Saffron Dollar October-November 2004
Campaign To Stop Funding Hate
November 19, 2004
If the results of the general elections 2004 put the halter on the Sangh's ascendance in Indian parliamentary politics, the latest reversal in Maharashtra have apparently dealt a body blow. Bal Thackeray the maverick Hindutvavadi who likes to think of himself as a tiger insists the tiger is wounded but not dead! That the BJP is rethinking its strategy is clear from the fact that it has brought back L.K. Advani as the party president. We at Saffron Dollar reserve comment on the appropriateness of equating Hindutva with a tiger or any other beast for that matter, but we want to alert our readers from time to time on some of the ways in which Hindutva is responding to the rejection by the people. In this issue we offer four items that speak to this theme.
1. Losing ground at home?
2. Time to Consolidate: The RSS Unveils its NRI Plan
3. Lying with numbers or imagined demographic threats
4. Trojan horse strategies
5. Whipping up middle class insecurities
LOSING GROUND AT HOME
The just-concluded Maharashtra assembly elections has resulted in yet another debacle for Hindutva forces. Eager to turn around its numbing loss in the general elections of May 2004, the BJP and Shiv Sena alliance performed worse than in the general elections in most of the state except some parts of Mumbai. The NCP-Congress combine has now laid claim to the formation of a new government, with possible support from the CPI(M). By-elections held in other parts of India also resulted in losses for the BJP and its allies: Bidar in Karnataka - lost by the BJP to the Congress, only one seat won for the BJP among Uttar Pradesh's twelve contested assembly seats, a huge loss by the JD(U) in Madhepura, Bihar, and an expectedly dismal performance by the Trinamul in West Bengal.
If the general election of May provided a hint that the Indian voter was sick and tired of the rampant communalization of social life by the BJP and its Sangh Parivar, the Maharashtra assembly polls provide at least further encouraging signs that the desire for secularism and democratic life is far more important to the Indian voter than the politics of hatred. Despite the fact that the outgoing government's Hindutva politics and rampant corruption aided in its demise, credit is also due to the organizing efforts of grass-roots level secular forces such as ANHAD, for the BJP-Sena debacle. Maharashtra voters did not want to turn their state into another Gujarat, and Narendra Modi's campaigning on behalf of the BJP as its 'star' campaigner perhaps encouraged this shift. Neither awakening the ghost of Savarkar, nor parading murderous Modi shamelessly did an ounce of good for the BJP - on the other hand, Maharashtra voters expressed a clear desire for a secular, harmonious and egalitarian mode of governance. However it remains to be seen whether the present victors could live up to the electorate's high expectations. Secular and democratic forces must hold the present government accountable on this front.
TIME TO CONSOLIDATE : THE RSS UNVEILS ITS NRI PLAN
Ram Madhav, the National spokesperson for the RSS in India, was in the United States over the last two weeks of September and for much of October. Apart from meeting with various Hindutva groups across the US, he also spoke at two US universities - the Johns Hopkins University and The University of Pennsylvania. In many ways, Madhav's presence on stage, hosted by Departments/Centers for South Asia or Indian Studies at these two universities marked a new moment: it was the first time ever that a pure functionary of the RSS was granted space by liberal American academy to air its views. In these events also lies the crux of what is probably the RSS' post-elections strategy vis a vis the NRI community. For decades the Hindutva fascists have been trying to enter the academy without much luck in as much as their positions - historical/sociological - do not hold up to the minimum levels of intellectual scrutiny. But now, a new generation of RSS leadership - younger, more suave and better equipped at double speak - such as Ram Madhav are being deployed. Their arguments haven't changed. But their presentation has changed and so has the liberal academy which wishes to consume India in fairly uncritical ways - and if the Hindutva lot is powerful now, they will gladly consume them.
As the battle lines were drawn up - with the left, including the CSFH, protesting the absolute uncriticality of JHU and UPenn, the organizers at JHU and UPenn defending themselves on grounds of free speech and liberal engagement, and the RSS joining in with the organizers calling for free speech - the fault lines of such practice became evident. At the JHU event, a small bunch of protestors were intimidated by the aggressive volunteers who accompanied Madhav. The fascist underpinnings of the RSS came through clear and loud, as it became obvious that the RSS did not care at all for reason and argument, the cornerstone on which free speech stands. Tearing up flyers and threatening to unleash US Homeland Security apparatus on protestors is not just indicative of the fact that if they had their way they would have physically manhandled the protestors but is also indicative of the standard RSS method to run to their white masters (in this case white fascists in Homeland Security) and whine -- a tradition long established in the RSS - the former Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee being the clearest example.
For the JHU and UPenn faculty who sponsored the talk this should hopefully be a reminder that free speech should not be carelessly deployed to defend their uncritical actions. The CSFH and the faculty initiated petitions make quite clear that the arguments in there were not simply and carelessly about denying anybody free speech but a challenge to uphold academic standards of scrutiny. (Text of petitions from faculty members to the universities and media coverage at http://www.stopfundinghate.org )
LYING WITH NUMBERS OR IMAGINING DEMOGRAPHIC THREATS
Since the recent release of the 2001 census data, the Sangh has made much of the differential growth rates of Hindus and Muslims. Venkaiah Naidu, the (ex) President of the BJP set the tone saying, "It is disturbing that Muslims now form 12.4% of the population" and that this was "a cause of grave concern for all those who think of India's unity and integrity in the long run." RSS spokesman Ram Madhav repeatedly warned of the "very grave threat" posed by this differential growth rate.
Scaremongering through selective readings of census data is an old strategy among Hindutvavadis. For instance, the census data from 1911 and 1921 was used to predict the extinction of the Hindu/Aryan race! Bhai Parmanand, a prominent Hindu Mahasabha leader then, used the 1911-1921 census data to rationalize Hindu-Muslim conflicts. Savarkar refined this theory to demonize Muslims: "One side-issue of the Muslim religious aggression, which caused a continuous drain on the numerical superiority of the Hindus was the diabolic Muslim faith that it was a religious duty of every Muslim to kidnap and force into their own religion non-Muslim women." After expounding at length on why Muslims are not to be trusted, Savarkar had said, "from the point of Indian nationality, must ye, O Hindus, consolidate and strengthen Hindu nationality ... to render it impossible for others to betray her."
When pushed to a corner, as Ram Madhav was during his recent visit to the US, the Sangh takes the line that it's the overall growth in population that they are primarily concerned with and that they oppose the high growth rate of Muslims in only so much as it contributes to the overall increase in population. The hypocrisy of this claim is obvious, because if this were really the case, shouldn't the Sangh also focus on states with the highest growth rates? Going by the Sangh's logic, Keralites (who have the smallest growth rates) should be bitterly complaining about the consistently high (> 25%) growth rates of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh!
The obsession with population is a red herring often intended to mask other, perhaps more serious problems confronting us. The 2003 Human Development Report gives a clue as to the nature of these problems. According to the report, 34.7% of Indians have an income less than $1 a day, 79.9% live below $2 a day, only 28% have access to improved sanitation, the richest 10% earn and consume nearly 10 times that of the poorest 10%, public spending on health and education are a measly 0.9% and 4.1%, 47% of children below age 5 are under-weight and infant mortality hovers around 7%. That none of these issues figure in the Sangh's scheme of things is an apt indicator of what its true agendas are.
3) TROJAN HORSE STRATEGIES
Over the last several decades, the Sangh has systematically cultivated and inserted supporters of Hindutva into key positions in the administration and the media: a strategy which serves it well when it eventually gains power, but even more crucially when it is out of power. Given the vastness of the Indian bureaucratic machinery, these sleepers in various departments are not easy to detect and neutralize. Thus, even while the Sangh has lost its hold on the machinery outwardly, its agendas continue to materialize in subtle and unseen ways. The manner in which a low level official in Mulayam Singh Yadav's administration arbitrarily required madarsas to declare that they were not harboring antinational elements in order to become eligible for funding is a prime example of this.
The Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh began his innings with brave talk of 'detoxification' of government departments and educational
curricula and so on, and yet as several sensitive democrats in India have pointed out, not only is the line between 'detoxification' and 'witch hunting' is thin, but long term strategies against the damage done by the Sangh Parivar
really lay in going beyond cleansing crucial institutions by shunting out a few
heads of departments to take over the real vacuums at the grassroots level that
the Sangh has been able to fill.
4) WHIPPING UP MIDDLE CLASS FEARS
As you probably know, the Andhra Pradesh high court recently struck down the state government's decision to provide 5% reservations to Muslims in educational institutions and government jobs.
The court ruled that the Minority Commission had submitted a report that was "not in order", that the state had failed to consult the Backward Classes Commission, and that there was no provision in the report to prevent the economic elite of the Muslim community (the "creamy layer") from taking advantage of the reservations. The Chief Minister Mr. Y. S. Rajasekhar Reddy has indicated that his government will reconstitute the Backward Class Commission to identify eligible sections among Muslims and that "social justice would soon be given to the minority community".
The Congress party while contesting the state elections had included the plan to reserve seats and jobs for Muslims in its platform. Telugu Desam party (an ally of the then-ruling NDA headed by the BJP) had also included a similar provision in its election manifesto. The logic behind this decision was that Muslims in A.P. were extremely poor and needed an institutional boost in order to ameliorate their lot. Census figures indicate that about 65% if A.P. Muslims live below the poverty line with an annual income less than Rs. 11,000. Further, about 16% of Muslims in the state endure life under the double poverty line, earning less than Rs. 4,500 per annum.
Predictably, the BJP and its Sangh Parivar allies were the most vociferous critics of the reservation measure, arguing that this move would sow the seeds of a new communal movement. It is rather interesting to note that the same groups that incite and sustain communal violence and are the greatest opponents of secularism express concern about communalism when it suits their political agenda. It is also rather telling that the BJP sought to remind people that "a similar criterion was employed by the Mandal Commission for extending the benefits of reservation to Other Backward Classes (OBCs)." This is one more reminder of how the BJP's anti-Muslim bias is intricately tied up with its anti-lower-caste bias.
While there is a lot to critique about the way in which the reservation policy has been implemented in India, the fact of the matter is that this aggressive policy of affirmative action has worked. One only has to look at the number of backward caste citizens in government posts, educational institutions and the parliament to realize that reservations do indeed redress historic wrongs and put in place structural mechanisms that reduce discrimination.
Indian Muslims as a category were among the poorest when India became independent and their situation has become bleaker over the last 58 years. By almost any parameter that measures economic status, a vast majority of Muslims are at the very bottom.
Those who oppose reservations for Muslims typically make one of two arguments. They either claim that reservations on the basis of religion are problematic or maintain that all reservations, for Muslims or for lower castes, are a subversion of the principle of the equality of opportunity. But if discrimination and structural inequality (historic and current, deliberate and inadvertent) are based on an identity (such as religion or caste), isn't redress based on the same identity an appropriate and just response? Arguments against reservations based on religious identities echo the arguments against reservations based on caste, particularly the ones made after the Mandal report. Both reflect the same anxiety of privileged groups that benefit from the status quo.
And as far as the argument about "equality of opportunity" is concerned, it should be clear to all who believe in social justice that the concept of the equality of opportunity is a sham in the absence of the opportunity of equality. We at CSFH hope that the policy of reservations for economically disadvantaged Muslims will eventually be implemented, and that it will be welcomed by all.