Representational image | A man making political speeches during the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh | Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan | Bloomberg
Representational image | A man making political speeches during the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh | Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan | Bloomberg
Text Size:

Hindutva — the idea that Hindus should be politically united in a Hindu nation-state — manifests itself in two complementary forms. One is Hindutva as agenda, and second is Hindutva as electoral politics. If you are Marxist, you might say it’s the difference between theory and praxis.

Here’s an example of Hindutva as agenda: triple talaq. Declaring the practice illegal (through the Supreme Court) and further criminalising it did not yield much electoral dividend for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, never mind the amusing propaganda to the contrary. Yet it was a Hindutva agenda. Choosing a weak point (women’s rights), the BJP-RSS struck the first blow to the idea that Muslims are free to decide their own family laws (like Hindus are).

Hindutva as electoral politics spreads primarily through polarisation. Here’s an early example. M.S. Golwalkar, the influential second chief of the RSS, told Amul’s Verghese Kurien that the cow protection issue was for him a means of uniting the people. It was politics, not faith.

The idea of polarisation is to take an issue and make it the central political agenda. Every person must decide whether they are for that issue or against it. Even if you are against the issue, you are helping it, because you are inevitably discussing the issue. That’s how the agenda is set. Golwalkar wanted to put Jawaharlal Nehru on the mat: are you for cow protection or not? If you are for cow protection, Golwalkar wins. If you are against it, Golwalkar still wins, because then he’s shown Nehru to be anti-Hindu.

The BJP rose to electoral prominence through polarisation: either you were for the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya or against it. When the BJP floundered electorally, it revived itself through another polarisation in 2014: either you were for Narendra Modi or against it. The violence in 2002 in Gujarat had similarly helped Modi establish himself as a national Hindutva icon.

The use of polarisation as political strategy is so entrenched in Indian politics today that you will meet BJP-RSS workers in north Indian villages casually refer to it in shuddh Hindi — dhruvikaran.


Also read: Big test for secular politics this winter. Don’t fall into BJP-RSS trap on Ayodhya, NRC, UCC


Agenda succeeds, polarisation fails

Gradually over the last six years, India has become a de facto Hindu Rashtra. The Hindutva agenda has succeeded at a speed no one could have predicted. Future historians will say 2019 was the year India became a Hindu state.

Indian secularism was a guarantee against discrimination on grounds of religion by the state. That guarantee no longer holds. This year has seen Hindus First replace India First.

You see this in the difference between how the Modi government treats Muslim customs in the case of triple talaq, versus Hindu customs in the case of Sabarimala. You see this on Ram Mandir, where a temple is ordered on the site of a demolished mosque, the injustice declared as closure. You see this in Kashmir, where India’s only Muslim-majority state is humiliated into submission. With the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the Modi government is brazenly making religion a basis for citizenship, and only Muslims are excluded. And the government says it will identify all the illegal immigrants in the country, but the BJP adds that the so-called illegal immigrants don’t have to worry if they are Hindu.

And yet, for all this ideological success, Hindutva as electoral politics is not doing well. Since the opposition has stopped opposing Hindutva, it has lost its ability to polarise. The blade has become blunt.

The 2014 election was about whether we want Modi or not, and his opponents did not want him for his Hindutva credentials. The 2019 election was not won through polarisation. It was won through sheer dominance, as reflected in the TINA factor: Aur hai kaun? There Is No Alternative.

Meanwhile, one state election after another is seeing the absence of Hindutva polarisation on the ground. The BJP lost its bastions in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to Congress’ promised of farm loan waivers. Uttar Pradesh in 2017 was won primarily through caste politics and the cult of Modi, not Hindutva polarisation. Whether it was Gujarat in 2017 or Karnataka in 2018, we see Hindutva polarisation lose its potency in electoral politics.


Also read: Indian liberals don’t get the difference between Hindu State & Mohan Bhagwat’s Hindu Rashtra


Raising the bar for polarisation

The classic electoral polarisation trick was the Hindu-Muslim riots. There was a time when a riot was only to be expected before an election, like Muzaffarnagar in west UP before 2014. But the BJP in power can’t afford to be seen as fomenting riots.

Polarisation is no longer working because the opposition has surrendered before Hindutva. When the Congress supports a Shiv Sena government, when the opposition welcomes the Ram Mandir, when the opposition goes silent on Kashmir, how do you polarise? Polarisation by definition needs both poles. It’s good news for Hindutva that everyone welcomes Ram Mandir, but bad news for electoral polarisation.

And hence the BJP has been forced to raise the bar of polarisation. You don’t oppose this, ok fine, but how will you not oppose this? That’s how we get the mix of National Register of Citizens. Those opposing it will now be declared supporters of illegal immigrants. Everyone will have to decide whether they support the NRC or oppose it. And the only ones who need to fear the NRC are Muslims, since they don’t get a back-door entry through the amended Citizenship Act.


Also read: Can India be a Hindu Rashtra—and Hindus a minority—at the same time?


No copyright on polarisation

Countering polarisation is a two-step process.

  1. Don’t take the bait. Don’t oppose Hindutva day in and day out.
  2. Create a counter polarisation. That will change the subject from Hindutva to something else. The classic case was in the early 1990s, when our socialist leaders came up with the Mandal Commission to make a push for backward class politics. Mandal countered Mandir. Caste justice was the answer to religion. We saw this briefly again in Bihar in 2015 when Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav created a Backward versus Forward polarisation.

The opposition at large has learnt to assiduously follow step 1. They don’t oppose Hindutva. They give a perfunctory statement, and go silent on Hindutva issues.

The mistake the opposition is making is in not carrying out the second step. Going silent on Hindutva is pointless unless the opposition can create a counter-polarisation. For that, the opposition will have to come up with a positive agenda. It will have to demand something radical. Maybe it’s caste, maybe it’s unemployment, maybe it’s poverty, but it has to be something and it can’t wait until the next election.

Maybe it’s a minimum income programme. A prolonged Congress campaign on NYAY today, amidst a deep economic slowdown, will be far more successful than it was before the election. It must polarise people: either you are for NYAY or against it. Rather than harp on SPG privileges.

The BJP does not have copyright over polarisation. Indira Gandhi used to polarise: either you were against poverty or against Indira Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi used to polarise: either you were a Swadeshi or a supporter of British oppression.

Modi has already turned India into a Hindu Rashtra. If there’s anything left to save, it will need the opposition to find its own points of polarising the people.

Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

17 Comments Share Your Views

17 COMMENTS

  1. Isn’t,
    A misuse of religion done by muslim in the name of love zihad ,
    CAA NRC can pull out Rohingiya bangladeshi out of country who are worsening the image indian muslim via increasing terrorism and zihad in india.
    Is muslim personal law broad wasn’t an agenda for making indian as an Islamic state.
    Having shia waqf board, Sunni waqf board.
    Wasn’t that you’re missing.
    Only working for minorities isn’t an agenda of congress party.

  2. Mr Shivam Vij
    Seems like you are smoking something quite powerful.
    CAB makes sense because Pakistan and Bangladesh were created in 1947 as countries with citizenship based on religious grounds. Had it not been of the magnanimous stupidity of MK Gandhi there would not have been a need for CAB . So please keep your left agenda thoughts to your therapy room.

  3. Racism, casteism, religious conflicts, thought less selfishness are on the rise in most parts of the world. So CAB and NRC will work. Sadly these too shall pass but only after a catastrophe.

  4. “Meanwhile, one state election after another is seeing the absence of Hindutva polarisation on the ground.”

    The authors own words contradict themselves. How can the country be a defacto Hindu State if Hindu issues don’t have traction on the ground. Is the author trying to say that we are so Hindu that we don’t think Hindu issues are important? We were not Hindu before? Is the author trying to say that Hinduness was being ignored earlier, which is why it was important, but after being recognized, it’s become less important?

    The general rhetorical style of the piece doesn’t lend clarity to, what is a complicated issue.

    “The BJP does not have copyright over polarisation. Indira Gandhi used to polarise: either you were against poverty or against Indira Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi used to polarise: either you were a Swadeshi or a supporter of British oppression.”

    So it’s clear polarization as a political tactic is ok, as long as the BJP’s Hinduness doesn’t force a certain group of people to feel polarized (considering there is no Hindutva polarization on the ground – author’s words not mine).

    It seems we’re left with the distinct possibility that only a select group of individuals, electorally irrelevant, are triggered because of BJP’s Hinduness.

    I’ll let the readers makes up their own minds on who, and what their motivations, might be …

  5. Shivamji, the more I read your articles filled with half-truths and lies, the more I am getting radicalized against your so called “secularism.”

    • glad to know that you were FOR “secularism” once – may be you will change your mind once they come for you as well. even if you are a upper-caste/upper-class/male dont be sure that you will not be “othered” at some point.

  6. The Biggest problem and challenge is to make people realise the the Hindu Faith preaches Love Peace & Brotherhood whereas Hindutva is all about Intolerance Communilism Disrespect Disunity and Hatred…….. Using Religion as a Tool to further thier dirty underhand policies is something which the BJP does well, agreed that certain elements are there in the Muslim Community who ar a part of Terrorism but that can be said for the Hindu’s too where we have people like Pragya Thakur, How many ministers can we give clean chits to?? And these are the people we vote for who are slowly but surely dividing our country on the basis of Religion. How can they forget that to get Freedom people regardless of Religion/ Caste/ Background sacrificed everything even thier lives, but all they do is play the blame game, thier lust for power is not only creating Differences between everyone but also destroying the unity which gave us Freedom n the first place. Everyday we read f Rapes molestation torture of women even the girl child, the prices of vegetables r rocketing sky high, lynchings etc Freedom of Speech is being curtailed anyone who speaks out is dubbed anti National accused of sedition, The economy is collapsing farmers who put food on our tables are committing suicide our valiant and brave soldiers who guard our borders are being killed and all we talk about is the Hindu Muslim factor & building a : Hindu Rashtra” When will we realise that India is a Multicultural Multilingual Multireligious country and it should stand tha way only then can we be called a proper Democracy

  7. Congress is grand old party just to save Rahul Gandhi.

    To organise also you have work continously. This young man from Congress is found in Thailand 20 times a year.

  8. Politics toh hamein samajh mein aati nahin. Nor am I particularly religious, with sacred thread tied on my wrist. How about polarising India on 5% – which is actually 2.5%, if not an outright recession – vs the high growth that was seen for much of UPA’s tenure. How 30 million Indians have fallen into poverty in the last six years vs the 140 million lifted out of it earlier. Of how millions of jobs are being lost vs being created. The food – complete with dead mice – being served to schoolchildren in Yogiji’s version of Ram Rajya. Just don’t acknowledge that religion is the most important issue for India today.

    • absolutely! we need to say this every time a bhakt or paid troll speaks up be it on-line or in the real world. we need to explain also to ordinary people who have been taken for a ride by these guys.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here