Until not many moons ago in India it seemed to have been established beyond any shade of doubt that a person who speaks or writes in a particular tone and manner, and uses religious signs and symbols in politics, is communal. His views were clearly in opposition to the given constitutional ideas and their interpretations. There was a greater degree of clarity about the definition of secular and communal. There used to be a clear sense of cheer and happiness in identifying and exposing the sectarian views and their propagators. On their part, the communal speakers and writers used to double-check their speech and writings. They were cautious about their views being censured, and wary of the negative fall out of their coming out openly with their parochial points of view. An incident comes to mind in this context. When Vajpayee became the Prime Minister of India, it became public somehow that he had said somewhere that “Sangh is my soul.” It became a headline grabbing news.
There were cover stories done whether it was a fact that the Prime Minister had made the statement. It was perceived to be scandalous to hear a Prime Minister having directly associated himself with an organisation believed to be behind the assassination of Gandhi. Vajpayee had to come out with clarifications and explanations, and spoke of the context in which the statement had been made. No doubt the clarifications were half-hearted, and much more muted than one could have expected them to be, yet it was a matter of assurance that he felt a sense of embarrassment for having made the statement. The situation has now changed. The shoe is now on the other foot.
It is no longer a matter of shame and embarrassment to be linked with the RSS or any other affiliate. The organisation is now holding a centre stage. Not only in Delhi but also in Jammu and Kashmir. The speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly makes no bones about his close association with the Sangh. (Amusingly, with all good intentions, Engineer Rashid addressed him as the President of the Jammu and Kashmir).
Even the Judiciary is not free of its influence. The colouring of this organisation can be easily felt in the decisions coming out from the Supreme Court of India. The court has declared that Hindutva is a way of life; A Hindutva whose foundation was laid by Savarkar. The electoral legitimacy has been achieved with the enthronement of Modi but the judicial validation is alarming. Instead of saying that Hindutva is one of the ways of life in India under the constitution of India, like Islam, Christianity, or Buddhism, only Hindutva has been selected for encouragement and appreciation. What does such a remark from the Supreme Court of India do to the advocates of Hindutva? All their actions and statements receive a moral endorsement and they are emboldened to carry out their activities (including Ghar Wapsi of Muslims and Christians). There is an impression growing that the systems of justice, governance and security are increasingly, and probably intentionally, showing their sympathy and inclination towards the RSS and her organisations.
The impression is reinforced with repeated admission of pleas against the Article 370 of Indian Constitution. For many, the majoritarian prejudices were perhaps only waiting for Modi-like person to rise, in order to come out in full force. The situation has come to such a pass that no discussion on media is complete without an invitee from the RSS. The members of latter come out to defend the policies which, not long ago, were all but banned, and lecture the audience about the communalism of fellow panellists. The pot calling the kettle black is a weak idiom to speak of the hypocrisy of this situation. Certainly, the acquisition of power has changed the meaning of terms which were previously well known.
With the enthronement and applause of the erstwhile Right wing has come the downfall of the former Centre-Liberal category. The liberal has disclosed itself to be a fake proposition. It was waiting for the Right to come to centre-stage to come into its own true colours. The celebrated liberal voices of the past that swore by the tenets of the constitution and sermonised the world about India’s essentially liberal characteristics have exposed themselves to be hollow at the core. With the rise of RSS, the death of the pretending-Liberal has occurred. Today the same Liberals are competing with the Moditva for garnering attention of the Hindu-vote. Time is not far away when the self-styled Liberals will compete with the Right for the ownership of Godse. The days are close at hand when the Liberals will claim that it was their contribution which made it possible that the Babri Masjid was successfully demolished. All the villains of the past will resurrect to honour the gallery of the heroes.
The present scenario does not seem to hold any other prospect for the future. The Liberal media is on the defensive, competing with the far-right for the eye balls. A competitive communalism is holding sway across the media. The communal point of view has to be carried to make sure that the liberal anchors and their channels are not out of business. Closer home, an RSS man is conducting the proceedings in the Assembly, deciding who is to be allotted how much time to speak in the Assembly.
In retrospect, the Agenda for Alliance appears to have been an after thought of the goal of getting power. The rising tide of the Right under the mask of the nationalism has revealed what a weak and opportunistic attachment the Indian liberal has to the tradition of liberalism. They may be connected with Liberalism and its ideas but they do not have faith it its system of belief. When the need was to reaffirm faith in the principles of constitutional liberalism, we are witnessing a panoramic funeral of the latter, and a collective competition for the space of Right wing nationalism.
The writer is a columnist, author, and lecturer at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org