March 24, 2017

India: Gorakhpur and the Ghost of Gangadhar Adhikari (Rahul Pandita)

(Open Magazine - 24 March 2017)

Whether liberals like it or not, the story of Hindu consolidation is not over yet

AFTER YOGI ADITYANATH was declared Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister, his supporters and closet supporters have been arguing that he deserves a chance. That, he is getting already, whether some people like it or not. On social media, his supporters have mauled even right-wingers who have expressed their disagreement with this decision; they see Adityanath’s shift from Gorakhpur to Lucknow as the new dawn of militant Hindutva.

On his part, Adityanath has said in a statement in the Lok Sabha that his government will uphold law and order and that there will be no discrimination against anyone. But it is clear that there will be an assertion on Hindutva lines even if he ensures that no communal riots break out in the state. His guidelines to the police include strict action against cow slaughter, while the sealing of some slaughterhouses is underway. The new government is allocating 25 acres of land for setting up a Ramayana museum in Ayodhya.
Unlike his predecessors, Adityanath will have no use of the symbolism of skullcaps and chequered Arab scarves. A day after he was sworn in as Chief Minister, priests from the Gorakhnath math conducted a special puja at his official residence, painting swastikas with vermillion on both sides of the main gate. This is what his supporters expected and this is what he has professed. Those who stand in opposition to Adityanath may put up video clip after clip of his anti-Muslim and anti-women remarks on social media. But those who are happy with his ascension to UP’s throne see this as a special attribute and not a handicap.
This mandate of 2017 in UP is different from the one Atal Bihari Vajpayee got in 1998 or 1999; it is not even like 2014 when Narendra Modi won a clear majority. In 2014, people voted for Modi for different reasons. Some voted for him as a mascot of Hindutva. Some voted for him in the name of development; some stood in long queues because they wanted a Prime Minister ‘as strong as Indira Gandhi’. In 2014, the vote was overwhelmingly for Modi, rather than the BJP. It is the same this year in UP, except that a clear consolidation of Hindu votes has happened this time, putting the BJP at an advantage which it is likely to be replicated in other elections. The 2017 vote is not for bridges or hospitals, but for Hindutva. This election has also exposed the implausibility of a Dalit-Muslim alliance. Whereas a significant number of Dalits and other backwards castes voted for Modi, it is also an election where the Muslim vote has become irrelevant. The BJP’s pro-poor schemes like Ujjwala (for LPG gas connections) may have worked to Modi’s advantage, but the people who voted for him have mostly done so on the ‘shamshaan versus kabristaan’ narrative of cremation grounds and graveyards. And an obvious embodiment of that mandate is Yogi Adityanath.
Why has it happened? It is pertinent to go back to what the scholar Bhagwan Josh calls the nationalist core of Indian politics. In an article published in The Times of India on August 4th, 1993, Josh argues that ‘the historical process of the formation of the Indian nation and nation-state is structured through nationalism—a nationalism which more or less overlaps with the Hindu cultural internality… a pragmatic form of politics which does not take nationalism as its point of departure would always remain provincial and factional.’ Josh writes that the Congress party has had an encompassing vision of nationalism over what he calls the three codes of mass consciousness: caste, class and community. Barring Congress, other parties would use one of these codes to align themselves with a group of people. The communists, for example, use the class code, while parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party use caste. The BJP, which was largely seen as aligned with the (Hindu) community code, has now been able to break into other codes. In the UP elections, the party has made inroads into Mayawati’s vote base. The RSS-BJP combine has worked among Dalits and backwards castes, making many of them a part of the Hindu umbrella. Many among UP’s Nishads (a community of boatmen), for example, have been co-opted with the story of Kewat who helped Lord Rama cross the River Ganga in his boat. While Ujjwala is a scheme any Left government would have been proud of, demonetisation has surprisingly worked in favour of the Modi Government. While the poor were badly hit, the message that it managed to convey to them is that it has hit the rich more and will eventually benefit the have-nots. As far as the community is concerned, Adityanath offers the best key to its code.
The BJP’s ideology, of course, appeals to those who have a belief in Savarkarite militarism. But why have so many liberal Hindus, the type who are heard talking about building a hospital rather than a temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, also taken refuge under Modi’s umbrella? Some answers may lie in a recent article in the Financial Times written by the British commentator David Goodhart in which he cites reasons why he broke up with his ‘liberal London tribe’. Goodhart divides British society into largely two sections, the Anywheres ‘who value autonomy and fluidity’ and the Somewheres who are more rooted and ‘prioritise group attachments and security’. Both worldviews have a right to exist, but, as Goodhart says, ‘on the so-called ‘security and identity’ issues that have loomed large in recent years, they have created a dismayingly large gulf in British society.’ This is also true of India currently. Islamist extremism and the threat of terrorism have not remained confined to Kashmir. The turning of a blind eye to Muslim fundamentalism, as practised by the Congress party and followed zealously by the Left and by Lohiaites, and their utter disregard of the Hindu identity have led to a large chasm that the Modi-led BJP has effectively filled. As more and more Hindus think their interests are being threatened, they are gravitating towards a more assertive form of Hindutva.
The over-ground sympathisers of Maoists have organised several events where they openly supported Kashmir’s call for azaadi, and embraced the pro-Pakistan radical Islamist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani
It is easy to dismiss this fear by asking how a Hindu can feel threatened in a Hindu-majority country. But as Goodhart writes: ‘an emotionally mature liberalism must also accept that white majorities, not just minorities, in western societies have ethnic attachments too…’ Goodhart is speaking in very particular terms. But the crisis that skewed liberalism has perpetuated in India is far more sinister. And it begins long ago, even before India’s independence, with a man named Gangadhar Adhikari.
IN 1942, THE Communist Party of India (CPI) passed a resolution in favour of the creation of Pakistan. It endorsed the formation of Pakistan as a front against British colonialism. The resolution was based on a thesis propagated by one of the party’s senior leaders, Gangadhar Adhikari. Advocating a Balkanisation of India, the Adhikari thesis said that India was never a united country and that the idea of ‘one nation, one people, one language’ never existed at any point in the country’s history. Adhikari advocated a declaration of rights that would ‘give to the Muslims wherever they are in an overwhelming majority in a contiguous territory which is their homeland, the right to form their autonomous states and even to separate if they so desire’. It was just a reflection of Stalin’s definition of a nation, which, as the historian Ishtiaq Ahmed has pointed out, Stalin ensured remains just an exercise on paper. The historian Dilip Simeon has pointed at the CPI’s ‘erratic conflation of nation, nationality, sub-regional and regional identity and its refusal to theorise communal politics and its resultant decision to support what it called the ‘democratic core’ or the ‘just essence’ of the Pakistan demand’.
After 1942, the Left’s romance with Islamist movements continued and became more brazen. It became a malaise that Goodhart distinctly recognises when he refers to the liberal instincts of ‘the far greater concern for suffering in distant lands than just around the corner, the blank incomprehension of religious or national feeling and the disdain for the ordinary people we were meant to champion’. So, while the Left would take out rallies in support of the Palestinian cause, it completely ignored the plight of Kashmiri Pandits who were brutalised as a minority in Kashmir in 1990 and hounded out of their homeland. A veteran Kashmiri communist, Rishi Dev went to the communist leader HKS Surjeet to talk to him about the plight of Pandits; Surjeet dismissed his concerns by saying: Aisi baatein hoti rehti hain (these things happen).
On the Left’s mistake, both in India and abroad, of understanding political Islam, the scholar Sumanta Banerjee writes: ‘[the Left] hopes to conflate the Islamic ideological opposition to the western neocolonial order (an opposition which is rooted to a great extent to the Islamic feudal and patriarchal resistance against democratic and social reforms, which they brand as ‘western’), with their own secular and progressive idea of anti-imperialism. That such an alliance, born of immediate expediency, can never work for long should be evident from past experiences. But some among the Left (and also liberal bourgeois human rights activists) continue today to nurture the same illusion.’ While the mainstream Left kept on committing mistakes, the extreme Left took it to an audacious level by aligning itself with the Taliban after the US offensive. “We feel that the Islamic upsurge should not be opposed as it is basically anti-US and anti-imperialist in nature. We, therefore, want it to glow,” said the slain Maoist leader, Kishenji, in a newspaper interview.
In her book The Taste of Ashes on the aftermath of totalitarianism in eastern Europe, Marci Shore refers to Vaclav Havel’s samizdat essay of 1978, ‘The power of the powerless,’ in which he wrote of a greengrocer who hangs a board every morning in his shop window that reads: ‘Workers of the world unite.’ The greengrocer, says Marci, did not believe this message, the words meant nothing to him; nonetheless he obliged the communist regime by displaying the sign. In India, since communists were not in a position to impose an iron curtain, they tried to impose a social iron curtain of sorts. More than caring about poor workers and other marginalised sections of society, one became a true communist by hating his country, expressing disdain for gods and Hindu religious and cultural beliefs and standing in solidarity with Muslim sub-nationalism and fundamentalism in Kashmir and elsewhere.
In September 2009, Maoist ideologue Kobad Ghandy was arrested in Delhi. It created a buzz among middle-class folks in big cities who were mostly oblivious of what the Maoist movement was largely about. Since Ghandy received a lot of media coverage, people began to show an interest in the happenings in Bastar. Many felt sympathetic towards Ghandy and the movement he espoused. Here was a man who, by virtue of his background and education, could have become anything anywhere in the world, but had chosen to ‘fight for the rights of Adivasis’. Before this sympathy could change the narrative, the over-ground sympathisers of Maoists organised public event after event in Delhi and other cities where they openly supported Kashmir’s call for azaadi, sharing a dais with and embracing the pro-Pakistan radical Islamist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. A few months later, 76 security personnel were mowed down in Tadmetla in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district and the whole thing was over.
In her book, Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left, and Universal Human Rights, Meredith Tax exposes how the Left chose a Taliban militant, Moazzam Begg, to highlight the issue of torture of prisoners by the US in Guantanamo. In 2010, Amnesty International invited Begg to propagate his views. One of Amnesty’s unit heads, Gita Sahgal, went public protesting against this move to partner with an Islamic fundamentalist. She was suspended, and Amnesty called its decision to let Begg use its platform as ‘defensive jihad’. In India, Amnesty is now issuing statements that Adityanath should publicly retract his statements against Muslims. In the process, it has exposed itself as an organisation with double standards and has lost its relevance in the human rights discourse. It is this hypocrisy and blindness to one stream of extremism that is giving rise to the likes of Donald Trump. When a historian like Faisal Devji suggests (in an interview to The Guardian’s John Sutherland) that “if one wants a reference point for al-Qaida, some other movement that channelises the same impulses for similar reasons, look no further than environmentalism,” then you know how deep-rooted this problem is and how so many Somewheres are behaving and voting in a particular way.
There is no doubt that the new Hindutva assertion poses several problems. The biggest among them is that a section of people who have gotten emboldened by recent victories and are turning into vigilantes—the case of the Jaipur hotel being one such example. As Pratap Bhanu Mehta points out in a recent piece on UP’s Chief Minister: if Adityanath is indeed the popular choice, then the crisis of Indian democracy deepens.
That may be so. But Adityanath is indeed the new reality—a reality that will have more layers in the coming days. This is New India. How it plays out is another matter.