total expenditure in the 2015-16 budget. In absolute terms this constitutes a decrease in 12.2 percent in the gender budget and almost a 49.3 percent decrease in the allocation of the ministry of women and child development over the revised budget of 2014-15 (AIDWA, 2015). The gender budget in the health sector has been reduced by 17.9 percent over last year's revised estimate. In disregard to girls education, the overall gender budget for school education came down by 8.3 percent over last year's revised estimate. The much publicized Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Abhiyan got only Rs 100 crore (AIDWA, 2015). For about 10 crore women and children who are the beneficiaries of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the allocation for this flagship programme of the government of India has been drastically cut by more than half, from Rs 18,108 crore in 2014-15 to a paltry Rs 8,245.77 crore (AIFAWH, 2015).

The budget allocations for drinking water and sanitation are drastically reduced by more than 50 percent, to a mere Rs 6236 crore from Rs 12100 crore, despite the announcement that each house will be provided with safe piped water (All India Agricultural Workers' Union, 2015). The social sector spending has been slashed by a whopping Rs 1,75,122 crore in one year alone—Rs 66,222 crore cut in grants on social sector scheme, Rs 5,900 crore cut by closing down the Backward Regions Grant Fund and Rs 1,03,000 crore cut was effected by not implementing the food security programme aimed at 67 percent of the country's population ( 2015). The cut affected women and child development, agriculture (engaging 49% of the workforce), irrigation, panchayati raj, education, health, housing, welfare of SCs and STs and others. Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana funds were reduced by Rs 7,426.50 crore, funds for animal husbandry and dairy was cut by Rs 685 crore, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojna funds have been reduced by around Rs 8,156.22 crore, and funds for the National Livelihood Mission have been reduced by Rs 1,632.50 crore. The health budget was cut by 17%! (PT1, 2015). In 2015-16 Budget, Rs 30,852 crore was allocated for the Special Component Plan (for the Scheduled Castes) and Rs 19,980 crore for the Tribal Sub-Plan—much less than in the 2014-15 Budget. The objective underlying the SCSP and TSP is the development of SCs/STs, and allocation of funds in proportion to their shares in total population, which is 16.6 percent for SCs and 8.5 percent for STs. The budget 2015-16 only provided a meagre 6.63 percent for the SCP (DMSM, 2015).

The plan outlay for the department of school education & literacy was reduced from Rs 51,828 crore in 2014-15 budget to Rs 39,038.50 crore in 2015-16. The budget for department of higher education was cut from Rs 16,900 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 15,855.26 crore in 2015-16. Plan outlay for the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan declined from Rs 28,258 crore to Rs 22,000 crore. Plan funds for the all-important Mid-Day Meal Scheme have been reduced from Rs 13,215 crore to Rs 9236.40 crore. The fund cuts in real terms (after taking into account inflation) are much larger. Plan outlay for secondary education has declined from Rs 8,579 crore to Rs 6,022 crore. The funds allocated to the UGC have stagnated at last year's levels, which amounts to a cut in real terms. Technical education has witnessed fund cuts to the tune of Rs 434 crore. Science education and research would suffer as the allocation for the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research has been cut by 25 percent (Students Federation of India, 2015).

The government abolished the wealth tax which the wealthy have to pay and sacrificed Rs 8,325 crore on direct tax account by reducing the corporate tax. On the other hand, the Govt. made the common citizens pay more as indirect taxes and gained Rs23,383 crore (CITU, 2015).

While the expenditure on social sector is being reduced along with corporate taxes, the expenditure on culture to promote the hegemony of the upper caste elite of the Hindu community is being scaled up. Yoga, which draws from Brahminical religious and philosophical texts like Patanjali, Hatha and Upanishads, largely practised by a section of middle class, was sought to be promoted as India's soft power tool. On promotion by the Prime Minister Modi, the UN General Assembly had in December 2014 adopted an India-led resolution, supported by over 175 UN member states, declaring June 21 as 'International Day of Yoga', recognising that "Yoga provides a holistic approach to health and well-being". Defence personnel, security forces, school and college students were mobilized and coerced to participate in a massive event on par with Republic Day celebrations with 150 CCTV cameras to enter Guinness Book of World Records. The World Record entry states "'The largest yoga lesson involved 35,985 participants at an event organised by the Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India (India) on the occasion of the first International Day of Yoga, on Rajpath, New Delhi, India, on 21 June 2015.

The publicity budget of the event borne by the Information and Broadcasting ministry alone was Rs 100 crore. The Ayush ministry put in 30 crore. Publicity budget of the Embassies were also to bear an unspecified amount. The expenditure on the event and arrangements, including on security personnel is not known.

For the Kumbh Mela held in Allahabad in the year 2013, Rs 1,151.83 crore were spent according CAG Report—Rs 1,017 crore came from Central Govt. and Rs 134.83 crore were spent from State Govt. contribution. 85 close circuit television cameras (CCTVs) were installed. The estimated expenditure of the state for the Kumbh Mela to be held in Nasik in 2015 was Rs 2,380 crore—more than double only in two years! The expenditure will include installation of 550 CCTV cameras of which 348 have already been installed. There would be 15,000 policemen deployed. Over 145 kilometers of pipelines for the water supply have been laid, plus 120 kilometers of connecting pipes. These would be serviced by 26 tubewells specially bored at the ghats and 450 kilometers of overhead power lines, serviced by 35 sub-stations to light up 15,000 streetlights.

Sanskrit which is neither spoken nor popularly used in everyday conversation, and the use of which once was restricted to only upper-castes is witnessing huge promotional efforts by the NDA Govt. Sanskrit must be learnt by scholars who are studying Hindu philosophy and religious texts. However, it is pertinent to note that knowledge of Sanskrit was once used as a tool to oppress the lower castes. The Shudras who spoke Sanskrit were to be punished by cutting off their tongues, if they heard Sanskrit, molten lead was to be poured in their ears and if they read Sanskrit, their eyes were to be gouged out. NDA is promoting Sanskrit at massive cost. The HRD ministry made Sanskrit compulsory as a third language in Kendriya Vidyalaya schools midterm in the academic year 2013-14 without adequate numbers of teachers and text books in place of German language. In the 16th World Sanskrit Conference held in Thailand from June 28 to 2nd July 2015, Government scaled up the delegation to 250 scholars led by the minister of External Affairs Shushma Swaraj. 30 of the 250 delegates were from RSS affiliated body Sanskrit Bharati. The Conference was held twice before in the years 2000 and 2003 when A B Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. The total expenditure on the World Sanskrit Conference and for promotion of Sanskrit in general is not known.

Today how many know about the Lokayata philosophy, the Nath Panthls, Siddha Panthies, hundreds of bhakti saints from all castes, cultures and traditions? Why not promote Buddhism as explicated by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar as a tool of soft power? Or Jainism or Sikhism for that matter?

Vol. 48, No. 8, Aug 30 - Sep 5, 2015