‘Hey Ram’ (Oh Ram!) were the last words of Mahatma Gandhi, known to Indians as the ‘father of the nation’. He uttered these words on 30 January 1948 while taking bullets from his assassin, Nathuram Godse, an Hindutva extremist. The bullets of the Beretta automatic pistol that killed Gandhi were laced with the Hindutva politics of hate. This was the first onslaught on the secular and multicultural fabric of independent India by the Hindu supremacist forces who now rule the country.
Like the three bullets that killed Gandhi, 6 December 1992, 9 November 2019 and 5 August 2020 are three defining dates that dismantled the secular character of the Indian state and politics. These three dates are central towards the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra (nation) in India. The process was started with the killing of Gandhi. It continues to create havoc and enduring pain within the Indian republic.
Three dates, three political cataclysms
On 9 November 2019, the Indian parliament, dominated by the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which selectively regularises non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It is arguably the first piece of legislation in India that openly discriminates on the basis of religion, which as many argue, is a negation of the constitutionally-guaranteed principle of secularism.
On 5 August 2020, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, laid a silver brick in a lavish ‘ground-breaking’ ceremony to inaugurate the construction of a grand Ram Mandir (temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram) in Ayodhya – which many Hindus regard as the birthplace of Lord Ram. He also released a commemorative postage stamp called “Shree Ram Janambhoomi Mandir” (temple of Lord Ram’s birthplace).
But the grounds on which the temple will be built has a sullied past. A medieval-era mosque – the Babri Masjid – once stood here,
On 6 December 1992, activists belonging to right-wing Hindutva organisations, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other affiliates, violently demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The demolition of the 16th century mosque accelerated the deepening of Masjid-Mandir (mosque-temple) politics in India under the looming shadow of Hindutva – a bigoted social, political, and economic project of Brahmanical propertied caste, class and capital.
The two-time landslide electoral victory of the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 general elections, led by Prime Minister Modi, has given pan-Indian political legitimacy to Hindutva forces. But the Hindutva political project received its judicial legitimacy when the Supreme Court of India, in a long-pending verdict last year November, gave the entire disputed site to the Hindu parties and even ordered the government to create a trust to build the Ram Temple in the disputed land. It also gave five acres of land in another place in Ayodhya to the Sunni Waqf Board for the construction of a mosque.
The Supreme Court’s verdict ended the longstanding legal dispute between Hindus and Muslims. The contradictory judicial verdict is a victory of a majoritarian faith based on Hindutva mythology, which is the life and blood of Hindu supremacist politics. The verdict did not punish the Hindutva forces and their organisations for dismantling a 470 years-old historic monument, despite calling the demolition illegal. The verdict gave new life to the political vandalism of Hindutva forces in the name of establishing a Hindu Rashtra.
Mainstreamisation of Hindutva politics
The many leaders of the Indian National Congress and opposition parties consider the upcoming Ram Temple in Ayodhya as a product of national consensus – which essentially implies “Hindutva consensus”. The Congress leader, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, not only endorsed the construction of the temple, but also projected the ground-breaking ceremony as an occasion for “national unity, fraternity and cultural congregation”.
But Hindutva politics is immersed in hate, violence and vandalism. It can not inspire national confidence, cultural unity and fraternity. The statement by Priyanka Gandhi shows the influence of Hindutva politics on mainstream opposition parties and its leaders in India. Leaders of several other so-called ‘secular’ parties too posted similar messages, exalting the inauguration of the temple construction.
‘Hey Ram India’ signifies the assassination of secular politics and state in India on 5 August 2020 by not just the BJP, but also the Congress and the likes. The era of closet Hindutva is over. The launch of the ‘Jai Sri Ram’ culture within Congress represents the rise of the Congress model of Hindutva and the death of secular, Nehruvian and Gandhian Congress Party.
In today’s context, there is little to no difference between the Hindutva politics of BJP and Congress – both are aiding the destruction of the multicultural fabric of Indian society by the Upper Case Hindu social order. Both parties also follow the same neoliberal economic policies that consolidate the powers of big businesses and capitalist classes in India. The differences in the colours of their party flags and office locations do not matter. They are both detrimental to the idea of India. Both are a threat to life and livelihoods of the poor masses in India.
The circulation of elites defines both political formations, which have failed to provide any viable alternative for the relief and rehabilitation of people from the multidimensional pandemic of hunger, ill-health, homelessness and joblessness. Both represent the interests of the local, regional, national and global capitalist classes. The Hindutva-led caste-based social, political and economic order is concomitant with the requirements of capitalism. The political consensus and judicial legitimacy have given a final touch to the process of writing the last secular and democratic epitaph for Indian pluralism.
It is truly the start of a new India, led by Hindutva forces, where there is money for temples and statues, but zilch for health and education. There is money to subsidise and write off debts of big businesses, but none for farmers, students and the youth. Yet, this lamentable transformation did not happen overnight or even over the last six years.
The casteist and conservative undercurrent of the Hindu Brahmanical social order in India has received its political patronage from the BJP government. This has helped the bigotry of the Upper Castes turn into the mainstream social, political and economic order in India. The idea of a secular and democratic India was demolished with the destruction of Babri Masjid on that winter morning in 1992. And the success of the Hindutva political project was verified and reconfirmed with the laying of the first brick of the Ram Temple today.
Hindutva triumphalism is undisputedly the new sociopolitical order in India today. It is marked by political despondency, social alienation and a lingering economic crisis. But hope comes up from unusual sources to inspire the resilient masses. Hindutva politics is a national shame and it cannot write the final words on the future of India and Indians.
The Indian civilisation, if there is any such singular entity, has survived all onslaughts of time. The graveyards of time have swallowed all pride, empires and emperors within its powerful waves and have allowed history to document the death of all winners to give hope to a hopeless world. Hope redeems itself as alternatives. It is only the human heritage of peace that outlives time to tell stories of successful struggles for justice, equality, liberty and fraternity.
It is time to conserve our energy and fight for the future. The fake gully boys and their deceptive politics of Hindutva will fall like all other regimes drunk in power. This time shall pass and for the masses to enjoy their freedom and dreams of life in peace and prosperity, Apna Time Aayega (our time shall come).
Views expressed are the author’s own.
Featured graphic (Babri masjid demolition silhouette) by Rudra Pratap Sinha (Jim Carter), Wikimedia Commons.
Bhabani Shankar Nayak is a political economist based in Coventry, UK. He researches and writes on political economy of religion, market, business and development.