The reinvention of Hindutva

 by Arvind Rajagopal


Whatever your political views, the spectacle of a populist upsurge confirms the vitality of Indian democracy, whether that upsurge is for the Aam Aadmi Party, or for Narendra Modi and the BJP. But populism is not democracy.

From the context of comparatively stable political loyalties and predictable electoral results, we now have elections where a relatively small number of non-committed voters can swing outcomes decisively and reward parties with disproportionate victories. Victorious parties may thus claim a mandate for their programs based on seat majorities as if these represented popular majorities, though they seldom do. Similarly, party ideology may be modified to appear more widely acceptable. For example, Hindutva, the ideology of the Sangh Parivar, is changing into Hindu populist politics. There is a new relation between publicity and politics here, one that makes older political distinctions inadequate.

Criticism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as being anti-Muslim has been muted of late because the BJP is supposed to have moved beyond its Hindu ideology, by adopting a more inclusive and developmentalist stance. In fact, the BJP’s transformation of its Hindu nationalist ideology into Hindu populism has allowed the party to further some of its old aims in a new and relatively uncontroversial way. At the heart of this success is Hindu populism’s claim to be the product of democratic procedure, and to express the will of the majority. But a ruling party without a single Muslim Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha, in the second largest Muslim country in the world, is choosing to interpret its majority in a partisan way.

Hindu Populism in international context

The term populism refers to a kind of political reasoning where popular mobilisation serves as its own justification. As such, populism can support liberal, revolutionary or even authoritarian forms of government. The political theorist Ernesto Laclau has argued that populism can emerge with a democratic fervour and end up installing dictatorships, as has happened across Latin America. In the U.K., Margaret Thatcher remade the Tories as an authoritarian populist force, winning over Labour Party supporters and refashioning Conservative ideology to have mass appeal. Somewhat similarly, in India, the BJP redefined Hindu identity as both aspirational and nationalist in the face of new challenges from caste democratic forces. As late as the 1980s, many experts used to dismiss the chances of the BJP based on its tiny vote share at the time, and its more upper caste leadership, but the party has clearly changed.

The party’s populist transformation has been assisted by the explosive growth of the media. The mediated spectacle of the crowd affirms and reinforces the motives for participation, whether in a demonstration or a political rally. For the media industry, today’s spectators will be tomorrow’s consumers; investment in populism seems to make good business sense. Mass gatherings used to raise law and order concerns; today such events present opportunities for astute political strategists.

Until recently a category such as Hindu populism was hard to imagine. But Hindu nationalism has reinvented itself, combining pro-business policies with the rhetoric of lower caste empowerment. Today nationalists can claim that capitalism and democracy are thriving in India.

While this is an important achievement, it is also in part, the result of a Cold War era strategy of the U.S., which saw India as a frontline state in the battle against the Communist threat. The Cold War’s end, as we know, signalled the defeat of Communism. Religion began to become much more influential directly thereafter in many parts of the world. However, U.S. governments had historically tended to regard religion as an ally against “godless communism.” It was also seen as a stabiliser in the transition to modernity. No surprise then that influential studies conducted regarding the RSS by U.S.-based scholars regarded it benignly, as an ascetic form of socialism, as Gandhian volunteerism, or as Hindu revivalism. Their stoking violence as a means of organising Hindus was thus ignored, and the martial character of the organisation was seen as ornamental to essentially pietist tendencies. Violence was ignored because it pertained to local issues, while the optic these scholars brought was shaped by U.S. concerns during this time. Further, Hindu nationalists were reassuringly anti-Communist. They did not appear to pose any threat to U.S. interests.

Beneath this perception was a long-standing assumption that religion could not be politically viable. The post-Enlightenment separation of church from state had led to the belief that religion did not have a place in modern politics.But religion in India has had a different history, and that has unavoidably influenced the shape and direction of modern politics.

Those wishing to promote Hindu identity had a problem that was the reverse of Enlightenment-era Christianity. They first had to assert the existence of a common religion and create the sense of a shared identity that was, at best, weak. For example, Hindus historically did not all share what was supposed to constitute a religion, such as creed, deity, ritual, or text. During the colonial period, however, Hinduism gradually became codified and subject to juridical intervention. It also became a means whereby lower castes claimed public rights they previously did not have.

The limits of Hindu populism

After a long hiatus, amid the political crises of the late 1980s, Hindu identity began to be used openly again, and yielded electoral dividends in electoral campaigns. It helped win the small but decisive “non-committed vote,” as L.K. Advani called it, boosting the BJP’s share of seats exponentially. Political Hinduism has grown since then, aided by the Congress’s decline. Then how is Hindu politics different from any other religious politics?

In the Hindu tradition, reality is beyond words and the truth has no essence. There is, in fact, no religious doctrine as such to challenge. Hinduism as conjured for the political process today surpasses dialectical materialism; it is the most expansive ‘philosophical system’ conceivable. In such a context, the category of religion presents an opportunity rather than a problem: to be “Hindu” is an artefact of publicity rather than an expression of ancient mores. It is no surprise that Arun Jaitley has stated that Hindu nationalism is an opportunistic issue for the BJP, a “talking point” rather than a core ideology.

The electoral process has sanctioned a new language of political theology for the BJP. In his Madison Square Garden speech in New York, Narendra Modi referred to the people as sovereign and their verdict as divine. He declared: “Janata Jan Janardhan.” But Janardhan is not a secular term for “ruler;” it refers to Lord Krishna. Electoral success provides the supreme redemption in this understanding, negating merely juridical verdicts. It implies divine power in the figure of the elected ruler, who is like the king but sanctified by a formal democratic process.

Political authority is the end towards which this new kind of religious identity is created, applicable across caste groupings that not long ago were excluded, prominently the former Untouchable castes that constitute about a quarter of the population. No previous party has come to power by excluding Muslims so completely. Meanwhile the situation of Muslims has steadily worsened over the last 30 years.

The exclusion of Muslims from political visibility is accompanied by the increasing political visibility of Dalits. The new basis for Hindu unification is the exclusion of Muslims, alongside the formal subsumption of Dalits. The register of exclusion shifts in the process, from untouchability to invisibility. Media expansion enables more coordinated and extensive forms of exclusion than were previously imaginable; political dynamics have both anticipated this development and furthered it. If Hindu populism is to deepen its democratic character, these are issues for it to reckon with.


This piece has previously been published in The Hindu Op-Ed and the Communalism Watch blog. Arvind Rajagopal is the Professor of Media Studies at New York University.

Advertisements

To live as an exile, and be back home

via The Morung Express, by Vibi Yhokha, Kohima, 12 December 2014

“I still don’t know how to express the feeling of coming home. I feel like my old self again,”

says Luingam Luithui, sharing on living as an exile and coming back to his ancestral land. Luingam, who is currently in Ukhrul on a tourist visa issued as a result of legal proceedings in the High Court of Delhi, is home after almost 20 years in exile. On November 29, the day he arrived in Ukhrul, around 3000 people gathered at Tangkhul Naga Long Ground to welcome him.

In 1995, the human rights activist’s passport was impounded by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Since then, Luingam and his wife Peingam, have been living in exile in Canada. In 2003, he was allowed to visit his ailing mother for a short period on a special temporary passport issued by the Government of India. The Government of India had accused Luingam of assisting the NSCN (IM). “They know what I do, and what I do cannot be classified as any criminal offence. They are unable to convince each other,” asserts Luingam.

The first human rights violation case that Luingam Luithui clearly remembers was in the 1960s. As a young teenager, he recalls his elder brother leaving for Jessami village as part of a fact finding team to record atrocities committed by the Indian army in the village. He also remembers how his father never expected his older son to ever come home alive. His brother did return but later died in the 1990s due to complications after being tortured by the armed forces.

After completing his Bachelor’s in Economics from St. Anthony’s Shillong, Luingam came home determined to become a farmer. He went to the extent of digging 2000 pits to plant apple trees in his village. At the same time he worked part time as a teacher in Model High School in Ukhrul for almost a year. In the meantime he also served as the President of the Tangkhul Students Union, setting the foundation for him to become a human rights activist. He was locked up in jail four or five times for protesting against the atrocities meted out under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Fearing for his life, Luingam’s mother soon sent him to Delhi. Luingam belonged to the first batch of the School for International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Naga students were ‘very united’ then, he recalls. It was a historic time when strong social movements like Naxalism, and Jayaprakash Narayan’s call for ‘revolution,’ were emerging in India. Many young people his age had died, which he says helped him to think beyond his studies.

Lui, as he is fondly called, was the first person from the North East to become a council member of JNU Students Union (JNUSU) where he served for two terms. He was also a part of Student Federation of India (SFI), involved in providing medical treatment to construction workers who lived under inhuman living conditions in Delhi. He is also one of the founding members of the Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), one of the first few movements in India to challenge the Constitution of India. It focused on violations of human rights, peace and cooperation through enforcement of constitutional rights.

By 1978, NPMHR members started working from morning till night, typing affidavits and documenting human rights violations of the Nagas. In December 1978, the group travelled to Nagaland to seek advice from Naga elders. On December 15, a gathering was held in Kohima despite the imposition of 144 CrPC. Elders from villages close by walked all the way to Kohima to support the movement. It was also the first time since the 1951 Plebiscite that Nagas came together and where victims of AFSPA shared their stories. Soon his room in JNU was raided and his documents taken away.

When the Emergency was declared in India, Lui was arrested at dawn and charged as a Naga national worker. A close associate of Sitaram Yechury of the CPI (M), back in JNU, they would stage protests, write slogans and put up posters at night to defend the rights of the citizens of India.

One of the most satisfying victories for Lui was the imposition of rule nisi (When admitting a writ petition for being heard, a court orders rule nisi which means that the respondents are asked to show cause why the petition should not be allowed, i.e. why the rule issued may not be made absolute) by the Supreme Court of India. In 1982, NPMHR filed a letter petition before the Supreme Court against atrocities under AFSPA, which made the Court to direct the Indian armed forces not to use any religious or educational institutions in their operations. This allowed Nagas to truly celebrate Christmas after a very long time. That year, when he went home for Christmas, he remembered his mother telling him, “Your father would have been so proud of you.”

Luingam is one of the founders of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), one of the leading organizations for indigenous peoples in Asia. He is also a founding member of International Alliance of the Indigenous and Tribal People of the Tropical Forests.

If there is one thing he regrets as an activist, it is anger. “I wished we had been less angry and dealt issues in a more dignified manner,” he reflects.

“You could be burned out and be broken, and people couldn’t understand,” says Luingam, as he recalls the first few years living in exile in Canada where he and his wife survived through his wife’s job as a salesperson. His sister Chon Chon and her husband sent money every alternate month, and his brother was forced to sell their ancestral land. It was only in 2011 that he found the courage to start working again. He joined a catering company where he works 12 hours, cleaning more than 38 rooms per day.

All said and done it will be okay, says an optimistic Luingam, whose contribution to the Nagas and to indigenous groups in India cannot be overlooked. And a nation that strips the identity of its own citizen for defending the rights of the rest needs to question itself.

***

Chai Kadai is thrilled to welcome back Vibi Yhokha and her stories from Nagaland. Please read her article ‘My Nagaland,’ written two years back about multiple incomplete stories of a nation(s), and the ownership of homelands. That article comes with an extensive amount of reading material on Nagalim. Here are a few more articles and books available online-

+ Memoirs of a Student Leader by Dr. P.S. Lorin, Principal, from Degree of Thought, a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express.

+ Forbidden Land: The Quest for Nagalim by Frans Welman – the story of three attempts by Frans Welman and his companions to enter Nagaland, the land of more than forty Naga tribes. Although all three efforts ended in failure, the attempts demonstrate how India and the lesser-known Burma, now known as Myanmar, have been succcessful in keeping foreigners out. Neither country wants outsiders to observe the raging war that started shortly after independence from colonial Britain. The Naga’s, who time and time again have made it known to both former colonizer Britain and newly emerging India that they wanted to be left alone, were invaded by India in 1954. Now 50 years later, the war is still on, although for the second time in its history peace talks are taking place. This war, forgotten by the international community, was the challenge for Welman and his companions. Their goal was to check on the rare yet compelling accounts of the land and people that told of beauty and democracy among the Nagas and their tenacity to not give in to a powerful alien master.

+ The Right to Self-Determination and Development of Indigenous Peoples, AIPP – The world is becoming crowded, and there is a scramble for resources in the name of “sustainable development”. Pressure is being put upon indigenous peoples and on their land and resources that they have inherited from their ancestors and are obliged to pass it on to the next generation for their collective survival. This comic provides a simplified overview of the problems faced by indigenous peoples, their rights and their contributions to sustainable development based on their distinct lifestyles and values.

Mughal Miniatures on Inequality

Aarthi Parthasarathy takes Mughal Miniature paintings and turns them in to contemporary comic strips. We really love simple ideas that get twisted around like this. Read more of them at scroll.in.

Royal Existentialists 001 On Inequality

Update: Investigate Koodankulam Irregularities – Letter from Seventeen Eminent Activists, Scientists and Retd. Government Officials

10 September 2012

Photograph by Amirtharaj Stephen

23 October 2014

We, the undersigned, are deeply disturbed at newspaper reports about the serious damage sustained by Koodankulam Unit 1’s turbine even before the plant has begun commercial operation. We are also concerned at the total lack of accountability of the Department of Atomic Energy, NPCIL and AERB with respect to the Koodankulam project, and are worried about the safety ramifications of persisting with the commissioning of Unit 1 without a thorough and independent review of the plant, its components and the processes of setting it up. We are also shocked to see that unmindful of the problems plaguing Units 1 and 2, and the issues arising from lack of transparency in the nuclear establishment, NPCIL and the Government of India are moving ahead with work on Units 3 and 4.

It is now confirmed that Unit 1’s turbine is severely damaged and would require replacement. One Tamil newspaper reports that the turbine may be manufactured in India, and that this may entail a delay of two months. This is yet another instance of prevarication. Replacing a turbine at a nuclear power plant will take a lot longer than two months. As usual, no official clarification has been forthcoming from Nuclear Power Corporation India Ltd or its regulator, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. If the reports about the damaged turbine are true, then it is cause for serious concern. The delay in commissioning is the least of the problems; the damaged turbine spotlights far more fundamental issues that impinge on the long-term viability and safety of the reactor. It vindicates allegations by observers and civil society about the compromised quality control and assurance system in India, and raises troubling and as yet unanswered questions about the substandard quality of equipment purchased from Russia.

The manner in which Koodankulam Units 1 and 2 have been constructed represent everything that is wrong with the Indian nuclear establishment. Equipment for the nuclear reactor and related infrastructure arrived way before they were erected, and had to spend years exposed to corrosive sea-air. Instrumentation and other cables that had to be laid before the construction of the containment dome arrived well after the dome was completed. To “manage” this, Indian engineers demolished portions of the containment dome to insert several kilometers of cabling. This is not only unprecedented in nuclear history, but also extremely worrisome for two reasons – first, it compromises the integrity of the containment dome; second, it highlights the casual and unplanned manner in which an extremely delicate and highly risky facility such as a nuclear reactor is actually being constructed.

Many components and critical equipment were manufactured by corruption-tainted companies that had reportedly used substandard raw material. Where countries like China and Bulgaria, which also received such substandard components, held Russian manufacturers to account and forced them to replace or repair such components, Indian authorities continue to deny that any such problem exists. To make matters worse, the entire exercise is shrouded in unnecessary secrecy with NPCIL and the AERB either remaining mum or communicating with partial truths or outright lies.

For these problems to happen at a nuclear reactor that has been at the focus of massive public attention makes us shudder to think what is being passed off in other less visible nuclear projects. While Indian reactors have had an average lead time of 5 months between attaining criticality and commencing commercial production, Koodankulam’s Unit 1 will take more than two years to meet this milestone if ever it does.

We urge the Prime Minister’s office to commission an enquiry into the irregularities at Koodankulam Units 1 and 2, including an interrogation into how such a shoddy plant managed to secure safety, environmental and quality clearances. Such a move will inspire confidence in the minds of public regarding the intentions of the Government.

Sincerely,
Admiral (Retd) L. Ramdas, former Chief of Staff, Indian Navy, Raigad, Maharashtra
Lalita Ramdas, environment and women’s rights activist, Raigad, Maharashtra
E.A.S. Sarma, I.A.S. (Retd), former Union Secretary of Power, Vishakapatnam
M. G. Devasahayam, I.A.S. (Retd), Chennai
Medha Patkar, National Alliance of People’s Movements
Aruna Roy, Social Activist, MKSS
Nikhil Dey, Social Activist, MKSS
Dr. Suvrat Raju, Scientist, Bengaluru
Dr. M.V. Ramana, Scientist, Princeton, USA
Dr. K. Babu Rao, Scientist (Retd), Hyderabad
Dr. T. Swaminathan, Professor (Retd), IIT-Madras
Dr. Atul Chokshi, Professor, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru
Praful Bidwai, Columnist, New Delhi
Arati Chokshi, Social Activist, Bengaluru
Achin Vanaik, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, New Delhi
G. Sundarrajan, Poovulagin Nanbargal, Chennai
Dr. S.P. Udayakumar, PMANE, Nagercoil
Nityanand Jayaraman, writer and social activist, Chennai
Gabriele Dietrich, NAPM, Madurai

Please copy-paste and circulate this letter.

Update: KKNPP Must Tell the Whole Truth

Driving in Kopachi, the buried village in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
via Miguel Ortega Lafuente

If you are pro-nuclear for the benefit of progress of your beloved country, your imagination of anti-nuclear ‘activists’ might merely be of a hypocritical bunch of thumb-twiddlers waiting for disaster to win a simple argument. We don’t want another Chernobyl, Cancer Street, Pripyat, or Kopachi in your/our beloved country. We don’t want our fish to die of brine accumulation or radioactive bio-magnification. We don’t want people to disappear and houses to be buried. We want transparent, trust-worthy technology that actually cares about the breathing lives in this land and sea. We don’t want disaster. And heck if disaster happens, we truly know we have nothing in place to manage it!

sam pc

Koodankulam Press Release | October 20, 2014
KKNPP Must Tell the Whole Truth and the Director Must Go

The turbine of the first unit at the KKNPP is said to have developed some major problem. Although the first unit attained criticality in July 2013, it has not begun commercial operation yet even after 15 months of its erratic functioning. Even before starting its commercial operations “the world class third generation plant” is on the blink. It is ironic that the Department of Atomic Energy, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, KKNPP and scores of pro-government scientists have been issuing “the best and the safest” certification to this project for the past three years.

It is reliably learnt now that the faulty equipment in the turbine are being replaced and it may take a considerable amount of time to do that. It is quite pertinent to note here that there was a valve burst at the first unit a few months back and six workers were badly injured. All this attest to our claim that they have used shoddy and substandard parts at the Koodankulam project.

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board tested all the equipment and their functioning so carefully and methodically and issued certificates for each step. How come they did not detect any problems with the turbine then? What kind of tests did they do? How did they give “all clear” certification? If this is the efficiency and efficacy of the AERB, we have to be really worried about the safety and security of 8 crore Tamils and 4 crore Malayalis in the southern tip of India.

It is really disconcerting that the KKNPP authorities remain tight-lipped about the excessive diesel purchase, recurrent accidents, and equipment malfunctioning that keep happening at the KKNPP. Mr. R. S. Sundar, the Site Director of the KKNPP, must resign from his job. He has been refusing to tell the truth to the people of this country and the press about the KKNPP. This is a major dereliction of duty. He would do the same mistake even if a major accident were to happen here at Koodankulam. It is not clear who he is trying to protect. It is also not clear if he does care about the safety and security of the people of this area. People in this region cannot sleep peacefully with our children with officers like Mr. Sundar in charge of a mega nuclear power park. So he must resign from his job.

Interestingly, the Russian Ambassador to India, Mr. Alexander Kadakin, has spoken recently that the Koodankulam nuclear power project is the best and the safest in the world and that his country would sell some 22 more plants to India. But today we hear that the turbine is not working at Koodankulam. The turbines the Russians had supplied to China (Tianwan) and to Iran (Busher) had serious problems too. We have strong reasons to believe that there are problems not only in the turbine of the KKNPP but also in the reactor core and other crucial areas.

When the first two reactors at Koodankulam are limping and tumbling, it would be a reckless move to erect two more reactors at the Koodankulam site. It is all too clear that the KKNPP project is a complete and total failure and it must be shut down permanently to safeguard the safety and security of the people of the southern tip of India.

People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy
Idinthakarai

Paper Flowers

“Clapping gives us strength.” – Latha

Tamil (with English subtitles) 24 mins 46 s

How can one move from treating the third gender as a spectacle and object of curiousity for the camera and instead attempt to capture fellow human beings’ lives, aspirations and dreams?

After the landmark Supreme Court ruling recognizing the third gender status of all transgenders in the country, Rajiv Krishnan (the cinematographer of Paper Flowers) uploaded this film on Youtube as a celebration and salute.

In 1998, Hijra Guru Meena and Deepa Krishnan, were invited to a trans-gender conference organised by a theatre group in Austria. Unfortunately, Meena couldn’t get her passport. And so friends got together, and made a film to represent her in the conference. The result is an intimate and yet quick window in to family of individuals on a journey for their rightful dignity and respect.

Please watch, screen or share.

Conversation

In the past many people have been too frightened to talk much, publicly and even privately. It has been too dangerous or embarrassing or painful, There are still places where it is dangerous to speak. The powerful have always known that they are threatened by conversation. For most of history, the world has been governed by the conversation of intimidation or evasion. We cannot abolish timidity altogether, but we can redirect fears, so that they stimulate generosity rather than paralysis. 

– Theodore Zeldin, Conversation, Hidden Spring, 2000, p. 7

This essay is pretty much the base of every work by Theodore Zeldin. This book is like a mash up of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents and Gregory Stock’s The Book of Questions. However Zeldin does not merely push you to self-analyse or develop a vague idea of love for everything around you. He simply opens up the importance of conversation and the meeting of minds. He writes history by talking to people and this essay is to justify his method and share it with others. Read this and catch hold of all his books.

samyuktha pc