Asia-Pacific

Time to Expose Political Hinduism

Newly appointed president of the Bhartiya Janata party (B.J.P.), Rajnath Singh gestures while speaking at the party headquarters in New Delhi, Jan. 6, 2006. Rajnath Singh took charge as president of India's main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) from hawkish former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani, marking a change of guard in the 25-year-old party. (Photo: Prakash Singh / AFP-Getty Images)

For India's secular and democratic political forces, now is the time to prepare for a principled offensive against "political Hinduism," or Hindutva. The political party engaged in spreading Hindutva, Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.), is now in an identity crisis.

The new B.J.P. president, Rajnath Singh, seeks to strike a balance between Hindutva and secular democracy, in contrast to his predecessor Lal Krishna Advani, who favored a tactical retreat: stealing secular slogans in order to let the party make inroads into the minority vote, Muslims in particular. But the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R.S.S.), the supreme authoritative body of the B.J.P. and other constituents (together called the Sangh Parivar or R.S.S. family), devoted to Hindutva, cautioned Advani and forced him to put in his papers.

Small wonder, stern Hindutva-adherents among the Sangh Parivar constituents like the Viswa Hindu Parishad (V.H.P.), Bajrang Dal (B.D.) and Hindu Jagran Manch (H.J.M.) feel charged to implement their agenda. However, the possibility of the B.J.P. gaining more minority constituents is becoming more remote. Which is why secular parties like the Indian National Congress, the principal constituent of the ruling United Progressive Alliance in New Delhi with the support of the left, especially the Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist), have an opportunity to consolidate their political influence against the B.J.P. and the Sangh Parivar, characterized by the noted left-leaning economist Samir Amin as the "Hindu comprador right."

Proselytization Program

The issue at hand for secular and democratic political forces in India is how to insulate the Dangs, a district in the state of Gujarat, from the influence of V.H.P., H.J.M. and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (V.K.A.). The ultra-right R.S.S. is preparing to run a three-day proselytization program this month. Almost all the inhabitants of the Dangs are poverty-stricken aborigines (called adivasis). Many are Hindus; some are Christians; a few are Muslims. The Dangs experienced one of the most sanguinary communal riots in post-independent India during February and March of 2002. The choice of the Dangs is outwardly favorable to the Hindu militants, as the state chief minister Narendra Mody is a Hindutva-hardliner. Most of the media reports and fact-finding assays suggest that his government inspired the riot. However, the B.J.P. posits that the riot was actually caused by the death of 53 Karsevaks (Hindutva storm troopers, a large group of which had demolished the Babri Masjid — a mosque at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state on Nov. 6, 1992), allegedly burned alive by Muslims on a Sabarmati Express train on Feb. 27, 2002. This theory was disproved, as forensic reports indicated that the fire was due to internal combustion.

The religious conversion program is sanctioned by the R.S.S. They have chosen a time when a religious fair, Shabari Kumbh, will take place. The program sponsors have launched a campaign of hatred against Christian missionaries, accusing them of promoting separatism and terrorism in northeast India. The Dangs is viewed by the Sangh Parivar as a distorted Dandakaranya, where the Ramayana heroes stayed during their 14-year banishment. The heroes, Rama, and his brother Lakshmana, stayed in Chamak Hill during their banishment by their father King Dasaratha. Rama's devotee, mother Shabari, met him there. A Web site launched for the coming festival (www.shabarikumbh.org), states that in the Dangs, "the immortal devotee of Sri Rama met her Lord and lovingly offered him sweet berries which she had tasted herself." In the area there is a large temple named after Shabari.

The R.S.S. proselytization program will coincide with the Shabari Kumbh, when 500,000 pilgrims are expected to attend the festival and take a dip in the adjoining Pampa Sarovar, a large lake. The sponsors have boldly expressed their ultimate goal, stating, "the Kumbh will provide a boost to the Hindu movement in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. In particular, the Vanavasi Hindu will gain tremendous confidence. The momentum generated by the Kumbh is expected to trigger the return of thousands of Christian Vanavasi converts back to the Hindu fold." The R.S.S. brands Christianity as "a dangerous foreign faith" and call for it to be demolished "in the same way that Ram had killed the demon Ravana." The official festival slogan is also very provocative — Hindu Jago, Christi Bhagao (Arise, Oh Hindus and drive Christians out).

"Pseudo-Kumbh"?

But there is a catch. Kumbh Mela, or festival, takes place by turn in four fixed locations in India — Nasik, Hardwar, Allahabad and Ujjain. A fact-finding Citizen's Report summary by two teams who visited the Gujarat area during the second and third week of December 2005, points this out and states it can be but, "a pseudo-Kumbh, for which there is no religious sanction."

There are reports of deforestation to make way for the festival infrastructure, according to spot-investigations by the media. This allegation has angered the R.S.S. sponsors who have refuted the claim on their Web site. "A disinformation campaign has already been started by the so-called mainstream media. Allegations of damage to the environment are being made. These are totally baseless; fact is not a single tree has been cut. This fact has been written by the district magistrate himself in a letter to the Governor. In fact, the tourism in this area will receive a boost as the Gujarat government plans to make this into a full-fledged tourism spot," a statement on the Web site reads.

The Sangh campaign against the Christianity is aggressive. "To the Church, the Hindus represent the greatest stumbling block in their grand design to establish Christ's kingdom on earth. The poor, illiterate, mild Vanvasi Hindu is an obvious target in this nefarious scheme," according to the festival organizers' Web site.

The fact-finding teams included well-known social activists such as Irfan Engineer, director of the Center for the Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai; Suresh Khairnar, convener of Dharma Nirpeksh Nagrik Manch (secular citizen's platform), Nagpur; Ram Puniyani, secretary of the All India Secular Forum; Harsh Mander, formerly a top bureaucrat of Gujarat and now a senior functionary of Anhad, a nongovernmental organization; Uttambhai Parmar and Rohit Prajapati, from the Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties; and Prasad Chacko of ActionAid. Mander, a senior member of the Indian Administrative Service until March 2002, resigned in protest against the Gujarat government's communal campaign. The two teams visited places like Ahva, Subir, Unai and Saputara, where the adivasis account for the overwhelming majority of the population. After meeting the local people, a document produced by the commission decries, "the efforts of the Sangh organizations is to see that adivasis lose their identity, culture and traditions of worshiping nature without being part of any mainstream religion, by asserting that they are Hindus."

The survey teams produced a damning report on the marginal state of the Dangs. "With very small and uneconomic holdings, the majority of the cultivators barely manage to survive for few months of the year on the crops harvested. The agricultural laborers find some employment only during the agricultural season. The political economy of Dangs presents a typical case of utter neglect, dispossession and non-development," it observed.

Curbing the rights of the Christian missionaries

The proselytization is tantamount to "suppression of the basic religious rights of the adivasis practicing Christianity and thereby also curbing the rights of the Christian missionaries to carry on their activities," the Citizens' document rightly stated. The Hindutva adherents are unnerved in view of the "growing consciousness of the Dangi adivasis about their traditional rights and self-rule onto communal and anti-tribal and anti-people issues."

During the 1930's Jawaharlal Nehru, the foremost radical congressman during the freedom struggle warned against the ascendancy of R.S.S. and said that Fascism might come to India through majoritarian, or Hindu communalism. Ajoy Ghosh, a member of the undivided Communist Party of India (C.P.I.) politburo, also cautioned against both Hindu and Muslim communal political parties in 1939. Both leaders cast aspersions at the British colonial rulers for their "divide and rule" policy effected by fracturing mass protests along communal lines.

There is one thing common in the campaign materials of Sangh Parivar: use of myths and lies. The demolition of Babri Masjid was based on a myth: construction of the mosque by the Mughal emperor Babar in the late 16th century by demolishing a Ram temple as if Rama was born there. Historians and archaeologists like R. S. Sharma, Romila Thapar, Sushil Srivastava and Sher Singh showed conclusively that the mosque, belonging to the Sharqi period of architecture, was built up 15 years before the birth of Babar.

The secular and democratic political forces in India have solid historical evidence on their side to denounce the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates for cashing in on the innocence of Hindus. The polemical battle between the secular and Hindutva camps may begin in Gujarat where Mahatma Gandhi was born and where his killer, Nathuram Godse, was once an active member of the R.S.S.

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