Never before has India been so polarised along religious lines with Hindutva politics being the trigger. Since 2014, we have seen the media in a churn and being forced to conform and comply or lose out. It is a well-established fact that readership makes up a small fraction of media revenue.
It’s advertisements that pay for the upkeep of media establishments. Those media houses that believed in the good old adage of free speech and have no political leanings are now struggling to survive.It’s a different matter that some media owners have their political loyalties and would find it hard to thrive in an environment where their political party is no longer in power. Indeed the shift from the UPA regime to the NDA has not been seamless.
For a long time, media houses toed a path that was in line with the ruling Congress Party and its editors were cosily ensconced in that environment. But that comfort zone was shaken, tossed and stirred in May 2014. Many, who are not used to this new politics of Hindutva assertion, find it strange to deal with the emerging situation.
Social media has only made things worse and the word “troll”, which includes issuing death threats to people who dare to dissent is the new normal. However, this is also the time for media to explore its prejudices. Media reflects life in all its intricacies; but in recent times it has tended to amplify the voices of the elected when it should actually give agency to the voiceless.
So every other day we hear of the lunatic fringe from the Sangh Parivar, which includes a conglomerate of organisations with a strong Hindu revivalist mindset, spewing out stuff that hurts, intimidates and sends minorities — who do not belong to the large “Hindu” fabric, as it is being fashioned today — scurrying for cover.
It’s now become what Roger Cohen in an article, “The captive Arab Mind” refers to as “cui bono” (a principle that probable responsibility for an act or event lies with one having something to gain), where those in positions of responsibility speak and act in ways that alienate those who don’t belong to the fold. Their agenda is to stoke the fires of Hindu fundamentalism because they believe that is what brought the votes in 2014. There are attempts now to rewrite history because apparently there is a need for a new kind of patriotism with the country being raised to the level of a deity (Bharat Mata).
This is ironic in a country where women are molested, raped and killed for dowry and where their rights are not even considered legitimate. Frankly speaking all those who promote this new ideology are patriarchs who appropriate women’s voices without even understanding the basics of gender equity. The other day I was speaking to a friend in Delhi and asked her why the Hindus who are a majority in this country should feel this sense of insecurity.
Her laconic reply was that for too long those who ruled this country bent over backwards to appease the minorities and from the tone of her voice I could assume that she was referring to Muslims. Christians and other religious minorities were, in her scheme of things, too small to matter.
I responded by saying that if the Hindus who are a majority in this country should feel so insecure then what about Christians and others, who at this point of time have been forced to remain voiceless? My contention is that in a country like India with so many races, religions and communities spread out geographically, it is the majority community in any place which should be protecting the minorities. In fact this is the discourse in the North-eastern states today.
Christians and other minorities, who are feeling a sense of claustrophobia by the series of lynching that have taken place since May 2014 on mere suspicion that a person has beef in his fridge or is carrying beef or is suspected of transporting cattle for butchering, are wondering how this new culture will play out.
There are of course, voices from the BJP such as that of KJ Alphons, the new Union minister of state for tourism, who are trying to allay those fears, especially since three of the eight north-eastern states are going to the polls in early 2018. But such voices of sanity are drowned out by the strident cacophony from legislators like Sangeet Som of Uttar Pradesh who now even wants the Taj Mahal to be wiped out because it was built by the Moghuls.
This attempt to corner one religious minority is bound to result in them hardening their stances, retreating into a cocoon and ceasing to become stakeholders of this great nation. After that radicalisation is the next step. Cohen has rightly remarked that in the “cui bono” universe there can be no closure because events stream on endlessly, opening up boundless possibilities for ex post facto theorising. While on the one hand we have a Prime Minister who is evidently progressive minded and has rolled out reforms, which he is fully aware will have consequences particularly on the affluent (who have evaded taxes for too long and who are now hitting out at the government), there are within his party a fringe that wants to take the country back to the dark ages.
This is the existential dilemma of the BJP as a political entity that drives policies in the country. The BJP, unfortunately, has to rely on the RSS for vote catching because this cadrebased organisation has its own electoral strategies. Hence, when the RSS says that the economy is hurting the country’s growth trajectory without looking at the long term prospects, it becomes a thorn in the flesh of the government. I am aware of the good work of many an RSS worker in creating the spirit of “nationalism” not in the sense of being jingoistic but as an attempt to include even those in the periphery in the idea of India.
Many such RSS members have laboured ceaselessly to spread the message of “My Home India” where the youth from the North-eastern regions studying in different parts of India are provided a home and care away from home. There is also an organisation called “One” which stands for “Our North East”’ that has done phenomenal work at the grassroots level to bring that much- needed emotional bond between the people of the region and the rest of India.
They have done it without coercing those young people to convert to Hinduism. So, I for one would not venture to demonise the RSS. What I would ask the organisation, however, is to introspect on why the minorities of India’s North-east are feeling a sense of insecurity about having to cede their religious and cultural rights and what has the RSS done to instil confidence in them that it will not indulge in shrill calls for beef ban or “ghar wapasi”.
The BJP is a political reality that we have to contend with. It is important for the people of the North-east to assert their cultural hegemony and if they do accept the BJP then they should do so on their terms. Hindu revivalism should not be packaged as part of the BJP manifesto.
In fact the BJP as a political entity should rise above petty religious debates and concentrate on governance. Governance not Hindutva or Hindu revivalism will win votes for the BJP. Why is it so difficult for Narendra Modi and his team to understand this simple fact? Or is it not so simple?
(The writer is Editor of The Shillong Times)