Is Pragya Thakur the real face of the BJP?
The answer to this question lies in the stacked Russian dolls. Despite the changing faces in the BJP, the party’s DNA remains the same – unabashedly Hindutva.
And under Narendra Modi, we have seen the various shades of Hindutva coming together, and even competing with the other. In this one-upmanship, Pragya Singh Thakur too wants to establish her shade of Hindutva. And she knows that even if Prime Minister Modi says that her remarks on Nathuram Godse are unpardonable, he doesn’t really mean it. After all, his following comprises of all shades of the Right.
Tracing the roots
Today, many ‘liberals’ seem to be sympathetic towards Lal Krishna Advani. They ask why he should have to suffer humiliation and insults in a Modi and Amit Shah-led BJP. Indeed, many believe that if not for Advani, Modi would not have been able to become the Prime Minister.
But those like me, who have covered the frenzy of the Ayodhya Rath Yatra in 1990, know that the difference between Pragya Thakur and L.K. Advani is only in the shade of Hindutva.
True, Advani did not say that Nathuram Godse was a ‘deshbhakt’ or a patriot, but his speeches during the Ayodhya movement were frighteningly strident. He has been charged with criminal conspiracy, along with other BJP leaders Uma Bharti and Murli Manohar Joshi, in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
The outrageous remarks made by Pragya Thakur have not come all of a sudden. In fact, in the wake of Pragya’s remarks, some other BJP leaders too joined the chorus on Nathuram Godse.
When I was studying in primary school in Pune in the early fifties, one could sometimes hear open praise for Nathuram and his ‘brave act’ of killing Gandhi. But this conversation was restricted to the Brahmin community at that time – it had been just a few years since Gandhi was assassinated by Godse.
The hatred for Gandhi was part of the foundation syllabus of the Hindu Mahasabha. The Hindutva organisations did not have a mass base then, but they had a considerable following among the upper caste-middle class.
It is from this class that the political leadership of the Jana Sangh and later the BJP was groomed. Over the years, this upper caste-middle class group’s networks have spread in India and globally.
The middle class in India was rather silent on Pragya Thakur’s obscene comments. Even an otherwise alert NRI community did not feel outraged at her remarks. There were some voices of protest in the media, but many news channels, as well as newspapers, carried out ‘objective’ or ‘neutral’ debates in their bid to give space to all sides. This meant doing some whitewashing of Nathuram Godse in the public domain.
Rise of the Hindutva
The RSS is not only an organisation. It is also a mindset, which transcends the boundaries of a party or the Sangh.
There is no dearth of private or public sector executives, IT professionals, teachers and professors, even members of the scientific community in hallowed institutes like IITs and IIMs who have sympathy for the new Hindutva agenda and, therefore, even for Nathuram Godse.
None of them are formally a part of the ‘Parivar’ or ever went to ‘shakhas’. But they harbour a similar dislike for Muslims, think that Hindu philosophy is the best in the world, and therefore Hindutva is the way forward for Indian politics. They have come to believe that India’s glory was destroyed by Mughal invaders and it continues to be eroded by the presence of Muslims in Indian (read Hindu) society.
Anyone who is perceived to be sympathetic to the Muslim community or even recognises the contribution of the Mughals to Indian music, architecture and cuisine is considered anti-Hindu. The perception of the Congress as a ‘party of Muslims’, one that pampers or appeases Muslims, is a result of this mindset. This prejudice has captured the minds of the urban middle classes and, hence, we have seen the rise of the Hindutva.
Upper caste-middle class in ‘70s
This ideological transformation of the upper caste-middle class coincides with the rise of the Hindutva politics in the late eighties. Ironically, it is the same class, which propagated the ideas of liberalism, secularism, scientific temper, rationalism in the sixties and seventies.
Not only the socialist Left, but even the economic Right, who believed in and advocated free market, were not supporters of the Hindutva ideology. The most towering example is C. Rajagopalachari. He was a true Gandhian in philosophy, spirit and lifestyle, but was a firm believer in free market.
This upper caste-middle class kept the ritualistic practices to themselves, notwithstanding the grand celebrations of Durga Puja or Ganeshotsav or Jagannath Yatras. In those days, the Sabarimala issue would not have dominated political debates for weeks. There was religion, but not dominant Hindutva politics. Most intellectuals – Left, Right or Centre – never espoused religious extremism in politics.
Mandir & Make in India
It was not until 1998 when the NDA government united the forces of the economic Right and the religious Right.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s liberal face was accompanied by deputy PM Advani’s strident Hindutva persona. Vajpayee represented the continuation of Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh economic programmes and Advani the continuation of the Ram Mandir agenda. This was the ‘perfect integration’ of the economic Right with the religious Right. And this suited the neo-middle class, a product of Rajiv Gandhi government’s digitisation policies and the liberalisation in the nineties. This class was comfortable with the newfound Hindutva identity at home and abroad.
In 2019, if Narendra Modi indeed returns with full majority, as visualised by party president Amit Shah, expect Pragya Thakur to carry forward the ideological flag of the party.
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.