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Politics of Saffron Brigade

The victory of Narendra Modi led BJP government has brought with it a flurry of almost daily assaults of communal violence, inflammatory speeches and statements. Prime Minister Modi, whose government was ushered in on the promise of 'good days', has maintained complete silence on these issues.

Nakul Singh Sawhney from Newsclick speaks to Subhash Gatade about the growing instances of communal assaults to analyse the politics of both majority and minority communalism and why secular forces have failed to curb them.

Rough Transcript:

Nakul Sawheny (NS): Ever since 2014 Loksabha elections have been declared, the news that we are hearing in great frequency is either about over 600 small and big riots that has happened in Uttar Pradesh. The murder of the Muslim software engineer based out of Pune by a Hindutva radical organisation, controversial statements about Madrasas by BJP leaders like Sakshi Maharaj, a campaign against Love Jihad by Yogi Adityanath and several other BJP leaders and more recently and finally the statement by RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat saying that India is a Hindu Rashtra, or a Hindu state. Is this the model of development that was promised to the nation by the BJP and Narendra Modi? To discuss this issue with us today, we have with us Mr. Subhash Gatade who has been writing and researching extensively on the issue of communalism, human rights, caste violence and several other issues. Subhashji welcome to Newsclick. Subhashji of all the incidences I have spoken about if you begin to analyse them, you put it very simply where do you see this government taking the country, in what direction.

Subhash Gatade (SG): I feel that the present government wants to extend the Gujarat model to rest of India. Whenever we talk of Gujarat model, the way in which Gujarat model to the world has been projected, the economic development, neo-liberal development we understand in that way. But we should never forget that Gujarat 2002, whatever Gujarat model is there the 2002 carnage is at the basis of the Gujarat model. So I see the Gujarat model walking on two legs. On the one hand we have this neo-liberal development giving free play to the market forces, the corporates, corporate forces in National and Inter-national capital and simultaneously putting place the minorities, marginalise the minorities, ghettoise them which they have been able to do after 2002. So, the agenda of the present government whatever it may be proclamations these two extend the Gujarat model to rest of the country and they have been doing “successfully”.


NS: But at the same time BJP often claims that the people who are making these statements, the people who are responsible for this kind of violence are actually on the fringes of the BJP. Now, do you actually agree that they are on the fringes of the BJP or is this extreme face or the real face of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar.

SG: I think you should understand the RSS in it's wider perspective. What these people, “fringe elements” are doing. They are serving the agenda of the Hindutva. And if you look at the time of Atal Bihar Vajpayee when he was Prime Minister, he was supposed to be a moderate and at time Advani was supposed to be more radical. Now, after 2002 Advani became more moderate and Mr. Modi became more radical. So the division of labour I think what A.G. Noorani talks about. Division of labour among Sangh Parivar. And I compare the whole work of RSS as an orchestra. In orchestra, every instrument has it's own place. But, the total sound which comes out it becomes a typical symphony. So, I don't believe in this moderate versus radical. That is the agenda of the BJP, that is the agenda of Hindu Rashtra which they are forwarding and everybody has a role in it.


NS: If you look at the recent bye election results, the recent bye election were conducted, if you look at the results of those bye elections Vidhan Sabha bye elections, specially in Uttar Pradesh, where they more vociferously campaigning on the issue of either love jihad and the campaign has acquired the very strongly anti-muslim colour, acquired a very strongly anti-muslim sentiment but when one looks at the bye election results, in UP they have lost all but two seats. Do you think it is a case of the BJP's communal agenda not really finding a resonance with the people or are we reading too much into the election results because after all it is a bye election and voting percentages are usually lower in bye elections and there is a lethargy that sets in among the voters specially because there is a Lok Sabha election preceding it.

SG: I thnk one conclusion we can easily have it, the manner in which the BJP wants to proceed on their Hindutva agenda, so people have not accepted it. The manner in which they wanted to promote polarisation in community, the manner in which they came forward in this love jihad agenda, that has not been accepted by the people. The face of Modi which was more prominent in the Lok Sabha election that was development, when people have voted, a section of people had voted BJP for their development agenda but now when that Hindutva face is coming out, so people are not feeling very comfortable about it. So they have sort of rejected them. So that is one conclusion that we can draw from the election results.


NS: But, where do you see the BJP going from there I mean are they going to continue this kind of aggressive posturing, Hindutva posturing or do you think they are going to take a more slightly more moderate position on this issue.

SG: If you look at the interview given by Sushil Modi which came out in many newspapers, I think they are giving a signal that they want to modulate it. They want to moderate their agenda the manner in which they want to proceed. But what is interesting about Susheel Modi's interview is that he has accepted the basic principles, basic idea behind love jihad. He has only said that we won't allow Yogi Adityanath to come to Bihar. But if he come then we will not allow him to speak in that manner. The issue is real. So they will have to modulate it if they want to keep the momentum but that doesn't make any difference with their agenda. Their agenda remains the same.


NS: But then also understand Uttar Pradesh. UP is not a BJP ruled state. It is in fact, a Samajwadi Party ruled state which is often being criticized for pandering to minorities as well. In such a situation and there have been riots in UP even before Loksabha elections in UP in fact, the big riot happened in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts when one sees the election results really, the BJP has benefited the most from these riots and there have been several other small riots even before Muzaffarnagar and Shamli ever since Akhilesh Yadav came to power. Why do you think that even though there is a Samajwadi Party government in UP, the BJP has been able to operate of it's own. The Sangh parivar has been able to operate with this kind of free hand?

SG: Look at at this whole phenomenon of riots in the Samajwadi Party regime, two broad things I would like to mention. One is the manner in which Samajwadi Party came into power. If we compare the regime of Samajwadi Party and if you look at the early regime of Mayawati, what difference it made with the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy was the same, the people were the same but when we witness n number of riots, communal riots in the SP regime, it means the government was in collusion, government wanted that or government connived or government was indifferent to the riots. That's why riots occurred in places like Faizabad which had not witnessed any riots in last twenty years. So, the SP in my understanding is that it also wanted to “polarize”, the captive constituency that they have, we can only protect you. That is one thing which is important and so riots occurred. Secondly, my understanding is that whether BJP is in power or not the riots can occur because we have what we call institutionalized riot systems that have developed in India. If you look at Congress regime in Assam, Assam is not discussed much. But Assam has witnessed more than one lakh people are still in refugee camps. They are internal refugees. So whether “secular” government is in power or not, it does make able to put up a brake. But system has developed in such a manner that we can have riots also. If the state government is strict, the manner in which BSP under Mayawati was strict about communal riots, riots did not occur. The Samajwadi Party under Akhilesh Yadav and Congress under Gogoi they were not very strict about it. So, riots occurred.


NS: Now when you are talking about say Samajwadi Party is also benefiting from this kind of polarisation because they are able to consolidate or at least the thing that they are able to consolidate the Muslim votes in their favour. It is a reality that communalism is not the thing that belongs only to the majority community. We have seen several instances of minority communalism as well. More recently, when we are talking about the love jihad then on the one hand while there is BJP talking about …. essentially they are trying to talk about discourage, stop inter religious marriages particularly when Hindu girls are marrying Muslim boys. Similarly, there has been a Muslim cleric who recently passed a diktat saying that muslim girls should not be marrying Hindu boys. We find several such instances where they are almost speaking the same language except that they are doing it for their own religions. Now, do you feel that secular parties and secular forces have not come out so strongly against minority communalism as well which actually benefits the BJP and this kind of Hindutva right wing.

SG: The whole issue of minority communalism has not been addressed by the secular movement. Not only secular movement but the left forces also. They have not tried to target minority communalism. We can talk about Kerala. In Kerala, there is a group called Popular Front and some of their people attacked a Christian Professor just for some paper in examination they cut his hand. So two things are there. In minority community also we find that fanatic forces have emerged. Secondly, if we keep silent about them, then it strengthens the majority communal forces. They say that these people only target the Hindutva communalism. They don't target minority communalism. So that way they strengthen it. Secondly, the point of introspection is that it shows our own understanding of secularism. If you talk only about Hindutva communalism, if you are clear about secularism, we will be talking about minority communalism also. So that is the weakness of the secular forces.


NS: Both minority and majority communalism are feeding off each other. When they are feeding off each other at the same time, it becomes important where the fundamentalism or the Hindutva forces are trying to make this look like a Hindu Muslim issue. Actually, the binarism should be secularism and communalism and not necessarily a Hindu Muslim or a Hindu Christian issue. Taking it slightly further, if we look at the situation in India in a slightly broader context. Where we see that across South Asia and several countries in South Asia be it Budhist fundamentalism in Burma, be it Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan or be it growth of Sinhalese fundamentalism in Srilanka and then of course Hindutva fundamentalism in India. There has been a growth of this kind of majoritarianism in all these countries in South Asia. Do you also understand India's growth of fundamentalism in India. Do you see this in larger context as well of South Asia.

SG: I think we should discuss the rise of Hindutva fundamentalism in India in the larger context of South Asia because of many reasons because if we have Hindutva communalism here, you go to Pakistan, Islamist forces are there and they strengthen each other. When I went for a lecture a few moths back in Bangalore I talked about taking an imaginary journey from Burma. In Burma, the Budhist extremist led by Wirathu they are attacking Muslims. You come to Bangladesh, the Islamist forces, they are attacking the Hindus and Budhists. If you take this imaginary journey, you will find that a perpetrator community in once country is victim community in other country. So they are strengthening each other. That's why we should look at in a wider perspective. My understanding is that we have not properly undertaking the task of secularisation of society. There are many reasons behind explosion of majoritarinism in South Asia, we should also understand why we failed. Why we have this situation here.


NS: You are saying secularisation of the society. There has been a process in a consistent process by the RSS in desecularisation of society. Also that when we look at say the Sachar Committee report, the Ranganath Mishra Committee report that came out sometime back clearly, secularism has been like I was saying one is beginning to understand secularism only in the context of communal riots but not in terms of minority rights because the Sachar committee report shows that the economic conditions of Muslims is actually worse than that of Dalits today. So, are we feeling to see secularism as a much broader concept and just communal riots and the state not intervening.

SG: I think it is high time that we revisit the whole idea, not only the idea of secularism which we understand, the practice of secularism. At both level we need to revisit it. I find problem at both the levels. The manner in which you are rightly putting it that secularism means no riots. That sort of simplistic equation which we have in mind. But, the manner in which we have looked at Muslims, minority community only having no riots that is not secularism. What we are thinking about, what we have planned about their development. Their rise as citizens. So, that needs to be addressed. In that way, Sachar Commission report has been an eye opener. A party like CPM which ruled West Bengal for more than 30 years, the situation of Muslims in West Bengal was comparable to other “Bourgeois state”. So there is some problem the way in which we understand secularism. As far as practice of secularism is concerned, we have sort of put all our eggs in the basket of that we will try to protect the state. The state should remain secular. As far as the society is concerned, we will not do anything, the secularization of society. I think we should think of ways and means for secularization of society. The right wing has been very successful in deseculrisation of society. May it be RSS, may it be Jamat E Islami, may be other fundamentalist Sikh forces they have been very consistent. They have been doing schools, they have been building colleges hospitals and what my understanding is that I would like to quote K.N. Panikkar. K.N. Panikkar talks about intervention in culture and cultural intervention. So I think our intervention has been in culture but how the society is culturally developed they have focussed more on that and we have only limited ourselves to performing arts. That is also important. But how the mindset of society changes. That also we have to find means and ways to do it.


NS: Exactly, when you are saying there has been a failure on the part of “the secularists” do you also feel that secular forces outside political parties were often tend to put their weight behind parties say parties like Congress, SP or so called secular parties who have very easily according to the convenience compromised on the issue of secularism whenever it suited them be it the Shah Bano case or opening of the Babri Masjid gates to perform the shilanyas which all happened during the Rajiv Gandhi regime and there are several such examples one can find. Do you feel that this is in fact one needs to build an alternate movement which is genuinely secular rather than rallying behind these kind of forces?

SG: I think we will have to operate at two levels. Tactically when there are elections, f we can support at anti communal forces we should do. Despite having reservations about the way we understand secularism they are opportunist. So tactically, secondly the more important part you rightly pointed out we need to strengthen the secular movement. We need so that we can put pressure on them that if you have become opportunist then we will leave you or we can have other options also. So there is need to strengthen the secular movement that is very important and that task we have not addressed.


NS: Thank you so much Subhashji and hoping we can continue with this conversation in the coming days about secularism and other issued around human rights, caste violence and so on in India. Thank you so much.

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