Social media has become the new warfare for a war that was deeply contested on land, sea and air for centuries. This modern warfare, thankfully, does not involve lethal weaponry and blood-spattered battlefields. But on the flip side, it is probably more toxic, hard-hitting and has potent artillery in the hands of the smartphone holders.
The extremely popular campaign of ‘no bindi-no business’, calls for boycott of movies perceived to be ridiculing Hindu icons, sporadic agitations against products and persons accused of taking a blatantly anti-India stand and many more such ‘instant protests’ are mushrooming all over the place. They may appear to be sudden or reactionary but if one goes into their background, one cannot miss the years of pent-up anger and frustration silently suffered by one of the largest but dis-united social groups, Hindus. Although there was no collective offense such as subjugation by an invader, the feeling of ‘hurt of Hindu sentiment’ was widespread and cannot be overlooked or dismissed as expressions of majoritarianism.
Limiting the debate
In what can be attributed to lack of understanding or calculated misrepresentation of history, the essential and core strengths, beliefs, achievements and high points of the ageless Hindu civilisation was sought to be negated and relegated to the background by a set of historians who had the government’s patronage. Even before the governments could assess the damage, the debate on culture, civilisation and India’s historical past had got partitioned into ‘us versus they’ narrative. The debate has now assumed culture war proportions, majority versus minority contests and democratic liberalism versus majoritarian intolerance. What should have been a healthy debate about our past achievements, successes, follies and future strategies for nation-building has turned into a meaningless Right versus Left slugfest.
With no apparent ‘enemy’ manifesting before the Hindu society, the Congress, representing the State, took the brunt of the anger of the Hindu society. The Hindu anger or antipathy towards the Congress had a number of reasons and was slowly building up, one incident after another — be it the forced exodus of Kashmiri Hindus or political and ideological patronage to anti-Hindu acts in Tamil Nadu by forces that professed secessionism (separate Tamil Nadu demand till about 1962) or the infamous Shah Bano case, among others.
The compulsions of ‘vote bank politics’ is another factor that led to extreme extents of appeasement of the Muslim voters (especially in states like UP where electoral outcome in more than 100 to 125 assembly constituencies is influenced by Muslim voters). The Ayodhya movement came as a much needed platform for consolidation of Hindu awakening in social terms. In political terms, this ‘Hindu vote bank’ was an apt answer to the Congress’ minority vote bank politics.
Space of Left liberals post-2014
The 2014 general elections were not very different from the ones fought before. The issues were corruption-free governance, recovering the slumped national economy due to ‘policy paralysis’ and many others that were affecting the day-to-day life of the common man. The Congress was no match for the fierce and aggressive campaign that catapulted Narendra Modi to the post of prime minister. One would have expected the opposition to wait for some time, allow the Modi government to work and then pick holes in its economic policies and failures. Strangely, the opposition’s space occupied by the once-powerful Congress was usurped by a group of hitherto unknown individuals ostensibly not attached to any political party but avowedly anti-BJP/RSS/so-called Right wing, and most importantly against what they categorised as ‘Hindutva forces’. Naturally, they were quickly and very effortlessly classified as Left Liberals.
Soon, the loosely organised groups of anti-government agitators sprung up in different parts of the country with different agendas, each one targeting the Modi government and even holding events in foreign lands during the PM’s visits to embarrass the government. But what these ‘professional agitators’ did not realise was that they were actually fanning and facilitating the regrouping of pro-Hindutva groups, as a result uniting them under the broad ‘BJP supporters’ umbrella which originally was not exclusive to the BJP.
As expected, these unorganised but highly influential Left Liberals began to resist any and every programme of the Modi government. They included, albeit in smaller numbers, popular sportspersons, erudite scholars, versatile journalists, qualified historians and veteran film personalities. Ironically, in their misplaced enthusiasm and highly publicised protests, these ‘successful protesters’ compensated the political loss of face of the Congress but robbed the main opposition party of its legitimate space in the social and political arena.
It would be a disaster to quickly conclude that India, like the US or UK, is on the throes of a culture war. There is a definite Hindu awakening and assertions of its legitimate rights by a large section of the Hindu society. But this cannot be misinterpreted as being a ‘war against’, or a contest between ‘two ideas of India’. In any case, it would be in the best interest of the country if political parties and the State keep out of the debate and refrain from taking sides. The present narrative as well as the social leadership of the country are capable of finding a solution and settling the issues, as has been done in the past. In a situation where every opinion is categorised as either Right or Left, the Centrist path gets obliterated. And somewhere there lies the truth.
Seshadri Chari is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)