Listen to Babri Masjid’s ghost

It’s telling us that politics based on religious identity doesn’t work in the long run
By Sagarika Ghose – Since secularism lapsed into identity politics, it led inevitably to a reaction and mobilization in the form of a counter-identity, namely Hindutva. Identity politics in the form of secularism has extracted a heavy price and Congress is down to its lowest tally of 44 seats. Identity politics in the form of Hindutva looks triumphant but it too contains the seeds of its own destruction.

No state better illustrates Hindutva’s journey than Gujarat. Once a Congress bastion, the party streaked to a three-fourths majority in 1985 with the Madhavsinh Solanki crafted caste alliance known as KHAM. But zenith was followed by nadir. In the same year Rajiv sacked Solanki as chief minister and Congress was soon consigned to irrelevance.

After the riots, Hindutva won in 2002 and 2007, but in 2012, let’s face it, Hindutva took a back seat to the reinvented persona of Modi. The footsoldiers of the Ayodhya movement, kar sevaks, VHP and Bajrang Dal lost out in politics. Instead it was a superbly repackaged image of Modi as development guru (and Hindutva icon) who led the saffron juggernaut.

Sure, Hindutva in Gujarat and in the rest of India is fast being ‘normalized’. Today Muslims are at their lowest ever representation in Parliament. Gau rakshak attacks on suspected cattle traders across north India have gone largely unpunished, and the patriotism of Muslims is regularly questioned.

Yet even as Hindutva has grown strong, so have its challengers. Three young caste leaders in Gujarat – Jignesh, Alpesh and Hardik – have emerged as a powerful counterpoint to religious politics. Bengal’s didi is fighting Hindutva with her own brand of street power and Hindutva has failed to make a dent in Kerala.

Hindutva provides initial momentum, but dissipates over time unless there is a ‘plus’ factor that goes beyond religious polarization. The canny Indian voter gives identity politics a chance once, maybe twice, but over time turns her back on it if there’s no recognizable delivery of welfare, liberty and justice. When Congress-style secularism became about advancing sectional interests, the voter rejected it.

If Hindutva starts to become only about the identity of a few and becomes an assault on the individual liberties of the many, if the right to speak, dissent, make movies, write books, eat meat, dress, marry, love, or speak a language of one’s choice is threatened, Hindutva too will meet the same fate as ‘secularism’. more>

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