November 24, 2015

India:: Confronting the Sangh Parivar: Passive and Active Resistance (Sumanta Banerjee)

Economic and Political weekly, Vol - L No. 46-47, November 21, 2015

The Bihar post-election scenario provides both the secular political parties and leaders of civil society movement an opportunity for coming together to plan alternative strategies and tactics to preserve the secular and democratic basis of our Constitution and pluralistic culture of our society, and protect citizens from the depredations of the Sangh Parivar.

The defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Bihar polls certainly reassures the Indian people in general that the Sangh Parivar is not all that omnipotent and invincible, and reinvigorates the spirit of the secular political parties in particular to mount a united national offensive against the Narendra Modi government. But this should not make us underestimate the capacity of the parivar to continue with its malicious designs through its various networks which range from the administrative agencies and academic institutions that it still controls through the ruling BJP at the centre, to the hoodlums of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal and other similar outfits whom it employs to terrorise the minorities and stifle any dissent.

Besides, the euphoria over the Bihar poll results should not blind us to the fact that the Modi government at the centre continues to enjoy the mandate for ruling for another four years—unless there is some unpredictable development that may lead to a mid-term poll. This period can provide the Sangh Parivar enough opportunities to put its house in order (by organisational reshuffling), recover its lost ground (by a few cosmetic changes in its public image to woo back the disenchanted middle classes, as well as the hesitant industrial investors), and yet continue to pursue its primary agenda of setting up a Hindu Rashtra through both covert and overt means of encouraging and exploiting public grievances along religious lines. The secular political leaders who are envisaging a national united alternative to the BJP should deny the parivar the opportunity of such exploitation of public sentiments, by taking care of their constituencies. Much will depend on how the new government in Bihar under the Janata Dal (United)–Rashtriya Janata Dal–Congress coalition operates during the next four years. If it can set up a model of governance that is free of allegations of corruption and nepotism (with which unfortunately some of their leaders are tainted), ensures safety for religious minorities, Dalits and other underprivileged classes, and delivers the goods that it promised to the poor, that model can be propagated as an alternative to the BJP in the national election campaign in 2019.

Sangh Parivar’s Long-term Strategy

But while envisaging that alternative, we have to investigate also the strategy and tactics of those whom we are confronting. The members of the Sangh Parivar who are running the present government at the centre are ideologically committed to the creation of a theocratic state. It is intended to be a Hindu counterpart of Zionist Israel, the Sunni Sheikh dynasty-ruled Saudi Arabia, and the Shia Khomeini regime of Iran—where society will be ruled by orthodox religious diktats imposed by an oligarchy of politicians and clergy; majoritarian religion-based customs and rituals that divide communities living in a common space will be reinforced; religious minorities will be reduced to second class citizens; and liberal democratic voices of dissent will be suppressed.

The Sangh Parivar is already on the path of creating such a society in India today by the twin tactics of (i) invading the sociocultural sphere through moral policing (for example, imposing styles of dressing, banning eating habits and inter-religious marriages, attacking dissenters and rationalists) in the name of defending its moral ideal which is described variously as “Swadeshi” and “Hindu” (interchangeable terms in its political vocabulary); and (ii) terrorising the religious minorities (particularly the Muslims) and Dalits and tribals into a position of total subjugation, as evident from the rising incidents of attacks on them during the current Modi regime in different parts of the country, for which the local Sangh Parivar Hindu upper caste leaders and gangsters have been accused but remain unpunished. While carrying out these twin tasks, the parivar’s muscle men are assured of covert and overt support by the BJP government, and granted immunity from any punishment by an obsequious police force.

The Bihar election results will not make any difference to these basic objectives of the RSS-led BJP (euphemised as the National Democratic Alliance or NDA) government. Contrary to the advice and expectations of the liberal bourgeoise commentators in the media (who are desperately trying to reform the BJP into a respectable looking rightist party, and shed its Hindu baggage of superstitions and communal fanaticism), the umbilical cord that ties the BJP to the RSS cannot be easily torn asunder.

In such circumstances, we expect those political parties of the opposition which are committed to secular values, to launch a nationwide resistance against the Sangh Parivar’s long-term strategy of creating a Hindu rashtra. Unfortunately, however, these parties are in a state of total paralysis. Even in the states that they are ruling—the Congress in Karnataka and the Samajvadi Party in Uttar Pradesh—they remain mute witnesses to daily depredations by the Hindu fascist gangs in their respective states. In the one-time left citadel of West Bengal, the CPI(M) today is unsure of its role as an Opposition. It is cowering before the threats of the Sangh Parivar, as evident from its recent decision to reprimand, and distance itself from one of its own leaders, Bikash Bhattacharya (who was at one time the Mayor of the Kolkata Corporation)—because he joined a feast of beef dishes organised by a local Kolkata voluntary organisation as a gesture of protest against the Sangh Parivar’s ban on beef (Anandabazar Patrika, 5 November 2015)! One hopes that emboldened by the Bihar election results, these demoralised opposition parties overcome their passivity and assert themselves against the Sangh Parivar.

BJP’s Post-Bihar Strategy

Meanwhile, the BJP central leadership is harping on the arithmetic of a casteist combination of its opponents as the main cause for its defeat in Bihar. It is significant that the leadership has made it a point to exonerate its RSS guru Mohan Bhagwat and other Sangh Parivar leaders like Amit Shah, whose provocative statements during the Bihar election campaign often went to the extreme point of violating the electoral code. As for the rest of the country, the BJP with Narendra Modi as the prime minister (who lacks the honesty to acknowledge his own failure to bring back his party to power in Bihar, after all his braggadocio and macho gesticulations in public rallies) will continue to play the role of a double-dealer—cheating the masses with false promises, dividing them on religious lines, and trying to seduce the corporate sector with tempting offers of investment. True to its traditional role as professional hypocrites, the BJP central leadership, on the one hand, will officially distance itself (due to pressures from the Western nations, to whom it has to genuflect to get investments) from incidents like the killing of rationalist intellectuals, and lynching of Muslims. But, on the other hand, it will allow its foot soldiers (including legislators and ministers) to carry out such operations with impunity.

The BJP’s exoneration of its RSS gurus even after its defeat in Bihar, once again, exposes its religiously obsessive dream of a Hindu rashtra. But it is yet to be seen how it can manage to reconcile this ideological dream with its economic goal of creating a neo-liberal capitalist system in India in conformity with the secular values of a Western-dominated global order.

‘Passive’ and ‘Active’ Resistance

The Bihar post-election scenario provides both the secular political parties and leaders of civil society movement an opportunity for coming together to plan alternative strategies and tactics to preserve the secular and democratic basis of our Constitution and pluralistic culture of our society and protect citizens from the depredations of the Sangh Parivar.

They can surely go back to the tactics of “passive resistance” which were adopted during our national movement, when mass satyagraha, non-cooperation with the ruling administration, boycott of government institutions, and civil disobedience of unjust laws brought to the fore and world attention the immensity of Indian public discontent against British rule.

Public disaffection with the Modi regime today has reached a stage when sections of civil society are already resorting to passive resistance (redolent of our anti-colonial movement) against its policies and practices. Their voices range from non-violent demonstrations against acquisition of land by the BJP government for industrial projects in the rural sector, to the boycott of classes by students at the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune in protest against the appointment of a third-rate actor called Gajendra Chauhan as their head, just because he enjoys Sangh Parivar support. There have been protests by rationalist writers against obscurantist superstitious beliefs and customs propagated by the Sangh Parivar, and eminent writers and intellectuals have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards. Other similar official awards have been returned by film-makers in protest against killings of minorities and rationalists by the BJP’s storm troopers.

The “passive resistance” against the Modi regime is thus represented by a large spectrum of India’s intellectual and professional world, ranging from writers, artists, film-makers to retired members of the defence forces (who are following the example of the writers by returning their bravery awards—in protest against the government’s dilly-dallying over their demands), and to Indian scientists who are publicly questioning the Modi government’s policy of encouraging superstitious beliefs and intolerance of scientific inquiry, some among them expressing concerns over the increasing acts of violence (for example, Jayant Narlikar’s letter to the President of India, reported in the Hindu on 5 November 2015).

Responses to Passive Resistance

But do these expressions of passive resistance have any impact on the Modi government? It is not only unwilling to listen to these voices of protest, but is using its minions in the police and goons of the Sangh Parivar to unleash a reign of terror on the protestors. In a midnight raid, the police arrested the protesting students of Pune FTII, despite the fact that their demand for the removal of the Sangh Parivar nominee as their head was endorsed by some of the leading personalities of the Indian film world (who felt that the appointee was professionally unfit for the job). Till today, despite a series of talks between the students and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, the latter stands recalcitrant, refusing to remove Gajendra Chauhan.

In a similar arrogant and dismissive manner, Arun Jaitley (who significantly enough plays the dual role of a minister in charge of both the Finance and the Information and Broadcasting portfolios, which allows him to intervene in cultural policies) has the impudence to describe the return of Sahitya Akademi Awards by eminent writers as “manufactured revolt,” and suspect their moral integrity by questioning how many among them protested against the 1975–76 Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, implying that they remained silent because they were beneficiaries of the Indira Gandhi regime. Jaitley’s impertinence stems from the twin proclivities embedded in the Sangh Parivar (that reared him up as a functionary of its student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in the 1970s: (i) cultivation of a myopic mindset that ignores, and is indifferent to facts that are uncomfortable to the parivar; and (ii) partisanship in selecting facts that suit their purpose. To start with, while condemning the dissenters among the Sahitya Akademi awardees, Jaitley chose to ignore the courageous record set by one of them—Nayantara Sahgal—who came out in the open opposing the Emergency imposed by her own cousin Indira Gandhi. Let me remind Jaitley, that this was the time when his own leader from the RSS, Balasaheb Deoras was writing a letter from Yerwada Jail to Indira Gandhi (22 August 1975), cringing before her for pardon, and offering her the support of his RSS cadres. Soon after that, his party’s mouthpiece, the Hindi weekly Panchajanya (21 December 1975), greeted the emergence of Sanjay Gandhi in politics! Can Jaitley deny these facts—which he can check from official records?

As for Jaitley’s other false complaint about the “silence” of these intellectuals during the Congress-sponsored anti-Sikh genocide in 1984, he, true to his RSS-trained mindset, has chosen to ignore the role of independent liberal-minded intellectuals like the late Rajni Kothari and Gobinda Mukhoty, who during that genocide, presided over the compilation of a fact-finding report, jointly produced by the Peoples Union of Democratic Rights and the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties entitled “Who Are the Guilty?” (which was released to the press soon after the genocide, indicting several Congress leaders for complicity in the genocide).

As an instance of the other earlier mentioned myopic proclivity of RSS training, Arun Jaitley, when talking about the anti-Sikh genocide and blaming the Congress, conveniently ignores the statement made by his own leader Nanaji Deshmukh at the same time, who condoned the genocide. In a statement called “Moments of Soul-Searching” (written on 8 November 1984 and reproduced in the Hindi journal Pratipaksh on 25 November the same year), Nanaji Deshmukh praised Indira Gandhi and damned the entire Sikh community by identifying them with her assassins, saying that “Sikhs were cut off from their Hindu roots thus inviting attacks from nationalist Indians…”

Instead of engaging in a “soul-searching” that should lead him to question his own discipleship under weak-kneed temporisers like Balasaheb Deoras and Nanaji Deshmukh, Jaitley is insulting the widespread spontaneous manifestation of passive resistance by India’s leading writers and intellectuals (who have shown more courage than his “gurus”) by decribing them as “manufactured.”

Search for Modes of ‘Active Resistance’

The long acknowledged and universally recognised tradition of passive resistance (sanctified by memories of the Irish freedom fighters, Gandhi in India, earlier his followers in South Africa and the civil rights movement in the US in the 1960s) is being crushed by the present Indian rulers. We are today suffering a government run by religious bigots of the Sangh Parivar, who with the help of their foot soldiers are not only suppressing every expression of non-violent political passive resistance against their oppressive policies, but also imposing on common citizens their diktats in the name of a Hindutva-oriented nationalism. These diktats are increasingly taking on violent forms, most gruesomely demonstrated recently in Dadri and the stopping of the Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali’s function in Maharashtra.

Since the police force is a mute witness to such events it is up to civil society to protect victims from the assaults of the Sangh Parivar. There is a need for “active resistance” that can supplement the traditional passive resistance in order to prevent the religious fascist forces from taking over our society. How can members of our civil society carry out the task of active resistance against these forces? They can resort to the provisions in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which empower the citizen to resist in self-defence. Under Article 96—“Nothing is an offence which is done in the exercise of the right of private defence.” In fact, in a case, an honourable judge explaining the implications of the Article, said:

The law does not require a law-abiding citizen to behave like a coward when confronted with an imminent unlawful aggression. There is nothing more degrading to the human spirit than to run away in face of danger. The right of defence is thus designed to serve a social service…(Mohammad Khan vs State of MP, 1972 SCC (Cri) 24; (1971) 3 SCC 683).

Another provision in the IPC—Article 97—ensures every person the right to defend “his own body, and the body of any other person, against any offence affecting the human body,” as well as defend “property, whether movable or immovable” against “any act which is an offence falling under the definition of…criminal trespass.” Thus, going by the law, if the Sangh Parivar gangsters attack innocent citizens (for following different religious or social customs that do not conform to the parivar diktats), or violently prevent a person from wearing a particular dress or a tatoo, or vandalise exhibitions of paintings, or invade cultural shows (acts which amount to “criminal trespass”), citizens have the legal right to get together and resist them, without the need for approaching the police (which, in any case, acquiesces with the ruling party).

It is about time that civil society groups (engaged in social movements, like the National Alliance of People’s Movements and the various human rights organisations) get together to draw up a common programme of action to counter the violent and divisive machinations of the Sangh Parivar. To pre-empt the parivar offensive in communally sensitive areas, they can set up peace committees in mohallas with representatives from every community (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Dalit) who can intervene in local disputes and scotch rumours that threaten to spark communal riots. Along with this, squads of young people can be organised to resist instigations and assaults by the Sangh Parivar goons. They can guard premises where exhibitions are held, or theatre shows are put up—when they are threatened by members of the Sangh Parivar.

An act of active resistance against sangh depredations was demonstrated in Gurgaon on 24 October 2015. A gang of Shiv Sena mobsters came to disrupt a play by a group of Pakistani actors. The Indian hosts who organised the play and the audience, however, stood up in unison and chased them from the auditorium (Hindu, 25 October 2015). Such forms of resistance against the Sangh Parivar on the streets, marketplaces and the villages are needed to supplement the passive resistance by the intellectuals.

It is a combination of these two forms of resistance than can create a new space for public protest against the imposition of a fascist Hindu hegemonic order. It can reassure our people (disenchanted with Modi’s tub-thumping, disillusioned with the paralysis of the national Opposition parties, and reinvigorated by the victory of the Grand Alliance in Bihar) that there are still alternative means of organised resistance against the offensive of the Sangh Parivar.

Sumanta Banerjee (suman5ban@yahoo.com), a journalist and commentator, has written over many decades for the EPW.