The Rise Of Saffron Fascism

Hindutva –Hollowness and Lies

Anirban Biswas

It is a fact of today that the ideology of a queer brand of Hindutva, based on the ideology of the upper castes of the cow belt, has spread considerably, often threateningly, already claiming quite a few lives. The reason for this is often an arrogant ignorance, fuelled partly by the print media and partly by the social media. It is also true that one section of educated middle classes as well as one section of subalterns, is often inclined to believe in the propaganda, owing to ingrained or atavistic prejudices. As far as this writer's experience is concerned, the common basis of this so-called Hindu unity is hatred of Muslims, sometimes mildly and sometimes vehemently pronounced. There is no other basis, because there is no uniform Hindu scriptural text which a person professing to be a Hindu must obey. Again, the common basis embodied in hatred of Muslims is not equally strong everywhere, because a large section of dalits remains alienated from its fold, and the more the oppression on dalits has grown, the more it has been difficult to mobilize dalits against Muslims. In 2002, dalits were successfully made to participate in anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, which left 2000 persons dead. It was a well-planned massacre, not a reaction to the Godhra episode. Who engineered the Godhra incident, i.e. setting fire to the Sabarmati express, is still not clear. A considerable section of well-meaning upper caste and middle-caste Hindus is also not in favour of this hateful attitude towards Muslims, although there are relentess efforts to excite them. The purpose of this essay is to discuss only some of the issues involved, and to show how lies, fabrications, distortions and ignorance have become the stock-in-trade of those who want to see India in the image of a Hindu rastra in which dalits and religious minorities are to be reduced to the status of second class citizens.

The roots of this divide, however, can be traced to earlier times. It is true that from the history of early as well as late medieaval India, numerous instances of joint endeavours of Hindus and Muslims in various fields may be cited. The seeds of the strife were sown by the British as well as by those who dreamt of the restoration of the Hindu rule. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee articulated in the conclusion of his famous novel Ananadamath, in which people first find the song Bande Mataram, the view that it was useless to fight the English, because a victory against the English would be impossible, and establishment of English rule would pave the way for the restoration of Hindu rule. Even when there took place the vigorous and finally successful movement against the partition of Bengal, Bande Mataram was chanted along with Tagore's famous song (Banglar Mati Banglar Jal...) upholding the Bengali identity above everything else. When the Indian National Congress began to give up its moderate posture, and demand swaraj, it was tinged with the Hindu ideology of Ramrajya, which Gandhi introduced in politics. How the Rarna cult grew in monstrisity and came to threaten the religious minorities , the dalits and the advasis is now known to all. At first, the threat was concentrated on religious minorities and later, particularly in recent years, it has been directed against dalits too, occasional hypocritical tributes to B R Ambedkar notwithstanding. Ambedkar, it may be mentioned, fought for social equality of dalits and convinced that this equality could not be found in Hinduism, embraced Buddhism.

Of course, the propaganda campaign is vigorous and many-sided. One particular facet of the campaign may be discussed in brief. The people are made to swallow the notion that in Bangladesh, Hindus are regularly tortured and forced to leave their country. The fact that forces against majority communalism are quite strong in Bangladesh is conveniently overlooked, although the Shahbag Movement, despite its many limitations, has demonstrated this strength quite clearly. The propaganda is an old ploy to provide justification for the intensification of repression on Muslims in India. Those who play this trick has no moral right to cry hoarse about repression on religious minorities in Bangladesh or Pakistan, even if it is considered a fact for the sake of argument. Those who are all out to engender anti-Muslim communal riots wherever possible in this country are working overtime to propagate all sorts of stories, often exaggerated and sometimes altogether concocted, about repression on minorities in Bangladesh and Pakistan, trying to suggest the grotesque solution that innocent people belonging to religious minorities in India should be killed. It is intriguing that the self-same people still try to argue, with all sorts of dubious reasoning, that the partition of Bengal on religious lines in 1947 was a historically correct act. The partition of Bengal divided the Bengali nationality on religious lines, thus breaking its backbone. Secondly, those who supported it virtually left the fate of the religious minorities in Muslim -dominated East Bengal to the whims of the dominant majority by strengthening the forces of Muslim communalism there. The mechanism through which the partition of Bengal was brought about may be described from the account given by one eminent observer of the situation:
"...the constitutional provision was that the partition would be carried out if only a majority in the provinces concerned would accept it. But there was to be no referendum. The members of the legislature were to vote on it. The voting procedure was split into two stages. First, there was to be a voting in a joint session of the two houses. If this went against partition, the members from the Hindu and Muslim majority areas—these being laid down in the plan—were to vote separately, and if any of the block wanted partition by a majority, it was to be carried out. Formally, the resolution was not for partition, but for joining one or other of the two Constitutional Assemblies. I am taking it as for partition. Both the provinces (the author here means Bengal and Punjab) accepted it.

I am giving the details for Bengal only. In the first joint voting, partition was rejected. But, by the second, the members from the Hindu majority areas accepted it. The number of legislators who decided the matter was farcical. Only seventy-nine members voted, and of them fifty-eight voted for and twenty-one voted against partition. Thus the majority which brought it about was thirty-seven. All the Muslim members voted solidly against. I might repeat my lament that never was so much evil owing to so few.

I heard later that Hindu members were flown to Calcutta by aeroplanes from distant parts of Bengal so that they might vote for partition. Kiran Shankar Ray, the leader of the Congress Party at the time, abstained from voting. Hindu youth of Calcutta went to set fire to his house". (Nirad C Chaudhuri, Thy Hand Great Anarch!, Addition-Wesley, 1988, pp 834-835)

Yet the adherents of Hindutva, till today, go on repeating ad nauseum that a united Bengal would certainly had been incorporated into Pakistan, and that Bengalis of West Bengal should hence remain grateful to Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee for saving them from this fate. It is not clear what they want to mean by going over to Pakistan; perhaps they mean remaining under the domination of Karachi, and later Islamabad. These advocates of the partition of Bengal are so blind that they do not take into account the stark reality that what became East Pakistan after the partition was a part of Bengal, and this part never accepted totally the domination by West Pakistan, as the events starting from the historic language movement and culminating in the formation of Bangladesh amply suggest. So, it is the height of stupidity to think that united Bengal would have meekly surrendered to the domination by West Pakistan. In the whole of Bengal, the proportion of Muslims in the total population was 52 to 53%, and it is also stupid thinking that they would have drowned the identity of all non-Muslims by the force of sheer numbers. On the other hand, the Hindu legislators, by supporting, the partition of Bengal along religious lines, deprived the Hindu population of post-partition East Bengal of their moral right to live there, and Muslim communalists, who had been lying low, were quick to take advantage of the situation there. So, the tears the supporters of the partition of Bengal are shedding for the real or imagined distress of the religious minorities in Bangladesh are only crocodile tears. They divided the Bengali nationality, because to them their Hindu identity was more important than their Bengali identity. To them, a cowardly surrender to communalism was more desirable than the preservation of the unity of Bengal. Of course, the Birlas, who had all along opposed the formation of a Hindu-Muslim coalition government in Bengal, were happy. Dr Shyama Prasad may justifiably be acclaimed for leading the process of harming the Bengali nationality and thus weakening its strength of self-assertion.

The propaganda that Hindus are being driven out of Bangladesh owing to their religious affiliations has gathered momentum in recent years. There is a concurrent propaganda that large numbers of Muslims have been infiltrating from Bangladesh into West Bengal and Assam. The propagandists are, however, unable to furnish any reliable data in this regard. Besides, there is the question: if religious oppression is the reason for Hindu migration to India from Bangladesh, what kind of oppression is responsible for Muslim infiltration from a country where the overwhelming majority are Muslims? They have no clear answer. The spectre of Muslim migration is haunting the Hindu chauvinists. So, they are circulating various absurd figures. For example, according to the West Bengal State Committee of the BJP, 6 million Muslims infiltrated from Bangladesh into West Bengal. According to the census data, the total rise of population in West Bengal was 13.4 millions. Excluding the infiltrators, this figure would be only 7.4 millions, i.e. less than 13%, which is absurdly lower than the all India average of 23.5%. A recent example may be given to illustrate the design of the BJP, RSS and other similar outfits as far West Bengal is concerned. In Bhangar, an area belonging to the South 24-Parganas, a mass movement has been going on for several months against the forcible installation of high voltage of power grids and the despotism of local TMC chieftains led by one Arabul Islam. A CPI(M-L) group has been very much active in the movement, and recently the Congress and the CPI(M) have also intervened. But the BJP has scrupulously kept aloof from the movement calling it an internal group rivalry of the TMC, although, as everybody knows, the persons arrested in connection with the movement do not include a single TMC activist. The reason for the BJP's aloofness is clear to any intelligent observer of the scene. It is a predominantly Muslim-dominated area and those hooligan-type opponents of the movement are also in general Muslims. So, there is evidently no scope of creating any communal tension by supporting or opposing the movement. Hence it is best to remain aloof and not to take any sides.

As far as Indian history is concerned, the adherents of majoritarianism has displayed the same kind of arrogant ignorance, if it is called ignorance, not chicanery. One is the false notion about beef eating and cow-slaughter. The self-proclaimed protectors of cow do not know, and more exactly, do not want to know that beef-eating was common among ancient elite Indians, namely kings and Brahmin sages, and there is enough evidence to prove this. Of course, the champions of Hindutva, true to their Goebblesian tradition, deny this historical fact. Another type of ignorance is displayed by the nation, as yet very much common among educated Hindus upper castes, that conversion of Hindus to Islam was due to the policy of force and sinecures applied by Muslim rulers. They do not care to know that Islam promised at least religious equality to all, while there was serious untouchability and caste-based social discrimination in the Hindu society, which was a major reason for millions of low caste Hindus embracing Islam. Swami Vivekananda, the foremost exponent of the monism of Vedanta in modern India, pointed this out long ago, despite being a Hindu sannyasi himself. Even R C Majumdar, the noted historian who is often branded as a Hindu cornmunalist, observed, while referring to medieval Bengal, that the slightest deviation from the edicts of the caste system would have made a Hindu an outcaste and that the Hindu social leaders (samajpatis) were prepared to ostracise a Hindu in order to preserve Hindutva. But champions of Hindutva do not study anything, they only go on shouting. A third type of falsification of history is that Muslim rulers indiscriminately destroyed Hindu temples. A little study of the religious attitude of victorious Muslim rulers reveals that many such rulers destroyed not only temples, but also mosques belonging to other Muslim rulers whom they had vanquished. These Hindutvawallas who never tire of talking about Hindu patience in dealing with other religions find it convenient to overlook the fact of the oppression by Hindu kings of Buddhists. Two glaring and common examples of this oppression is the murderous attitude of King Ajatasatru towards the followers of Buddha; one may only read Tagore's famous poem Pujarini (the tale of Srimati, a female worshipper of Buddha)—and the destruction by the Saiva king of Gour (Bengal), Sasanka, of many Buddist monasteries. In order to highlight the danger of communal fascism in India, some other facts about the history of the RSS and its nationalism should be pointed out. The RSS was against any anti-British struggle. Moreover, it emphasized the Nazi-type of nationalism, as put into effect in Hitler's Germany, as its model. Thirdly, it asserted that India was the country of Hindus and Hindi-speaking people, and those whose mother tongue was not Hindi were to be treated as foreigners. Fourthly, they openly advocated that Muslims should be deprived of voting rights, at least for ten to twenty years, so as to test their loyalty to the proposed Hindu rastra. This ideology endeared them to the Hindu banias of Upper India, because the latter found in it a handy weapon for the super-exploitation of Muslim workers and artisans who were, and still are in their employment.

Contemporary India has witnessed intensified violence against Muslims, dalits, adivasis and even rationalists, and a widespread campaign has been going on in order to spread religious bigotry so that this violence turns into an ubiquitous phenomenon. Happily enough, voices of protests are raging, and the bankruptcy of these fascists are getting exposed. To this, it may be added that the activities of these fascists are strengthening the hands of Islamic bigots in Muslim-majority countries and thus endangering the lives of Hindus living and working there. In this sense also, the voices of protests are always welcome. The process of establishing a fascist hegemony cannot be smooth. Apart from protests by well-meaning people, the failure of Narendra Modi on many issues, e.g. return of black money stashed abroad, providing employment to many millions, as well as the evil impact of things like demonetization of currency notes, must adversely affect this process. There is, however, another side, a dismal one, to the story. The records of the opposition, even of the parliamentary left, about resisting communalism are not altogether unimpeachable. Besides, many of the leaders of the opposition are more concerned with amassing fortunes and elevating their own images, side by side with defending the corrupt practices of their followers, rather than fighting this communal fascism seriously and unitedly, and the disunity among them is very much pronounced. Some of them are more willing to woo Muslim Imams and Mollahs rather than to develop the capabilities of the community, which is helping the forces of a Hindu backlash. As long as these phenomena persist, the evil forces of fascism will continue to gather strength and the battle against them will be weakened.

Autumn Number
Vol. 50, No.12-15, Sep 24 - Oct 21, 2017