Hindutva today and Fascism – some observations

Rahul Vaidya

                One witnessed unprecedented caste-based marches and mobilisations in Maharashtra during last one year. The issue of Maratha reservation was its focal point. They somewhat coincided with agitations of several middle peasant castes all over the country- Patels in Gujarat, Jats in Haryana and Kapus in Andhra. A lot of journalists, researchers stressed upon the need to contextualize these protests within wider crisis in agriculture, the plight of peasantry, indebtedness, dwindling prospects of revival; and how this has led the peasant castes to demand reservations- hence, they were of the opinion that ‘the demand for reservations is actually a desperate cry and plea of peasants for rescue and should hence be addressed sensitively’. On the other hand, there was also a section which was arguing that reservation is a tool of social justice and hence to increase its reach to middle, peasant castes would in effect dilute the egalitarian vision and compromise on delivery of social justice. The manner in which the issue of revising/ revoking the Atrocities Act (for its alleged misuse) was raised during the course of Maratha agitations further strengthened those arguing against the Maratha agitation and its demand for reservation. 

In hindsight, one thing is clear. Who came out winner of this whole heady chaotic episode of social churn- the eruption of Maratha agitation, and counter-agitations and marches by non-Maratha backward castes?  Startling it might seem, but only the politics of Hindutva was the real winner. Gradually a different turn taken by Maratha agitation, casteist and communal formulations of history therein, a mad competition between towns and cities to organize ‘bigger’, and more ‘spectacular’ ‘events’ called Maratha marches- all these developments nipped all possibilities and potentials of a progressive program and alternative arising out of these marches. It was quite evident that the demand for Maratha reservations would not stand in front of judiciary. At least then, these marches and mobilizations should have tried to create viable political alternative with a distinct program. Navnirman Andolan of 1970s, Mandal agitation of 1990s, even Lokpal agitation of 2011- all of them led to formation of political alternatives of varying strength. However, the agitations of middle caste peasantry weren’t left with any such possibility. What is more, these agitations, which initially put the incumbent BJP government in the dock, ultimately ended up reinforcing the politics of Hindutva. It is necessary to understand why it happened so, and for this, we need to reflect upon Hindutva of the day and what its distinguishing features are.     

1. What should be primary- ‘Caste or class’ as basis for politics of oppressed has often been a difficult conundrum for Left as well as Ambedkarite movement in India. The ruling Congress dispensation which based its politics on ‘class-caste compromise’ shrewdly used the inner divisions and struggles within castes and classes for its political manoeuvres. Power struggle between Mahars vs chambhars in Maharashtra or various splits within Dalit movement are testimony for this. However, Congress’ political management of internal contradictions and ‘graded inequality’ of caste system was in a sense associated with a modern political stance (state-power based and not overtly resorting to religious scriptures/ symbolisms). At least it strived to maintain a façade for the same. On the other hand, this Congress politics was largely dependent upon courtier manoeuvres of split within leadership, poaching the leaders and controlling the patronage. These tactics were used to take the steam off the agitations. Contrary to this, the Hindutva of the day doesn’t shy away from participating in both Maratha marches as well as the counter-mobilizations of non-Maratha backward castes in protest. It feeds its narratives to both and conveniently does away possibility of any finger being raised at the ruling dispensation for its functional mishandling of agrarian distress, or its failure on employment front. In effect, there is no trace left of any material political alternative formation or even a political narrative. This shows the deftness of Hindutva about how it can shepherd its foot soldiers on ground and control the overarching narrative as well. How this became possible? 

During 1990s, it was widely believed that only ‘Mandal is effectively counter to forces of Kamandal’. The electoral success of Lalu- Mulayam- Mayawati had reinforced this notion that ‘a united front of middle peasant castes and backward castes and Dalits will defeat Hindutva’. However, this united front is possible only through concrete theoretical basis and practical alternative. Else, the caste-class contradictions between peasant castes and Dalit landless laborers get intensified and undermine any such electoral plank- the split in SP & BSP and experiences of Bihar and elsewhere only highlighted this bitter truth.   

On the other hand, Jan Sangh and its new incarnation, and the BJP and Sangh Parivar which was castigated for being a party of ‘shethji-bhatji’ (traders-moneylenders- and Brahmins) has expanded in castes across the spectrum. This surge in support since 1980s cannot solely be attributed to an emotion-merchandised movement like ‘Ramjanmabhoomi’ or a ‘Modi wave’. The middle class formed in every caste plays a big role in this. The success of BJP, which emerged and established itself as a ‘vanguard of the middle-class’ party, is attributable to its political-cultural interventions as well the fact that it never had to be party to the compulsions of multi-party, class-caste compromises. 

In addition, the ‘political Hindutva’ which the RSS accepted after the 1980’s is much more Savarkarite Hindutva. Consciously nurturing OBC leadership in various states, aggressively campaigning for the principle of ‘Samarasata’ as an alternative to ‘Samata’ or equality, and the use of the local caste-sub castes and tribes towards this end-all this is in a sense a continuation of the political management and ‘class-caste compromise’ of Congress. 

But there was one important difference. This compromise and maneuvering didn’t go explicitly as compromise but under an overarching unifier called ‘Hindutva’ which claimed to transcend the boundaries and conflicts of castes-classes. This is especially pertinent for caste politics to note that ‘caste versus religion’ cannot form an irreconcilable contradiction in Hindu social life. 

Feeding caste pride was never a problem of political Hindutva. It was and is always comfortable with war cry for any identity which starts with ‘Garv se kaho’, In fact, by combining the evolving capitalist system, market and consumerist notions; the new Hindutva utilised notions and theories of ‘Dalit capitalism’, entrepreneurship, commoditised celebration of birth and death anniversaries of downtrodden caste icons and gained greater legitimacy for its notions of Hindu rashtra-rajya (nation-state).

The Hindutva followers didn’t participate in freedom struggle and most of them were staunchly opposed to social reforms. Hence, the great debates such as ‘Tilak- Agarkar’ or ‘Tilak- Phule’ over ‘primacy to political freedom or to social reform’ do not matter at all for Hindutva. The fact that peasant castes like Marathas were at the forefront of non-Brahmin movement was of little significance to Hindutva. Its project is quite extra-ordinary: on one hand, ‘mobilize Marathas on a plank of narrow regressive communal history of lost glory, use them for riots against Muslims as happened in Miraj’ and on the other hand, ‘brandish them as villains who are complicit in ruining the co-operatives, guilty of being part of sugar lobbies, and other naked forms of corruption- and thereby bring along other backward castes’. Not only Marathas but also Yadavs among OBCs in North India, Jatavs in Dalits of Uttar Pradesh-castes which are vocal and politically dominant, which have been part of social justice movements as well as associated with socialist/ Ambedkarite politics; Hindutva requires them to be sidelined to bring forth coalition of other castes. And at the same time, it doesn’t totally shun them away but uses them as ideological ploy for its specific long term project of Hindu Rashtra. 

This double manoeuvre is in fact more complex and risky as well. Why does it succeed? This is because it is only the political Hindutva which is putting forth a program of capitalist ‘modernisation’ in a sustained manner. Its vision of ‘modernisation’ might perhaps be quite parochial and specific; however, it seeks to reshape economic, social and political spheres with this specific vision. It is important to keep in mind that ‘Fascism’ is always a ‘modernising political project’. 

In a sense then, the dominant politics in India over past 100-150 years was exceptional. It claimed legacy of freedom struggle, and social reforms, and became an agent of modernity in a quite different manner in a traditional society where religion and state or religion and caste were never in contradiction but complemented each other. The modern politics of anti-colonial struggle and social movements brought forth the schisms of caste, language, class into open. It opened a different vocabulary and experience of participating in politics which was hitherto denied to a large section of society. However, post-independence, this politics had to indulge into several compromises while trying to lay the foundations of Indian capitalism. Capitalist developments further accentuated the caste-class internal divisions and struggles which couldn’t be resolved. The political Hindutva which emerged out of this bitter experience is a sort of revenge by our history of exploitation. 

2. Hindutva resolved the limitations and constraints arising out of non-participation in freedom struggle and social reforms. The argument that ‘our slavery dated back for over 1200 years and it didn’t end in 1947 but in 2014’ is a characteristic example of this. Popular common-sense and notion of history which is accustomed to view Muslims as the ‘Other’ and ‘invader’, doesn’t refute it; rather it passively legitimises it. a lot has already been said and written over this representation and I would just like to flag this here.  

The other issue is of social reforms. Here Hindutva adopts different tactics. It now brazenly argues that ‘these social reforms are proof of inherent liberalism of Hindu society’ while glossing over its own opposition to it, leave aside that of conservative Hindu society at large. It can only go to the extent of doing propaganda about how ‘Muslims cannot carry out social reforms like banning triple talaq and hence how they are regressive’. In that sense, the Hindutva of the day is not Savarkarite enough. Ban on cow slaughter and the surrounding politics is a big proof. However, political aspirations remain at the core of this campaign as well which seeks to tap ito the reservoir of Islamophobia. Cow welfare is not at all on the agenda and it need not be. 

It has been innovative and creative enough to claim that ‘Caste system arose out of Islamic invasions’. It is aware of potential of caste to undermine the project of Hindutva. However, we have already seen how Hindutva can overcome this through several other means and tactics. 

3. ‘Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan’ marked an earlier phase of Hindutva. There was a time when Jan Sangh/ BJP used to be called as ‘cow belt’ party, ‘north Indian party’. North India still remains a vital part of Hindutva project. However, the reach of Hindutva has widened far beyond. When BJP today aspires to usurp state power in North East India, Kerala, Karnataka, Bengal etc. it doesn’t only depend upon electoral adjustments or horse trading of MLAs. The vocabulary and logic of Hindutva becomes dominant in such regions. The Sri Ram Sene of Mangalore and such mob vigilante forces in other places, or religious mobilization by RSS in Bengal recently over Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti is show of strength on one hand. However, it is backed by a passive approval and failure of oppositional forces to erect timely and effective resistance at both physical and symbolic levels. 

Language, like caste, used to be considered a natural barrier to thwart Hindutva. RSS was never much favourable to ‘language-based reorganisation of states’. However, it adopted a flexible stand towards this issue after 1980s. It argued for a broader umbrella unity of Hindus irrespective of their caste, language, state etc. against a common threat named Muslims. It agreed to speak in diverse tongues; project leadership from diverse caste backgrounds provided it spoke the common vocabulary. After 2000, this tactic received additional fillip from the ambiguous narrative of ‘development’. How much RSS has succeeded in this endeavour can be seen from precarious situation the Shiv Sena has been reduced to at present. The trump card of Sena called ‘Marathi Manoos’ is effective only in Mumbai and surrounding regions and there also the party is able to hold on due to its organisational strength. ‘aggressive Hindutva plus development’ versus ‘Marathi Manoos plus Hindutva’- such has been the unequal contest between the two narratives. It is indeed a poetic justice that the aggressive Hindutva which Sena championed is going to finish Sena politically. And the tragedy is there is no space left for any other politics. The alternative versions of competitive communalism perhaps herald how the future would look like in Maharashtra and perhaps in many other places.

4. In a sense, Fascism is a narrow, ‘community’ based political project which is in direct contradiction with modern, multi-dimensional conception of ‘society’. Fascism doesn’t necessarily have a permanent fixation over a particular ‘Other’. And it may shift stance quite significantly as we already saw in case of Hindutva’s changing positions over caste, language etc. who knows, perhaps at a historical juncture, the Hindutva would mutate its anti-Islamic stance in a different form. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia are not necessarily some permanent features for Fascism. (Anti-Semitism had little or no place in Italian fascist doctrine before 1938).

The aim for fascism is to replace political system based on modern notion of diverse society, (with its admission of conflicts and their peaceful resolution) and brings about ‘community’ based system. We can somewhat provisionally describe it as ‘Harmonious Nationalism’, ‘conflict-free nationalism’. Yearning for conflict-free society is not just limited to RSS or such other fascistic forces. Persons like Anna Hazare, and late R.R. Patil, NCP Home Minister of Maharashtra have also endeavored for the same through ‘tanta-mukti abhiyan’. (Such efforts were justly criticized by Ambedkarites and other progressives as regressive and attempt to silence Dalits in villages) Fascism only provides ideological glue and grandeur through explicit recognition of the ‘Other’. 

5. Hence, it is the most crucial part of fascism to end not just political opposition or democratic institutional structural checks, but all the possibilities of politics itself. Today, it doesn’t require a coup and dictatorship like 1930s but a long term hegemonic power for its ‘depoliticisation’. RSS and its several fronts are only a part of this project. Larger historical changes, information technology revolution, the resultant compression of space-time and our changing notions about social structures, one’s identity as ‘producer’ or ‘laborer’ getting pushed in the background while act of consumption and one’s identity as ‘consumer’ becoming more and more prominent- all this results in a crisis of role of institutions as mediators. More and more aggressive, rabid, grand posturing and war-mongering presentation seems to emerge as the alternative. This is happening around the world which has enabled Brexit, or victory of Donald Trump. 

As the capitalism plunges into deeper crisis, Fascism’s game will be more aggressive and more dazzling. The inherent risks will continue to rise. Once, the political vocabulary and tradition becomes ‘community’ centric, any future internal conflict would lead them to greater bitterness and regression. One witnessed this during the course of Patel agitation in Gujarat. The movement sought to “reserve all 100 percent of the seats caste census-wise “or else “Cancel Reservation”. Now this is the real challenge facing all the parties-movements which recognise the context of historical exploitation and uphold legacy of social justice. It will not do to indulge in question of ‘whether it is fascism in power or it is authoritarianism’, ‘is Hindutva Brahminical or not’, or ‘Whether all the opposition parties should have a united front or not’. It is a new age ‘Manu’ in the new era. It must also be challenged with new weapons. 

To move from a ‘community’ centric notion of ‘apolitical’ ‘harmonious’ Hindu Rashtra to a ‘modern multi-dimensional society’ centric politics is the real challenge. And it requires the understanding of new capitalist systems, new institutions, and new definitions.

The Author is an Interdependent Researcher based in Delhi 

(This article was originally published in Marathi in aksharnama.com)

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