The ongoing protests against the Citizenship Act, the all-India National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register are a spectacle of sorts. They are a spontaneous initiative by a variety of social groups and communities, which political outfits and individual citizens have joined hands with. Surely, they are most widespread protests India has seen in recent times, and they have shaken a politically ascendant Bharatiya Janata Party.
In response to the massive countrywide outpouring, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken out, but he did not stick to the truth. In his rally at Ramlila Maidan this week, he denied that the NRC was ever discussed for a national rollout. Commentators were quick to prove that the members of his party have consistently proposed an all-India NRC, including his second-in-command, Home Minister Amit Shah, who even said so in Parliament.
The PM denied detention centers have been planned, though statistics and ground reports are abundant which show such camps in operation and in various stages of construction, such as this one in Karnataka. Days ago, Uddhav Thackeray, the new Chief Minister of Maharashtra, dumped his predecessor Devendra Fadnavis’ plans to set up a detention center in Maharashtra.
Interestingly, the BJP and those who support all its unwarranted moves, had presumed that only the Muslims will protest against the CAA and the NRC. It turned out that the protests have all-round participation by students, all religious communities and denominations, and most political parties. Even the BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance ruling at the centre and several states, such as the Janata Dal (United) or JDU in Bihar, and the Shiromani Akali Dal or SAD in Punjab, which happens to be a longtime ally of the BJP, have also opposed the government on the CAA-NRC.
Clearly, Modi is trying to retract his party’s steps, away from the divisive CAA-NRC. In this way, the patriarch of Hindu nationalism is also trying to retrieve the situation for his party, by generating even more confusion around it. To reassure the Muslims, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has claimed that all 130 crore Indians are Hindus, thereby implying that all Indians will be included as citizens—provided they accept the RSS view of India as the land of only Hindus.
Whether this ploy of the RSS-BJP works or not depends on a multitude of factors, but most critical to record is that most of the actions of RSS revolve around the identity-related issues of Hindus.
But prevalent Hinduism, Babasaheb Ambedkar had stated, that is Brahmanism at its core. This is the starting point of the fracture in worldviews between the Sangh-BJP and the rest of the Indian population. Not just the followers of Ambedkar, who was India’s first law minister and who wrote for it a secular Constitution, the question is whether the Christians, the Muslims, the Sikhs and the Buddhists of India regard themselves as “Hindu”.
This question keeps coming up at regular intervals. The RSS, in a clever balancing act, on the one hand working for Hindu rashtra, based on its own interpretation of Hindu scriptures and philosophy. On the other hand, electoral compulsions force the BJP to issue reassuring statements to the non-Hindus.
The RSS’s ideologues can play this game as Hinduism is not a prophet-based [or Abrahamic] religion. It can be seen a conglomerate of different religious traditions which have been prevailing in this region. These traditions are of the Brahmanical and Shramanic variety—the Nath, Tantra, Bhakti, Shaiva etc are included in the latter, while Brahmanism is based in ‘Purush Sukta’ of Vedas, in which caste and gender hierarchies are inbuilt. The other traditions move away from these values.
Hindu nationalists were seized of this fundamental problem or discord right from the beginning. The major Hindu nationalist ideologue Savarakar tried to define Hindus as those whose Fatherland and Holy land lie to the east of the river Sindhu. He also introduced the word Hindutva, which is now often regarded as an equivalent of Hinduism—though they are far from similar.
Savarkar clearly stated that the Hindus have primacy over others—primarily the Muslims and Christians—in India, for their Fatherland and holy land lie here.
The next major ideologue of Hindu nationalism, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, inspired by Nazi philosophy of Germany of his time, praised the methods adopted by Adolf Hitler to deal with the minorities. The RSS’s shakhas and the chains of schools set up by them promote the alleged supremacy of Hindus and undermine Muslims and Christians.
It is the BJP-RSS’ effort to make this understanding of the world and Indian religious history a part of the ‘social common sense’ in the country. The continuous effort of the RSS to push identity-based issues are getting primacy now that the BJP is in power. In any case, for the last three decades, religious divides in Indian society have been growing and they are a big obstacle to the Indian fraternity. This has also retarded the economic and social progress of Indian society.
From the 1990s downwards, the RSS-BJP, as they started inching closer to political power, wanted to bypass the religious definition of Hinduism and tried to link all Indians as Hindus. This was an electoral exercise. The BJP leader and former Union minister of education, Murli Manohar Joshi, started using the word “Ahmadinejad Hindus” for Muslims and “Christi Hindus” for Christians. That Sikhism is a part of Hinduism, as its offshoot, has been a long-standing claim of the RSS-BJP.
So, there are two parallel processes going on at the same time. One to raised issues that can put the Muslims and the Christians in the dock. For instance, starting from the Rama temple campaign, the major focus of the Sangh has been on issues such as making the cow a totem of holiness for Hindus, and it has linked it with the eating of beef by non-Hindus. Then the Sangh has raised “love” jihad, ghar wapsi and nationalism, through events such as Pulwama-Balakot.
On the other hand, the patriarch of this brand of Sangh nationalism has been trying to co-opt Muslims and Christians. The Rashtriya Muslim Manch and similar organisations floated for Christians are already at work.
Therefore, Bhagwat’s statement that the RSS regards “all Indians as Hindus” amounts to putting wool in people’s eyes. Religion is a matter of self-perception. To say that all Indians are Hindus is an attempt to impose “Hindu norms” on all the people of the country. Consider how Mahatma Gandhi viewed the religious issue: he regarded all religions as belonging to India. This is a remarkably different formulation than what the RSS professes.
What the RSS is now trying to cultivate by calling all Indians Hindus is to win over as many people as possible. How successful it will be remains to be seen.
Remember for now that the statement of the RSS, at this juncture, is merely a response to the massive protests, which are being led by Indians regardless of religion, denomination, caste, region or creed against the CAA. And it is the CAA which is discriminatory on grounds of religion and perpetuates inequality. The statements of Modi and Bhagwat show that the massive agitation has forced them to take a step back, at least for the moment.
The author is a social activist and commentator. The views are personal.