The BJP/RSS combine has developed an uncanny ability to forge a coherent narrative by bringing together institutional and judicial judgments, connecting them to long-term pending social divides, and timing them with picture perfect clarity. How they are able to manage this cutting across institutions, given the deep differences of opinion, and even regional divide between the north and south, and other regions is something that really beats one’s imagination, unless one smells conspiracy of controlling and arm-twisting various individuals and institutions they are working in.
The campaign by the BJP/RSS in Sabarimala cannot be made complete sense of, without making sense of their position on triple talaq. They are re-arranging the terms of discourse that they feel has hurt the Hindu community so far, in giving the religious minorities the kind of ‘protection’ and ‘privilege’ they got so far as ‘Minorities’. They are now inter-changing and reversing the discourse, and the strategy of treating the Hindu practices needing the protection that minorities in India received and open up the minority-religious practices to the secular-progressive discourse that Hindu community had to bear all this long.
Minority religious practices that got a ‘special’ status through personal laws will now sought to be dealt with through law and Constitutional principles of equality and individual choice, while Hindu religious practices will get the protection of a religious faith that cannot be brought under the ambit of secular-progressive lens. Amit Shah, therefore, argued at a rally in Kannur that it’s not Article 14 (right to equality) but its Article 25 (Right to follow faith) that is relevant with regard to the question of the right for women to enter the temple, while in the case of triple talaq, Modi made a pitch for the individual rights and freedom of Muslim women.
Progressive discourse of rights, equality, and change is perceived as weakening, and even possibly an insult, to the religious sentiments of a community. So, it is going to be change and ‘opening up’ of minority religious practices and preserving the sanctity and sacredness of Hindu religious practices.
The underlying tone and tenor of the BJP/RSS combine is missed by the CM of Kerala, when he merely reiterates that Amit Shah’s comments and the protests against women’s entry into the temple are ‘an attack on Supreme Court, Indian Constitution and our judicial system’. What the BJP/RSS combine are attempting is undoing the changes sought since the debate on the Hindu Code Bill, and are keenly aware of how gender is linked to the idea of honour of the community.
Progressive discourse of rights, equality, and change is perceived as weakening, and even possibly an insult, to the religious sentiments of a community
Seeking external interventions are perceived as an insult and a sign of weakening community bonds, and, therefore, Amit Shah suggested that Hindu community is capable of embracing ‘changes on its own’.
The debate on Sabarimala needs to be seen in continuity with the larger change in political discourse that the BJP/RSS wishes to bring about, which begins from a lament that Hinduism is not an organised religion like Islam and Christianity.
The next step in consonance with this ongoing debate is to bring unity among the Hindus and politicising the differences within the Muslims and the Christians.
The BJP/RSS have made concerted efforts to draw the Shias among the Muslims closer to them, while targeting the Sunnis; similarly, in a recent convention of the BJP, they resolved to fight for special provisions for the Pasmanda Muslims, along with politicising and opening up gender-biased practices among the Muslims.
They have, therefore, simultaneously also attempted to repeal the SC/ST atrocities Act and change the criterion of reservations from caste to economic status, and rhetorically encourage inter-caste marriages which, according to them, politicise the differences and create conflict amongst the Hindus.
In fact, the precept of secularism was based on the understanding that it will work in India because Hindus can never emerge as a monolithic majority since they are ‘internally’ divided across caste groups. What is paradoxical is the silent emulation of organised and revealed religions, such as that of Islam and Christianity, and the disdain that BJP/RSS has for the core character of Hinduism not being Monotheistic religion. They aim to make Ram the single God, or, at least, symbolically make it monotheistic, Bhagvat Geeta as the single text that needs to be promoted as equivalent to Koran and Bible, and standardise practices and rituals of Hindus cutting across the regional and linguistic divide. The BJP/RSS see this monolithic character as a necessity to link religion to state power and the idea of nation. Religious singularity is a precondition for deep-seated nationalistic feelings amongst its people.
They are furthering fashioning the idea of the nation itself around their imagination of Islamic nations, including curbing academic freedom— recent ban of the books by Kancha Illiah Shepherd; attempting to implement ESMA and CCS rules over universities are only a few instances, reducing religious minorities to secondary status, amongst other such practices.
In fact, the precept of secularism was based on the understanding that it will work in India because Hindus can never emerge as a monolithic majority since they are ‘internally’ divided across caste group
If one were to extend this thinking of the BJP/RSS, one can only predict what could be the other changes they wish to bring, including a revamped ‘Ghar Wapsi’ programme that is pursued with force and intimidation today but might change to offering inducements and education to the poor amongst the Muslims and the Christians, in the name of personal choice and freedom to convert that justified conversions by Christian Missionaries. Finally, justification for all of this against the arguments of this spewing majoritarianism and hatred will be allayed by the arguments that Hindus are global minorities.
The signs of which we witnessed in the arguments in the context of the NRC in Assam, where Hindu Bangladeshis were welcomed while Muslims were declared illegal, It is the common sense and clarity of these otherwise simple-minded propositions that creates the velocity for these discourses and imageries to travel thick and fast.
Those resisting this majoritarian turn of Indian polity have to, at least to begin with, keep the entire narrative in mind to counter it and not repeat ad nauseam the sanctity of Constitutional principles because in the context of the religious minorities, the BJP/RSS combine too vouch for the same secular-progressive principles and change.
The writer is an Associate Professor, Centre for Political Studies, JNU