Parliamentary elections in India are almost eight months away. The Narendra Modi-led ruling party has already started setting the narrative for India’s 2024 general election.
Prime Minister Modi has indirectly insinuated that INDIA, a newly-formed alliance of the 26 opposition political parties is akin to terrorist organizations like the Indian Mujahideen. This is his way of painting the opposition to be pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu.
In the opinion of Modi and other ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, the opposition always allies with the forces that are inimical to the Hindu interest and which for the sake of votes indulge in appeasement of Muslims, who are responsible for the partition of the country in 1947 and also for terrorist activities in the country.
Modi is considered to be the ideal product churned out of the ideological factory called the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the mother organization of the BJP of which he is the supreme leader.
Speculation is rife that Modi is rattled by the opposition unity and that he is especially taken aback by the acronym INDIA of the opposition alliance, which has named itself the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance.
One can say what is in a name.
But it is the name INDIA that has got Modi worried. INDIA is not simply a political response but a serious ideological argument that challenges the fundamentals of his ideology, Hindutva.
Hindutva is an ideology that goes against the basic ethos of the freedom movement and the Gandhian thought process of which the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the torch bearer. Opposed to the post-independent Nehruvian consensus, Hindutva espouses India as a country for Hindus only, in which Muslims and Christians have to live as second-class citizens with no political rights. Hindutva interprets the last thousand years of Indian history as a religious war, first between Hindus and Muslims, and later between Hindus and Christians, and this war will only end when the Hindus win decisively. This war can only be won by Hindus if Hindus are united. Hindutva overtly propagates nationalism in which minorities have no place.
As every ideology feeds on two things — “the promise of paradise” and “fear of the future,” so does Hindutva, which promises a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation-state) in which Hindus will attain their lost past glory and will become Vishwa Guru, the knowledge-giver of the world, like they were during the Vedic age, an ancient period in Indian history when knowledge systems like the Vedas and Upanishads were created; when India was the cradle of world civilization and the rest of the world was still in deep slumber; when Christianity and Islam were not even born.
But instead of objectively analyzing the reasons for the deep decline of Hindu civilization, the RSS takes a simplistic route and blames Islam for the fall, and calls medieval Indian history in which Muslim rulers ruled India, as the dark age. It instills fear in the minds of Hindus through the propaganda that if Muslims are not neutralized and Hindus are not united against them then in the near future, the Muslim population will surpass Hindus and India will become an Islamic state. It is very similar to fascist ideology.
As American philosopher and author of “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them” (2018), Jason F. Stanley, writes “…fascist politics invokes a pure mythic past tragically destroyed.”
Since 2014, when Modi became the prime minister with an absolute majority in the Indian parliament, an effort has been made to systematically propagate that after thousands of years, a real Hindu leader is at the helm of the nation, that he has unleashed the Hindu energy to “make India great again,” and that he is out to reclaim the “lost” paradise. But for this, Muslims have to be taught a lesson so that they don’t raise their heads again.
The sudden rise of mob lynching, the use of bulldozers, attacks on madrasas and mosques, raising the fictitious issue of “love jihad,” the call for an economic boycott of Muslims, the campaign against the consumption of beef, protest against the use of hijab in schools, registration of police cases against Muslims offering prayer in public, absence of Muslims in Modi’s cabinet and in the BJP’s legislature party in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian parliament, and BJP leaders regularly accusing the opposition of a pro-Muslim bias, are powerful instruments to marginalize the community.
Until very recently, the opposition had no idea how to counter this. But Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s more than 4,000-km-long walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir has brought a lot of clarity. Rahul is the one leader who has boldly underlined that Modi can only be defeated if the RSS’ Hindutva ideology is discredited because Modi derives his power from Hindutva.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra Rahul undertook consistently attacked Hindutva, proclaimed that religious polarization was dangerous for the country and that India needed to reclaim the real India, in which Hindus and Muslims live in harmony, where its rich diversity is celebrated, and everyone is treated equally with dignity. This alternate narrative also intrinsically imbibes the “promise of paradise,” which has been lost under Modi’s rule and inculcates the “fear of the future” if he were to continue.
The acronym INDIA has been deliberately created. It has a lot of symbolism. It is a bold announcement that BJP/RSS can’t claim India as their own as they are opposed to the very idea itself. In the last few years, Hindutva forces have claimed ownership of India as a praxis, and in their opinion, the opposition stood for everything that is not India. It was fashionable for the ruling dispensation to call their critics anti-India or supporters of Pakistan.
Can they now call INDIA anti-India? If they do, it will look bizarre and boomerang.
To create a parallel ideological paradigm, the opposition has deliberately avoided the word “secular” but used “national” and “inclusive.” Let’s accept the fact that Hindutva has soured the word secular. Inclusive is a better word and quite powerful because the BJP — due to constitutional and moral compulsions and due to global pressure — can’t openly advocate for the exclusion of Muslims. And since the BJP takes immense pride in being nationalist, it can’t ridicule the word “national” used by INDIA too. By using the word “national,” the opposition has underlined the fact that their nationalism is not based on hate but it is Gandhian, it is inclusive. Gandhi, India’s founding father, once asked, ”Is hatred necessary for nationalism?”
Thus, Modi for the first time is faced with an ideological challenge. Today in the Indian context, as Francis Fukuyama said about “other fork of politics of recognition and dignity, which has led to the assertion of collective identity of which the two major manifestations were nationalism and politicized religion,” which are feeling threatened by the word INDIA.
In its search for a counter strategy, Hindutva forces have unleashed a vicious attack on the opposition, which will become more bitter and venomous as elections near. But that is the price that democracy must pay if it wants to remain relevant.