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Emergence of Religion as a Weapon of politics

by Rinku Khumukcham
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There was a time when religion was not an issue in Indian Political theatre. After British left leaving its legacy of administration consciousness on the divide and rule policy to gain power was felt among some pseudo intellectual who bore fascist character. Early 1970s was the time when India was making attempts to re-establish itself in the comity of nations through economic advancement. This resurgent India, and that was 80 per cent resurgent Hindu, was not open to insult. Not all of the Hindus of this generation were very devoted, but they were not ready to tolerate attacks on their religion. Psychologically, they had a deep connect with the vast majority of Hindu population who were deeply religious.

How the thesis was affecting other walks of life can be gauged by the decision of a company named Dabur. At the fag end of the last century, the company, that popularised Ayurvedic products in the country, started shifting its focus to the non-Ayurvedic segment, ostensibly imagining with modernism Ayurveda will lose its appeal in India and will not help the company spread in foreign lands. Almost two decades later, it is now established that modernity does not entail blind rejection of ancient knowledge. A man who is by no imagination a secular, Baba Ramdev, brought Ayurveda back with a vengeance, and Patanjali recorded phenomenal rise. This is the common man’s answer to the senseless secular idea of rejection of our ancient knowledge.

When the situation turned from bad to worse during Rajiv Gandhi’s regime, L.K. Advani came up with his antithesis. It was a crude form of Hindutva inspired by the thought of revenge and somewhat akin to jihadism. It was not something new; it was just going back to the essentials of the Jana Sangh. During the pre-partition days, when the Muslim League came up with ‘Direct Action’ to solidify the pre-eminence of the political Muslim through bloodbath, a plethora of forces came up to counter it by arousing the political Hindu. Among these forces, the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS dominated in those days. But, when the RSS formed the Jana Sangh, it failed to sway the mind of the Hindus, as back then the Hindus felt they now had their own land where they were secure. The RSS, since its inception, debated within its walls what will get prominence in their ideology: Religion or Nationalism?

Advani replaced the mode-rate Vajpayee as the party President (1986), and made another bold attempt to invoke the political Hindu through religiosity. The common Hindu, particularly of northern India, found a way to vent the pent-up frustration against the political establishment. While the RSS claimed all Indians are culturally ‘Hindus’, Advani declared that the Ram temple was a ‘matter of faith’, above the jurisdiction of law.

This ‘jihadi’ Hindutva lost its vigour as soon as it registered the final victory by razing the mosque (1992). Furthermore, the antithesis was not acceptable to a large section of the political Hindu, for they refused to recognise medievalism as a way of life. So, it had to be pruned of its jihadi character, and Atal Behari Vajpayee, who virtually disassociated himself from the ‘mandir wohi banayenge’ rant, had to be presented as the ‘future PM’. The country accepted this sober RSS man in 1998.

Then came 2002. First, on February 27, in a BJP-ruled State, the Muslims attacked a train and burned down its compartments killing 59 people, including kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya. What followed was the Gujarat pogrom in which, according to the official figures, 1044 (Muslims 790, Hindu 254) people died.

It was an example of what Adityanath said later in the context of UP: “If they kill one Hindu, then we will kill a hundred (of them).” And since 2002, Modi remained as the hero of the Hindutva force.

The antithesis, now reinforced by a sort of reverse ‘direct action’, succeeded to sway the people of a swathe of northern and eastern Indian States. However, the limitation of the anti-thesis was also evident. Mandalisation of the polity, triggered off by V.P. Singh’s implementation of the Mandal Commission report, divided the Hindu society in a positive way, and gave a boost to the Lohiaite socialists. These socialists succeeded to make a bond of the dominant castes and the Muslims, and that ensured communal amity major Indian states. Elsewhere, in large parts of southern and eastern India, people were not much interested in the crude form of Hindutva that was much, much more communal than what falls within religion-based political culture.

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