Ejaz Ashraf, News Click | 18 Nov 2022
Both Congress Party and Aam Aadmi Party are not challenging Hindutva. This shows why BJP’s ideology is fast becoming the ‘common sense’ of Gujarat.
Writer-activist Achyut Yagnik
There are less than 15 days left for Gujarat to elect its new assembly. Public opinion surveys indicate that BJP will once again return to power. This is testimony to the possibility that the party’s Hindutva ideology is fast becoming common knowledge in Gujarat. Against this common sense, there are two other contenders in the election – Congress and Aam Aadmi Party – who are not discussing or campaigning for it. In the 2017 elections, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi paid obeisance at several temples during his campaign, offering people what was wrongly called a soft version of Hindutva. This time, it is AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, who has gone beyond limits in displaying his Hindu identity.
Is it correct to say that Hindutva has now become common knowledge in Gujarat? What are the processes through which Hindutva achieved this hegemony? To answer these questions, NewsClick spoke to Achyut Yagnik. Yagnik was a journalist till 1980 and also taught at Gujarat University. Subsequently, he founded the Center for Social Knowledge and Action, which works for underprivileged communities. He has written several books, none of which is as important, relevant and readable as The Shaping of Modern Gujarat: Plurality, Hindutva and Beyond, which he co-authored with Suchitra Sheth. Here are some excerpts from the interview with him:
Your book, The Shaping of Modern Gujarat, mentions the Kshatriya ruler Siddharaja Solanki, who ordered the reconstruction of a mosque that was destroyed in Cambay (Khambhat) in the 12th century. Can you imagine such a scenario in today’s Gujarat?
No, no, this can’t happen now. Today there is a huge gap between communities. I live in the modern quarter of the city on the other side of the Sabarmati river. At one end of which you find the Muslim area of Juhapura. Then comes the Hindu area. And on the other hand, you will find Dalit housing societies.
By the way, ruler Siddharaj Solanki also punished the culprit responsible for demolishing the mosque. This seems unimaginable today. For example, those convicted of the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of four members of her family were given life imprisonment. Nevertheless his sentence was pardoned and he is now out of jail. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate from Naroda in the upcoming assembly elections is Payal Kukrani, whose father Manoj was among the 32 people convicted for their role in the Naroda Patiya massacre. The conduct of the state government is contrary to that of Siddharaj. People of Gujarat today do not talk about Bilkis Bano and the tortures that happened to her. There is no remorse in Gujarat on the horrific violence of 2002.
In your book you have discussed the geography of violence in 2002. You write that the areas where most violence took place in 2002 were also those areas where Congress had dominance on the assembly seats. There seems to be a clear link between violence and Hindutva or BJP mobilization.
There is no doubt about it. Violence has given rise to a Hindu vote-bank. But obviously, it is difficult to prove that the violence was BJP sponsored, or that only some elements within the party did it.
In your book, you mention the boundaries drawn between Hindus and Muslims since the late 19th century.
These boundaries were created and hardened in post-independence India. After this, the distance between the two communities continued to increase. There was a big riot in 1969. The widespread sentiment at the time, as I describe in my book, was that “the time has come to teach the Muslims a lesson.” For the first time, the unwritten rule of sparing the lives of women was broken and incidents of attacks on women came to light. By 1986, such norms of the past were forgotten. The first incident of large-scale burning occurred in 1992 in Surat city and Mansa city in northern Gujarat. The first incident of violence against women, which took the form of sexual exploitation with sticks and rods, was reported from Surat during this period. Each riot tightened this gap, and it reached a climax in 2002.
Would it be correct to say that the 2002 riots have changed the quality of relations between Hindus and Muslims?
This process had already started, but yes, after 2002 it can be said that the distance to Juhapura has been completed in every sense. It’s a different place now.
Have the 2002 riots left no possibility of rebuilding bridges between the two communities?
Earlier, Ahmedabad was a textile centre. Textile workers lived near the textile mills where they worked. The working class belonged to both religious communities. They lived together. There were mixed neighborhoods. But the textile mills were closed. And mixed neighborhoods gradually became a thing of the past.
Has Hindutva become the common knowledge of Gujarat and has established its hegemony?
This is especially true of the Gujarati middle class, which has become Hindutva. By Hindutva I mean that the middle class has become Hindu fundamentalists. It is also important for them that one of their own leaders – Narendra Modi and
Mitt Shah is taking command of the Centre.
Various modern sects such as the Bochasan sub-sect of the Swaminarayan sect, the Swadhyay Parivar and the Asharam Ashram have also played an important role in making the dominance of Hindutva the common knowledge of Gujarat. Earlier, caste was central in people’s lives. For example, Brahmins are divided into 84 subcastes. In rural Gujarat, in earlier decades, when all Brahmins were called for a feast, they used to say. “Today is eighty-four.” Sub-castes are no longer important. People, especially the middle class, now operate under a broader Hindutva identity. So, yes, Hindutva has taken over.
Do you think Hindutva dominance will be visible again in the upcoming elections?
It is certain. Gujaratis are very happy that two Gujjus are holding the two highest positions in the country. They would not want Modi and Shah to become weak.
In your book you have written that comparing Gujarat with Hindutva is an “oversimplification of the complex web of Gujarat’s politics and society”. Your book was published in 2005. Do you think the situation has changed from what it was in 2005?
This has changed in the sense that more and more of the middle class has become Hindutva. Newly urbanized people join sects. It’s a case of doctors finding patients and patients finding doctors.
What is the role of sects in the spread of Hindutva in Gujarat?
Gujarat is a highly urbanized and industrialized state. [According to the 2011 census, Gujarat’s urban population was about 42.6 per cent of the state’s urban population.] These two processes raise concerns among them. Life in cities is inherently unsafe. But people do not have caste networks to rely on. That’s why they have joined sects. They provide a social and psychological support to their members, and give them a sense of belonging to a community, which is reflected in the collective prayers of these sects. The sect network helps them secure employment or financial assistance. This sect is also Hindutva.
How have these sects been made Hindutva?
First of all, for the most obvious reasons, you will not find Muslims in these sects. His approach is similar to that of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. For example, one of these sects states on their website that their goal is to preserve Indian culture and the Hindu ideals of faith, unity and selfless service in various communities. They talk about the glorious Hindu past, the need to rediscover that past and Hindu pride. They talk about Hindu claims. They do not discuss the different systems of Hindu philosophy. But these sects also perform humanitarian and charitable services, run programs in rural Gujarat, and have established educational institutions.
You can see the close overlap between his approach and that of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Sometimes it is difficult even to talk to members of these modern sects.
Advancing members of the middle class join influential, modern Hindu sects to validate their newly acquired status and gain entry into new networks of social security and protection. The Gujarati diaspora has also been drawn to these new sects as many immigrants have become increasingly aware that American-born children are losing touch with their culture and sects became a path of cultural travel in search of their roots. Are. The sects also fulfill the need of a fraternity and other needs such as finding brides and grooms for their children or support for children coming to study in India. Bochasan’s Swaminarayan sect, known as BAPS, has built more than 30 magnificent temples in the United States.
So have these sects benefited from their connection with the West?
The Western connection of these sects has enriched them in more ways than one. They have become powerful and prestigious in Gujarat and are attracting a large number of OBC, Dalit and tribal middle class families. Although the Sangh Parivar has been preaching ‘Hindu unity’ from the beginning, in day-to-day practice they support sect and sub-sect identities, and attempt to somehow transcend these inherent hierarchies and divisions. Don’t make any effort. Thus the Sangh Parivar achieved the status of a Mahakumbh where every Hindu, with new or old socio-cultural ties, finds self-recognition and place in the sacred congregation.
Is there a Hindu vote bank in Gujarat? How is it mobilized during elections?
The 2002 riots expanded and consolidated the Hindu vote bank, which was born and groomed through the post-independence riots. In urban Gujarat, communities hold together the Hindu vote bank. But it is also true that BJP is organizationally much stronger than Congress. This is because of the wide network of RSS in the state. Seva Dal, the youth wing of Congress, could compete with the RSS. But you will hardly find any significant presence of Seva Dal in the state. They are barely visible. Therefore relations between Congress and the young generation have broken down.
Why is it that Congress has not been able to carry forward Gandhi’s tradition of mobilizing people against Hindutva?
This has happened because of the Congress leadership in the state. Example
Earlier, Congress had Madhav Singh Solanki and Jinabhai Darji. He knew every constituency very well. There are no such leaders now. The present Congress leadership has no imagination.
Do you mean leadership in the state or Delhi?
Both. But especially the Gujarat leadership has no planning or idea.
The commitment of Congress members towards their own party is weak. Many of its members who won in 2017 have left Congress and joined BJP.
BJP won 127 seats in 2002, 117 in 2007, 115 in 2013 and 99 in 2017. Whereas Congress had won 51 seats in 2002, 59 seats in 2007, 61 seats in 2013 and 77 seats in 2017. Although their seats are increasing but their influence is decreasing. This is largely due to the growing strength of sects, which indirectly support the ideology of the BJP. The Hindu middle class is enamored with the BJP, mainly because of the influence of these sects on this class.
Could the hegemony of Hindutva have strengthened without Modi?
The rise of Modi and Shah in Gujarat could not have happened without the rise of Hindutva. And Hindutva could not have emerged without the rise of sects in urban Gujarat. The 2002 riots brought huge political benefits to Modi. You can say that the dominance of Hindutva is the most important factor why the people did not revolt due to the 2002 riots.
What was more disturbing than the indifference seen during the 2002 riots was the silence of spiritual leaders of most modern sects in Gujarat, including Jains, whose non-violence is a core tenet. The larger moral questions raised in the epics were conveniently ignored by them. For example, the famous dictum Ahimsa Paramodharma – non-violence is the highest religion – was preached by Bhishma in the great war of Mahabharata.
This central tenet of the Hindu tradition was effectively sidelined and the relevant question of non-violence was hardly mentioned. In fact, just as the lines between the state and the Sangh Parivar were blurred, so were the lines between the Sangh Parivar and Hindu sects.
This incident is reflected in a newspaper announcement on the day of assembly elections in December 2002, when Phulchab, a widely circulated Gujarati daily from Saurashtra, carried a prominent advertisement of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, calling on all Hindus to be “protectors” of Hindu culture. “There was a call to vote.” In the list of signatories to the advertisement, the local Swami of the Swaminarayan sect topped the list, followed by the local head of the Asharam Ashram.
I am 77 years old. Hinduism as we understand it is very different from the way Hinduism is understood today.
For example, I was more connected to Hindu philosophy. We had imbibed the Hindu sentiment of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, or the whole world is one family. I passed this sentiment on to the students at Gujarat University, where I taught. Today, people are more attached to the philosophies of the sects, which emphasize the greatness of Hindus and how they are born to rule the world.
It is clear from your book that the upper castes—Brahmins, Banias and Patidars—were instrumental in the rise of Hindutva, primarily because they saw the idea of uniting Hindus as a challenge to their control of power by the people (Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims). Seen as a way for social coalitions to fail. How were subaltern groups like Dalits and tribals unable to understand the BJP’s game?
One reason is that three social groups – Brahmins, Baniyas and Patidars – have played a major role in the urbanization of Gujarat. The contradictions of castes were put on paper by the existence and activities of sects. Solanki was a low Kshatriya, essentially belonging to the Bairia caste, which is an OBC. Through the Congress Party’s decision to grant reservation to OBCs in the 1980s, he and Darji had given importance to marginalized groups.
But we should not ignore the factor of education. Sayajirao Gaekwad [1863-1939], the ruler of Baroda, spread education in the area under his rule. His state had better educational achievement than the areas ruled by the British. He also paid attention to the tribal belt. When Brahmins refused to teach in the tribal area, he appointed Muslim teachers. He also focused on women’s education. Education also helped in creating a middle class among the tribals. He moved to urban Gujarat in search of a job. And they also joined various sects. They also started talking about Hindutva, as their leaders do.
So, essentially, the fight in Gujarat is about defining or redefining Hindutva. Suppose we have Gandhi’s idea of Hinduism on the one hand and Sangh’s idea of Hinduism on the other.
The ideas of the Sangh Parivar have received a boost due to the many riots that have occurred in Gujarat since 1947. His network has expanded in the state. On the contrary, Gandhian ideas have declined. Gandhian institutions, such as Gujarat Vidyapeeth, founded by Gandhi in 1920, are no longer playing the role they once played—or as they should. current congress
The leadership has no imagination to fight this battle. RSS-type institutions have prospered. This has enabled the RSS to propagate its idea of Hinduism without any strong challenge.
(Ejaz Ashraf is a freelance journalist.)