July 04, 2017

Why BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta needs to read Hannah Arendt his criticism of ‘NotInMyName’ lynchings protests is pure propaganda | Gyan Prakash

scroll.in - 3 July 2017

BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta’s criticism of the ‘Not In My Name’ lynchings protests is pure propaganda
His screed against ‘rootless cosmopolitanism’ comes against the background of almost daily reports of violence by gau rakshaks and attacks on Muslims.

Gyan Prakash

The reaction of the Bharatiya Janata Party to the “Not in My Name” anti-lynching protests in at least 10 cities on Wednesday has been revealing. No matter that the protest was organised without any initiative of the lifeless Congress party, there was the familiar whataboutery. Then there was the charge that those who showed up in different cities to oppose the recent lynchings were the usual suspects, all Modi and BJP haters.

But one response that was particularly offensive came from Swapan Dasgupta, the BJP Rajya Sabha MP. Writing in The Times of India, he conceded that lynchings were condemnable but took issue with “Not in My Name.” Those flaunting the placards, according to him, are guilty of flaunting their “social condescension” for the unwashed masses that revere the cow, he claimed. Their real beef is not with lynch mobs but with the prohibition on eating beef. They harbor “social condescension” for Hindu popular culture and disdain believers as “crude, neo-literate, insular vegetarians preoccupied with Ram.” Their “rootless cosmopolitanism,” in a word, is alien to India.

Dasgupta is a trained historian, with a degree from London’s SOAS. So, he shouldn’t be unfamiliar with the historical role of ressentiment against “rootless cosmopolitanism”. The Nazis regularly railed against Jews as rootless cosmopolitans, alien to the Aryan culture of the German nation. This propaganda was central to their totalitarian mobilisation of the population. The dilemma for totalitarian movements, as Hannah Arendt reminds us, is that they exist in a world that is non-totalitarian. Thus, they are forced to resort to propaganda that targets a non-totalitarian and external strata at home. This is not only to tar the strata identified as external but to also win over those not already in the fold. That is why, she says, the Fuehrer regularly entertained his generals with monstrous lies during the war. It was to win them over. Learning from the Nazis, Stalin fanned anti-Semitism in the 1940s to smear Jewish cosmopolitan intellectuals as hidden enemies of Russian patriotism.
Familiar accusations

We’ve heard the abuses of “libtards” and “sickulars” before. Campaigns against minorities are also old. Bal Thackeray raged against South Indians and communists as aliens to Mumbai, illegitimately depriving the majority “Marathi manoos” its rightful place. Mumbai experienced the toxic effect of his vitriolic rhetoric against Muslims in 1992-’93 – a fact recorded by the Srikrishna Commission. All too familiar is also the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindutva’s exclusion of Muslims.

The screed against “rootless cosmopolitanism” is also a familiar charge. But what renders the charge significant now is the background of almost daily reports of violence by gau rakshaks and the lynching of Muslims. The mob vigilantism occurs without any regard to actual facts of cow slaughter. The mob does not need to actually witness an act of slaughter or identify persons engaged in the illegal cattle trade. It needs no facts, for it is told and convinced that such acts are hidden. The function of vigilantism is to establish and bring out into the open what the mob already knows. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, issued in May 2017 provided an official sanction to the gau rakshaks’ insider knowledge, not to speak of pronouncements by several Hindutva ideologues.

Pure progaganda

The continuing spate of lynchings, however, poses a problem to the regime. Even its supporters (e.g. journalist Tavleen Singh) have written forcefully against restrictions on food choice and the mad gau rakshak disease run amok. Thus, after various government and party spokespersons ritualistically proclaiming that law will take its course, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been compelled to express disapproval of violence in the name of cow protection. The challenge before the BJP is how to keep the cow vigilantes as part of the Hindutva combine while bringing into its totalitarian fold those insufficiently indoctrinated.

It is in this respect that Dasgupta’s column against “rootless cosmopolitanism” is significant. It tells those not already in the Hindutva camp that they should not consider mob lynchings as endemic to the BJP ideology. Violence, unfortunately, is a longstanding feature of Indian public culture. Any suggestion by “Not in My Name” that cow vigilantism is an outcome of Hindutva should be discounted, for it is voiced by an unrepresentative, rootless minority. Crucially, he does not invoke class to damn this elite but cites its externality to the “social sanction” that the prohibition on eating beef supposedly enjoys in Hindu culture. This enlists cow vigilantism into Hindutva while distancing the ideology from violence. In Arendt’s terms, this is pure propaganda mounted on behalf of a totalitarian movement to win the vacillating population. It says, don’t listen to those who are alien to Indian (Hindutva) culture. The kids are alright.

Gyan Prakash is the author of Mumbai Fables and writing a book on the history of the Emergency.