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Jaspreet Oberoi: Congress and AAP Conform To Hindutva
It is not a surprise that in the dwindling democracy that India is, the political opponents of BJP have started to shamelessly opt for the conformist route
March 19, 2021 | 4.5 min. read
For a country that takes immense pride and jingoistic pleasure in advertising itself as the world’s largest democracy, the last month or so hasn’t been worth celebrating.
First, The Economist categorized India as a flawed democracy, followed by the US-based non-profit Freedom House downgrading it to a partially free democracy, and the final blow was dealt by the Sweden-based V-Dem Institute, which ended up classifying it as an electoral autocracy.
All these reports are highly consistent with each other in pegging the blame on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party (Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)) for these disastrous conclusions. Highly prevalent physical attacks on minorities (especially Muslims), immense pressure on human rights groups, and blatant intimidation of journalists and activists has been a hallmark of this government. As a result, the restriction on civil liberty in India appears to be at its all-time high.
One of the most important and the highest contributing factors to this dismal situation in India is the influence of Hindutva ideology and it’s bearers on this government. Of the 303 BJP MPs in the Lok Sabha, 146, or 48 per cent, have an affiliation to the RSS. And, of the 53 BJP ministers in the Modi government, 38 have an RSS background, a whopping 72 per cent.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organisation formed in 1925, is best described by the views of its former chief and the most prominent Hindutva ideologue to date, MS Golwalkar. In his most cited work, Bunch of Thoughts, he defends the caste system, stating that it has kept Hindus organised and united through centuries.
He talks about nationalism by explaining that hostile elements within the country pose a far greater menace to national security than aggressors from outside and lists three major internal threats to India: Muslims, Christians and Communists. Lastly, he rejects the concept of democracy because according to him it gives too much freedom to the individual.
Prior understanding of this Hindutva undertone to the Modi government helps one reconcile with the decay of the democratic framework since 2014, the year Modi took charge. What is worth pointing out though is that the ideology has demonstrably spread to other mainstream political parties.
The primary opposition party in India, the Indian National Congress (Congress), historically labelled as Muslim appeasers by the BJP, has been making a big shift lately.
On August 4, 2020, when Modi laid the foundation of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, a slew of Congress leaders came out in overt support of it.
This temple has immense political significance, because Hindus and Muslims had been embroiled in a multi-decade court litigation to decide the fate of it, until the courts decided to rule in favor of the Hindus in 2019. It is being constructed on a site where a 460 yr old mosque used to stand, until it was demolished by Hindu nationalists in 1992.
No Congress leader, in the last 28 years, had ever supported the demolition of the Mosque or the possible construction of Ram Mandir at this site, before this.
Interestingly, Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh (Captain), a senior Congress leader himself, has made a personal monetary contribution to the construction of this temple last week. In the past too, Captain has been known for his Hindu-vote pandering tactics in Punjab.
For example, in his election campaigning, he has repeatedly used an unsubstantiated claim of Sikh militants killing 35000 Hindus in Punjab. In the same vein, when Canadian Sikh advocacy groups successfully lobbied the Trudeau government in 2019 to remove the “Sikh (Khalistani) Extremism” section from the national threat report, due to the lack of any evidence, Captain called it a handiwork of “Khalistani terrorists” and asked for sanctions against Canada.
Captain also continuously parrots the Modi government’s stance on the Canadian Sikh MPs and has in the past explicitly labeled Harjit Sajjan, the Canadian Defence Minister, as a terrorist sympathiser.
An even sharper u-turn than the Congress has been noticed in another BJP competitor, the upcoming political outfit, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The party head, Arvind Kejriwal, also the Delhi state Chief Minister, has in the past been a vocal critic of Ram Mandir construction.
In 2014, he gave a speech where he stated that no disciple of Ram would like to visit a temple built on the ruins of a mosque and similarly in 2018, he praised the first PM of India, Nehru for establishing steel plants instead of a Ram Mandir.
In stark contrast to this, he too on August 4, 2020, congratulated the entire nation on the foundation ceremony of the Mandir. Also, last week, in his state budget speech, he doled out a free pilgrimage service for the elderly in Delhi, where taxpayer money will be used to fund trips to the Ram Mandir.
While terming the fiscal 2021-22 fund allocation as the ‘desh-bhakti’ budget, Kejriwal also announced a compulsory one hour ‘patriotism’ class for all the pupils studying in Delhi Government run schools. His use of the term ‘kattad’ desh-bhakts in the speech is note-worthy because it literally translates to a hardcore nationalist. Before this, the jingoist space has been exclusively owned and exploited for electoral gains by BJP.
Kejriwal’s politics till late had been primarily focussed on improving people’s lives by providing better education, water, and electricity. This shift to Hindutva might seem sudden but an astute observer would have picked the subtle hints in the past.
For example, during the 2019 Shaheen Bagh protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, Kejriwal completely stayed away from visiting the agitation site, in spite of it being in his city of governance, because it would have been construed as him supporting a Muslim cause.
In Punjab’s context, where state elections are due in 11 months, the early polls on voter moods are suggesting a head-to-head fight between Captain’s Congress and Kejriwal’s AAP. While it is a solace for many to see the BJP being completely decimated in the state, but as explained above the alternatives are not all that better.
An american political and social activist, Abbie Hoffman once said, ‘You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.’
It is not a surprise that in the dwindling democracy that India is, the political opponents of BJP have started to shamelessly opt for the conformist route.
Jaspreet Oberoi was born and raised in Patiala, Punjab, and currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He is a columnist focused on socio-political issues concerning India and Canada. You can find him on Twitter at @ijasoberoi.
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