We are going through testing times with the Right pushing the boundaries of liberal democracy and perhaps giving us the first of its kind experience of what a RSS-led Hindu Rashtra will look and feel like if the current trend is to continue.
The two communities that have come under sustained attack under the current regime are the Muslims and the Dalits. RSS has a vision of a neo-conservative social order that wishes to re-establish a rehashed version of the Varnashrama dharma. They firmly believe social hierarchy is necessary to bring harmony and also to revitalise a Hindu nation. They are silently working their way to reconnect the ancient vision to modern imperatives.
One of the unmistakable signals was the attempt to repeal the SC/ST Act that had to be withdrawn under massive protests from the dalits. There have been sustained physical assaults on the dalits in the name of cow vigilantism, beginning with the incidents in Una. Further, the uninterrupted assault on institutions of higher education can be seen as a process to destroy modern education that Dalits, tribals and the Shudras known as the OBCs are accessing to transform their social and economic status.
As part of this assault that includes fund cuts, and denial of fellowships, was the tragic death of Rohith Vemula. If one observes closely, most of the Vice Chancellors appointed to the Central Universities under the current government were either Brahmins or Baniyas. Education, as in ancient India, is seen to be the repository of the Brahmins, directed externally by the RSS, which is itself always headed by a Brahmin.
Political power, in its essential form belongs to the Kshatriyas, and therefore Yogi Adityanath becomes a true heir, and a quintessential Hindu Samrat and a Kshastriya, who is also a yogi and one who heads a math in Gorakhpur. This, finally, leaves out the Shudras and the outcastes, who continue to remain the foot soldiers, loyal, and inferior.
2019 is going to be decisive in many ways. It is now clear that both Mayawati and Owaisi are not going to be the face of the counter-narratives that will emerge. It may be a fact that they both lack the social power and electoral weight to influence the course of events but what they could have certainly done is to join the social protests outside of electoral calculations
Yogi Adityanath’s recent reference to Hanuman being a Dalit is a sordid reminder of the rightful place and social role of the Dalits, tribals and the OBCs. Under the current regime, perhaps, for the first time we can clearly visualise how society would be reordered to reflect the ancient Hindu ethos.
We have also witnessed unprecedented violence against the Muslims. Violence not just by way of riots but repeated street violence by cow vigilantes. Muslims of Kashmir faced not just death but also pellets blinding children and women, and the rape of an eight-year old child in a bid to intimidate the community.
Then there is the NRC that questions the citizenship of Bangladeshi Muslims but supports the right to residence for Bangladeshi Hindus. This again flows from Golwalkar’s idea of Communists, Muslims and Christians constituting the three grave internal enemies of the nation. This paranoid formulation of Golwalkar was represented in its ‘modern’ rehashed version through the discourse on ‘urban naxal’ and the arrest of lawyers, writers and activists on the charge of waging war against the state.
It was not an attack on social activists who disagreed with the regime but a more ominous design of reconstituting what Golwalkar had visualised. That is the reason why dalit protests in Bhima Koregaon were connected to Islamic jihad of Kashmir by arresting Gautam Navlakha who works on Kashmir; Vara Vara Rao, who is a Maoist sympasthiser and an unapologetic communist; and two human rights activists Arun Feriera and Vernon Gonsalves, who happen to be Christians by birth. This completes the triangular relation between Kashmiri Muslim jihadis, Maoist Communists and Christian Human Rights activists.
While there were various protests against both the attacks on Dalits and Muslims, two figureheads who maintained a somewhat stoic silence on the narratives that sought to be built were Mayawati and Owaisi. Mayawati maintained distance from the protests that rocked the death of Rohith Vemula. She even refused to visit the campus of University of Hyderabad in the hey days of the protests. She might have given an odd statement in the context of the attempts to repeal the SC/ST Act but never elaborated on what constitutes these blatant attacks.
Similar and perhaps far worse is the case with Owaisi. While he continues to make noise of his nationalist credentials, opposes singing Vande Mataram and uttering Bharat Mata Ki jai, he played a somewhat suspicious role in the choice of his electoral allies. He supported the TRS during the Assembly elections in Telangana, which was in turn in an undeclared pact with the BJP. He ostensibly maintained equidistance from both the Congress and the BJP.
If there are serious doubts on whether or not they will join the Mahagathbandhan (opposition grand alliance) it is over Mayawati and Owaisi. Both attack Congress more than the BJP, and demand an independent role in order to represent their respective constituencies. While Mayawati maintains a distance from other radical voices that emerged in the shape of Chandrasekhar Azad and Jignesh Mevani, Owaisi never shares space or supports outspoken Muslims such as Nasiruddin Shah but does not lose time to fit into the image and narrative of a stereotypical Muslim that the RSS is dependent on to spread its own narrative.
2019 is going to be decisive in many ways. It is now clear that both Mayawati and Owaisi are not going to be the face of the counter-narratives that will emerge. It may be a fact that they both lack the social power and electoral weight to influence the course of events but what they could have certainly done is to join the social protests outside of electoral calculations. Unfortunately, they seem likely to recede into being the anti-heroes of our times and this might well usher in a new era of Dalit and Muslim politics that can resist the BJP and the RSS both politically, socially and ideologically.
(The author is Associate Professor, Centre for Political Studies, JNU )
This article first appeared in the National Herald on Sunday