The triumph of Narendra Modi means this Independence Day symbolises the recolonisation of India
The legitimisation of Hindutva, an ideology whose origins lie in British colonialism and Fascism, makes this a day of critical reflection, not celebration, for India.
The stroke of the midnight hour has come again; but this time, India awakes to death and misery. On August 5th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the first brick in the Ram Mandir, a temple built on the ruins of a broken masjid razed to the ground by a Hindu mob in 1992. It was a symbolic taunt from a man whose rise to the top has been propelled by his willingness to step on the corpses of Indian Muslims. The ideals of the Republic are dead; the Hindu Reich has begun.
Hindutva, the ideology that Modi and his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), advocates is often erroneously translated in English to “Hindu Nationalism”- usually followed with the vague prefix of “hard/rightwing”. It is neither of those things. Hindutva is nothing more than Hindu Fascism, and the triumph of Modi’s brand of hatred symbolises nothing less than the recolonisation of India.
The ideology originates from British colonial inanities. One of the methods devised by the British to effectively govern their Indian colony was to divide the Hindu and Muslims communities and pit them against one another. To achieve that, the Raj created and propagated the myth of a supposedly golden Vedic Hindu past shattered by scores of Muslim invasions; a dangerously hoary interpretation that continues to inspire violence in the subcontinent.
By the turn of the 20th Century the broad contours of this analytically incontinent vision of history had coalesced into a specifically Hindutva worldview. Organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS), the latter of which Modi has been a member of for most of his life, used it to contest the position that an independent country should accord equal status to all, irrespective of class, caste, or creed.
Men like Hedgewar and Golwalkar — the “heroes” of the Hindu Fascists currently in charge of India — were also inspired by the Nazis. Golwalkar in particular hailed The Final Solution as containing “a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by”. The idea that a Constitution, and not a reified past articulated through caste and religion, would shape post-Independence identity was so unpalatable to the Hindu far-right that they refused to participate in the freedom struggle.
These, then, are the ideological inspirations for the present government; cowards who found the yoke of colonial oppression infinitely preferable to the prospect of equality with Indian Muslims and Dalits.
Hindutva organisations worked in the shadows for much of post-Independent Indian history, only entering national politics during the Emergency; the period when Indira Gandhi formally suspended India’s democratic system. The broad opposition coalition to her included the newly formed Janata Party, the precursors to the BJP.
But it was the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid that sowed the seeds for India’s current crisis because it brought communal politics into mainstream politics. One has to look no further than Modi’s political career; the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom that occurred during his tenure as Chief Minister of Gujurat gave him the credentials to be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014.
Fast forward to 2019. Modi has been re-elected in a manner more befitting a presidential campaign than a general election. The process begun in 2014 shifted gears, propelled to a murderous celerity by the approval of the baying mobs.
In just six years every institution of India, from the police, to the judiciary, to the political apparatus, has either been demolished or successfully encouraged to compromise itself.
India is now a country where judges who aid and abet the anti-Constitutional activities of the government are rewarded whilst those who investigate accusations of illegal activities against its Ministers wind up dead; where Pragya Thakur, a Hindu extremist accused of plotting the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast, becomes a Member of Parliament on a BJP ticket; where the few honest reporters struggling to speak truth to power are assaulted by a mob confident they will face no legal repercussions; where the police not only turn a blind-eye to pogroms, but target those demanding justice for its victims.
India is now a state where activists are jailed instead of praised; where academics and professors raising objections to the authoritarian state are detained on false charges; where intellectuals and journalists who critique Hindutva in an Indian language are murdered by Hindu terrorists; where lawyers who express their concerns over the Supreme Court’s accommodation of Modi’s authoritarianism are charged with defamation.
Govind Pansare. Narendra Dabholkar. Gauri Lankesh. MM Kalburgi. Sudha Bharadwaj. Varavara Rao. Anand Teltumbde. Hany Babu. PK Vijayan. Shoma Sen. The list grows larger with each passing day.
Then there are the thousands whose misery goes undocumented. August 5th also marked one year since the Indian state undemocratically and unconstitutionally altered Article 370, turning Kashmir into a neo-colonial vassal entity. The government of what is allegedly the world’s largest democracy also blocked cellular and internet communication networks in Kashmir during that period; an unprecedented clamping down of freedom of expression in today’s digital world.
No help can be expected from the Indian Congress Party, which has driven itself to electoral irrelevance by prioritising the political careers of one family over creating a cohesive Opposition. In its desperation to win votes, many of its most prominent voices now ape a soft Hindutva — a timely reminder that the 21st Century resurgence of fascism in global politics has been assisted and accommodated in equal measure by the complacency of liberalism.
If there is a glimmer of hope it is in the civic protests that erupted at the end of last year in direct opposition to the exclusionary Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens. These policies, designed to further the Hindutva agenda of legally defining Indian Muslims as second-class citizens in their own country, engendered a truly historic response. Not from the Opposition, as dull and moribund as they are; but from the people.
Hundreds of thousands of Indian citizens united against the divisive policies of the BJP. Only once before had so many banded together for the same cause; when India marched to fight for its freedom from the British Empire.
The protesters were unequivocal in what Hindutva really represents, and how to defeat it. As one of the placards put it: “Jab Hindu-Muslim Raazi, Toh Kya Karega Nazi?” (“When Hindus & Muslims are united, what will you do Nazi?”).
The India that many liberals mourn never really existed. No one who has witnessed the grotesque impoverishment of its rural population, the atrocities of caste that routinely play out in the country, or the resulting apathy of almost every political organisation, can pretend that the ideals of the Constitution were ever successfully implemented.
India’s founding doctrine was not fixed in stone, but instead conceived of as a fluid blueprint for how to decolonise the country. The difference now is that the State has not only abandoned any pretence of following the Constitution: it is actively destroying it.
The beaks of Iqbal’s bulbuls have been shattered; his garden choked by weeds. What ghastly revenant will Hindutva fashion from the corpse of the country that could have been?
What path India will go down from here will be determined by the people, not politicians; by civic protests, not electoral contests; by activists, not authorities. The efficacy of any future opposition will depend on loudly articulating the truth of what India has always been, not the lies of what a majoritarian party believes it should have been.
Only then will the moment finally come; only then will the soul of a nation, suppressed once more, find utterance.